Why You Shouldn’t Box Squat!!

There are millions of articles posted on the squat and variations thereof.  While I could sit here and discuss the subtle nuances of front squat, back squat, and overhead squat I would rather take some time to direct my readers away from a more problematic lift.  Today’s post will detail the inherent risks associated with the box squat.

I want to discuss a general concept that personal trainers and really any reasonable human being shares.  It is the concept of risk vs. reward.  Understand that every activity you perform (riding a bike, brushing your teeth, and even putting your clothes on) has an inherent risk associated with it.  The reason we continue to perform such activities is because the potential reward outweighs the risk.  The same applies to exercises.

The box squat has “proposed explosive adaptations” and can even “highlight the quads.”  I’m here today to discuss why this is false and why it’s important to steer clear of this exercise.  The largest associated risk arises from spinal compression.  In the back squat, the weight of the bar is pressing down on the spinal column.  This isn’t a huge problem when the weight is evenly displaced across the knees, hips, and into both legs.  The problem begins when you sit on the box and create a base for force transfer.  Instead of spreading the force of the weight across multiple joints, it now is bottled between the bar (pressing down on your spine) and the box (pressing up on your pelvis).  This leads to spinal compression and is a degenerative problem that will result in injuries.  This is the main risk associated with the box squat.

Now, the proposed benefit is an explosive adaptation.  But how often do you need to explode from a seated and resisted position with relaxed muscles?  It’s not often seen in sports.  If you are looking for explosion from a squatted stance (applicable to football and basketball), there are a few primary differences to what you seek and what actually happens in sports.  First, the muscles don’t beginning in a relaxed state, you are more likely under tension during a pre-loaded phase.  Secondly, producing force from a squatted position is generally done with a quarter or half squat, which is an optimal length for force creation (known as cross-bridge interaction).   Finally, the box squat encourages momentum that teaches improper lifting mechanics.  As opposed to creating force from the hips and rising vertically, you are inclined to lean forward.  This simultaneously decreases muscular contraction of the glutes and quads as well as limits time under tension.

Now that we see the increased risk and limited benefits associated with this lift, it is obviously contraindicated.  If you want to isolate your quads, try the front squat.  If you want to promote depth in your squats, then use the box but don’t sit on it, simply tap the platform and then being your ascension.  If you want explosive adaptations, try plyometric exercises (squat jumps, box jumps, tuck jumps, etc.).


Pre-workout Supplements

Every day I see young men ingest pre workout supplements as they enter the gym.  It is my job to have their best interest, with regards to nutrition, at the forefront.  I am often asked about these products as they continue to grow in popularity.  For this reason, I decided to do a little research on common products on the market.  After researching the industry standards (as well as other factors), I have written this post to inform people of the ingredients of these products and the associated risks; even more pressing is the obvious lack of need in the adolescent population.

First of all, what is a pre-workout supplement?  It is a product that helps you to increase blood flow and oxygenation to the working muscles.  It does this by mimicking the sympathetic nervous system which increases heart rate and blood pressure; because of this effect, these drugs are referred to as sympathetomimetics.  I want to set the record straight on a few things.  Should your heart rate and blood pressure increase as you exercise? Yes.  Is ingesting caffeine prior to a workout beneficial? Yes.  However, these supplements are a slippery slope as they take copious amounts of the drugs and combine them to synthetically alter your physiology to effectively “cheat” your workout.

You may be shocked to realize that some of the active ingredients are actually banned supplements.  A primary ingredient is known as DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine).  This product was formerly used as a party drug and has led to at least 5 recorded deaths.  It gained momentum after ephedrine was banned in the United States as a popular replacement to continue the big business of supplements.  Over the past few years, many organizations and countries have taken an active role in removing it from the market.  The International Olympic Committee disqualified three athletes in Sochi for testing positive for DMAA.  In 2010, the US military issued a recall of all products containing DMAA and in 2013, the FDA stated that it was illegal to market products with this ingredient.  Known supplements containing DMAA include the often ingested Jack3d.

Another prominent ingredient in these supplements is caffeine.  However, it isn’t consumed in proper doses.  For example, the average cup of coffee contains about 85-100 milligrams of caffeine and most teas/sodas top out at 80 milligrams.  The pre workout supplements pack a whopping 200-300 milligrams per serving.  This is a problem for an adolescent male who makes the jump from a can of soda (containing 35 mg of caffeine) to the overwhelming amount contained in supplements.  It must also be understood that ingesting caffeine in conjunction with DMAA can have serious adverse effects of cardiac issues including but not limited to symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath.

