The Sauna: Beneficial or Total Bulls**t?

As you enter the locker room, you see a group of dudes entering the sauna. You think to yourself “Every time I come to the gym, I always see people going in there. But does it really do anything?”

That’s a very fair question to ask, and in this article, we’ll be discussing whether or not it has any impact on your muscle-building goals, or if it’s just a complete waste of your time.

Sauna vs. Steam Room

First, we have to realize that there’s two different types of “saunas” really.

Quite simply, the only difference that exists between them is that one is humid and one is not. A sauna consists of much drier air than a steam room, which is essentially 100% humid air. This is all a matter of personal preference, as there hasn’t been much difference shown between them in terms of health benefits, which we’ll get to in a minute.

So choose whichever one is most convenient, whether it be because of preference or simply because that’s all your gym has. It really doesn’t matter all that much.

So What Are the Health Benefits?

Several benefits have been touted for utilizing the sauna on a regular basis. These include:

  • Improved cardiovascular functioning (improved blood flow)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Positive changes in cholesterol
  • Improved immune functioning
Image result for blood flow

But are any of these actually true?

Surprisingly, yes! In a systematic review conducted in Finland (which is actually where the sauna originated from), regular use of a sauna could potentially delay vascular disorders such as hypertension and heart disease. Also, dementia and lung disease could be delayed or even improved with the aid of regular, consistent bathing.

Unfortunately, however, there are many limitations with studies conducted on sauna use. For example, many of the studies are relatively small and others had several types of study biases’ involved, such as being involved with a company that produces saunas or the researchers’ using invalid study designs.

In another systematic review, it was shown that regular use of a sauna showed similar benefits in cardiovascular functioning as many other studies have shown. Also, interesting findings were seen in athletes as increased bioavailiability of nitric oxide was discovered, which is what helps the blood vessels dilate during exercise, expediting nutrient delivery to the cells. Putting it simply, it helps athletes to recover faster and perform better over the long term.

The authors of this systematic review even go on to say that there are potential benefits to the metabolism and specific hormonal pathways that deal with stress responses and excrete toxins from the body. But more research is needed in this area to confirm this claim.

What About for Muscle Growth and Fat Loss?

According to what I was able to find anyway (or lack thereof), there is no direct relationship between fat loss/muscle hypertrophy and sauna use. I mean it seems pretty obvious that there wouldn’t be a relationship between hypertrophy and sauna use, as that doesn’t really seem to make much sense.

However, as it comes to fat loss, you’d think it’d make a difference, right? Theoretically, it makes sense, and until official research comes out on this direct relationship pertaining specifically to athletes, we won’t know exactly for sure why this is the case. But we can make postulations as to why this is occurring.

Water Weight

Image result for water

For one, it’s mostly water weight that you’re losing when you sit in the sauna. Water and sodium make up a large majority of the sweat that exits out from your pores, so when you weigh yourself after a sauna and you see that weight drop, that’s what you’re seeing. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s great if you’re looking to lose some extra water that you may be holding, whether it be from excess sodium intake or what have you. But it’s most likely not fat that’s being oxidized and being put to use for energy simply because you’re sitting in high temperatures for 15-20 minutes a day.

Enhanced Performance

Perhaps sitting in the sauna has helped you in your overall performance in the gym. Let’s take the finding of increased nitric oxide (NO) production as an example. You’ve been able to perform more reps due to the increased amount of endurance you now have. And because of that, you’re now able to apply greater amounts of progressive overload, or the consistent increase of a training variable, to your training routine. In this case, it would be the number of repetitions.

Improved Overall Health

Let’s say that using the sauna has lowered your blood pressure and your cholesterol like the literature says it would. You know have a greater sense of well-being, therefore, you’re increasing what’s called your NEAT, or your Non-Exercise Induced Activity Thermogenesis. In other words, you’re increasing the amount of activity you’re doing during the day subconsciously, such as pacing, fidgeting, and walking around more in general. This, in turn, will help you to burn more calories over time.

