Category Archives: Weight Training

The Squat: Should Your Knees Travel Past the Toes?

Should the knees migrate past the toes when performing a squat? I posted this question on downloadsocial media, and the immediate response by most was “No!”. I expected this answer from most everyone, from novice to advanced lifters. To you, I happily say, you’re wrong! The debate on proper squat mechanics will never die, but I am going to steal a line from Randy B., an athletic training, and performance enhancement peer, who answered my question: “Absolutely, [the knees] should [go past the toes]. Don’t believe urban legends or follow sports med sacred cows!” I couldn’t have said this any better! Randy is spot on. This urban legend could lead to injury. The purpose of this blog is to shed some light on the debate and provide the rationale for proper squat technique.

Continue reading

15 Swing Set Exercises

As a father, I wanted to write this blog for the parents. It’s so hard to find time to workout in the summer. For most, fitness just takes a back seat during this time. Let’s be honest, you want to be outside. It’s the season of bar-b-que, beer, family vacations, and soaking up the sun. Your kids want and need to be outside too. For these reasons, attendance at health clubs declines significantly over the spring and summer months. So, how does one get a total body workout outside of the gym? Easy, head to the playground, jump on the swing set and try these 15 exercises.

  1. Pistol Squat: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and pointing forward. Hold arms straight out and grasp the swing for stability. Raise the right leg and lower the body while bending the left knee. Drop to a level of chair height, then return to standing. Repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch to perform on the opposite leg. Progression: Perform with the leg up on the swing’s seat. Pistol squat

Continue reading

12 Booty Exercises to Improve the Back Side

 The glutes (not counting the core) are the single most important muscle group for athletic performance and injury prevention. 

Booty

I prefer a booty that has a functional purpose.

I am an ass man. Not in a sexual context, but in a functional movement context.  I do not care if you are fat, skinny, or look great in a pair of yoga pants. If your glutes function at an optimal level you will have better athletic performance and prevent injury. Over the years, I have worked with a variety of clients and the glutes are a focus for all of my clients. It does not matter what your current fitness level is; if you want to prevent injury, boost performance, or become more fitter, the butt is key.

Ask any client I have trained, and they will tell you that I will destroy your glutes – in a good way. Over time, I have developed some favorite booty-popping exercises.  In clinical research, there isn’t any published data that truly says these exercises are best. What you have here is based on my clinical experience and what I have found to work best. These exercises are designed to give you optimal gluteal function and they might even make you look good in a pair of jeans.

Continue reading

Three Exercise Programs You Can Do Anywhere!

Turkey, pumpkin pie, holiday parties, alcohol, sweet treats, 12-hours of college bowl games, and non-stop travel to visit family and friends—the inevitable holiday weight gain. Too many calories and no time or place to work out. When the holiday season comes, people want healthy eating options. I get it, diet is important, but I am not going to be giving out recipes here. If you want a stellar gluten-free mashed potato recipe or a simple salt-free, sugar-free, protein-free honey glazed ham recipe, go elsewhere. I am going to help you get moving. Movement equals calorie burn, and the goal of this blog is to provide you with three exercise programs that you can do anywhere without equipment. The programs are designed as circuit programs, which have been shown to be most effective at burning calories.

Continue reading

50 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

It has been far too long since my last blog post. It’s my own fault as I am my own worst enemy. I start writing and get carried away with science and ensuring quality research that a simple blog post becomes a painstaking 4 week mission. I constantly remind myself  – “it’s a damn blog Josh, chill out!”. So, I did chill out and wrote a blog that does not require countless hours of mind-numbing literature review. Here are 50 exercises you can do anywhere. Continue reading

Core Before or Core After?

I was recently asked by a colleague: Why does NASM recommend performing core exercises prior to SAQ and resistance exercises when most other organizations state to perform core at the end? It is a long-winded, highly-debatable question, so I decided to write a short blog on the topic providing my thoughts.

The theory of performing core exercise at the end of training is very valid and certainly has utility.The primary theory to performing core exercise after resistance training is fatigue. Resistance, reactive and SAQ training targets our prime movers which are predominately made of Fast Gylcolytic (FG) and Fast Oxidative Glycolytic (FOG) muscle fibers. These fibers are easily fatigued due to their avascular properties. Core musculature is rich in Slow Oxidative (SO) muscle fibers. High vascularity makes SO fibers resistant to fatigue secondary to the accessibility to oxygen.

