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Victory V's Don't Always Mean Victory

For years, we’ve been discussing the media’s role in distorting female body image. Dozens of studies and campaigns have fingered Photoshopped images in women’s emotional, mental, and physical health issues. Well boys, it seems your time has come. The pressure to look good, bulk up, and build a "six-pack," the supposed stamp of ideal male form, is gnawing away at your happiness, too, and prompting Reddit-topping threads and five-figure play-count videos. The question is: What are you gonna do about it?

Let’s back up a sec to look at just how bad the body image crisis is. A 2012 survey of 394 British men found that more than "half of men questioned (58.6 percent) said that body talk affects them personally, mostly in a negative way," with "beer belly" and "six pack" being two of the most popular terms men use to describe each other’s appearance. Even more disturbingly, more than 35 percent of men surveyed "would sacrifice a year of life to achieve their ideal body weight or shape."

Well get ready to add that year back to your life, men, because "there really isn’t an ideal," says John Haubenstricker, a Research Associate in the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s also a dietitian, coach, and bodybuilding competitor. "Is there an ideal fruit or an ideal car? No. We need to change our terminology. What we should focus on more is: what is the healthy weight people should be at?"

There’s no magic formula for healthy weight. Body Mass Index, often used to help determine healthy weight ranges in the general population, might not be as applicable to athletes who often carry more muscle mass than the average person.

"A good description of healthy weight," Haubenstricker says, "is where you have the lowest risk for death and illness, and where it’s maintainable within your lifestyle." That means you’re not overweight, which can set you up for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, among other things. And that means you’re not underweight either.

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The images you see in the media of men with six-pack abs and "victory-v’s," Haubenstricker says, are often shot when those guys are at their absolute leanest. "Maintaining that level of leanness [around four to five percent bodyfat] isn’t typically recommended for very long," Haubenstricker says. "You’re not getting enough energy to do all of the things you want to do and improve" your fitness. "You’re also increasing your risk of injury."

As Scientific American explains, "fat is crucial for normal physiology—it helps support the skin and keep it lubricated, cushions feet, sheaths neurons, stores vitamins, and is a building block of hormones."

In other words, that "ideal" you constantly see splashed across magazine covers is bullshit. It’s an ephemeral state of being even for the people in the photos.

It’s going to take a long time for society to stop shoving that muscled-up ideal down men’s throats. As Eva Wiseman wrote in the Guardian:

The media is a construction—this is no secret. Magazines, film, TV, newspapers—they all rely on advertising. So reminding ourselves that the body types we see represented are the body types that generate purchases. Asking ourselves: "Am I being sold something here?"

The answer is almost always yes. Diet pills. Diet programs. Workout DVDs. Ab rollers. You name it. All of those things generate billions of dollars in sales by making men feel inadequate. If you believed you looked perfectly great as you are, you wouldn’t need any of those things—why fix what isn’t broken?

"Our culture has to change to be more tolerant" of different body types, Haubenstricker says. His suggestion? Start changing your terminology and perspective by checking out resources from EatRight.org and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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8 Summer Yoga Essentials

There’s 420-friendly yoga. There’s co-ed naked yoga. There’s yoga California Chrome could love. There’s even yoga that includes a beer chaser. No matter which you choose, you’re likely to need some gear to practice.

We looked high and low for the latest and greatest in yoga mats, bags, and outerwear (for you prudes who don’t go au naturel). Here are our findings:

Lululemon Metal Vent Tech Tee ($64)

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Similar to the now sold-out Assert Tech Short Sleeve Tee we raved about in a recent review of Lululemon products, the Metal Vent Tech Short Sleeve is one of our favorite T-shirts by virtue of the cut alone, which is athletic while not being skin-tight. Put simply, it's damn flattering. And that goes for body types ranging from Cat 2 to Clydesdale. Thanks to anti-stink technology that inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria, the only funk that flows from you will be from your earbuds.

