About Elzi Volk

Elzi has spent the last several decades trying to determine where 'home' is: from New York, Maine, California, Oregon and now Texas. As well, her career has encompassed tool & die apprentice, forest ranger, assistant extension agent, mother, sheep and horse rancher, and mad research scientist. She has also been a competitive bodybuilder, but has found true joy in powerlifting.

With two degrees in biological sciences, Elzi devoted the last 12 years in Oregon developing and managing a nationally recognized plant virus diagnostics program and conducted research advancing chemo- and thermotherapy techniques for virus elimination. Unfortunately, program funding fell victim to USDA and higher education budget axes by the powers-that-be. Discouraged, Elzi decided to make some changes and moved to Texas, where she is spending a long hiatus recovering from an injury, freelance technical writing, and part-time personal training. In the near future, as soon as she wins the lottery, she intends to jump into a PhD program in integrated cell biology, focusing on cell signalling.

When Elzi is not playing fetch with her 1200 lb four-footed buddy, she is most happy in the gym and in a research lab.

Women and Iron

Valentina Chepiga

Photo credit: Muscletime

Too often and much to my dismay, I hear women protest against using any appreciable weight in their weight training program. Moreover, many young women completely refrain from resistance training; instead spending countless hours on the cardio deck in a fruitless effort to attain an ideal physique. What is the ideal physique and why are women so afraid of lifting a dumbbell that isn’t pink or red? The answer to the first question lies in a complex paradox of social and cultural influences. In answer to the second question, many women believe lifting weights will make them explode with bulging muscles. Another reason is women believe they cannot lift anything heavier than their makeup case. These are unfortunate idiosyncratic fallacies amongst women. Generally speaking, women fear muscles. A sociological and cultural discourse on women and self-perception would entail much more time and space than allowed here. However, several recent books and articles address those issues and will thoroughly engage those interested in pursuing them. Nonetheless, I will address physical issues of why women should embrace developing muscle. [Read more…]

Planet Estrogen Part 3: The Menstrual Cycle and Athletic Performance

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Planet Estrogen

While the participation of women in sports has increased significantly over the last several decades, research of women in sports has lagged behind that of men. This is particularly true in matters related to reproduction and menstruation. Up until even recent years, women were cautioned not to partake in sports while pregnant or during menstruation because exercise during these times was thought to be detrimental to a woman’s health. While there certainly are precautions recommended for pregnant women, recent studies show that modified participation in exercise and sports activities is beneficial. As well, menstruation has become less of a roadblock in achieving sports goals for women. Nevertheless, there is still much we do not understand regarding women and gynecological issues. [Read more…]

Planet Estrogen Part 2: Apples and Pears

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Planet Estrogen

“At the same time that hormones challenge the pubertal brain, they change the body. A girl’s high estrogen content helps in the deposition of body fat on the breasts, hips, thighs and buttocks, subcutaneously, everywhere. Because of estrogen and auxiliary hormones, women have more body fat than men…..We can look at the deposition of body fat that comes with womanhood and say it’s natural for girls to fatten up when they mature, but what ‘natural’ means is subject to cultural definition, and our culture still hasn’t figured out how to handle fat.” –Natalie Angier1 [Read more…]

Planet Estrogen: Hormone Therapy, Training and Diet

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Planet Estrogen

A common concern amongst many women is how their hormones affect their exercise training and diet. Women’s bodies are influenced by fluctuations in hormones not only throughout the normal monthly reproductive cycle, but also throughout their entire lives. Both men and women experience a significant change in hormones at the onset of puberty and sexual maturation. For the remainder of their lives, men normally have less significant fluctuations in their sex hormone levels until approaching middle age. Studies document a gradual decline in sex hormones past the age of 40 years. Women, however, may see great fluctuations in sex hormone levels throughout their adult lives depending on physiological state, contraceptive methods, and menopause. [Read more…]

Connective Tissue Part 4: Glycosaminoglycans

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Connective Tissue

What are glycosaminoglycans?

Proteoglycans are very large molecules consisting of proteins with attached chains of polysaccharides called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)(see Part 1). GAG chains contain repeating units of modified sugars: one of two amino sugars (glucosamine or galactosamine) and a uronic acid. Many of these chains attach to a protein core and are collectively referred to as a proteoglycan (PG) monomer. Imagine, if you will, a bottlebrush with the bristles as GAGs. The molecular weight of a PG monomer may be one million. In articular cartilage, up to a hundred of these monomers can link to a hyaluronic acid chain to form a PG aggregate. The molecular weight of the aggregate may be as much as 100,000,000. [Read more…]

Connective Tissue Part 3: The Good and the Bad Continued…

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Connective Tissue

As was discussed in Part II of this series, the major impact of diet upon connective tissue integrity is a deficiency in energy intake, usually associated with inadequate protein and carbohydrates. Aside from its role in mediation of inflammation, there is little research in effects of dietary fats on connective tissue. Micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) have many documented roles in cellular function and thus are critical in the wound healing process. Of nearly any population, athletes generally maintain an adequate diet specifically designed to meet the demands of their sport. Most athletes eat a balanced diet that adequately supplies both macro and micronutrients. Therefore, defects in collagen, elastin and proteoglycan metabolism are generally only seen as a result of deficiencies or excess. As well, successful healing of connective tissue injuries will rely on the presence of adequate nutritional stores. The roles of micronutrients in connective tissue injury healing are discussed in Part III of this series. [Read more…]

Connective Tissue Part 2: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Connective Tissue

In Part I of this series, readers were introduced to basic histology and physiology of connective tissue. We learned that all connective tissue has similar components, although the proportions of these components vary. These variations impart the mechanical and biochemical attributes to specific connective tissue. To illustrate, mechanical properties of articular cartilage that allow it to absorb impact and resist wear are partially due to the large proteoglycan aggregates. [Read more…]

Connective Tissue Part 1: Tissue in Action

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Connective Tissue

Athletes are mostly concerned with increasing strength or speed in specific activities. Increasing muscle size and power, endurance abilities, fuel utilization efficiency: these are often the primary concerns in training. We spend much time, effort and money in maximizing our muscle capabilities. However, an integral part of our anatomy often takes a back seat: connective tissue. [Read more…]

Female Athletes and Menstrual Irregularities

What sets the female gender apart most from the male is the dynamic rhythmicity of the reproductive cycle. Dynamic fluctuations in hormone levels cyclically prepare the female human body for propagation of the species despite the volitional intent to produce children. Today, more women are participating in sports activities and training has become increasingly intense. Consequently, the effect of exercise and nutrition on women’s reproductive and metabolic physiology has become an important aspect of sports pathology. What happens to women’s bodies when the ever-changing circus of hormones is altered by exercise and diet? [Read more…]

Staying A-Breast of Things

Here in Texas where it is warm people like to show their skin regardless of size or stature. All too common I see women on the treadmills or in the aerobics classes who have double-C breasts crammed into flimsy size-B sports bras, their breast mass bouncing up and down like swinging water balloons. Many women wear so-called ‘sports’ bras made of non-supportive and flimsy fabric, opting for appearances rather than functionality. They make me cringe in pain. Most of these women don’t realize that they are destroying their natural breast support and, if continued, their breasts will become “belly ornaments” in a matter of years. [Read more…]