Ep. #1088: Research Review: Behind-the-Neck Press, Cardio vs. Muscle Growth, & Plus Size Normalization


Hello. Hello. This is Muscle for Life and I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for another installment in my research review series of episodes where I talk about a few studies that I have come across recently in my travels that I found interesting and practical and that I think you might.

Find interesting and practical. And so here we are with today’s episode, which is going to be about three topics and three studies on those topics. One is the behind the neck press. Is that a good exercise? Is it a dangerous exercise as some people claim? Should you be doing behind the neck pressing?

That’s gonna be the first. Topic in the first study, and then I’m gonna talk about cardio and muscle growth and some research that indicates that cardio may actually boost muscle growth, which I think is kind of interesting because 10 years ago when I got into the fitness racket, the general consensus, at least among meatheads, On cardio was that it kills your gains.

Really, any amount of cardio is bad if you are trying to maximize muscle growth and that it is mostly unnecessary If you are doing at least a few hours of strength training per week, you fast forward to today more and more evidence has accumulated, showing that the opposite might be true regarding muscle growth.

That a moderate amount of cardio, or let’s say up to a moderate amount of cardio may enhance muscle growth and minimally does not impair muscle growth to impair muscle growth. It takes a lot more cardio than most people think, and also more and more research has shown that. Cardio does offer unique benefits that you will not get from strength training no matter how much you do, or you will not get the same magnitude of benefits from let’s say, 5, 6, 7 hours of strength training per week as you would from let’s say a couple hours of moderate intensity cardio per week.

And these benefits are mostly related to the cardiovascular system, unsurprisingly. But that is a very important system if we want to live a long and healthy life. And anyway, I’m, I’m kind of rambling at this point, but the next topic in the next study that I’m going to discuss is regarding people’s perception of their weight and how many people misperceive their body weight to be healthy and normal and appropriate when it is indeed not, and how that can encourage them from actually achieving a normal healthy body weight.

Okay, let’s start this episode with some research on the behind. The neck press. Alright, so generally speaking, training a muscle group with different angles and different motion patterns is a good thing. Generally, that is going to produce more muscle growth over time than with just one or two angles or patterns, and that is one of the reasons that you want to regularly, but not necessarily frequently, but regularly change exercises in your workouts.

Now that is also why. Some people include the behind the neck shoulder press in their repertoire. It’s usually an alternative to, uh, a more traditional overhead press, whether it’s a barbell press or a machine press or a dumbbell press. By shifting that plane of motion backward, just a foot or so, you can challenge your.

Shoulder muscles in a slightly different way. And if you ask bodybuilders, especially older school bodybuilders, many of them will say that that behind the neck position is more than just a substitute for, its more frontward counterpart. Many of these guys and gals will say that the behind the neck press is downright superior for stimulating all three heads of the deltoid, the shoulder.

Muscles, and you know these people are not wrong. According to research conducted by scientists at the University of Milan that had eight competitive bodybuilders, do one set each of the seated barbell overhead press the seated behind the neck barbell press seated machine, overhead press and seated machine behind the neck.

Press, and during each exercise, the researchers measured muscle activation in the delts, the pecs, the traps, the triceps. And what the results showed is that all of the exercises stimulated the pecs, the traps, the triceps, and the front delts. Similarly, although the Ps were slightly more active in the overhead presses, which is something to remember, if you are training on a limited time budget, that doing an overhead press.

Does train your pecs to some degree. Not as much as a bench press, but the overhead press is, let’s say a more of a, an effective quote unquote compound exercise than the bench press. If you just had to choose one, cuz the overhead press is going to stimulate your shoulders more than the bench press your triceps.

Also a bit of a. A whole body exercise. You will get some pecs in there as well, but you have to more engage your core and other stabilizing muscles. I think that the bench press is a great exercise, but the overhead press, I’d say is a highly underrated exercise. But anyway, getting back on track here with this research and with these exercises, the researchers, what they found is that in the case of the side and rear Dels in particular, The behind the neck press produced significantly higher levels of activity.