Manduka LiveOn Mat ($58)

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New to yoga? Released on June 4, the LiveOn is the perfect first mat because it’s lightweight, and at 5mm, it’s relatively thick (your knees will thank you for this in poses like cat/cow and dolphin). Plus, that joint-saving foam is 100 percent reclaimable and recyclable. Looking for something a bit thinner? A 3mm version is slated to go on sale this September.

The North Face Be Calm Tank for Women ($38)

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More affordable than most, this staple from The North Face is a poly-blend built from recycled fabric that wicks. And it’s cut long enough to reach the top of even the lowest of low-riding yoga pants.

yogitoes We Are One Collection Skidless Yoga Towel ($64)

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Whether you’re down with hot yoga or you just sweat a lot, this skidless yoga towel will save you from a saturated and, therefore, slippery mat. Silicon nubs help with grippiness, which you’ll appreciate in trikonasana and warrior poses when you're squeezing your inner thigh muscles and pushing down on your feet.

Much more absorbent than regular towels, it also dries quickly in the sun. Pro tip: the little nibs go face down. Keeping them face-up is the yoga version of wearing a bike helmet backward.

Yoga Sak ($50)

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Minimalist and multi-modal? Check out Yoga Sak. The fourth generation of this bag stows your mat vertically and is complete with a retractable pouch to make sure heavier mats (like the Manduka PRO) don’t slide out the bottom. 

And for hot-yoga-inclined people, the company also offers a wet bag ($10) for any sweat-drenched clothes. One drawback? The cell phone pocket is too small for an iPhone 5, Nexus 5, or Galaxy S4, an issue the company says will be addressed in the fifth generation of this bag, which is slated for release in early 2015.

Prana Sutra Pant ($70)

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Although most running and climbing shorts translate well to yoga, the Sutra is our favorite full-length pant. Available in three lengths (30”, 32”, 34”), they’re built from a blend of hemp, polyester, and lycra. With an inseam gusset, front pockets, drawstring waist, and relaxed fit, the Sutra is the Levi’s 501 of yoga—a classic.

Manduka GO Free Backpack ($120)

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Pedaling to yoga is the best. You get a warm-up and another excuse to ride your bike. But carrying a mat can be tricky: if you put it into a traditional backpack, it’ll hit the back of your helmet, testing even the most enlightened yogi’s equanimity.

Save your sanity with the GO Free that secures your mat with quick-release buckles and is big enough to haul a laptop (in a padded sleeve), a few bike locks, and change of clothes. There are also internal pockets for pens, tools, and a pad of paper, plus several large external pockets.

Lululemon For The People Short ($68)

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Although you can practice yoga wearing an old Radiohead T-shirt, shorts are different. Go with a pair without four-way stretch and you’ll be able to blame your clothing for keeping you out of half-pigeon. Go too baggy, on the other hand, and you’ll show too much when you’re upside down.

The tapered For The People were designed for yoga and are sweat-wicking, breathable, and knee-length. Plus, the breathable fabric feels good on your skin.

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Your Wicked Wednesday Workout

When getting outside is the goal and training is what makes your adventures possible, Wednesday is the perfect day to push it. Why? You’re recovered from the weekend and can rev yourself for the days ahead.

Now, there’s nothing that says you have to hit the gym for a strength and endurance sweat session. With a little space, minimal equipment, and less than an hour, you can have an intense workout that preps your heart and muscles to complement your main sport.

In this Wicked Wednesday Workout, you’ll work on upper- and lower-body strength and mix it in with some high-intensity spurts. In the final stretch, you’ll have to push your body when it’s already zapped—to help you get more mileage when the tank is almost empty. And that’s the hump that’s worth getting up and over.

This Week's Workout: Six by Six

Total Time: 20-25 minutes

Equipment and Set-Up
You'll Need: A dumbbell or heavy object that you can use for overhead presses and a field or playground with trees or monkey bars.

Set up six stations. At each one, you will perform one exercise for the number of repetitions outlined below, starting with 12 repetitions. Complete the six stations, then rest for 30 seconds to 1 minute before doing the next circuit. Complete six rounds of the six exercises.