Final Words…

Now, of course, what I just provided for you was a mix of facts and hypothetical situations. But the literature looks promising in my opinion in its usage not only for the general population but for those of us who engage in regular exercise as well. I personally believe it has helped me from both an aesthetic point of view as well as a performance standpoint.

Unless you have some sort of health condition that would make sauna use unsafe for you, I see no reason why you shouldn’t at least try to implement this into your training program for a week and see how it works out for you. 15-20 minutes for 2-3 times a week is all it takes to see benefits, at least in my experience.

So give it a shot and let me know what you think! If you have any questions about sauna usage, or have suggestions for future topics, don’t be afraid to ask!

5 Contest Prep Mistakes That Are EASILY AVOIDABLE!

As of this writing, I am fresh off of the 2019 Europa Games event in Orlando, Florida. It was a hell of a time, let me tell ya! I competed in both bodybuilding and classic physique, a crossover in which I’ve never attempted before.

BUT…

That was where one of my first mistakes was made. That and a few more led me to compile this list of 5 mistakes that you can avoid making on your next contest prep so that you can bring your best package to the stage!

Mistake #1: Looking At What Everybody Else is Doing

Now look, don’t get me wrong, you can learn a lot from people more experienced in the field than you are. But one things for sure, it can easily fuck you up mentally as well.

Something that I caught myself doing often times was obsessively researching all over the internet through forums, articles, and even the scientific literature as to what was the BEST way to do something.

For example, during my peak week, I was looking at all the different loading strategies for cutting carbs, water, sodium; the whole nine yards. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with gathering information, but what is wrong with it is being an information whore and not sticking to a plan that you’ve logically thought out for yourself.

And that leads me to my next point…

Mistake #2: Constantly 2nd Guessing Yourself

I didn’t have a coach for this prep nor any of the other preps I’ve done during my time as a bodybuilder. But even when you do, you still have the urge to question “Why?” “Why can I only eat xxx amount of calories while so-and-so can eat xxx more calories and still lose that lower ab fat?”

It’s questions like these that can lead to frustration and even anxiety. So how can we fix this problem? Hire a coach? Possibly. But some people can’t afford that. Just “fake it till you make it” until you start oooozing with confidence? No, that shit never works. So what do you do?

Well, let me tell you what you DON’T do, and that’s

Mistake #3: Not Being Meticulous Enough

Yeah, that’s right. I said it (or typed it anyway). Just like me, you’re more than likely NOT BEING PRECISE ENOUGH WITH YOUR PREP!

There were quite a few things I did this prep that I now scratch my head at in disbelief. Things such as:

  • Eat copious amounts of Walden Farms products (zero-calorie dressings, desserts, etc.)
  • Never developed a solid game plan for peak week as well as the day of the show
  • Made a last minute decision to crossover into both classic physique and bodybuilding

As far as all of the new “diet” products that are out now, such as Walden Farms, diet sodas, zero-calorie sweeteners, they’re all fun and great, until they start adding up!

Especially as it pertains to the last 4-8 weeks of prep when you’re really cutting it close, I now believe that these should really be tapered down, or at the very least, tracked for precisely. Even Walden Farms products contain trace calories even though they are marketed as “zero-calorie, it even says it on the label! Even though we don’t know exactly how many calories are in there, what we do know is that FDA guidelines allow for products with less than 5 calories per serving to be labeled as “zero-calorie”. Therefore, to err on the side of safety, I would label every serving you take of this as a gram of carbs, or 4 calories.

These MUST be accounted for, where everything counts. Think of it as a clinical trial, but on yourself. Everything must be tightly controlled if you want to achieve the most optimal results.

And as for making other important decisions on prep, please make sure to have a plan in place! Especially for something as important as peaking for a show! I kind of treated it as an afterthought, and when it came to show day, I was trying a million and one things to try to drop weight for the lightweight bodybuilding class as well as peak optimally during my carb backload. Which brings me to my next point…

Mistake #4: Crossing Over

Unless you have A LOT of money, or are simply curious, I don’t suggest crossing over into two different classes. I feel like at that point it’s more like being a “jack of all trades” as opposed to a “master of his craft.” Instead of being an expert in one, you kinda mediocre at both.