A common fault with core training technique is allowing the prime movers – saturated with FG / FOG fibers – to dominate the SO dominant muscle fibers of the core. Subsequently, we are not properly working the core muscles, we are just training our prime movers to act as core stabilizers. During higher intensity exercise like SAQ, reactive, and resistance training the FG and FOG muscle fibers become fatigued. Thus, when we transition to core exercises, the fatigued prime movers are less likely to become dominant and will allow for the core musculature and SO dominant muscles to do there job. So the organizations that support this method are certainly not wrong.

Conversely, NASM has a completely different outlook on when to perform core exercises. By performing core exercise after flexibility and prior to SAQ, plyometric, or resistance exercise serves as a functional warm-up to stimulate the neuromuscular system and enhance neuromuscular efficiency during more intense exercise. By doing so, our neuromuscular system is prepared and ready for higher intensity exercise and can prevent unwanted motion of joints and prevent injury.

The thought process behind this is the increased neurological stimulation that occurs when performing core exercise. This increased neural stimulation is much like the neural response that occurs with post-activation potentiation (PAP). PAP operates on the principle that heavy muscle loading creates increased stimulation of the central nervous system, resulting in greater motor unit recruitment and subsequently force production (1, 2).

There are two theories behind PAP. The first states that maximal muscle contraction yields an increased phosphorylation of myosin. The increased phosphorylation causes actin and myosin binding to be more responsive to calcium ions released from the sarcoplasmic reticulum (3).  This enhances force muscle production at the structural level of muscle (4).  As a result, faster contraction rates develop (1).

The second theory behind PAP involves the Hoffmann Reflex (4). The Hoffman reflex is excitation of muscle spindle nerve fibers. Physiologically, PAP increases speed of H-reflex, thus increasing the firing rate to muscle (5). It is this rate coding, and the aforementioned  phosphorylation of myosin that the NASM model suggests occurs during and following core exercise.

By stimulating the core musculature, the core will be active during the core exercise and also be activated during higher intensity exercise. Subsequently, the core is working longer and it is helping prevent injury by enhancing neuromuscular efficiency during higher intensity exercise.

What do you think? Which method do you prefer? Personally, through research and exercise experience, I favor the NASM version, but that could easily be attributed to my work experience at NASM. Nonetheless, the question remains and I think it would be a great research study comparing the two variables. Any doctoral students looking for a project?

References:

  1. Chiu, L.Z., Fry, A.C., Weiss, L.W., Schilling, B.K., Brown, L.E., & Smith, S.L. (2003). Postactivation potentiation response in athletic and recreationally trained individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 17(4), 671-677.
  2. Rixon, K.P., Lamont, H.S., & Bemden, M.G. (2007). Influence of type of muscle contraction, gender, and lifting experience on postactivation potentiation performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(2), 500-505.
  3. Kravitz
  4. Hamada, T., Sale, D.G., MacDougall, J.D., & Tarnopolsky, M.A. (2000a). Postactivation potentiation, muscle fiber type, and twitch contraction time in human knee extensor muscles. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88, 2131-2137.
  5. Hodgson, M., Docherty, D., & Robbins, D. (2005). Post-activation potentiation underlying physiology and implications for motor performance. Sports Medicine, 25 (7), 385-395.

ENOUGH! Weight Loss is NOT Rocket Science

This blog should more appropriately be titled my rant of the month:

How many diet fads come out every year? Atkins, Zone, Paleo, Low-fat, South Beach, Intermittent Fasting are some of the most popular, but there are hundreds more pumped out every year. Why do we have new diets every year? Because there is not, nor will there ever be, a diet that can guarantee weight loss. Researchers keep making weight loss a scientific endeavor. The researchers then publish the findings, sell books, get rich and then the diet fades. Enough already, weight loss is not rocket science. It’s simple: balance energy by eating better and getting off of your ass. To prove my point let’s compare the data on a controversial issue: high-protein, low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat diets.

In 2002 a study done from Duke University researchers comparing a high protein low carb diet versus a traditional low-fat diet. The results of this study became much publicized and launched the Atkins Diet revolution. It hit mainstream media with a left and right hook. The diet quickly became one of the best-selling diet plans of all-time. But pundits refuted the data stating unreliable and invalid data. Today, there is valid points of discussion made by both sides.

Like most research and controversial issue, the data is for and against the high-protein diet is equivocal. In 2003, the New England Journal of Medicine published two studies which compared a low-carbohydrate diet to a calorie-restricted, low-fat diet in obese adults (1, 2). After six months both studies showed that low-carbohydrate subjects lost more weight and had significant reductions in markers for cardiovascular disease. This includes decreased triglyceride levels. However, after one year of performing the diets, weight loss and triglyceride levels were similar. But like many diets, compliance is an issue and in both studies there was a high dropout rate – thus data is unreliable.

