Crunches and Sit-ups: Why We Suck

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“If I had to choose between a guy that can do 500 crunches in 5 minutes, or a guy that can do windmills with a 70 pound kettlebell, I’m taking the windmill everytime.”

Chris brought this to my attention this past Saturday. For awhile now, I’ve known that crunches are a shit exercise to develop those washboard abs. The question I couldn’t seem to crack was, why? Why are crunches no good for us? This god-awful excuses of an exercise, besides the bench press, is in my opinion the most commonly done exercise in the gym…and it makes me want to pull my friggen hair out.

Why are crunches so bad anyway? Well, first thing’s first, crunches target one, maybe two of the core muscles depending on what variation you’re doing. The rectus abdominis and the obliques group. That’s it. No transverse abdominis. No erector spinae. No multifidi. No other core muscles. So if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, traditional crunches definitely should not make the cut.

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“Oh, but my abdominals and obliques are all I care about.” Have fun explaining that nonsense to your back when it’s screaming in pain. Not only are crunches a crappy exercise for core development, but they also put a pretty nice beating on your lower back. If you’re into that kind of pain, then by all means, go for it.

“How is this possible though? I don’t feel it in my back, only in my abs”

When setup in your crunch/sit-up position, the next motion is to “crunch” up with our torso. This is known as spinal flexion. Spinal flexion is the scientific way of saying “bending over from our back”. When we sit at a desk, drive a car, or bend over to tie our shoes, we are in spinal flexion. Today, we are all guilty of excessive spinal flexion, maybe this could account for why 80% of Americans will suffer from back pain at one point in their lives. We are degenerating in front of our eyes, but that’s not the point of this right now. Anyways, why is this bad when we perform a crunch?

According to a study done by Dr. Stuart McGill in 1995, when you flex your back in the supine (on your back) position, a great amount of stress is placed on the vertebrae of the lumbar spine. His testing discovered that there is approximately 674 pounds of force on the lower back with every crunch we perform. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound to pleasant to me.

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Let’s try to avoid this at all costs. Not fun.

So what could we do instead…

Well, if we don’t want a jacked up back from the million variations of crunches we do, something has to change.

The core functions in numerous ways. It stabilizes the body during movement and is responsible for trunk flexion, sidebending, extension, and rotation. So to train these patterns, we must develop a routine to target every single one of them. The exercises we must do include core stability exercises, as well as flexion, anti-lateral flexion, anti-extension, and anti-rotation movements. Yes I know, I’ll slow it down, because the first time I ever read that it looked like a foreign language to me as well. Let me break them down one-by-one.

Exercises that effect core stability are our isometric weapons. In less fancy terms, these are our planks along with their variations. As we proceed with this blog, we’ll learn how every exercise we perform, whether it’s a kettlebell swing or a biceps curl, is a plank!

Flexion exercises are our movements that involved hip flexion. THIS MEANS THERE IS NO SPINE FLEXION INVOLVED. These exercises include (but are not limited to of course) reverse crunches, Janda crunches, and physioball knee tucks. I know, I hammered the idea of no crunches earlier, however, because the flexion is coming from the hips rather than the lumbar spine, our backs are in a much safer position to prevent injury. F’d up backs are no fun, trust me I know first hand.

Our anti-lateral flexion exercises are the exercises that we want to prevent sidebending with. To do this, we load one side of the body which forces the opposite side’s obliques to fire to prevent lopsided posture. Side planks and single arm carries force the obliques to fire like hell. The great part about these bad boys are, even though only one side of the body is loaded at a time, both sides are forced to work hard as hell to prevent shitty posture with Farmer’s walks, and proper alignment for side planks.

When we want to prevent the spine from overly extending, or hyperextending, we must include anti-extension drills as well. When squatting, deadlifting, etc., we don’t want spinal extension because of the compression force that comes with it. Compression force on the spine = pain. Anti-extension exercises include bar and wheel rollouts, TRX fall outs, and slideboard body saws.