At the last minute, I decided that my weight was pretty close to a lightweight bodybuilder that I decided to throw out the big guns and try some dehydration strategies so that I could make the weight cut-off for that class. BIG MISTAKE!

Because I decided to do that, I ruined my chances of succeeding in the classic physique division. At this point, I was far below the weight cap for this division, as I now sacrificed too much size to be able to even place in the open class.

So please, just do the one division you feel best fits your physique. You’ll save a lot of time and money that way.

Mistake #5: Not Practicing Your Posing Enough

And last but certainly not least, PRACTICE YOUR POSING!

I can’t stress this enough how important this is. I think that posing needs to be practiced every single day, starting at 8 weeks out minimum. I was beginning to do this, and then I began to slip up, giving myself excuses like “I’m too tired” and “I already know how to do this.” Trust me, no amount of excuses are going to help you here. It could be the difference between a 1st or 2nd place trophy.

C’mon bro, you can do better than that.

It’s a workout itself. It takes practice to not only hold the poses for an extended period of time, but also to capture the right angle and lighting that you want the judges to witness the pose in. You’ve worked this hard, don’t screw it up by not practicing your posing.

Final Words

Well, there ya have it. Five mistakes that you can take with you to the bank. Learn from them. Learn from your own mistakes as well, because everybody makes them. This sport is very rewarding, especially when you snag a first place trophy 😜

Don’t worry babe, I won’t be this tan forever.

WARNING: CONTEST PREP IS NOT HEALTHY

Competition season is upon us once again for those of us who compete in physique sports. A time to get shredded, diced, chizzled…you get the idea.

So I was speaking to a friend of mine earlier this week to catch up. As she’s aware I’m competing in the next upcoming week (I’m in my peak week as I write this), she noticed that I was very tired, lethargic, and just overall lacked interest. Her, not being totally immersed into the scene of competitive fitness and physique sports, asked me “Zach, is this even healthy?”

I answered something along the lines of “No, no it’s not. But it’ll be worth it.” In a very unenthusiastic tone I might add.

But I Thought It Was Healthy To Lose Body Fat!

And you’d be right! In fact, there are a plethora of health benefits to losing body fat, particularly if you’re overweight or obese. Those following a standard calorie-restricted diet (approximately 500 calorie deficit) can often expect to see significant decreases in waist circumference, glucose, insulin, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad cholesterol”.

However, the difference here is that we’re talking about conditioned athletes. VERY conditioned athletes. This is much different than many of the studies that are out there, which are usually conducted on overweight or obese individuals. But even if they’re conducted on those of normal body weight, they’re often still not very physically active or are on the higher range of healthy body fat levels, particularly in the United States.

It’s All About the Ranges

When we’re talking about body fat, we can’t think of it in terms of simply “how much weight did they lose?” We need more context. We need to think about WHO we are actually talking about here and we need to think in terms of body fat loss as opposed to simply weight loss. That’s why utilizing body fat percentage along with body weight is so important in tracking somebody’s progress.

Men and women vary widely in the amount of body fat that they carry. Typically, women carry more body fat than men. This is just basic physiology at work.

Source: American Council on Exercise (ACE)

As you can see, there are many different categories that somebody can be placed into depending on where their body fat percentage falls. Obviously, most would fall into the average category.

This is completely fine, as most improvements in health biomarkers, such as the ones mentioned earlier, are seen when somebody drops from the overweight/obese category to the average category. After that, results would still be seen, but the returns would diminish after each and every category the person drops. Makes sense?

Contest Expectations

During a bodybuilding contest, it is standard and expected that you come in as lean and conditioned as you possibly can, while still carrying as much muscle mass as you can hold onto (the exception to this being something like the women’s bikini division, where excessive vascularity and leanness would be discouraged).

When you think about it, you’re asking your body to do something very extreme, much against its wishes, as it is far from its normal state (homeostasis).