As I had mentioned, pundits refuted the data. Most stated, that carbohydrate restriction was not the reason for weight loss, rather it was attributed to calorie deficit. This is similar to the systematic literature review done by Bravata, et al concluded that participant weight loss on low-carbohydrate diets was a result of caloric restriction, but carbohydrate restriction (3).

So Atkins, does yield weight loss, but why? Can I really eat a bacon cheeseburger (with no bun) and lose weight? Physiologically, carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source. When we eat carbohydrates the food is broken down and stored in skeletal muscle tissue and liver as glycogen, an easy to use energy source. When we eliminate carbohydrates from our diet we also eliminate glycogen stores.  Without glycogen, our body must use fat as energy. Subsequently, our body enters a state of ketosis – a state where ketone bodies are produced when fatty acids are broken down for energy. The loss of glycogen stores – and associated water loss – coupled with increased fat metabolism creates weight loss. In addition, the breakdown of fat is much more difficult than breaking down glycogen. Thus, our body must expend more energy to convert fat to energy (4) – burn energy to create energy.

But there are risks to eating a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet, right? The answer is yes and no. Many have stated a high-protein diet causes kidney and liver issues as well as abnormal insulin metabolism. Levine et al performed a research review  on low-carbohydrate diets and found little data to say a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet causes health concerns (5). However, many studies have found that the diet does cause common side effects such as constipation, nausea, weakness, dehydration, and fatigue.

Is there a winning diet method? Simply put – the answer is no. While South Beach, the Zone, Atkins and others have all remained the most popular, there is not winner. If there were some magical remedy we would never again have new diet fads. After reviewing all of the data there is one constant: all weight loss is associated with negative energy balance. Meaning, you are burning more calories than you are consuming.

Remember Super-Size Me? The guy who ate McDonald’s everyday and gained weight. Well have you heard of Doug Logeais? He ate McDonald’s everyday for 30 days and lost weight! How, he exercised. He trained most days of the week at a high intensity – he burned more calories than he consumed.  Has anyone seen Michael Phelps’ diet? Big Mac, Pizza, soda, ice cream, 10,000 calories per day in food, but nobody says he has a weight problem. He is a long, lean and the greatest Olympic athlete of all time. Does he need to change his diet? Can you honestly say that he is doing something wrong? He is fit because his exercise off-sets calorie consumption.

My final opinion: regular physical activity combined with a well-balanced diet is paramount.  Weight maintenance requires permanent changes to eating habits and increased physical activity. The specific strategies for making those changes, and making them permanent, will vary from person to person. So, instead of a walking through the local book store of the best-selling diet book, save your money. Take a walk through your neighborhood. Instead of cheeseburger and fries – order a turkey burger and side salad. This is not rocket science – quit trying to make it more difficult than it is.

References: 

1      Samaha FF, Iqbal N, Seshadri P, et al. A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity. N Engl J Med. 2003;348:2074–2081.

2      Foster GD, Wyatt HR, Hill JO, et al. A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. N Engl J Med. 2003;348:2082–2090.

3      Bravata DM, Sanders L, Huang J, et al. Efficacy and safety of low-carbohydrate diets: a systematic review. JAMA. 2003;289(14):1837–1850.

4      Buchholz AC, Schoeller DA. Is a calorie a calorie? Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(suppl):899S–906S.

5      Levine MJ, Jones JM, Lineback DR. Low-carbohydrate diets: assessing the science and knowledge gaps, summary of an ILSI North America workshop. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106:2086–2094.

 

 

The Geek’s Squat: Proper Squat Techniques for Strength and Injury Prevention

There has been much debate on proper squat techniques. Is it proper to maintain a vertical shin and prevent the knees from going beyond the toes? Is it better to squat and allow the knee to go beyond the toes? Proponents of the vertical shin technique argue it is best to save the knees and this helps increase posterior chain strength. Whereas proponents of parallel lines say, distribute the weight evenly and save the back. The purpose of this blog is to shed some light on the debate and provide the rationale for proper squat technique.

Early studies state that squatting with external loads causes undue stress and damage to soft tissue at the knee joint. This precipitated many experts to change squat mechanics. A vertical shin angle prevents excessive knee flexion, thus limiting the stress placed at the knee joint and potential damage to integral knee structures such as the meniscii, articular cartilage and ligaments. In addition, many state that maintaining a vertical shin angle allows for enhanced strengthening of the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, low back).