*I love bodysaws. They’re great because even if you don’t have a slideboard, it’s extremely easy to find a surface to perform them on. All you need is a tile/wood floor and a towel to place under your feet. There you go, a modified slideboard!

Anti-rotation exercises are my personal favorites, when it comes to the core movements. Pallof presses, bird dogs, deadbugs, high-to-low chops, and low-to-high chops are an excellent equation to beat the shit out of your core. I feel more explosive with these exercises, which is important in baseball (all sports for the most part) when it comes to basically every aspect. Both hitting and pitching involved explosiveness from the hips, trunk, and shoulders. Cutting movements in sports like basketball and football also involve rotation through the transverse axis. This is an important reason as to why anti-rotation is a must have in all programs!

So we have the basics to some of the various core exercises we can perform. Now how the hell do we program them into our training? Personally, I like to combine an isometric hold (plank) with one or two exercises from one of the above categories. Assuming it’s a 4 days lifting split, you could make it look something like this…

  • Day 1: isometric hold (plank) + anti-extension
  • Day 2: isometric hold (side plank) + anti-lateral flexion
  • Day 3: isometric hold (plank) + anti-rotation
  • Day 4: isometric hold (side plank) + rotation

Note: shoutout to Joe Gambino cementing this idea into my head through his blog awhile back, check him out! www.joegambino.wordpress.com

The options are limitless. Figure out what works for you. Let’s drop this crunching bullshit and expose our 6-packs a pain free, and ultimately easier way! Questions, comments, criticism, whatever, drop it below! Feedback is greatly appreciated and encouraged.

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Kettlebells, Somatics and Whatnot

Aaaaand, I’m back! After a long fall, spring, and summer semester, I am ready to kick it into full gear this time around on here. Between class, baseball, work and time dedicated to my lovely girlfriend (who isn’t always so lovely!) I didn’t have the time nor motivation to maintain an active blog. I also didn’t have a clue as to what to write about due to a lack of in-depth knowledge in most areas.

My attitude has since completely changed. Thanks to my current internship under Matrix Fitness Club under head trainer Chris Carlsen, my motivation to learn and teach is greater than it’s ever been before. Chris is whipping my ass into shape so that I have no choice to spread the knowledge to all of you anyway! Between what he’s taught me and reading the works of Gray Cook, Thomas Hanna, and Pavel, I’m ready to drop knowledge bombs (hopefully) from the best in the business!

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Since working with Chris, my philosophy on exercise has completely revolved, 100% for the better in my opinion. From a workout standpoint, I scratched everything I was doing previously and started from square one. I’ve stepped far away from the “functional” training bullshit with BOSU balls, tubing, etc. that we’ve all been brainwashed with. My alternative has been hammering my movement patterns through breathing patterns as well as kettlebell training. Both of these fitness cultures, somatics and kettlebell training, have become the main staples of my workout program. I feel healthier, powerful, and like an overall better athlete from the new philosophies I’ve taken from Matrix. It’s only been a couple weeks, but I feel like I’m in much more control of my body compared to traditional weightlifting.

So, what the hell is somatics? As a broad definition, it is the ability to “maintain conscious control of nerves and muscle,” according to Thomas Hanna, Ph.D. Hanna is the founder of the Somatics field, which I am willing to bet on, will become one of the near future movements in the fitness fieldWatch out Crossfit. In general, Somatics is used to mobilize joints specified for mobility, stabilize joints specified for stability, and preventing injury and stiffness by relaxing stress and tension. And believe it or not, the way we breathe is the center of all of this. Lately, I’ve learned that 99.8% of the general population doesn’t have a clue as to how to breathe during exercise. I was part of the majority a month ago, and man has it made a difference. I love the field of Somatics, but my education for it is still very minimal. As my education continues to grow, I’m going to express what I learn with you guys. What I do know now though, is that it’s hard as shit and you feel great after completing it!