Referencing the above chart, men are often expected to come into shows at below 5% body fat, tapping into that “essential fat” category. Because this fat is “essential” to our survival and our calories at this point are extremely low, the body doesn’t have much place to turn in terms of energy production. Because of this, muscle loss becomes a huge concern.

Hormonal Effects

The effects that take place on the body’s hormones are quite drastic for both men and women.

  • Testosterone: lowered in both men and women, which we all know is important for building and maintaining our muscle mass and strength
  • Estrogen: this will be lowered along with testosterone. This is because testosterone converts into estrogen, and with less testosterone, you’ll obviously have less estrogen.
    • This is mostly important for women, as it will have significant effects on their menstrual cycles and mood.
    • But it’s also important to note for men as well, since it plays a vital role in skin and joint health, as well as sexual function in both sexes.
  • Leptin: this one has gotten a lot of attention lately. Leptin is a hormone that regulates your hunger, and the further it drops, the hungrier you get. It can get so bad for some people that it may exacerbate those with eating disorders or other mental health conditions.
  • Cortisol: “the stress hormone” as it’s often referred to. This one actually elevates, as opposed to the ones I previously discussed.
    • This catabolic hormone is responsible for breaking down tissues for energy, and it is notorious for doing this to muscle mass, particularly in times of high stress, such as contest prep.
  • Insulin: pretty much the opposite function to cortisol, this anabolic hormone helps to synthesize new tissues. But when it is very low, such as during contest prep, new tissues are more slowly created and the body’s normal processes begin to slow, thus dropping our metabolic rate, our the number of calories we burn at rest.

I could go on and on about the effects that contest prep has on hormones, but as you can see, it’s not pretty. This can most certainly take a toll in many aspects of your life, including your relationships, job(s), and academic pursuits.

Post-Contest Rebound

Often, after a show, win or lose, competitors will participate in an all-out binging episode. This is to relieve themselves of the 3, 4, 5, sometimes 6 months of hard dieting that they did leading up to this point. And this is expected.

However, it becomes unhealthy when they cannot stop this type of binging behavior for weeks after the show. This can lead to copious amounts of body fat being accumulated onto their physiques. As dramatic as it sounds, it can lead to things like depression and anxiety, as they do not look nearly as lean, vascular, or cut-up as they did when they were on that stage.

But That’s Okay!!!

It’s okay to not be as lean anymore! In fact, it’s encouraged!

The body cannot sustain that type of leanness forever, at least not healthfully. You would be living in misery for the rest of your life if you tried to maintain a look like that year-round. It’s not sustainable, don’t even get it in your head that it is.

Unfortunately, this is what can cause or exacerbate body image issues in some people. They created this “new normal” for themselves, and now that they are not there anymore, they may resort to unhealthy tactics to try to get back to that look again, long before the body has recovered from the intense preparation is was previously put through.

It’s Not For Everybody

Unfortunately, this isn’t for everybody. Competing in physique sports is extremely tough. Many people overlook the mental strength and fortitude that it actually takes to succeed. Most only look at the physical aspect, which is understandable. But it’s more than just vanity, I promise you.

Don’t get me wrong, taking part in physique competitions comes with great benefits as well! Mental toughness, perseverance, discipline, I could go on. These aspects of your character translate over to other areas of your life as well, which makes it even better.

Final Words…

I saw an interview not too long ago where an IFBB pro bodybuilder was asked “Would you ever have your son compete in bodybuilding when he gets older?” His answer surprised me, saying “Absolutely not. It fucks you up mentally. A lot.”

Now of course this is just one perspective, but a very interesting message is portrayed here.

If you want to try it, than by all means, I’m for it. But don’t go into this expecting it to be some cakewalk. Yes, it is fun. Yes, striking the poses in front of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of cheering fans is exciting. But please, for the love of God, make sure you are mentally prepared. It can even mess with the mental health of those who are considered in good mental health, such as myself.

Just be careful. Knowing all this, you’ll have a good time, and stay healthy in the process.

If you enjoyed this, please don’t be shy and share this with your fellow competitors to get the message across! Talk to you all soon! 😁

Is Bodybuilding ACTUALLY a Sport?

