Newsletter Volume 1, Number 15

March 9, 2006

Newsletter Archive

Subjects: HST, Your Workout Program, Carob, Fruit and nut salad, Bean sauce for people who don't eat beans, Adjustable dumbbells, Swiss ball, Skin beauty, Anti-aging at Harvard, Free e-book: How to Reduce Cholesterol Naturally, Without Drugs

From my Diary

  • Strength Training: This week is the first week of the two-week mini-cycle with heavy weights, 5 repetitions (reps) per set. The weights at the end of this two-week period will be 20% greater than those lifted last Friday. As you can imagine, last Friday's performance should warn me about which exercises might be risky with heavier weights.

    Bryan Haycock designed HST as a rational system for building muscle, thus HST fits the needs of anyone who has lost muscle mass through aging, practically everyone over the age of 40. For more details about this style of training, see Hypertrophy Specific Training (HST).
    Exercises are sometimes called "routines", and if you go about doing them in a routine way, you can easily get into trouble. The most risky thing you can do is let your mind wander away from the weight you are lifting. If this happens, STOP. Ask yourself WHY?

    Consider these possibilities:

    • You lack a goal for the next few months to a year.
    • You have no target for this week, this day, or for this exercise.
    • You lack a written program of exercises, with weights, repetitions (reps), and sets laid out before you enter the gym.
    • The weights are not heavy enough, so you are not challenging the muscles.
    • You are doing an exercise because someone has said you should, but you don't know what it's supposed to do for you.

    Perfection is not required: You don't have to score on all of the points in the checklist above. Even if your goals are fuzzy and you are not confident about muscle physiology, you can succeed. (These comments apply equally to men and women.)

    Start with a vague idea of becoming fit and follow a program of exercises that some competent trainer recommends. If you avoid overdoing it, you might stick with it for six months and surprise yourself with the results. Your success may lead you to define your goals more clearly and to discover more about how each exercise affects your muscles and joints.

    Needful things: Would you board an aircraft without a boarding pass? Would you drive to a distant city without a roadmap? Would you workout in a gym without a program?

    What we need:

    • A written guide to what you will do when you enter the gym. It's best to prepare a whole week in advance. This way, you can look back at the end of the week to judge how much you have accomplished.

    • Either a set of rules about how to increase the weights progressively OR the actual numbers written down. (A rule might go like this: 10-pounds X 8 repetitions (reps). Increase by one rep each day until 12 reps. Next day, increase to 15-pounds X 8 reps. Continue increasing weights when you reach 12 reps and start the higher weights at 8 reps.)

    What my program for last week tells me: Last week, I succeeded in completing all exercises except one. I did not succeed in lifting 33-pounds (15 kg) ten times while doing the bench press with dumbbells. Since "10 repetitions" actually refers to the range 8 to 10 reps, I would have accepted eight reps, but only managed seven. This warns me that I will probably be unable to lift 40 pounds (18 kg) five times at the end of this two-week period. If I try, I risk dropping the weights on my chest and I risk damaging tendons and ligaments.

    The dumbbells available to me in this gym weigh 17.5 kg (38.5 pounds), slightly below the target for this mini-cycle. I know that I may safely attempt this lower weight because I did so during the last cycle that ended on January 20. By making a program and keeping records, you get advanced warning of what may be a risky exercise and reassurance about what may be attempted safely.

    But didn't you make any progress at all? You might wonder why I am satisfied with lifting a weight for the chest press that is no greater than what I lifted in January. My answer is that I am not interested in weight lifting as such, but in the effect that lifting weights has upon the body.

    My aim is to regain muscle lost through many years of neglect, falsely blamed on the "natural aging process", whatever that is!