And finally, I’m willing to bet that you didn’t believe pre workout supplements contained amphetamines.  That is correct; the same class of drugs that leads to addiction, withdrawal, and serious health side effects is present in these over the counter products.  It is the amphetamines that may cause itchy or tingling sensations on your skin.  It is also the amphetamines that will lead you to crash after a workout session.  This is similar to the “comedown” from serious drug use.

Even with the backdrop of such problematic ingredients, these products can still be bought freely by unassuming youths and avid exercisers.  Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t regulate pre-market approval of supplements as they do in the drug industry.  For this reason, it is difficult for the FDA to openly ban a supplement.  They can, and have, issued statements recalling certain products.  The problem remains that young males are able to purchase a product that can lead to addiction and other serious health risks as easily as a candy bar.

I want to close with a few take-home points about these products.  First, adolescence is a time where energy is abundant and your body yearns for activity.  If you cannot mentally and physically prepare yourself for exercise, then you should consider your nutritional plan as a means of proper sources of energy.  Also, try a dynamic warm-up before you begin your exercise session.  This will help gradually prepare the body for activity instead of kick starting the session with a jolt of caffeine, sugar, and amphetamines.  Secondly, using a pre workout supplement may lead to dependency.  You won’t be able to work out without it and other actions where you need to perform (work, school, and athletics) will suffer because your body will yearn for large amounts of caffeine and stimulants.  And finally, the ingredients contain banned substances.  Are you willing to risk you job or even your scholastic career on this product that contains illicit drugs?

Lightheaded following exercise

A former client of mine would often complain of feeling lightheaded immediately following a her run. This is a common problem that I want to address today. 

When you workout, you heart pumps harder and faster, increasing blood flow to the actively exercising muscles. In response to that, blood vessels expand to compensate for the added blood flow.  When exercise ends suddenly, the heart slows down its pumping activity, decreasing blood circulation even though blood vessels remain dilated. As a result, blood pressure can drop and you can become dizzy or even faint.

It can be common to feel lightheaded or dizzy when you abruptly stop intense physical activity. Feeling this way after exercising is usually not dangerous. However, feeling lightheaded or faint during exercise is more serious and may be a sign of a heart condition.  If you feel dizzy during exercise stop the activity immediately, tell someone in charge about your symptoms, and get medical attention if necessary.

To help limit or prevent feeling dizzy or lightheaded after exercise in general, cooling down adequately is key.  It is commonly understood that a brisk walk is one option to cool down, but this may not be sufficient for everybody.  A good 5-10 minutes of walking and stretching will help return your body back to rest in a controlled manner.  Ending your workout in this way can help maintain a healthy heart rate and good blood circulation. When running, it may be best to jog slowly and then walk before you call it quits. 

Progressive Overload

Today I’d like to introduce the concept of progressive overload.  This is an exercise principle that relates to increased intensity of exercises as a means to show consistent improvement.  It is a simple concept that is often overlooked in the gym.  I am going to discuss the need for progressive overload and the methods you can follow.

First of all, why is this important?  The main idea is that stress will lead to adaptation.  This can be applied to a slew of physiological adaptations from a heated argument increasing blood pressure to high temperatures increasing sweat rate.  You must understand that if the body is not stressed, it will not adapt.  Applying this principle to the gym, when you exercise you will see an adaptation: increased strength, improved endurance, and/or more muscle mass.  However your stress on day one should not be the same after working out for a month, six months, or even a full year.  This is where most people mess up.  Once you adapt to a stress, it must be altered or continued adaption won’t occur.  This is the concept of progressive overload; the intensity must be augmented to show continued improvements.

There are many methods to increase the intensity of your workout.  For example, if you want to run three miles because you are training for a 5k, then a good start would be to run a few miles.  Once you complete this, it would be wise to run either a little longer or faster as a means to improve your time and stress your muscles to work harder.  By running faster, you also force the cardiovascular system to provide the necessary blood flow and oxygen delivery.

