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Does Biohacking Your Body Really Work?

In this episode, I talk about popular fitness biohacks, how they work, and whether you should just stick to a conventional exercise routine.

By
Ben Greenfield,
July 6, 2015
Episode #242

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There’s a bit of a debate in the fitness industry about the efficacy of popular “biohacks” that supposedly allow you to achieve fitness, fat loss, or performance results faster than you would normally be able to. After all, it just doesn’t seem fair that your neighbor down the street might be able to buy some fancy electrodes, a vibration training platform, an oxygen therapy device, an infrared sauna, or a bunch of supplements and somehow be able to beat all that hard work that you’re doing in the gym.

While I certainly don’t condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs or blood doping, I’ll admit that in many, many cases (if you’re willing to spend some money and possibly look quite silly) devices or training tools that allow you to hack your way to faster results have been proven by science to actually allow you to exercise less while getting the same or better results.

1. EMSbiohacking

You’ve probably seen it before. The infomercials on TV that features a man or woman lounging happily on the couch while some fancy electrodes stimulate their stomach into an instant 6-pack. These electrode machines, also known as Electrical Muscle Stimulation or EMS, are becoming more and more common at online shopping website and in fitness magazines.

But isn’t this too good to be true? How on earth could you actually “shock” yourself fit?

A recent study entitled, “Effects of high-frequency current therapy on abdominal obesity in young women: a randomized controlled trial,” is a perfect investigation into this very question.

In the study, a group of subjects received 30 minutes of high-frequency current therapy via a series of electrodes placed on their stomachs. The subjects did these sessions 3 times per week for 6 weeks, for a total of 18 EMS sessions. The researchers measured waist circumference, body mass index, subcutaneous fat mass (that's fat found under the skin), and body fat percentage.

The results were surprising, especially considering these women didn’t modify their exercise or diet.

The electrical stimulation caused significant effects on decreasing waist circumference, abdominal obesity, subcutaneous fat mass, and body fat percentage, leading the study to note in the final results that: “The use of the high-frequency current therapy may be beneficial for reducing the levels of abdominal obesity in young women.”

Other studies have shown EMS to be helpful for everything from pain management to helping increase muscle blood flow for warming up prior to performance-related activities. I discuss both these concepts and research in detail in my article "How To Use Electrical Muscle Stimulation to Enhance Performance, Build Power and VO2 Max," and the podcast episode "How the LA Lakers, The Boston Red Sox & Over 104 Other Professional Teams Are Maximizing Recovery."

2. EWOT

Exercising while using concentrated oxygen, also know as exercise with oxygen therapy or EWOT, involves the inhalation of high flow oxygen (8-10 liters per minute at an oxygen purity level of 90-95%).  Theoretically, EWOT increases the diameter of blood vessels and oxygenation of tissues and cells, assists in recovery from stress related illnesses, helps prevent age-related diseases such as cancer, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and 'non healing' wounds, slows down the aging process, stimulates the immune system, assists in weight loss, and reverses chronically low oxygen saturation of the blood. 

Now, I used to be under the impression that you simply cannot force any more oxygen into your cells than you would be able to at the normal percentage of oxygen in the air. A red blood cell carries no more than 97% oxygen. And theoretically, you cannot force another 3% into the cell. This is indeed true.

However, the extra oxygen you’re exposed to during EWOT is absorbed by your plasma (this is what carries both red and white blood cells) and is then pushed into cells and tissue without the actual aid of the red blood cells (this is called the “Law of Mass Action”). Very little oxygen actually gets through, but if you are consistently feeding your body the extra oxygen, there will be a noticeable increase in your total tissue oxygen level.

You can read up more on EWOT research here, but it looks like the use of one of those fancy hyperoxgyenation masks may actually have some significant benefit on your training and your recovery.

3. Saunas

I’ve covered the benefits of wet saunas, dry saunas, and the use of heat to maximize cardiovascular blood flow and your tolerance to exercising in the heat on a heat acclimation webinar for USA Triathlon, and I’ve thoroughly discussed a myriad of other health benefits of heat exposure, using everything from dry saunas to steam rooms to those dorky sauna suits in my interview with Dr. Rhonda Patrick.

Nowadays I’m spending at least two and, based on the results of this Finnish longevity study, as many as five days per week in an infrared sauna. As the Mayo Clinic has reported here, several studies have looked at using  saunas in the treatment of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and rheumatoid arthritis, and these studies have indeed found some evidence of benefit. For athletes using a sauna post-exercise, those benefits can extend to being as powerful as illegal performance enhancing drugs (as long as you go use the sauna for at least 30 minutes once you’ve finished your exercise session).

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