So the behind the neck press was similarly effective at training the front belts as the other variations, but it was significantly better for training the side and. Rear doubts. Now, if I were to stop there, you might conclude that the old school bodybuilders were right all along. That behind the neck press is clearly just superior to the conventional press, but there’s more to consider.

First, most people find the behind the neck press uncomfortable. I’m one of those people because it requires very good, it requires above average minimally shoulder mobility, and many people lack that. And also it forces you to tilt your head forward into an awkward. Position to press from, and that’s what I don’t like about it specifically.

And then there’s another issue because the behind the neck press puts your shoulders into an inherently unstable position, and research shows that that position can increase your risk of shoulder injury. And then finally, third, to compensate for those two disadvantages that I just shared, what you have to do is use a lot less weight than you would use with a front.

Facing press. And also you have to progress more slowly and you have to progress in smaller amounts in terms of weight on the bar. And those factors greatly limit your ability to gain muscle and strength. So if we think about this on balance, I think it’s reasonable. To regard the behind the neck press as a viable exercise, but given its shortcomings, I would rather use a standard press to maximally and safely overload my front delts and rely mostly on effective isolation exercises like lateral raises, the rear raise or the rear del road to train my side and rear.

Dealt and if I had to choose one exercise for more side and rear dealt involvement, it would probably be the Arnold Press, because minimally it involves the side delts more than just a traditional dumbbell press or uh, barbell press without the. Disadvantages of the behind the neck press. Okay, next up we have cardio and muscle growth, which many weightlifters think goes together like oil and water, or if you have a twisted mind because you grew up on the internet, like me goes together like laxatives and late night rendezvous.

Over the last 10 years or so, more and more research has been showing that cardio does not drain your gains. You can run, you can swim, you can cycle, and you can build a significant amount of muscle and strength. And according to a study conducted by scientists at McMaster University, Cardio may even enhance muscle growth.

So here’s what happened. For six weeks, the researchers had 14 active young people do 3 45 minute moderate intensity cycling workouts per week using one of their legs. Then for the following 10 weeks, the participants completed a low body strength training program that included only bilateral exercises, which are exercises that train both of your legs simultaneously.

Think of squat, leg press, leg extension, leg curl, calf raises, and so forth. And the results showed that the legs that were trained with cardio before the weightlifting program increased capillary density, type one and type two, muscle fiber size, as well as satellite cell and mononuclear content significantly more than the legs that only got the.

Resistance training. And just for reference, satellite cells are a type of cell that helps repair damaged muscle fibers and nuclei carry the DNA that constructs new muscle proteins. And so again, the researchers found more than just more muscle in the legs that did the cardio before the weightlifting, they saw benefits related to improved blood flow and improved, I guess you could say, mechanics, physiological mechanisms related.

Two muscle building, and the researchers also analyzed the 10 highest and lowest responding legs, and they found the following. One muscle grew most in the legs that had the largest changes in satellite cell content and grew the least in the legs That had the small changes in satellite cell content.

Not surprising. Given the role that. Satellite cells play in building muscle. The researchers also found that the legs that grew the most had greater capillary density than those that grew the least. So there was a connection there between capillary density and muscle growth. Three, the legs with the highest capillary density before the weightlifting grew more than those with the lowest capillary density.

Before weightlifting, so further strengthening that connection. And four, the legs that grew the most increased satellite cell content more than the legs that grew the least. Now the $60,000 question, why? Why did cardio appear to enhance muscle growth in this study? Well, the authors were not sure. It’s not.

Clear yet, because there isn’t a lot of research out there on this specifically. However, a hypothesis is that, and in a likely hypothesis, uh, a hypothesis grounded in other evidence is that cardio increases capillary density that has been shown, which then appears to boost muscle growth by improving how satellite cells and nuclei respond.

