Research Round Up 6.21.23

By Anna Woodring, MTI Head Strength & Conditioning Coach/Researcher


The first study examined the effects of “smart drugs” on cognitive performance in non-ADHD individuals in highly competitive environments. The findings suggest that taking smart drugs may have negative consequences for cognitive performance, particularly among high-performing individuals without ADHD.

The second article examines how the Army has simplified its body fat assessment by focusing on measuring the waist only, as part of the ACFT overhaul. The previous tape test was found to be flawed, underestimating body fat in 35% of cases. The new one-site measurement is expected to be more accurate, increasing precision by approximately 10%.

The third study examined the impact of abdominal exercises on abdominal fat and found that after six weeks of abdominal exercises, participants showed improved abdominal endurance but no significant reduction in abdominal fat compared to the control group. The study concludes that abdominal exercises alone are not sufficient for achieving desired waistline reduction and overall fat loss.

Tech Bros Love “Smart Drugs”, but They Don’t Seem to Work is an article published in RealClear Science. This study investigated the use of “smart drugs” to enhance cognitive performance in highly competitive environments. While drugs such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine have shown success in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), their impact on individuals without ADHD remains unclear. The study involved 40 participants between the ages of 18 and 35 who did not have ADHD. Over four weeks, the participants took part in four testing sessions, during which they received either a placebo, methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, or modafinil. The main task given to the participants was the knapsack problem, a complex optimization task. The knapsack problem represents a real-world scenario of optimizing resources under constraints, like grocery shopping. It is also a challenge for computer scientists working on developing efficient algorithms.


The findings of the study indicate that taking “smart drugs” to enhance cognitive performance may have unintended consequences, especially for individuals without ADHD, particularly those who are already high-performing. Participants who took the drugs took longer to complete the problems, spent more time and tried more combinations of items, but their actual productivity suffered significantly. Their selections were less close to the best possible values, and they found the optimal combination less often. This suggests that the increased effort and activity associated with the drugs did not improve their final performance.


I was surprised to learn that the use of these drugs can potentially lead to a decrease in performance, especially for individuals who are already high performers. These drugs have gained popularity on college campuses during final exams and have also made their way into the workforce as individuals seek an edge over their competition. High performers, driven by their desire to succeed, may be tempted to try substances with the promise of gaining an advantage. However, this article highlights that cognition is a complex system, and there are no quick shortcuts to enhance it.

New Tape Test: Here’s How the Army Is Measuring Body Fat Now is published on The Army has made an official change to its body fat assessment protocol, adopting a simplified method that utilizes a tape measurement around the waist only. This adjustment comes as part of a broader overhaul of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). The previous method involved measuring men’s neck and abdomen, while women were also measured at the hips. By focusing solely on the waist measurement, Army leaders believe the new approach is fairer and more accurate. An internal study revealed that the old tape test was flawed, with 35% of measurements found to be inaccurate, often underestimating body fat. The introduction of the one-site measurement is expected to enhance accuracy by approximately 10%. Soldiers failing the one-site tape test have the option to be retested using the previous method for the next year.


Body scanners are considered the most accurate method for measuring body fat, showing an average of 8% higher body fat compared to tape measurements. If leaders aim to ensure a physically fit force rather than merely fulfilling requirements, adopting the gold standard assessments through acquisition of body scanners per joint commands could be a cost-effective approach. It will be interesting to observe whether the new standard results in an increase in the number of Army personnel failing to meet the body fat standards.

The Effect of Abdominal Exercise on Abdominal Fat is published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning. This study examined the impact of abdominal exercises on abdominal fat. Twenty-four participants were randomly assigned to either the control group or the abdominal exercise group. The abdominal exercise group performed seven different exercises, while the control group received no intervention. Anthropometrics, body composition, and abdominal muscular endurance were measured before and after the six-week training period. Although abdominal exercises are often promoted as a means to reduce abdominal fat, the concept of “spot reduction” is inconclusive, and creating a consistent energy deficit is considered essential for fat loss. The specific abdominal exercises included sit-ups, lateral trunk flexion, leg lifts, stability ball crunches, stability ball twists, oblique crunches, and abdominal crunches.


The study found that after six weeks of abdominal exercises, the abdominal exercise group (AG) showed improved abdominal endurance compared to the control group (CG). However, there were no significant changes in measures of abdominal fat, such as android fat measured by DXA, waist circumference, and abdominal skinfold, between the two groups. Both groups demonstrated significant improvement on the curl-up test, but the AG performed a significantly higher number of repetitions per minute compared to the CG in the posttest.


This study highlights that relying solely on abdominal exercises to reduce the waistline or abdominal fat is not effective. Many people attempt to target their waistline through abdominal exercises based on claims from advertisements for abdominal equipment. However, the findings of this study show that incorporating aerobic exercise and following a balanced diet are necessary for more significant changes in body fat percentage. Abdominal exercises alone are not sufficient for achieving the desired waistline reduction and overall fat loss.

Subscribe to MTI's Newsletter - BETA