When lifting weights, a simple increase in resistance changes the intensity.  This is often done during a single workout by increasing resistance from one set to the next.  Unfortunately, most people forget what resistance they used last exercise session and fail to increase strength because they didn’t apply the correct stress.  Another method would be to keep the weights and the rep scheme the same but to modify the rest interval.  By completing the same amount of work over a shorter period of time, you will be engaging your body more.  This will challenge your energy systems to work harder and cause a positive adaptation.

Obviously progressive overload involves some preparation, planning, and recording.  As you continue with your training, be sure to write your numbers down.  How many sets/reps did I complete?  What was the resistance used?  How many days rest did I have between exercise sessions?  These notes will help to give you a better understanding of the amount of work you completed.  In turn, this will help you to set the correct intensity for continued improvement.  And that my friends is progressive overload.

Motivational Monday

Today is testing day at Columbus.  Our young men are assessing their knowledge and the juniors are preparing for college with the ACT prep exam.  In light of these events, I wanted to set the tone for acting and living in the moment with this quote.   

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done.  One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow”

– Dalai Lama

Give the Body What it Needs Most

As the Olympic Games are prepared to being today, I wanted to take some time to discuss how exercise can be incorporated into your daily life.  While the winter Olympics don’t garner as much hype as the summer games, it should be noted that these are still the most talented people in the world.  In order to get to this esteemed position, they have to train just as hard as their warm weather counterparts.  This is a large part of today’s discussion.

I want to begin by stating that I have lived in South Florida for my whole life.  I have never had to combat snow storms, freezing wind chills, nor the early evening sunset characteristic of the northern states.  During my childhood, I was able to run around my neighborhood as I played various sports with friends.  To this day, I ride my bike as a viable mode of transportation because the climate allows me to do so.  I guess it could all change if I had to move; but should it?  Should our fitness level really suffer simply as a result of inclement weather?

The athletes of the Olympic Games need to perform in cold weather conditions.  For this reason, they must train in the cold, in the snow, and in the ice.  They prove that training is not only possible but that you can put forth all the effort you would in optimal weather conditions.  While most of you reading this email aren’t Olympic athletes, maybe a more practical example will do.

A friend of mine moved to Chicago a year ago.   During the winter months, his running season and sport-specific drills take a step back; however, he uses this time to weight train in order to improve power and agility.  The point is that having access to a gym, the ability to go outside, or the simply the room for complex movements are all factors of a bigger picture.  At the end of the day, you must be intrinsically motivated to exercise and all other things will be pushed to the wayside.  A true desire for physical activity will trump a number of roadblocks.

I have a few students who come to the gym every day after school.  They don’t know the first idea about anatomy, exercise guidelines, or program development; however, they are some of the most motivated students I have.   I post a daily list of exercises on the board and they inquire about the ones that are foreign to them.  Even without a plan of attack, the desire to exercise is major motivating factor for these students.

Another student is facing a family issue and he can no longer come into the gym during the week.  He asked for some exercises that he can perform at home to continue improving his fitness level.  I wrote him a program of body weight exercises (lunges, squats, push-ups, etc) along with plyometric movements (jumps) and cardio intervals.  As we ran through the program in the gym yesterday he realized that it was a far superior workout than using the machines at a lower intensity.

What many people don’t realize is that exercise is good for the mind as well as the body.  During physical activity hormones are released in the body; hormones that interact on a level similar to drug use.  As you begin to associate these feelings of joy and other positive emotions with exercise, it becomes an addiction.  You yearn to move, you crave sweat, and you enjoy it all the more.

Once this happens, exercise isn’t an “if” situation but a “when” situation.  It is at this point that neither snow, nor rain, nor aches, nor pains can prevent you from improving your fitness level.  Options do exist for all walks of life and in all situations (work, home, with/without exercise equipment),   everything from mall walking programs to at home yoga tapes.  At the end of the day, it is up to the individual to seek exercise in order to appease the mind and the body.  I am teaching this to the student body at Columbus High school and I can only hope that those of you reading will learn to embrace this mentality.  The human body was made to move, don’t robe it of its most innate need.

As you watch the Olympics, be sure to consider the dedication that each athlete puts in.  And be sure to cheer for Columbus’ own Eddy Alvarez (class of 2008) as he competes in the short track speed skating events.

Dip Dip Hooray

There has been recent talk of the “dip” exercise and its associated variations at the Columbus Wellness Center recently.  I am going to shed some light onto this topic and hopefully leave you with some new ideas about this old exercise.

