Monday, 19 November 2012

The back squat, king of exercises?

This is a subject that is close to my heart, and unfortunately very bad for my back. Before we get into the main discussion, here is a little background on why I don't squat anymore. About 5 years ago, I had a bulging disc in my back, which made my foot drop (go floppy), and made my life very difficult for a long time. This happened for a number of reasons, a bad bed, a poor strength coach, and a young rugby players belief that he is indestructable..... but not from squatting.
The reason I can't back squat any more is that this injury has caused my lower back to be in extension all the time (arched), so when I perform the squatting movement my back does not let me achieve the right position.

Because of this I have spent a lot of time with various physio's and strength coaches discussing the benefits of back squatting, how deep they think you should squat, and other exercises that could, if need be, replace the back squat. The results in general have been hugely divided, most strength coaches love the exercise, and believe you should squat deep to get strength through your full range, for full glue activation and ultimate gains. There are a few strength coaches however, and most of the physio's/surgeons who believe that loading the knees through that range is a knee injury waiting to happen. Most of these guys, especially in rugby, think that you should only squat to 90 degrees, because this is the range you generally go through in a game.

My view on this has changed a few times, but after listening to a number of opinions, and watching my clients and athlete's perform the exercise, here is my view..

IF you can squat deep, ass to the grass, with your back dead straight, your head and chest up, sitting into your heels,and keeping your knees facing outwards on the way up, go for it. I believe that in this position the stress is taken from the lower back and the knees and huge strength gains can be made.

HOWEVER if when you squat
-you lean forward putting pressure through your lower back
-you crumble through your trunk
-you cannot keep your chest high
-Your knees fold in on the way up.. get some professional help to gain the mobility and strength to perform the exercise well.

Some people will never get to the point that they can squat perfectly, me being one, but if you can do it well, it can be beneficial.

If you are doomed to be a non squatter, do not be disheartened, I have found exercises like front squats, leg press (controversial), single leg squats/lunges and deadlifts keep my legs happy, but if I could squat again, I would.

For more info on me and what I do visit

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Cross fit, the debate is my take.

So cross fit seems to be the new fitness craze sweeping the world, with Reebok investing millions trying to make it a 'sport', and many more millions taking part. So why is it splitting the opinion of so many strength and conditioning professionals?

For those who have never heard of cross fit, it is made up of a set of exercises which can be gym based (e.g weight lifting exercises), random physical exercises (e.g. skipping, rope climbing, tyre flips and many many more), cardio based execises (e.g running, rowing, burpees etc etc), or body weight exercises (chins, press ups etc).The idea is to be able to complete a set number of exercises in a best time, then aim to improve that time the next time round.

So here are my list of pro's and con's to bear in mind when taking part.

- No one cane deny that cross fit makes for an hard work out, it is great for cardio, and a huge fat burner as the intensity is so high all the way through that your metabolism will be racing by the end.
- It creates a great camaraderie within the cross fit gym that you train at. Because of the mutual respect of those taking part (because it's so hard), you will struggle to find an atmosphere like it outside of a team sport.
- It is very varied, there are now hundreds of workout variations for people to take part in. It can also be done pretty much anywhere, as long as you have a good imagination.
-You will build muscle mass as the volume of weight you lift is huge.

The worries that I have;
-TECHNIQUE- This is cross fits major stumbling block, and where many strength and conditioners would like to step in. Cross fit uses some very technical lifts (power cleans, snatches), which take up to 6 months with a good S and C coach to master. For a beginner, these should be avoided until you have some advice. A good example of this was I had a friend who loves cross fit, and he was achieving fitness gains, but when I saw his power clean technique I cringed... I then saw his 'kipping' pull ups (which if you have not seen check out on youtube), which I could not get my head around at all. For me, if you can't do a proper chin up, work at it until you can, kipping=cheating, (I will get some abuse for this). Low and behold, within 8 weeks he was injured.
-Being strong enough- If you have read my blog before, you will know that I am a huge advocate of preparing your body physically before diving into running, cycling, and especially cross fit. If you are not strong enough in your legs, arms and core, as your body gets tired you will start to overcompensate with muscles that are not supposed to be working. This will inevitably cause injury.
-Being cv fit enough- Please do not go to cross fit after sitting on the sofa for 6 months, this is a hard workout and if you do, be prepared to puke!!

So in conclusion, if you are technically sound in your lifting techniques, and you think you have prepared yourself physically, cross fit is great, if not, get to this point before you begin.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Get strong before the fitness kick, don't use the fitness kick to get strong!!

So, January has arrived and the aftermath of the eating and drinking has hit home. Typically, this is when the masses hit the streets and pound the pavements to try and work off the excess weight.
This is also the time when I receive the most complaints about soft tissue injuries, sore knees and stiff backs. These complaints generally come from fairly casual exercisers who have not exercised for at least a month, and are generally carrying a little more weight than usual.

So before you hit the streets, consider the following
1. Have you done any glute/leg or core strengthening work so that the right muscles are working and giving you the support needed to complete the exercise.
2. Have you warmed up properly, and when I say properly I don't mean the token touch your toes stretch that I see so often.
3.What exercise will you be performing and is your body up to this level yet?
4.What surface are you running on?
5. Do you understand how to stretch properly afterwards?
6. What type of foods, and what amount of water will it take for you to recover properly in order to train comfortably next time.

And here are some handy hints to help you stay injury free
1. Perform some basic leg (squat, lunges, step ups, glute firing) exercises 3 times a week for 2 weeks before attacking the streets.
2. Perform basic core exercises to switch on the body's support system which will help keep the back in line and help you keep your form when tired.
3.Use dynamic stretching to warm up and static stretching to warm down.
4. If you are running buy some good trainers. Go to a specialist running shop and they will assess your gait and fit you with some gleaming trainers that will support your feet properly. Also if possible avoid running on concrete as this has a very high impact on your joints, especially knees.
5. Drink plenty of water after exercise, I would recommend at least a litre within 2 hours as a general rule but if you have sweated a lot, drink more. If you get to the point when you are thirsty, its too late, your already dehydrated.
6. Eat within 40 minutes of exercise. This is the best time to eat as your metabolism is racing and good healthy food will be used by the body straight away and not stored as fat.

Of course I am a personal trainer so please don't take this as a sales pitch, but if you feel you don't understand any of the points I have made please ask a health professional, or a friend who does. For the sake of 3-6 sessions with a professional you could be avoiding injury, uncomfort and ultimately achieving your fitness goals.