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Last Updated on February 27, 2018

Fat Cells Used to Be Our Friends, Now They’re Enemies

Fat Cells Used to Be Our Friends, Now They’re Enemies

Fat cells and muscle cells might look nearly the same from the outside. They’re both part of your body and just below your skin. They both even can be clenched with your fingers. The muscles might be a little bit harder to clench – but this isn’t too much of a difference, am I right?

Yet, it is. I remember back when I first started working out, with an obsolete, rusty barbell at my friends place. I was sixteen years old. Back then I told my friend: “I don’t want to get any skinnier. I just want to convert my fat cells into muscle cells!” I was being serious. Me and my friend both thought it was a reasonable goal. It wasn’t.

I’ve wasted countless of hours on trying to build muscle mass while simultaneously losing fat. It wasn’t worth it. Here’s the unparalleled reason why.

Fat Cells: Old Friends – New Enemies

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    Fat cells used to be our friends. Back in the days of our ancestors, when food were scarce, we had to be able to massively store energy. Nobody in the tribe knew when we had to go weeks without food. That’s the reason why our body is inclined to store fat and minimize muscle growth. Our body is conditioned to be an energy storage machine and not an energy waster.

    Nowadays fat cells are our enemies. Most people want to lose a couple of pounds of fat. Not only because obesity, due to our sedentary behaviour and our eating choices, is contributing to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and artheriosclerosis. But also because being overweight resonates neither with our feminine nor masculine ideal of beauty.

    How To: Fat Cell

      The fat cell is divided into multiple parts. There is the purple nucleus, the green mitochondria, the blue Golgi apparatus and the yellow, gigantic, fat storage unit. The last part is what makes the cell full of lipid unique. The fat cells are your body’s energy storage.

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      Fat cells participate in hypertrophy. Which means they increase their fat storage until they can’t physically increase in size anymore. Then your body creates more fat cells. You want to keep the amount of fat cells close to the optimum in your body. Because the fat cells in your body are yours to keep for a lifetime. The storage inside your fat cells can be lost. But fat cells, after they’ve been created, immediately get replaced after their death.

      Even worse: Fat cells produce a protein, that inhibits your body from breaking down the fat storage. Your organism creates a set point. This means that once you’ve been overweight it’s far easier to reset into your old, unhealthy habits again. That’s the reason why 40% of obese children become obese adults.[1]

      If we apply this knowledge to dieting, we know that it’s crucial for you to keep your diet sustainable. Because if your diet isn’t, your body is more than happy to keep adding the lost fat again to your organism. This is called the Yo-Yo effect, which has been shown to increase all-cause mortality.[2]

      Fat cells also have other crucial factors. They’re turning androgens into estrogens. They’re contributing to the production of estradiol. This is not only bad for men, as we want to be full of testosterone. But this is also bad for women, as it’s a major risk factor of infertility.[3]

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      How To: Muscle Cell

        Muscle cells look quite differently than fat cells. They’re also quite different in their functioning. Muscle cells are the individual contractile units within a muscle. A muscle in your body, like your biceps, contains hundreds of thousands of muscle fibers.

        The contraction of your skeletal muscle fibers (muscle fibers are a synonym to muscle cells) lead to a movement in your joints. The main task of your muscles is to move your body. In comparison to fat cells, muscles don’t store energy, they need energy for their functioning.

        When muscle cells are contracting, they’re releasing myokines.[4] This is the way muscle fibers communicate with the rest of your body. Myokines affect most organs, but are famous for their interaction with the glucose and fat metabolism. Which means the muscles are communicating with your liver and your fat cells, to release glucose and fats in the blood stream. This is energy for the muscle cells to use. This effect of the myokine regulates glucose and lipid metabolism and therefore counteracts inflammation. This may help slow down aging.[5]

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        The Starting Point

        The anatomy and the function of fat- and muscle cells are vastly different. Due to this reason, it’s physically impossible to convert fat cells into muscle cells.

        Don’t waste your time on improving both. Trust me, I’ve tried this before. I was following a rock hard diet, I maximized my protein intake (don’t do this!) and trained up to 10 days a week. I didn’t see results. Sustainability is the holy grail. Eat healthier every single day and don’t go into a massive calorie deficit.

        If you’re just starting out and aiming for a better body, do this: Eat one extra portion of vegetables for dinner and go for a 10-minute walk afterwards. This is easily doable – and that’s a huge advantage. The average gym-goer quits after 3 months. The reason: He didn’t build a fundament of healthy habits.