I agree it is important to protect the knees. However, the lower back is much more important, in my opinion. Low-back pain is one of the major forms of musculoskeletal degeneration seen in the adult population, affecting nearly 80% of all adults (1). It has been estimated that the annual costs attributable to low-back pain in the United States are greater than $26 billion (2). In addition, 6 to 15% of athletes experience low-back pain in a given year (3, 4). The body is an interconnected chain, and compensation or dysfunction in the LPHC region can lead to dysfunctions in other areas of the body (5). So why do we squat to protect the knees? How should we squat?

Proper squat mechanics requires optimal flexibility at the ankle, knees, and hips during the descent of the squat. When these joints are moving together, forces will be disturbed optimally and equally throughout the kinetic chain. If one of the joints has limited ability to move, another joint must compensate to make up for the lost movement. For example, if you are trying to pick something off of the floor and do not bend your knees you must bend at the back. Using this example, if we squat like this (limiting knee flexion or ankle dorsiflexion) we are asking the lower back to lift weight in a biomechanically disadvantaged position. You know the phrase “lift with your legs not your back.”

Do a quick check and test your squat mechanics. Evaluate your technique by watching in a mirror.  At the bottom of the squat the torso and tibia should be parallel to each other (See image below).  Have you ever noticed how a baby squats? Do a quick google search for baby squat. You will be amazed at their technique. They lift properly, because they have the flexibility to get in to a deep squat without excessive leaning at the low back. It does not matter if the knees go past the toes. The most important thing to ask: is the back parallel with the shin?

Fry et al. (2003) examined the hip and knee torque forces of variations of parallel squats and concluded appropriate joint loading during this exercise may require the knees to move slightly past the toes. Restricting squats created significant increases of excessive forward lean and subsequent increased torque loads at the low back and hip (6). Maintaining a vertical shank did not yield change knee torque significantly (6).

Torque is a measure of rotational force about an axis of rotation.  Simply put torque is a product of force and lever length from the axis of rotation to point of force of application (Τ = r x F) where Τ is linear torque, r is the displacement vector and F is force. Look at the two images below and notice the Torque values at the knee and low back:

Squatting with a Vertical Shin

Squatting with vertical shin:

Measurements:
αlb= 78° αk= 102° F = 135lbs (600.5 Newtons)
B to C= 19 inches (.48 meters). A to B = 2.75 inches (0.07 meters).  A to C = 16.25 inches (0.41meters)

Linear Torque Low Back:
Τlb = r x F
Τlb = 0.41m x (600.5N)
Τlb = 246.2 N·m

Linear Torque at the Knee:
Τk = r x F
Τk = 0.07m x (600.5N)
Τk = 42.04 N·m

Squatting to allow toes go beyond the knees

Squatting with parallel lines 
Measurements:
αlb= 90° αk= 90° F = 135lbs (600.5 Newtons)
B to C= 19 inches (0.48 meters) A to B = 9.5 inches (0.24 meters) A to C = 9.5 inches (0.24 meters)

Linear Torque Low back:
Τlb = r x F
Τlb = 0.24m x (600.5N)
Τlb = 144.12 N·mLinear Torque Knee:
Τk = r x F
Τk = 0.24m x (600.5N)
Τk = 144.12 N·m
You can clearly see that squatting with a vertical shin reduces stress placed on the knee, but significantly increases torque on the low back. Do we really want to place an increased load at the lower back, when it is so prone to injury? The most important thing to consider is overall exercise technique. Lifting with ideal posture is paramount for injury prevention. When this occurs forces will be distributed equally throughout the kinetic chain.

References:

1. Walker BF, Muller R, Grant WD. Low back pain in Australian adults: prevalence and associated disability. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2004;27:238–44

2. Luo X, Pietrobon R, Sun SX, Liu GG, Hey L. Estimates and patterns of direct health care expenditures among individuals with back pain in the United States. Spine 2004;29:79–86.

3. Nadler SF, Malanga GA, DePrince M, Stitik TP, Feinberg JH. The relationship between lower extremity injury, low back pain, and hip muscle strength in male and female collegiate athletes. Clin J Sport Med 2000;10:89–97.

4. Nadler SF, Malanga GA, Feinberg JH, Rubanni M, Moley P, Foye P. Functional performance deficits in athletes with previous lower extremity injury. Clin J Sport Med 2002;12:73–8.

5. Powers CM. The influence of altered lower-extremity kinematics on patellofemoral joint dysfunction: a theoretical perspective. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2003;33(11):639–46.

