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Scientists discover secret fat-burning muscle

Scientists discover
The soleus pushup activates the soleus muscle differently than when standing or walking. Credit: University of Houston

Groundbreaking Discovery of “Special” Muscle That Can Promote Fat Burning While Sitting

Scientists have discovered a secret muscle that activates the metabolism and burns up your calories without any effort. According to researchers at the University of Houston, activating this muscle with simple push-ups burns more fat than any other exercise.

A groundbreaking discovery from the same team whose research propelled the notion that “sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little” is set to turn a sedentary lifestyle on its ear: Though only consisting of 1% of your body weight, the soleus muscle in the calf, if activated correctly, can do big things to significantly enhance the metabolic health in the rest of your body.

A professor of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston (UH) Marc Hamilton, has discovered such an approach for optimal activation of the muscle. He is pioneering the “soleus pushup” (SPU) which effectively elevates muscle metabolism for hours, even while sitting. One of 600 muscles in the human body, the soleus is a posterior lower leg muscle that runs from just below the knee to the heel.

Hamilton’s recently published his work in the journal iScience. The research indicates that the soleus pushup’s ability to sustain an elevated oxidative metabolism to improve the regulation of blood glucose is more effective than any popular methods currently touted as a solution.

For example, the soleus pushup is more effective at elevating oxidative metabolism than exercise, weight loss, and intermittent fasting. Oxidative metabolism is the process by which oxygen is used to burn metabolites like blood glucose or fats. However, it depends, in part, on the immediate energy needs of the muscle when it’s working.

“We never dreamed that this muscle has this type of capacity. It’s been inside our bodies all along, but no one ever investigated how to use it to optimize our health, until now.

“When activated correctly, the soleus muscle can raise local oxidative metabolism to high levels for hours, not just minutes, and does so by using a different fuel mixture” said Hamilton.

Muscle biopsies revealed there was minimal glycogen contribution to fueling the soleus. Instead of breaking down glycogen, the soleus can use other types of fuels such as blood glucose and fats. Glycogen is normally the predominant type of carbohydrate that fuels muscular exercise.

“The soleus’ lower-than-normal reliance on glycogen helps it work for hours effortlessly without fatiguing during this type of muscle activity, because there is a definite limit to muscular endurance caused by glycogen depletion,” he added. “As far as we know, this is the first concerted effort to develop a specialized type of contractile activity centered around optimizing human metabolic processes.”

When the SPU was tested, the whole-body effects on blood chemistry included a 52% improvement in the excursion of blood glucose (sugar) and 60% less insulin requirement over three hours after ingesting a glucose drink.

The new approach of keeping the soleus muscle metabolism humming is also effective at doubling the normal rate of fat metabolism in the fasting period between meals, reducing the levels of fat in the blood (VLDL triglyceride).

Building on years of research, Hamilton and his team developed the soleus pushup, which activates the soleus muscle differently than when standing or walking. The SPU targets the soleus to increase oxygen consumption – more than what’s possible with these other types of soleus activities, while also being resistant to fatigue.

How to perform a soleus pushup

In brief, while seated with feet flat on the floor and muscles relaxed, the heel rises while the front of the foot stays put. When the heel gets to the top of its range of motion, the foot is passively released to come back down. The aim is to simultaneously shorten the calf muscle while the soleus is naturally activated by its motor neurons.

While the SPU movement might look like walking (though it is performed while seated) it is actually the exact opposite, according to the researchers. When walking, the body is designed to minimize the amount of energy used, because of how the soleus moves. Hamilton’s method flips that upside down and makes the soleus use as much energy as possible for a long duration.

“The soleus pushup looks simple from the outside, but sometimes what we see with our naked eye isn’t the whole story. It’s a very specific movement that right now requires wearable technology and experience to optimize the health benefits,” said Hamilton.

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