Stations

  1. Perfect pushups, two seconds down and two seconds up.
  2. Squat jumps. Hinge at your hips when you squat down so that your butt thrusts backward and your knees don’t extend past your toes. On the way up, explode up into a jump. (Optional: Hold some kind of weight.)
  3. Overhead presses, using any kind of weight (dumbbell, sandbag, cinder blocks).
  4. Mountain climbers. Count one rep every time your lead foot comes forward.
  5. Pull-ups on tree branch or monkey bars. (Optional: if you can’t do pull-ups, do a modified pull-up by hanging a towel around a (sturdy) branch or bar. Jump up and grab each end of the towel and pull yourself as high as you can go on each jump.)
  6. Set up cones or markers about 20 yards apart. Sprint from cone-to-cone. One rep is running one length.
  7. Rest

Circuits

For the first time through, do 12 repetitions of each exercise. Each time through, you'll do fewer reps—until the final circuit, which is 15 reps of each.

  1. 12 reps
  2. 10 reps
  3. 8 reps
  4. 6 reps
  5. 4 reps
  6. 15 reps

About this Series
The Wicked Wednesday Workout is designed to help you break up your week with a high-intensity, total-body workout of strength and endurance that uses minimal equipment—to help better prepare your body for the randomness of your weekend at play. 

Ted Spiker, who has designed and led backyard and neighborhood workouts for his friends for the past three years, is a journalism professor at the University of Florida who specializes in health and fitness writing. He recommends you pick up a scrap truck tire to add more variety to your workouts.

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Smaller Runners Have the Advantage at Badwater

Until December 2013, California’s 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, which started in Death Valley and ended at the Mount Whitney Portal, was considered the ultimate endurance test in an extreme heat environment.

That’s when a temporary moratorium was placed on all sporting events in Death Valley. Obviously, the announcement threw a wrench in this summer’s 37th edition of Badwater, scheduled to take place July 21 through 23. But you can’t just axe the world’s toughest footrace, so race organizers revised the route, which now incorporates more than 17,000 feet of elevation gain between Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. Although temperatures might not reach 125 degrees, the 97 brave souls who toe the line will likely still be treated to triple-digit temps.

And although some runners will incorporate special clothing and aid-station ice baths into ther races, other runners will have a more natural advantage: their body size.

While running in hot weather, an athlete’s primary goal—besides winning—should be to maintain a constant core temperature by balancing heat production and heat loss. Exercise itself creates internal heat. In fact, 80 percent of energy produced by exercising skeletal muscle becomes heat (the other 20 percent generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to power the muscle. Extremely hot environments can also cause athletes to take in heat, just as cold environments cause us to lose heat.  

Runners also battle heat externally via hot weather and humidity, both of which make running more difficult. Hot temperatures cause heat to transfer from the environment to the body, while humidity makes evaporative heat loss more difficult. In comfortable environments, to get rid of excess heat, blood is shunted to the skin, where warmed blood can lose heat through evaporation (sweating) or convection (if skin temperature is greater than the environmental temperature). Both evaporation and convection depend on the skin's surface area—the larger surface area, the better the heat loss.  

So, bigger runners should be better at cooling off, right?

Wrong.

Surface area and body mass (that is, muscle mass) are not at a one-to-one relationship—for every unit of body mass you increase, you don't get an equivalent relative increase in surface area. Smaller runners actually have more surface area relative to body mass, which gives them greater heat-loss ability for their relative mass.

According to a study in the European Journal of Physiology, this “distinct thermal advantage” corresponds with speed. Because lighter runners produce and store less heat than heavier runners at the same pace, they can run faster or farther. This difference was most striking in hot, humid conditions (95 degrees, greater than 60 percent humidity) and essentially absent in cool conditions (59 degrees).