    Hypertrophy Specific Training (HST) is designed to build muscle by cycling the intensity and volume of strength training in the following way:

    • Endurance mini-cycle: Low intensity and higher volume (light weight X high reps)
      The endurance mini-cycle toughens the joints (ligaments and tendons)

    • Hypertrophy mini-cycle: Medium intensity and medium volume (medium weights and medium reps)
      The hypertrophy mini-cycle stimulates the growth of muscle

    • Strength mini-cycle: High intensity and low volume (heavy weights and low reps)
      The strength mini-cycle consolidates new muscle tissue

    Deconditioning at the end of a series of mini-cycles reduces the training effect making muscles sensitive again to levels of intensity and volume similar to the previous cycle. Within the cycle, weights increase progressively by about 2% per session, but weights do no increase much from cycle to cycle except for beginners during the first six months.

  • Aerobic Exercises: When I slack off, it's the aerobics that get slighted. Generally, I aim for 10 hours exercise per week, of which 6 hours are aerobics, including walking. Last week, I managed a total of nine hours or 90% of target. This week is running around 65% because I took Monday off to sort out my visa. With extra effort, I expect to finish around 75% of target.

    Perfection is not necessary but you do need some target to be able to monitor your performance. And you do need some mental scoring system to judge when extra effort is needed and when you have performed so well that you can take an unscheduled holiday.

Tips and Comments on the News

  • Update #3 on carob as a chocolate substitute: BINGO! I mentioned carob because I have not been able to find Hershey's or Rapunzel's cocoa containing low fat and unsweetened dark chocolate. None of my concoctions worked.

    This week, I caved in and bought Van Houten cocoa powder advertising itself as containing "not less than 20% cocoa butter". Where have these guys been for the last ten years? Don't they know that the rest of the world has been trying to reduce saturated fat like cocoa butter? What I am doing is mixing one teaspoon of Van Houten cocoa with one teaspoon of carob. BINGO, it works. Van Houten cocoa dominates the taste, while carob sweetens the mixture, makes it easier to dissolve and cuts the average level of saturated fat.

  • Want to try out strength training at low cost? Try adjustable dumbbells. I bought a cheap set for $40 new. Try your local mall. Ignore the fancy brands and the hype. You need something that will carry you for three months to give you time to decide how big a commitment you want to make.

    Aim for a set of dumbbells that allows the weight to be increased in increments of one pound (0.5 kg). Ask if you can get extra spinlock nuts, perhaps on special order. (These nuts hold the metal plates onto the bar.) Commonly, the nuts weigh half a pound each, which allows you to adjust the amount of progression in weight as you get stronger.

    Look for the availability and cost of extra plates. This will be important if total weight of your set is less than 25 pounds per dumbbell. After three months, when you can lift 25 pounds in each hand, you might want to buy extra plates. (The biggest plates that came with my set weighed 5 pounds (2.5 kg). After a couple of months, I bought extra plates weighing 11 pounds (5 kg) each, increasing the total weight of the set to 33 pounds (15 kg) per dumbbell. (Wikipedia: dumbbells).

  • More strength training at low cost: The Swiss ball is a superb choice for a home gym. You can build your core strength: abdominals and lower back. For most people, this will eliminate lower back pain. But you can also use the Swiss ball instead of a bench for your dumbbell exercises, at least until the weight of both dumbbells combined reaches about one-third of your body weight.

    Do buy a model that has a double skin, which will deflate slowly if punctured. Size is not critical, but a 36-inch (90-cm) ball will probably be OK, unless you are very tall.

    There are hand pumps available for inflating the ball, but the seller inflated ours and it fit in the car. You will need to decide how your Swiss ball will be inflated and how you will get it home. (Wikipedia: Swiss ball).

  • Fruit and Nut Salad: This week, I posted a recipe for a delicious fruity and nutty salad based on a recipe by Diana Mirkin. We don't always have on hand all the ingredients for a recipe we see in magazines or on the web, so I have indicated some possible substitutions. For example, I have indicated that peanuts could be used. Peanuts are actually not nuts at all, but legumes like beans. By mixing 50% nuts and 50% beans/peanuts, we get a complete protein with all the essential amino acids. (Recipes).