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My love for kettlebells, believe it or not, is even greater than the Somatics philosophy. They are definitely my go to weapon when it comes to throwing weight around now. Pavel, the “Michael Jordan of kettlebells,” according to Chris, opened my eyes to why kettlebells should be a part of everyone’s fitness programs. Deadlift Dynamite, by Pavel and Andy Bolton, is a great resource for anyone looking to learn more about the kettlebell, as well as the powerlifting exercises. That’s a discussion for another day. Image

Swings, cleans, snatches, presses, arm bars, and windmills are an equation for a complete ass kicking with kettlebells. With proper form, kettlebells are a much safer option that traditional barbell and dumbbell movements. Of course, we still do our squats and deadlifts with the barbell, but kettlebell deadlifts and goblet squats are nice accessory exercises to complete on off days or in warmups.

Why are kettlebells safer? Spinal loading with a kettlebell is greatly reduced compared to your traditional exercises. These movements could be excellent exercises to incorporate during deload periods, because they aren’t as stressful on our neuromuscular system, but they also require great power throughout the movement. This, of course, is only true if you use appropriate weights without shitty form taking over. You must control the bell, it cannot control you!

We’ll keep this short and sweet for now. Can’t wait to keep producing articles for you guys to enjoy and learn. This isn’t only a learning resource for you, but it is for me as well. This will teach me what I have a decent grasp on, as well as what I need to learn. I got a long road to travel to get to where I want to be, but I’m determined to get there for damn sure. In order to be the best, you got to learn from the best, and that’s what I plan on doing!


Scapular Stability: Why Do We Need It?

Scapular stability has been a phrase cemented in my head ever since I started lifted a couple years back. It was always implemented in my workouts with the trainers I worked with because it was vital to keep the shoulder healthy, especially for baseball players. Now, you’re all probably thinking the same thing I was thinking.

“What the hell is a scapular and how is it helping me?”

The scapular is the fancy scientific way of saying shoulder blade. The scapula is part of the shoulder girdle, which also consists of the clavicle bone.

In basic anatomy, we are taught that the scapulae connect the humerus to the clavicle (the humerus is the bone located in the superior part of our arms). The scapulae also welcome many muscle attachments, including the serratus anterior, pec minor, rhomboids, traps, and lats to name a few. In simpler terms, for the scapulae to function properly, the muscles attached to them must fire together to provide sufficient movement. Before we get into specifics on the scap however, it’s important to have a firm grasp on how shoulder mobility works.

Shoulder Mobility: Overview

Out of all the joints in the human body, the shoulder joint has the most range of motion. This is the reason why the shoulder provides us with the most mobility. Without mobile shoulders, various motions we perform would be difficult to accomplish, if possible at all. For example, a simple exercise like a pushup would most likely result in pain due to immobility. However, the ball and socket joint gives us a great range of mobility, so we don’t have to worry about this.

Anatomy

The shoulder connects the humerus, clavicle, and scapula together with three specific joints. These joints are the glenohumeral joint, acromioclavicular joint, and sternoclavicular joint. Here is how these three joints break down.

Glenohumeral joint: The ball and socket joint (shoulder joint) that connects the head of the humerus to the concave (hollow) section of the scapula.

Acromioclavicular joint: The joint that connects the acromion and clavicle together. The acromion is the superior part of your scapulae.

Sternoclavicular joint: This joint connects the sternum and clavicle together, as it’s name expresses. (2)

Movements (aka where most of you will fast-forward)

Below is an example of movement of the shoulders, it is also one of the most beneficial exercises around in regards to scapular stability!

The movements of the shoulder occur through motion of the scapula and humerus. The scapula can rectract (adduct), protract (abduct), downwardly rotate, upwardly rotate, elevate, and depress. For these movements to occur, the rhomboids, traps, serratus, pecs, levator scapulae, subclavius and lats must be working in sync with the movement they’re assigned too. For example, without proper contraction from the rhomboids (major and minor) as well as the trapezius family, the scapular can’t retract the way it’s supposed to.