Indeed, in 2004, exercise physiologist Tim Noakes published a related study in the Journal of Applied Physiology finding that African runners ran faster in the heat than their Caucasian peers. “Larger Caucasians reduce their running speed to ensure an optimal rate of heat storage without developing dangerous hyperthermia [heatstroke],” the study reports. “According to this model, the superior running performance in the heat of these African runners can be partly attributed to their smaller size and hence their capacity to run faster in the heat while storing heat at the same rate as heavier Caucasian runners.” 

In this study, the heavier Caucasian runners (169 pounds) ran approximately 10 percent slower during 30 minutes of exercise in hot conditions (95 degrees, 60 percent humidity) compared to the lighter Africans (131 pounds). The difference is dramatic when considering both groups ran the same time in the exercise test conducted in cool conditions (59 degrees).  

In other words, a slower but smaller runner has a substantially better shot at beating a faster but larger runner if the temperature is high enough.

Although many other factors can help regulate core temperature (clothing, heat adaptation, genetics, age, etc.), the bottom line is that the smaller you are, the better you should be able to handle the heat. So although the Badwater 135 might not reach 130 degrees this year, the soaring temps should be sufficient to give an advantage to the slight of frame.

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What if Sitting Doesn't Kill?

Think you’re “resting” at your desk job? Yet another study has attacked Americans' favorite activity: sitting. The latest report, from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, finds that for every hour you sit, you lose eight percent of your fitness gains from each hour you worked out that day. Sound really depressing? We thought so. That’s why we’re happy it’s probably not true.

Much has been made over the past few years about our sedentary lifestyles and how they’re killing us and how we should probably never, ever sit down. In this latest jab at the seated position, researchers tried to figure out the relationship between exercise and time spent sitting. Depending on whose article you’re reading, and whether or not you’re an athlete, you’ll either be really, really excited about the results, or really freaking depressed. 

Time put it like this: “Because exercise has a more powerful effect in helping the heart than sitting does in harming it, one hour of physical exercise could counteract the effects of sitting for six to seven hours a day.” 

Runner’s World put it like this: Each “time unit of sitting cancels out eight percent of your gain from the same amount of running. In other words, if you run for an hour in the morning, and then sit for 10 hours during the day, you lose roughly 80 percent of the health benefit from your morning workout.”

[Note: Running counts as vigorous activity. If your activity has less vigor, you can count on losing 16 percent of your workout-induced fitness gains every hour you’re hunched over a desk.]

Fortunately, it’s not that black and white. “People forget the gray area,” says Stanford exercise physiologist Dr. Stacy Sims. “If you go for a run, you’re going to get the benefit, but it’s better if you go for a run, then don’t sit all day.”

The issue here seems to stem from the study’s definition of fitness. Researchers looked into cardiorespiratory fitness, the kind involving your heart and lung capacity. Or, as many athletes may know it, the kind VO2 max indicates.

Look at it that way, and it’s not surprising athletes don’t have enormous gains from each day’s exercise, even if they don’t sit all day. It takes weeks to see a measurable change in VO2 max. And that’s with a concerted effort of high-intensity exercise.

As for your musculoskeletal and neuromotor fitness, this study did not look into those systems, which should improve with training even if you do sit during the day. “If you plan your recovery right, like your nutrition recovery, you won’t be losing fitness as long as you get up and move around during the day, too,” Sims says.

Neuromotor gains, for example, should be preserved if you follow the recommendations the researchers put forth: walking up stairs at work; standing while talking on the phone; holding walking meetings; sitting on a fitness ball or using a standing desk; taking a lunchtime walk.

“If you’re training heavy weights,” Sims says, “and then you sit on that muscle, it gets compressed, so you’re actually reducing that neuromuscular signaling.” But just getting up and walking around will reduce pressure on that muscle so you don’t lose the signaling you built up.

As for strength gains, you won’t lose strength by the hour as you sit, either, Sims says. Just get up every hour so your muscles don’t tighten up, which can lead to imbalances, which can lead to injury.

So don’t give up on your training. Just make an effort to stand up, stretch, and move a little throughout the day and you can kiss this new eight-percent rule goodbye. 

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