  • Bean Sauce Variation for People Who Don't Eat Beans: My wife doesn't eat beans. She does eat peanuts. So I tried substituting peanuts for beans. It worked! My wife uttered the magic words, "Why don't you make this one more often?"

    The trick is to get raw shelled peanuts with the papery skin still intact. You boil for ten minutes and throw away the water, then boil again for 30 minutes or so. (Peanuts don't get mushy like beans, so you will have to guess a little about when they are ready.)

    While some people are allergic to peanuts, others may find that they are a more "social" food because they tend to produce less intestinal gas. (Bean sauce variation).

  • Want beautiful skin? Who doesn't! I won't tell you to throw away your creams and lotions. At least, they clear away the dead skin and grime without leaving the skin dehydrated and stripped of oils.

    Beautiful skin is more than skin deep: The skin reveals the health of the body partly not only because we can see the skin, but also because it is the largest organ of the body. If you smoke tobacco, drink too much alcohol and fail to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, the result will be written all over your face and any other bits of skin you choose to reveal. Makeup might help to hide the damage. That's not really good news. The good news is that improving your lifestyle will also improve the appearance of your skin.

Discovery: Explore the World of a Harvard Scientist

João Pedro de Magalhães is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, where he works on the biology of aging. Dr. João's website is a window into the world of a young scientist full of optimism about the future of anti-aging therapies. If you are over 30, you may not live to benefit from the very long life extension that Dr. João dreams about. But you may gain a few years as new science trickles into new technologies. Senescence

Keepers of the Flame: Anti-oxidants and Aging

Dr. João has raised an important question about the role of anti-oxidants in aging:
"Maybe oxidative damage is a consequence of aging rather than a cause."

Dr. João reviews several lines of argument:
  • The free radical theory of aging observes free-radical production in different species of animals and uses the differences to explain the differences in length of life [longevity] among species.
  • Free-radical generation no longer appears to be an unwanted random process, but rather an essential mechanism used in signaling pathways needed for regulating cells, development processes and operation of the immune system.
  • "... in the same way [that] fire is dangerous and humans learned how to control and use it, cells control and use [free radicals]."
  • Differences in free radical production among species may reflect differences in development patterns that just happen to be associated with longevity [long life].
  • This model does not rely on the theory proposed by Williams: that some genes have a positive effect when young and negative effects when old (antagonistic pleiotropy).
  • The essence of this model is that aging deregulates the control that multiple systems exert over [free radicals], resulting in oxidative stress that causes progressively worse damage.
  • By linking ROS to development and growth, this model explains recent experimental results better than the free radical theory of aging.
Source: I have paraphrased the original text. Please refer to the original. Cells discover fire: Employing reactive oxygen species in development and consequences for aging.


  • This model suggests that older people may need more anti-oxidants than younger people.
  • Replacing an old model with a more powerful model may lead to advances in science.
  • New science and new technologies may some day bring about breakthroughs in anti-aging therapies, but scientists have a long way to go partly because there are so many conflicting views about what causes aging. Indeed, the "aging-process" is barely understood.

Science as a social endeavor

Although scientists do compete, the rules of engagement prescribe cooperation too. Dr. João and his colleagues assemble data and contribute software that scientists worldwide can use to explore hypotheses of aging and anti-aging. The Human Ageing Genomic Resources (HAGR) project makes resources available for studying the role of genes in aging.


  • What's RSS? I have added a second way for readers to subscribe. Not only do you not have to provide your email address, but you can access all your favorite sites using the same method. Discover why RSS is truly the easiest way to keep up-to-date with all your interests in less time.

    To be fair to readers who wish to use RSS, I have made the free e-book immediately available without asking for names and email addresses.

    How to Reduce Cholesterol Naturally, Without Drugs

    Download your free e-book here. (A new window will open with the request box at the bottom of the page.)

Coming Soon

  • Sarcopenia, age-related muscle loss, may be the main cause of decline in metabolic rate with age. Thus, muscle loss with age may be sufficient to make middle-aged people overweight.

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Bye until next week...
Fred Colbourne, It's never too late!
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