Other movements that rely on the humerus include arm abduction, adduction, flexion, extension, medial and lateral rotation, and circumduction. The scapular is heavily involved with arm abduction and adduction because it must upwardly rotate and downwardly rotate, respectively.

Because of the shoulder’s wide range of mobility, something must be “insufficient” in a sense to neutralize this movement. This is how scapular instability is created.

So, if scapular stability is the goal, how do we get there? Thanks to a key article written by Mike Robertson, it’s quite simple to understand how to achieve a stable base for the scaps to function.

“If your thoracic spine is in a poor resting alignment, your scapulae will never be in the right position.” (3)

Thoracic mobility, the key to proper movement with everything we do with regards to our upper half. How often do you see people with rounded shoulders in everyday life? We see it a lot in older people, as well as people that sit in front of a computer 8 hours a day at their office. This poor posture is known as kyphosis, which basically means having a curve in your thoracic spine. If you’ve ever seen the Hunchback of Notre Dame, you can automatically picture the character with the worst posture in the movie.

 

Kyphosis at it’s finest, we don’t want this!

So how do we make sure we maintain proper posture throughout our thoracic spine? It’s actually a fairly simple concept, it takes basic mobility exercises as well as an emphasis on pulling variations to keep your posterior chain strong. Most of the time when you see poor posture in the gym, it’s usually one of those meatheads that have a hard time scratching their back because all they do is bench. Pushing exercises without a healthy balance of pulling exercises will cause kyphosis. Think about this…

Your body is extremely smart, it evolves with the movements we create. This is simply known as our muscle memory. If you constantly press weights without an adequate amount of pulling movements to retract our shoulder back into proper positioning, you’re going to have poor posture. Plain and simple. If you’re one of the people that have this imbalance, 1) learn how to workout properly 2) here are some mobility drills that can help you out!

References:

http://www.realfooduniversity.com/improve-scapular-stability-healthy-shoulders/

http://robertsontrainingsystems.com/blog/is-scapular-stability-a-myth/

 

Why do Females Avoid Protein Supplements?

Hey readers, sorry about the delay between posts! I hope everyone is doing fine after the hurricane and snowstorm we encountered these past two weeks. School work and volunteering at my campus have occupied a majority of my time, everything should be back up and running smoothly from now on though!

I hear this all the time, and it couldn’t be further from the truth…

“If I start drinking protein shakes, I’m going to bulk up.”

Oh. I forgot that’s the consequences of protein intake. Bulkiness. I guess I should just start drinking 6 protein shakes a day to get to my set goal of 210 pounds. Okay in all seriousness though, this conception of protein has to change because it’s the key ingredient to achieving the goals that you truly are looking for when it comes to fitness, besides actual fitness. First thing’s first, however, what is protein?

Protein is one of the big three macronutrients that are a necessity in any diet. The other two, of course, are carbohydrates and fats. Protein molecules are made up of a chain, or multiple chains, of amino acids. In elementary school, we were all taught how amino acids are the building blocks of the body. This is how they come into play. There are twenty different amino acids that are used to create various proteins. To create these protein molecules, they align themselves up into different sequences due to the genetic code. Basically, amino acids are assigned a spot in line and create the specific protein with the help of a process called translation. Now that the boring stuff is out of the way (hopefully I didn’t put you guys to sleep!), let’s explain why protein won’t cause females to bulk up.

Testosterone is the main factor when it comes to dealing with bulking up. As you all know, testosterone is a hormone. This hormone exists in both males and females, but is seen at much higher levels in males.

So what the hell does this have to do with anything?

Well, testosterone effects muscle growth both directly and indirectly. Testosterone’s direct relationship with protein synthesis occurs when it connects to receptors on the face of muscle cells. When protein synthesis is increased, the muscles targeted through resistance training have the ability to adapt. In other words, these muscles grow! The indirect relationship testosterone has with muscle growth comes from its interaction with growth hormone (GH). Testosterone allows for the production rates of GH to increase. GH also increases protein synthesis as well as enables muscles to develop in size.