This is something that has received quite a bit of controversy over the past few years as bodybuilding has grown in popularity. Is bodybuilding an actual sport, or is it mostly a “beauty pageant”, as those who criticize the sport like to call it.

Well to find that out, it would be pretty helpful to look at the definition of sport.

If you look up the definition on Google, the noun “sport” means:


“An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

Google Search, 2019

So if we go solely off of this definition, I would say that bodybuilding most certainly IS a sport. Posing involves physical exertion as well as both gross and finite motor skills. The individuals taking part in the competition receive scores against one another in order to determine the victor.

Image result for bodybuilding score

Alright, it’s sold. Bodybuilding is a sport.

Hold On, Not So Fast

You really thought that was the end of the story? Here at Scholarly Muscle, there’s always multiple facets to the argument!

What sets bodybuilding apart from other quote unquote “sports” is its lack of objectivity.

What I mean by this is that bodybuilding judges come from various origins, backgrounds, upbringings, and experience. With this in mind, there are multiple ways that the competition can go. You can have the same exact two competitors standing next to one another, and two different judges could declare a different victor, simply because of the differences they both have in their experiences.

It’s All Objective

In most sports, both team and individual, there’s a clear winner and a clear loser. This is usually defined by a point system, though they usually vary, they mostly work the same, with the highest amount of points, runs, goals, etc. winning (with the exception being something like golf where the lowest score wins).

No matter the bias of the officials, coaches, or whomever else, the winners and losers of these events are very clear (barring any sort of scandals or cheating of course).

Here’s Where It Gets Tricky

The part of bodybuilding that gets quite tricky lies in the fact that the preparation and training for the event can be considered objective.

Training for competition involves weight training, cardio, diet manipulations, supplements, etc. These are all very objective measures:

  • Weight Training: load, volume, sets, reps, rest time, etc.
  • Cardio: duration, intensity, speed, incline, intervals, etc.
  • Diet: macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, meal timing, etc.
  • Supplements: timing, dosage, cycling, etc.

All of these factors are quantitative sets of data that can only be analyzed for what it is: data. So can you judge bodybuilding solely by the training methods associated with it? Or can you only judge it based off of the competition itself?

It’s Probably Not a Sport

I think most people would say that it’s not a sport due to the fact that you must judge it off of the competition itself, which I would completely agree with. And even though the argument of subjectivity vs. objectivity isn’t mentioned directly in the definition of sport, it’s heavily implied, at least in most people’s minds. Because of this, I don’t think it’s worth arguing any further because…

Who the Hell Cares?

Does it really matter if it’s a sport or not? If you enjoy doing it, and you view it as a form of entertainment, then why does a simple classification affect whether or not you garner enjoyment out of something?

For some reason, this really affects people (especially bodybuilders), feeling the need to heavily defend the fact that it is in fact a sport. When you think about it, there’s a lot of things going against it in that argument.

Let’s take powerlifting for example, what I believe to be the most closely related strength sport to bodybuilding. I’d say this is the objective version of what bodybuilding is. Training styles are similar (but most certainly not identical) and a surplus of muscle mass is standard for these activities.

However, in powerlifting, judges score based off of the weights lifted across the three lifts of the deadlift, bench press, and the squat. There’s clear criteria as to what constitutes a successful attempt and what doesn’t, and there’s clear rules established as for what’s allowed and not allowed to be used, such as particular pieces of equipment or aids.

When it comes to bodybuilding, there are many more factors at play that hinder its objectivity. For example, during the “most muscular” pose, bodybuilders are allowed to hit their choice of various poses that constitute it as a “most muscular”. Because of this, this allows them to hide their weaknesses and showcase their strengths more easily. Yes, there are standard rounds of symmetry and comparison that take this into account, but still, it’s something that should be noted.

Image result for bodybuilding most muscular

Do What You Love!

So at the end of the day, who cares?! Do what you enjoy, and if it’s a “beauty pageant” than so be it. There’s no room for homophobia in 2019 anyway.

If you guys enjoyed this article, please let me know what you think! Do you think bodybuilding is a sport or not? And why do you think so?