Let’s briefly discuss the anatomy and movement patterns of this exercise.  As you dip, your elbow is flexed and the shoulder is slightly extended.  Therefore, to complete the exercise, you must contract your triceps and chest, while maintaining stabilization in the anterior deltoid.  The dip is a great body weight exercise that has many variations; however, you may not be able to execute it on day one.

If you cannot perform the dip correctly and your gym has an assisted dip machine (as Columbus does) I encourage you to use it.  The assisted dip machine works as a counterweight.  As your strength improves, you perform the exercise with less assistance until you are lifting your entire bodyweight.

If the assisted dip machine isn’t available there are a number of other options.  You can strengthen your triceps via the tricep pushdown machine or the cable pushdown.  Unfortunately, these machines don’t mimic the requirements of the dip because you don’t need to stabilize yourself as much.  Another viable option is the close grip push-up , which highlights the triceps.

Some people choose to perform the bench dip.  I want to issue a word of caution that this exercise may lead to shoulder problems as the anterior deltoid is under a lot of pressure because your arms are moving behind your back but you need to maintain an upright chest.

Working on these progressions will help you reach the dip bar with the strength, stability and confidence necessary.  As you perform the dip, understand that a subtle change in posture will lead to a more concentrated muscular contraction.  If you want to isolate the chest, a forward lean will encourage the inferior fibers of the pec.  If you keep your chest completely upright, your triceps will be performing a majority of the work.

As I mentioned before, the dip is a great bodyweight exercise that has application to upper body strength and stability.  Be sure to add it to your routine.

Buyer Beware

As a follow-up to last week’s post about the food industry and how big business dominates I wanted to share some information I recently came across.  It seems that the brand “Simply Orange,” which is owned by Coca-Cola has taken it upon themselves to chemically alter its product.  Until recently I bought this juice because it tasted good and the ingredients seemed true.  Read the attached article to see why this is far from the truth.

Find out how Coca-Cola alters is natural fruit juice by clicking on the link below:


The Sweet (and Sour) Story behind Sugar

I wanted to spend some time today discussing the harm that sugar does in our society.  If you are unaware, there is a direct link between the rise in metabolic disease and the influx of sugar into common foods in our diet.  Unfortunately, there is also a direct link between sugar and big business.  Let’s explore these connections and then I will provide some key methods to avoid entering the vicious cycle of a high-sugar diet.

There are two primary reasons that sugar is added to a product.  One is in the eyes of the consumer and the other is in the interest of the manufacturer.  As most people already know, sugar makes things more palatable.  It can turn a piece of bread into a cookie or water into drinks.  Simply put, it makes bland foods tastier.  This has been done for a while, as sugar is the natural sweetener.  However, more recently sugar has been added for another reason.  Sugar is being pumped into products as a preservative;  it helps to keep food from breaking down.  This is done so that a package of macaroni and cheese (6 grams of sugar) can stay on the shelf for months at a time.

The real problem here is that we aren’t dealing with “sugar” per se; however, an imposter referred to as high fructose corn syrup.  You have probably heard of this ingredient, it’s almost everywhere.   Unlike cane sugar or even brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup isn’t naturally occurring; it must be manufactured.  This causes a serious problem in that your body doesn’t break it down the way it would sugar.  When you consume high fructose corn syrup, it won’t elicit a response from your leptin hormones, which signal to your body that you are full.  In short, after eating high fructose corn syrup, you are more likely to crave more and ultimately consume more.  This creates a problem for both your body and your wallet.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid sugar except for natural sources like fruits, vegetables, and all natural juices,.  As a means to promote this, stay on the border of the supermarket.  All the natural foods are on the outskirts (think meats, fruits, and dairy).  It is the middle aisles that have processed foods, teeming with sugars.  The less of these foods that you put in the pantry, the less you will eat them.

As you start to eat fresh and healthy foods, you replace calorically heavy and nutritionally weak foods with natural foods that are nutritionally dense.  As you being to cycle sugar foods out of your diet, you crave them less.  This will have immediate results, such as weight loss and more energy.  It will also decrease your risk of major diseases that are related to a poor diet.

Keep these tips in mind next time you are at the supermarket and be sure to keep high sugar foods from infiltrating your pantry.