Because females do not have sufficient testosterone levels to support the increase in muscle growth the same way males do, protein supplements will not make them bulky (when used properly). Rather than growing in width like a bodybuilder, protein will help repair damaged muscle cells that lead to soreness after working out. This repair allows them to function stronger as well. Without protein, the ladies busting their asses in the gym are limiting their production of lean muscle, which could be the big difference between having that beach body or having that decent/mediocre/not as dreamy body.

I bet she’s had a protein shake or two in her lifetime.

Now that we’ve explained how protein works, we must discuss the types of protein out there. There’s multiple proteins available to us, we just have to make sure we’re making wise choices with the ones we buy.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is known as the “post workout” protein. It is also easily the most popular protein supplement out there. Whey is rich in three amino acids key for muscle building: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. This protein can be digested in approximately two hours or so, basically meaning it is rapidly digested.

Casein Protein

Casein protein, unlike whey, is a slow digesting protein. It takes approximately 8 hours or so to digest. Because it takes a while to digest, it is usually recommended that it is taken before bed. Another beneficial factor of casein is, it is not used as an energy source. Because of this, carbohydrates and fats are burned instead to produce energy. Casein has a much thicker texture than whey and is commonly found in weight gainers. (Females stay away from weight gainers!)

Egg Protein

Eggs are a food product that supply a great level of essential amino acids to the body. Of the 20 amino acids that the body uses, 9 of them are essential. An essential amino acid basically means that the body cannot produce these on its own. Egg protein consists of the egg whites of an egg. The yolk is taken out, which causes the cholesterol levels of this protein to drop. I have never experimented with this protein, but it would definitely be a great alternative for people lactose intolerant.

Soy Protein

Soy protein is a fast digesting protein source, like whey. However, soy does not have the amino acid density of these other three proteins. Therefore, it is my least suggested protein supplement. Soy protein does contain estrogen however, which could be beneficial in certain aspects for females.

Well, these are the 4 most common proteins you hear talked about, in my opinion. I personally have stuck to just whey and casein products, which have worked fine for me. It doesn’t hurt to experiment though, just make sure you’re doing it in smart and effective ways. By this, I stress that you read the nutrition labels on products you are buying. Some of these protein supplements out on the shelves are just plain garbage, glorified milk shakes. How is a shake with 20 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, and a ridiculous number of sugars going to benefit me in the long run. Something like this will easily do more harm than good!

Here’s a solid nutrition label for a supplement you would be looking for.

I am a big fan of BSN products, especially there protein powder called Syntha-6 (label above). They’re great tasting and produce results that you’re looking for!

Hopefully I convinced a reader or two on here that protein supplementation could be crucial if your protein intake is inadequate. Protein, and nutrition in general, could be the difference that makes or breaks your body for this upcoming summer! Got a question? Drop a comment below!

References

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/attention-protein-skeptics.html

http://www.livestrong.com/article/413131-can-women-take-whey-protein/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/68797-testosterone-muscle-growth/

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/expert-guides/protein-supplements#16

http://www.stack.com/4W/2011/10/12/why-female-athletes-should-make-protein-a-part-of-their-diet/

How do we find Motivation?

We’ve all been here before. Anyone that’s ever worked out alone before has said the exact same words in their head that I’m about to say…

“What do I do now?”

It’s definitely a difficult concept to get a grasp on, what kind of workout am I going to do today? You have the free weights, machines, treadmills, ellipticals, stairmasters, etc. I’ve been this person before, just looking around being overwhelmed at the crap around you and the people as well. I know for damn sure when I was 15 I didn’t want to be benching 30 pound dumbbells next to the saucebag putting up 120 pounders for 12 reps. Nothing intimidated me more than the guys that looked like this…

So what would I do? Run on the treadmill for 20 minutes, do some BS “core” work, a set of this here, a set of this there and that was it. I was out of there in 32 and a half minutes and got absolutely nothing done. Exercise definitely wasn’t my thing at the time, and this is the case for many people that we see struggling in the fitness world today. So the real question now is, how do we correct this? 