        Don’t have enough time to go for a walk and cook? No excuses. The average American watches more than 4.5 hours of television a day.[6] You have to create healthier habits.

        If you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life. – Tony Robbins

        Once you’ve got into a habit of doing this, you can slowly try to increase the volume. This will make the whole journey of eating healthier and exercising a voluntary, fun decision. If you’ve got the financial means, you can hire a competent personal trainer or an online coach. The accountability, knowledge and guidance of the trainer will vastly speed up the process.

        Reference

        [1]NCBI: Obesity in Children
        [2]NCBI: Medical, metabolic, and psychological effects of weight cycling.
        [3]Green BB, Weiss NB, Daling JR: Risk of ovulatory infertility in relation to body weight. Fertil Steril 50:721, 1988
        [4]NCBI: Skeletal muscle as an endocrine organ: PGC-1α, myokines and exercise
        [5]NCBI: Skeletal muscle: an endocrine organ
        [6]Business Insider: The average American watches so much TV it’s almost a full-time job

        More by this author

        Florian Wüest

        Qualified and experienced fitness trainer and online coach.

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        Last Updated on August 15, 2018

        7 Amazing Things That Will Happen When You Do Plank Every Day

        7 Amazing Things That Will Happen When You Do Plank Every Day

        Bodyweight exercises are gaining ground in the fitness world due to the practicality and simplicity of getting in shape using your own body weight. Planks are one form of bodyweight exercises that will never go out of fashion. Planks are one of the most effective exercises you can do. Why? Because they require a small time investment on your part, and offer the chance to achieve substantial results in a relatively short span of time.

        Video Summary

        Why is it important to train up our core strength?

        There are numerous sites and blogs which detail ways to build your core muscles or core strength. Often though, these sites neglect to explain what your core muscles actually are, and why building them is important.

        This is quite surprising, as core muscles are quite easy to explain. Your core muscles are a series of muscles in your midsection, and are used in most forms of movement. Though they aren’t housed in your arms or legs, your core muscles can help transfer force from one limb to another, or are used in addition to muscles in your arms or legs to increase their effectiveness. As such a strong core will make a big improvement on your ability to move and exercise further.

        Also they are great for helping other muscles in your midsection such as your abdominal muscles. Your abdominal muscles are important for supporting your back and spinal column, and as such are important aids in preventing injuries. However for them to be most effective you need to spend a lot of time developing your core muscles.

        In short, planking exercises can make a huge improvement in your muscles down your whole body. Making them a hugely effective exercise to perform.

        One Exercise, multiple benefits

        There are few forms of exercise as effective at building your core as planking exercises. However, planking exercises benefit far more than just your core strength.

        By holding yourself in the position for a planking exercise, you’ll notice that your biceps, neck, and shoulder muscles are also being tested and strained. This this encouraging their buildup and development. This is great news if you like to do press ups, developed shoulder muscles will have a big impact on your press up performance.

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        When planking, you are holding yourself up through your arms and biceps and so by holding a planking position, your arm muscles are being toned and developed. Making planking a great alternative exercise to other forms of bicep developing exercises.

        Moving down your midsection, successful plank exercises actually develop the muscles in your butt! These muscles tend to be ignored by a lot of exercises, so this is another great benefit of plank exercises.

        In much the same way as you develop your biceps and arm muscles, holding the planking position helps develop the muscles in your thighs too.

        What is even better is that planking exercises don’t take much time at all. In fact you should probably only spend about ten minutes max per day in the planking exercise.

        What will happen when you start doing planks every day

          1. You’ll improve core definition and performance: 

          Planks are an ideal exercise for the abdominal muscles exactly because they engage all major core muscle groups including the transverse abdominus, the rectus abdominusthe external oblique muscle, and the glutes. The importance of strengthening each muscle group cannot be underestimated either, for all of these groups serve their own purpose. If you strengthen these muscle groups you will notice:

          • Transverse abdominis: increased ability to lift heavier weights.
          • Rectus adbominis: improved sports performance, particularly with jumping. This muscle group is also responsible for giving you the renowned six pack look.
          • Oblique muscles: improved capacity for stable side-bending and waist-twisting
          • Glutes: a supported back and a strong, shapely booty.