6. Fry, A.C., J.C. Smith, and B.K. Schilling. Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. J. Strength Cond. Res. 17(4):629–633. 2003

No Gym, No Problem: 3 Workouts from the Trunk of Your Car

I once stated to a group of personal trainers “a good trainer can create a workout out of the trunk of a car”. To which someone laughed and stated; “I want to hear your trunk-of-a-car workout!” So, I decided it might be a good blog. Here are 3 workout programs, that use only tools that would fit in the trunk of a car and tools that are easily accessible to everyone without a gym.

Workout #1 – Low Level Program for Stabilization

Location: A Hotel Room

Equipment:

  1. Baseball
  2. 10# Kettle bell (x 2)

Warm –Up

Self Myofascial Release               Sets                                                             Duration

Calves                                                   1                                                              30 Seconds

IT Band                                                 1                                                              30 Seconds

Latissimus Dorsi                                1                                                              30 Seconds

Stretch                                                  Sets                                                             Duration

Gastrocnemius                                 1                                                              30 Seconds

Kneeling Hip Flexor                         1                                                              30 Seconds

Latissimus Dorsi Wall Stretch       1                                                              30 Seconds

 

Core

Exercise                                                Sets              Reps                Tempo               Rest

Supine Marching                              2                   15                        Slow                0 Sec.

Floor Bridge                                        2                   15                        Slow                0 Sec.

Single Leg hop w/ Balance            2                   5                          Slow               60 Sec.

 

Resistance

Exercise                                                Sets       Reps    Intensity   Tempo              Rest

Squat to Curl to Press                     2              15           60%          Slow               0 Sec.

Push-up w/ rotation                       2              15           60%          Slow               0 Sec

SL Balance w/ Row                          2              15           60%          Slow               0 Sec.

SL Scaption                                         2              15           60%          Slow               0 Sec.

Lunge to SL Balance                        2              15           60%          Slow               0 Sec.

 

Workout #2 – Moderate Intensity Program for Strength

Location: Neighborhood Park

Equipment in the Trunk:

  1. Foam Roll

 Warm –Up

Foam Roll                                            Sets                                                             Duration

Calves                                                   1                                                              30 Seconds

Adductors                                           1                                                              30 Seconds

TFL                                                         1                                                              30 Seconds

Stretch                                                  Sets                                                             Duration

Gastrocnemius                                 1                                                              30 Seconds

Standing Adductor                          1                                                              30 Seconds

Kneeling Hip Flexor                         1                                                              30 Seconds

 

Core

Exercise                                                Sets              Reps                Tempo               Rest

Crunches w/ rotation                     2                   12                        3-2-1               0 Sec.

Reverse Crunch  on park bench  2                   12                        3-2-1               0 Sec.

 

Resistance

Exercise                                                Sets       Reps    Intensity   Tempo              Rest

Chin-ups on monkey bars              3              10           80%          2-0-2               60 Sec.

Push-up off a park bench                3              10           80%          2-0-2               60 Sec.

Hanging body weight rows             3              10           80%          2-0-2               60 Sec.

Walking lunge with rotation           3              10           80%          2-0-2               60 Sec.

Bench jump-ups                                  3              10           80%          2-0-2               60 Sec.

 

Workout #3 – Power and Intense training

Location: Office Parking Lot

Equipment in the Trunk:

  1. Softball
  2. Medicine Ball (5kg)

 

Warm –Up

Self Myofascial Release                Sets                                                             Duration

TFL                                                        1                                                              30 Seconds

Adductors                                           1                                                              30 Seconds

Latissimus Dorsi                                1                                                              30 Seconds

Stretch                                                     Sets                                                          Duration

Multiplanar Lunges (Dynamic)             1                                                     10 Reps

Standing Adductor Stretch (Static)     1                                                    30 Seconds

 

Core

Exercise                                                Sets              Reps                Tempo               Rest

Rotational Med Ball Slams            3                   8                         Fast                  0 Sec.

Med Ball Pull over throw              3                   8                         Fast                  0 Sec.

 

Resistance

Exercise                                                Sets       Reps    Intensity   Tempo              Rest

Push-up                                                 5             85%          Fast                 0 Sec.

* Med Ball Chest Pass                       3              10           5%BW     Fast                 2 Min

Single Arm Body weight row         5             85%          Fast                 0 Sec.

* Wood chop Med Ball throw          3              10           5%BW     Fast                 2 Min

Prisoner Squat                                       5             85%          Fast                 0 Sec.

* Line hops                                            3              10           5%BW     Fast                 2 Min

* These exercises should be performed in a super-set fashion

You do not need a gym to workout. Sure all the toys make it easier, but exercise is simple. Start with a basic exercise then increase intensity by changing, speed, velocity, amplitude and stability to make the exercise easier to harder.