  • The first thing I would suggest is personal training with a trainer with a solid reputation. Let them evaluate you to figure out where you stand and how you’re going to get to where you want to be. After evaluation, they’ll formulate a plan for you and lead you to your goals giving you all the motivation you need. This is how the perfect scenario would play out.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where everything is perfect of course. Personal training is costly both from a financial and time standpoint. Most people fall into this category where they cannot simply afford it or they’re too busy with their lives, which is definitely understandable between work, family, and all the other factors that take up our time. So if personal training is out of the option, let’s figure out some ways we can make our gym sessions more efficient without having to spend hours in the gym (the complete opposite of efficient, just so you know).

Here we go…

1.) Find a workout “buddy”.
I don’t know about how everyone else in the fitness industry feels about this, but I would rather workout with a group of my friends rather than all alone. I would always get that “who’s watching me” feeling going on in my head whenever I’d lift by myself. With a partner, I was always able to block this out without even thinking about it. You’re more comfortable around the people you’re close with rather than complete strangers, there’s gotta be some type of psychological fancy law stating that. Whether it’s your best friend, a family member, or even your neighbor, go out there and find someone that’ll push you the same way you’ll push them in the gym.

2.) Plan your workouts in advance.
Some guys go overboard with this one. I’m not suggesting you write out an elaborate program full of different hypertrophy and strength phases for the next three years. But you definitely want to have an idea of what you’re doing in the gym for that day, week, and even month. Going into the gym without a plan in mind is just as effective as sitting on a stationary bike for an hour with your iced coffee from Dunkin. If you plan out what you’re going to do in advance, it’ll make it much easier for you to stay dedicated to your program as well as motivated.

3.) Have some variety.
Don’t be the guy that goes into the gym Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (every day of the week for those keeping score at home) doing the same workout every single day. Believe it or not, it happens. I don’t know about all 3 of you that are probably going to read this, but that’s boring to me. I don’t want to bench 5 times a week, hell I barely want to bench once a week (I get through it though!). In order for me to stay motivated, I need my workouts to have some flavor. I’d rather beat the living hell out of a tire with a sledgehammer over running on an elliptical watching CNN on the screen above me for half an hour. I’m sure the majority (about 99.9%) of true gym rats feel the same way. The A.D.D. in all of us kicks in every now and then, spice it up a little!

This sure as hell looks like more fun to me!

4.) Break bad habits that will cause plateaus in your progress.
This is one of the key factors that will keep you motivated towards achieving your goals. I was in this boat for sure, once I started seeing results, I didn’t want to stop. I’m still not at the physique I want to be at today, but I’m sure as hell motivated to get there. To do this, we need to break out of bad habits. Examples of bad habits that will prevent growth in the gym are smoking, boozin’, consuming crap, and a lack of sleep. How are you supposed to see results if you’re the guy that smokes a pack of day, houses a liter of soda with every meal, parties (gets plastered) on the weekends, and sleeps 5 hours a night? This is a case where the bad easily outweighs the good. So how do we break bad habits? A couple months ago I read an article which had a brilliant suggestion in it to help benefit our health. It stated that for one week (or longer…depending on how long it takes), you should focus on changing one thing (and one thing only) about your lifestyle that will benefit you in the long run. An example of this would be soda consumption. Eventually, the bad habit will be replaced by the new habit, allowing you to work on the next aspect of your overall health. I wish I could take credit for this concept, but unfortunately I was not the one to come up with it.

