Wednesday, 27 August 2008


By: Mujuthaba

Bombarded by many questions and a bit of curiosity trapped me in a corner to write about stretch marks in exercise. When I started to add up information, I found a number of commercially towed researches out there; of which promotes a certain cream or product to shade away these marks. So I decided to bias myself on these researches and other similar literature, which has common scientific ground on the issue.

Stretch marks (scientifically known as 'striae distensea') are caused mainly by over-stretching of the skin tissue. They are extremely common and are mostly visible in areas where fat deposits are abundant. These areas include the upper arm, the breasts, waist, hip and the thighs.

The mid-layer of the skin (known as the 'dermis') is made up of the stretchy elastin fibers and the strengthening collagen fibers. As the tissue below the skin (either fat or muscle) grows too quickly, giving less time for the skin to build up, the tissues that make up the dermis of the skin breaks away. Eventually these breakages cause scars (following inflammation), which we refer to as stretch marks.

The main cause of stretch marks is, as described above, gaining too much fat or muscle mass too quickly. Such is the adverse effects of training using anabolic steroids (hormone replacement therapy). It would be wise to train gradually to build up muscle at a pace where the skin can keep up.

Losing weight slowly (about 0.5kg/week) would help the possibility of the stretch marks to be invisible. If an over-weight person tries to lose fat too quickly (using fat-loss supplements or extreme diets), there is the chance of a more visible bundle of stretch marks. If one's weight goes up and down on a roller coaster ride in a short time frame, stretch marks would be hard to miss.

The only way to reduce existing stretch marks from exercising is through toning up the body. Other clinical therapies do exist, some of which are effective and some aren't. Caring for a healthy diet with foods such as fish, meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables (collectively vitamins A, C, D and zinc) help reduce stretch marks. Hydration is also very important (6-8 glasses of water daily), in which case drinks such as coffee, tea or coke should be avoided as they have dehydrating properties.

Stretch marks are not only limited to dieting and exercise. Stretch marks are common in over 95 percent of pregnant women, women on birth-control pills and children who get growth spurts as they pass puberty.

In conclusion, control your weight, eat healthy, train gradually and avoid quick fixes to reach your training goal. Even though stretch marks are a visible menace, they pose no health risks. In the exercising arena, they are just scars that show irresponsibility towards ones body at some stage or the other in your life.

- Billing, M. (2002) Stretchy subjects. American Fitness, 20(5), 61-62
- Buffalo, J. (2005) Advice on stretch marks. Shape, 24(8), 82

- Cardellino, C. (2007) Stretch mark solutions. Shape, 26(12), 94

- Shelly, B. (2006) Shea butter. Massage and Bodywork, 4

- Sports dermatology part 1: common dermatoses (2004) Canadian Medical Association Journal, 171(8), 851-853

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

What Are We Made For?

By: Mujuthaba

One of the major indicators of what a training outcome is the type of skeletal muscles a body is made of. The skeletal muscles of the human body are made of two types of muscle fibers. They are categorically known as Type-I and Type-II fibers or slow twitch and fast twitch fiber respectively.

The Type-II fibers have two subtypes; Type-IIx and Type-IIa. Earlier Type-IIx was referred to Type-IIb. This specific type contains the fastest twitch characteristic of any muscle fiber and was initially discovered in animals as Type-IIb. This discovery lead to the fastest human skeletal fiber also to be referred as Type-IIb. Although, recent day laboratory studies showed the fastest human skeletal muscle fiber is Type-IIx rather than Type-IIb, which is also similar to rodents.

The distribution of the two types of muscle fibers is congenital. Humans skeletal muscles either have a higher percentage of Type-I or Type-II muscle fibers. An individual built of predominantly Type-I muscle fibers can perform well in low intensity long duration activities, such as long distance running. An individual with more Type-II muscle fibers is suited for high intensity short burst activities. Physiologically, Type-I fibers are much darker (red) in color due to a high capillary density compared to Type-II fibers.