To weightlifting. That said, there is other research that has shown that cardio plus weightlifting produces more muscle growth than just weightlifting alone. But in this case, even when cardio does not dramatically increase capillary density. And so there’s probably more to learn about how capillary density affects muscle growth, how cardio affects muscle growth in other ways.

But we can confidently say that there is a growing body of evidence that cardio. Can enhance muscle growth so long as you follow a few guidelines. So one, I would recommend prioritizing low impact forms of cardio, such as cycling, rowing, skiing, rocking swimming, as opposed to. Running or sprinting on concrete on a hard surface.

And the reason for that is higher impact forms of cardio put a lot of stress and strain in the body and they require a lot of work to recover from. And that can cut into your strength training and your results in your strength training that has been shown in other research. I would also recommend doing a moderate amount of cardio studies show that.

If cardio is going to impair muscle growth, it’s mostly a matter of how much you do. And so a great way to avoid that while also reaping many of the benefits that cardio has to offer related to muscle building and health and to longevity and otherwise is, uh, a couple hours per week, let’s say two or three low to maybe moderate intensity cardio workouts per week, ranging anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, depending on how fit you are and how much time you have to give to cardio and how much time you want to spend doing cardio.

I also would generally recommend staying away from high intensity interval training unless you really enjoy it, because it places larger demands on your body for recovery, especially if it is a higher impact form of cardio like sports, for example, playing soccer, playing basketball, and if you really enjoy playing high impact.

Intense sports that require a lot of sprinting, that’s fine. But if you want to minimize their interference with your strength training, I would say try to limit yourself to one or maybe two hit workouts per week and try not to exceed 30 ish minutes per workout. And that’s easy to do if you are doing hit.

Workouts if you are just hopping on an upright bike and doing sprints for 20 or 30 minutes. If you are playing sports, you probably are going to be doing more hit than that, and that’s okay. Just know that that’s not ideal. If you are trying to optimize muscle growth. I also would recommend that you try to do your cardio and your weightlifting on different days if possible, and if you have to do them on the same day, try to do your weightlifting first and then try to do your cardio after that.

Ideally. Separated by at least six hours. And if you wanna learn more about those recommendations, why I recommend them, as well as some other things you can do to make, let’s say cardio and weightlifting as synergistic as possible, head over to legion athletics.com and search for concurrent. And you’ll see an article called Concurrent Training, the Right Way to Combine Cardio and Strength Training.

Give it a read. If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, and if you want help me do more of it, please do check out my sports Nutrition company Legion, because while you don’t need supplements to build muscle, to lose fat, to get healthy, the right ones can help. And that’s why over 400,000 discerning.

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Skedaddle on over to buy legion.com now and save big before we run out of stock of at least a thing or two, which tends to happen with our site-wide sales. Okay. The final research and topic I wanna talk about today has to do with the body positivity movement, which has gained an enormous following over the last decade or so.

And what draws many people to it is the promise that you can just unconditionally love your body, regardless of its size or its shape or its appearance. And. If you do that, you can boost your mental wellbeing and maybe you’ll also lose a little bit of weight because you are going to be less stressed and maybe that is going to reduce stress eating.

And I agree with some of that. I do not agree that you can be healthy at any size. That’s like saying you can be tall at any height or rich at any. Income, but you can be healthy at many sizes. Exercise is always healthy no matter what size you are. I think that is important to say, but it’s also important to acknowledge the very real physical health risks associated with being overweight.

And being obese, it’s important to not normalize something that is objectively unhealthy or even encourage people to achieve a body composition that is objectively unhealthy weight of a large amount of scientific. Evidence, and if that is normalized, if we do lower our collective societal standards for what is healthy and fit, it is going to cause a lot of very real harm to a lot of people.

Now, there’s a question about whether that is actually happening. Is body positivity or at least certain elements of the body positivity crowd, are they encouraging people to become unhealthy? Are they normalizing unhealthy? Well, Studies have shown that when obesity is common, people tend to underestimate their body weight, and then that makes them less driven to lose weight, which of course can exacerbate the obesity epidemic over the long term.