And last but not least…

5.) Don’t spend more than an hour in the gym
I work in the fitness center at my school. It puzzles me sometimes how people can adapt to a small, smelly and crowded gym…and then proceed to workout in it for 2-3 hours at a time. There’s guys that check their ID in to me at the front desk at 7:45 at night and don’t leave until we shut the place down at 10:00. That’s 2 hours and 15 minutes. 2 hours and 15 minutes. Something about this equation isn’t right. If you’re training as hard as you possibly could, you should honestly get everything you need to get done anywhere between 25-45 minutes, tops. Hell, workouts can be even shorter than 25 minutes, depending on what you’re doing (metabolic circuits, etc). When I’m working out, I want to get it done as fast as I possibly can. I don’t want to bang out a set, go for a five minute water break, bang out another set, bullshit with the guy next to me about something completely irrelevant, and then finish my third set. I want to get my exercise done in five minutes, not half an hour. If you stay focused and short with your workouts, you don’t need to be in the gym for long at all. Remember, it’s quality over quantity.

I was planning on keeping this post short and sweet, so much for that. I’m just going to wrap it up by saying if you truly want something, then you will do whatever it takes to get to that goal. Set a goal, plan out how you’re going to get there, and then work your ass off until you reach it. It’s a plain and simple concept, but rarely do you see people ever finish what they started. Knowing is only half the battle, the other half is on you.

Why We Suck: Squats

It’s almost a proven fact that nobody out there likes Mondays. Therefore, I’m going to start dedicating my Mondays to things that irk me in the gym. I don’t think I have a bigger pet peeve than people who load up a bar with, say, 225 pounds then proceed to “squat”. If your definition of a squat is an anterior pelvic tilt, where your hips are collapsing in after every rep, then so be it. You’re probably the guy that needs a weight belt, gloves, and the infamous “p” pad to get your sets in. (We won’t go into details on what the p stands for)

Chances are, you’re probably very similar to this guy.

Since I’ve started lifting, I’ve always had problems with my lower back. I remember how it first started too, I was a moron. I hated deadlifts. I absolutely hated deadlifts. One day we were pulling from a trap bar, the set was 225 for 4. Rather than “spreading the floor” with my feet to pull the weight up, which is the way I’ve been taught most recently, I tried to jerk the weight up. I felt a tweak in one of my lumbar vertebrae and it was a nagging injury for years to come. Anyway, enough about me, this is just an example of how easy it is to blow your back out, luckily for me I’ve been able to work around it and prevent my spine problems from getting worse.

Anyway…

Before we can correct our squats, we have to understand why we squat to begin with. First thing’s first, stability from the ground up is the key reason as to why we squat. Without strength from our lower half, how can we possibly produce power with our upper half? Baseball is a key example, both pitching and hitting are initiated through our lower extremities, followed by our hips (which provide the most explosive and raw power) and finish through our upper extremities. Squats (executed properly) are crucial for most athletes. For others, they produce more risk than reward, but that’s a topic for another day.

If you’re not the typical athlete and are just looking to get in shape, squats are a great weapon to have in your arsenal. When done properly, squats activate many of the muscles in the human body. Because of this, squats will actually (believe it or not) improve your other lifts in the gym. They also activate key hormones to build muscle, specifically testosterone and growth hormone (GH). These hormones improve growth in the total body, which explains why squats will benefit your upper body as well as your lower half, obviously.

Squats bring out the mental toughness in you as well as physical strength. How can you complain about this?

So now we understand the concepts of why we squat…now we have to understand how we squat.

The most common teaching mistake made with the squat is to “sit” during the eccentric phase. No, no, no, no, no. You do not sit when squatting, you sit when you’re taking a dump.

This guy looks like he knows a thing about squatting.

When we squat properly, rather than “sitting”, we spread the groin. I was taught to “spread the floor” with my feet as I would decelerate down. By doing this, I focused on spreading outwards instead of straight down. This allowed me to clear my hips without worrying about them collapsing in on the concentric phase of the squat.

Another key factor we must focus on while squatting is preventing excessive lumbar extension. In simpler terms, we cannot allow our lower back to arch while we squat. This occurs from an anterior pelvic tilt. Like a domino effect, an anterior pelvic tilt is the effect of having a weak core. In order to correct this, we must build core strength. By this, I don’t mean banging out sets of crunches, which actually does more harm then good. We must train our core (abdominals, obliques, erector spinae muscles, longissimus, the list goes on). To do this, we have to train in the different planes of movement (sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes).