          2. You’ll decrease your risk of injury in the back and spinal column

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            Doing planks is a type of exercise that allow you to build muscle while also making sure that you are not putting too much pressure on your spine or hips. According to the American Council on Exercise, doing planks regularly not only significantly reduces back pain but it also strengthens your muscles and ensures a strong support for your entire back, especially in the areas around your upper back.

            Check out this article if you would like to find out about how doing planks on different surfaces can impact the effectiveness of this exercise in strengthening your core.

            3. You’ll experience an increased boost to your overall metabolism

              Planking is an excellent way of challenging your entire body because doing them every day will burn more calories than other traditional abdominal exercises, such as crunches or sit-ups. The muscles you strengthen by doing this exercise on a day-to-day basis will ensure that you burn more energy even when sedentary. This is especially important if you are spending the majority of your day sitting in front of a computer. Also, making it a daily 10- to 1 minute home exercise before or after work will not only provide an enhanced metabolic rate but it will also ensure that that metabolic rate remains high all day long, (yes, even while you are asleep).

              4. You’ll significantly improve your posture

                Planking exercises have a great impact and improvement on your posture. This is great news as a strong posture brings with it a huge number of fantastic benefits .

                A good posture keeps your bones and joins in the correct alignment which means both your bones and joints will be better maintained and more healthy, but also means the overall effectiveness of your muscles will be improved.

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                A good posture will ensure your back or spine is in the correct position and so you will suffer less back pain.

                On top of everything, someone with good posture looks better, healthier, and more confident.

                5. You’ll improve overall balance

                  Have you ever felt that when you tried standing on one leg, you couldn’t stand up straight for more than a couple of seconds? It’s not because you were drunk- unless you happened to be at the time!-  but rather, it’s because your abdominal muscles weren’t strong enough to give you the balance you needed. Through improving your balance by doing side planks and planks with extensions you will boost your performance in every kind of sporting activity.

                  6. You’ll become more flexible than ever before

                    Flexibility is a key benefit of doing planks regularly, for this form of exercise expands and stretches all your posterior muscle groups – shouldersshoulder blades, and collarbone – while also stretching your hamstrings, arches of your feet, and toes. With a side plank added in to the mix, you can also work on your oblique muscles. This will provide you with further benefits when it comes to hyper-extending your toes, a movement that is crucial for supporting your body’s weight.

                    7. You’ll witness mental benefits

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                      Plank exercises have a particular effect on our nerves, making them an excellent means of improving overall mood. How? Well, they stretch out muscle groups that contribute to stress and tension in the body. Just think about it: you are sitting in your chair, at home or at work, all day long; your thigh muscles get tight, your legs get heavy due to being bent for several hours; and tension develops in your shoulders due to being forced to slump forward all day. These are all circumstances that put too stress on the muscles and nerves. The good news is that planks not only calm your brain, but they can also treat anxiety and symptoms of depression– but only if you make it part of your daily routine.

                      How to hold a plank position

                      1. Get into pushup position on the floor.
                      2. Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms.
                      3. Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
                      4. Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
                      5. Hold the position for as long as you can.
                      6. Remember to breathe. Inhale and exhale slowly and steadily.
                      7. When your form begins to suffer, pull the plug. You’re only benefiting from the plank by actually doing the plank.

                      Watch the video if you have any doubt!

                      Here is a great infographic that shows the best plank variation exercises to evenly target all abdominal muscle groups:

                        How to improve your plank time gradually

                        1. Start with the easier variation if needed. You can start with a bent-knee plank if you can’t perform a regular plank yet. If you can hold a plank for more than two minutes with ease, you can move on to these tougher variations.
                        2. Practise every day. Space your planking exercise throughout the day and do 3-4 times every day. Try to hold the position 10 seconds longer each time.
                        3. Perform other body-weight exercises at the same time. Push-up and squat will improve your core strength too.

                        Are you ready to devote 5-10 minutes of your day, every day, to stay fit, healthy and, most importantly, strong as a bull? Then jump in and make doing plank exercises a part of your life.

                        Who Should Be Cautious Doing The Plank?

                        You need to be cautious doing Planking exercises if any of these risks apply to you:

                        • Prolapse
                        • After prolapse surgery
                        • Pelvic pain conditions
                        • Weak or poorly functioning pelvic floor muscles
                        • Previous childbirth
                        • Overweight

                        Choose an alternative pelvic floor abdominal exercise or consult your doctor before performing plank regularly.

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