And one study in particular that was conducted by scientists at the University of East Anglia. Elegantly illustrates this point. So what the researchers did is they looked back at the health survey for England between 1997 and 2015, and they reviewed 23,459 overweight and obese people’s answers to the following question.

Given your age and height, would you say that you are about the right weight, too heavy, too light? Or not sure. And what the researchers found is that about 39% of male and about 17% of female respondents perceived their weight as about right. And that is not right. Remember, these people were objectively overweight or obese according to their body mass index, which can be incorrect in the cases of people with a lot of muscle and very little body fat.

But in the case of normal people with at least a normal amounts of muscle, B M I is still a a very useful, very. Accurate proxy four, body composition, which then allows us to draw some accurate conclusions about how healthy they likely are. I say likely because every rule has exceptions. You can find overweight and obese people who are objectively healthy by all metrics, but they are the exceptions.

They are not the rule. Generally speaking, those people. Are unhealthy by objective standards. They get blood work done and certain things are not good. They are not where they need to be, and their fitness is not where it needs to be. And anyway, coming back to this research, what the scientists also found is that the number of people that underestimated their weight, Increased over time.

So it was about 48% to about 58% in men. Cause remember, this research spanned from 1997 to 2015, so the amount of people underestimating their weight increased from 58%, or sorry, from 48% to 58% in men, and 25% to about 31% in women between those periods and almost three quarters. So about 73% of the people surveyed also reported their health as good or very good.

Which again is possible with some of the people. Good health, at least very good health is basically impossible if you are overweight or obese. You are not in very good health if we go by any reasonable definition of very good health, but good health. Is possible. Let’s say in the case of someone who is overweight and they actually do eat fairly well and they do exercise at least a few hours per week and they get enough sleep and they don’t smoke and they don’t drink alcohol, they probably will be in good health, or at least the rule.

Now, uh, changes for that exception, the rule for that person a little bit overweight, they do all these things. Well, most of those people are in good health, but. Exception rather than rule. And so anyway, coming back to this study, unsurprisingly, researchers found that people who underestimated their body weight were less likely to try to lose weight than people who more accurately perceived their body weight.

Specifically, the scientists found that people were about 85% less likely to try to lose weight. If they underestimated their body weight, and that would help explain why many of the people surveyed were not trying to lose weight. Only about half of the overweight people were trying to lose weight, and about two thirds of the obese people were trying to lose weight.

And so then what have we learned here? Well, these results and the results from other similar studies suggest that the prevalence of obesity is changing people’s perception of body weight. It’s changing the perception of what is healthy, what is fit, what is. Even lean and that it’s making it harder for people to accurately evaluate their body weight and their body composition, and that in turn is making these people less likely to try to improve their body weight and improve their body composition, and that’s a bad thing.

Unfortunately, research shows that when you are overweight and when you are obese, probably the most healthy. Single thing you can do is to lose weight, to lose fat, to get to a healthy body composition, which doesn’t mean rip. You don’t have to get jacked. You just have to get your body fat down to, let’s say, under 20% if you are a man and under 30%, if you are a woman, so long as you are anywhere between, let’s say, 10 to 20% in men, or 20 to 30% in women, you can achieve and maintain great health as well as a great.

Physi according to how you want to look. Some guys and gals like to have a bit more body fat and some like to have a bit less. And if you don’t know what your body fat is or what different body fat percentages look like, head over to legion athletics.com, search for body fat, and you can find some articles that I wrote on measuring body fat and you’ll see that some of the articles they have charts even just to make it easy to at least estimate your body fat percentage, uh, over at least.

Agent athletics.com. There’s also a body fat percentage calculator tool. If you wanna play around with that, you can find that in the learn section of the menu. And then there’s tools. So if you go to the tools hub, there’s a body fat percentage calculator in there. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes.

And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you. And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have. Ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share.

Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future. I read everything. My, myself, I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.


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