Below is a video that will get your core functioning properly with execution of these exercises.

Now, we have to figure out which type of squat is best for you. Personally, the front squat is my go to weapon. It forces me to activate my core because the bar is now stationed on the anterior part of my body. Because of this, there is a slight pelvic tilt that will allow me to stand up straight without the weight falling over (or falling into lumbar flexion). By this point, my core will be firing and I haven’t even started the exercise! Now lets see what happens after I get out of this isometric position in the front squat…

  • Before beginning the eccentric phase, I have to make sure my neck consistently stays packed and I try to pull my “scaps to my shins”. While doing this, I activate my latissimus dorsi, aka my lats.
  • I also breath through my nose to fill my brace up with air. This will allow me to stay strong as I descend without losing any stability.
  • With the eccentric contraction, I make sure I am spreading the floor with my feet rather than sitting into the squat.
  • Once my hip flexors tell me to stop, I stop. If I try to get any lower, chances are my form at the very bottom is gonna be brutal. This can’t be happening with heavy weights if I want to keep a healthy back.
  • With the concentric phase, I push back through my heels while continuing to spread the floor. This will allow me to keep my hips in a good position as I come back to my starting position.
  • As I come back to the top, I have to make sure I don’t go into lumbar extension “round my back”. This is prevented by keeping my core nice and tight throughout the whole exercise. If you still see this occurring, you need to work on your core strength!


Here’s an example of crappy squat form, from yours truly just a couple of months ago.

In this video, I neglected a packed neck, didn’t stabilize my core before every rep, and got as deep as I possibly could which caused my back to round. Do not follow this as a model squat. This is not what you want to achieve unless you want back pain, then by all means go for it.

Instead, we want this (front squat example)

Your turn. Go out there, clean your form up and tear the weight room apart.

Must Read Articles: 10/14/2012-10/21/2012

Here are some articles I’ve read in the past week that I would recommend to anyone looking to learn a thing or two about exercise!

Exercises You Should Be Doing: Assisted Band Push Ups
by Tony Gentilcore (guest post by Dave Rak)

Too bad this article wasn’t around back when I started working out. Up until I was like 17 I’d rep out push ups with my elbows flared out, hips elevated, and chin up. In other words, we call this crappy form. This article does a great job explaining one of the most simple regressions of the pushup anybody can perform without falling into bad habits.

link: http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/exercises-you-should-doing-band-assisted-push-up/

Hip Mobility
by: Joe Gambino

My boy (and one of my main mentors in the exercise science field) Joe hit the nail on the head with this post. I’ve been working with Joe since I was about 14 years old and he is one of the top trainers over at Matrix Fitness Club. I wouldn’t just suggest this post from his blog though, they’re all on point and you can learn a lot from reading them. Joe does a great job at explaining why we need better range of motion through our hips. He also breaks down seven different mobility exercises (with videos!) to help your flexibility issues out. If you want to go “ass to grass” with your squats, you better make sure to implement these exercises into your program.

link: http://joegambino.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/hip-mobility/

Is Aerobic or Anaerobic Training Best For Getting Rid of Belly Fat?
by: Charles Poliquin

Are you that person that wastes away hours on the treadmill, reading the newest gossip magazine without even breaking a sweat…and then wondering why you aren’t seeing results? This article breaks down why anaerobic exercise is more beneficial if you have to choose between aerobic and anaerobic. Charles Poliquin gives us 8 legitimate arguments as to why this is the better option for weight loss, breaking down things like hormonal response, stress levels, and the duration of time spent exercising. If you’re the person that wants to lose weight by walking on the treadmill or casually using the elliptical, think again. Anaerobic is the way to go to trim that beer belly.

link: http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/930/Is_Aerobic_or_Anaerobic_Training_Best_For_Getting_.aspx

And finally, here’s a video to follow up on the aerobic vs. anaerobic debate from Athlean-X creator Jeff Cavaliere.

Hope you get something out of each of these articles, enjoy!