Individuals with predominantly Type-I muscle fibers are usually lean (as in marathon runners). This is due to the small size of the Type-I muscle fibers, and its slow and ineffective adaptation to hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) training.

In contrast, Type-II individuals are quite bulky (as in sprinters). This increased size is due to the larger diameter of Type-II muscle fibers. Hence it will be much easier for individuals containing predominantly Type-II muscle fibers to build muscles and would be assumed to have a promising career as a body builder.

So how do we know what type of muscle fiber dominates our skeletal muscles? If you are a frequent exerciser, you would have an idea of what you are made of. You can either run for a longer duration or either you can do short burst sprints much better than the other. It is impossible for a 100m sprinter to compete with a marathon runner and vice versa. The other easiest way is to test both types of training modes and compare the outcome.

The most accurate way of indicating the composition of skeletal muscle is through muscle biopsies. This is a surgical procedure where a bit of the muscle is torn by a specialized needle inserted into a muscle group. This procedure is done in laboratory settings to conduct studies and on professional athletes, and is not pleasant.

Concluding the types of activity or sport that are best suited for you is not rocket science. The chance is that you already know what your skeletal muscle fibers are composed of, i.e. you know what you are good at. Just follow your instinct and your trainer on it.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Mummifying the Joints

By: Mujuthaba

Taping and bracing, in sport and exercise, is a method of injury prevention in general. The application mimics ‘extra’ ligaments and tendons to control and tighten the range of motion of a joint. Taping and bracing are in theory the same but in practical aspects different. The difference between the two methods is the use of constructed braces for ‘bracing’ and the use of tape for ‘taping’. Taping is also termed as strapping. There are cons and pros of both, which you will figure out as you go on.

Taping and bracing is done for two main reasons, prevention and rehabilitation. Prevention in a sense that an athlete is restricting a potentially injury-prone motion of a joint. Rehabilitation patients are recommended to go through taping and bracing to protect the injured joint from further injury and excessive motion.

In case of taping, the type of tape used and the taping skill of the therapist/trainer are important factors in weighing the effectiveness of its application. The tapes used should not be elastic, as elasticity of the tape would not restrict the desired motion of the joint. The tape used for taping should be adhesive, rigid, strong, non-irritant and easily torn by the therapist/trainer. A number of strapping tapes are in the market these days, appropriately constructed for application.

The effectiveness of taping has been questioned by some physios, coaches and trainers as the adhesiveness of the tapes are lost as soon as 20 minutes due to sweating and when the athlete starts moving around. Multiple taping has to be conducted in a single game if the athlete goes unharmed by loosened tape.

Bracing is easy compared to taping. In bracing a commercially made brace is used in order to restrict the movement of the joint. This may be easier than the hassles of taping, where time and money (tape) is saved. The cons of bracing could be the high cost of effective braces in the market and also the fact that some of them may not be applicable or suitable to some individuals.

As an injury preventive method, taping has not been shown to be effective in the shoulder, knee, elbow or the spinal joints. The most effective joints are the ankle, wrist and the fingers. In many cases, coaches and trainers use the bracing and taping method on athletes to boost their performance through psychological means. Mainly athletes who come out of rehabilitation tend to depend on the tape and braces, with the fear of further injury or low performance.

Healthy individuals should not rely on braces and tapes too often. Using this preventive technique only for a game can be different from presenting one-self with tape and bracing for every practice session. This may eventually decrease the individual’s range of motion of the joint and reduce the strength of underlying musculature around the joint. Therefore as a trainer or coach, it is necessary to persuade the athlete to gradually avoid relying on taping and bracing.

Taping and bracing should be considered in fast and contact sports as an injury preventive mechanism. Depending on taping and bracing too often as a healthy athlete should be reconsidered. As a trainer, it is extremely important to know where to apply tape, how to tape effectively and when to say no to taping and bracing.