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Friday, June 28, 2013

Optimize your Setup, Add Pounds to your Lifts

Make a better choice.

Even the best athletes in the world often have suboptimal stabilization strategies that leech their performance. This is not to say that this makes them any less impressive, actually the opposite, they are able to produce incredible amounts of power despite suboptimal setup. However, here we will go over how to reclaim that performance.

Whether going for a one-rep max, or lifting sub-maximal weights for multiple reps, how you've set up your musculoskeletal system will greatly determine your ability to produce force. This goes beyond simply technique and body position as can be seen superficially by a coach or trainer. Things like load ordering and creating torque/tension in your setup can be very difficult to see, but can be critical to making a lift.

Here, I will explain the various aspects of a proper setup that are critical to optimizing performance. I will also lay out a general sequence to go through to prepare for any given weightlifting movement, which can be modified slightly to accommodate different movements.

All of the setup should take place when your body is minimally loaded, before you lift the weight, as you will not be able to adopt a perfect setup once a heavy barbell is on your back or in your hands.

1) Spinal Position

In order to produce maximum power in weightlifting movements, the spine must be in a neutral position. The reasons for this are multiple, but a major one is inhibition of muscle contraction when the spine is placed in a compromised position (check out this video for a demonstration of this concept by Kelly Starrett).

Another important aspect of maintaining a neutral spine is positionally-induced muscle inhibition. In overly flexed or extended spinal positions, the muscles that attach on the ribcage, spine and pelvis can become overly stretched or overly shortened, which limits the ability for a muscle to produce force. Muscles produce the most force when they are at a resting length, due to a maximal number of overlapping myofibrils.

Spines: A. Neutral; B. Extended (arched); C. Flexed (rounded)

Finally, a neutral spine is safer, evenly distributing compressive forces and minimizing shear forces on the spine by keeping vertebrae evenly stacked. You won't be able to keep training hard and making progress if you herniate a vertebral disc.

Take-away: Start and finish the lift with a neutral spine. As Kelly Starrett says, "You can't un-bend 'bent'."

2) Setting and Bracing Spinal Position/Load Ordering

In any movement, the muscle that is loaded first will be loaded maximally. For example, if you shoot your knees forward at the beginning of a squat, you load your quadriceps, and they will remain preferentially loaded. In contrast, try pushing your hips back first and you'll notice the glutes and hamstrings will be loaded to a greater degree. This same principle applies to the core muscles.

Before bracing the core and thus spinal position, you'll want to set the spine into a neutral position. Do this by squeezing your glutes isometrically, without tucking your pelvis under.

Now, we can address the core set-up. The abdominal and thoracic cavity provide a great deal of support to the spine during heavy lifting, watch any athlete automatically hold their breath during a heavy squat and this is quite obvious.

Valsalva maneuver
Holding a compressed breath against a closed glottis is called the Valsalva maneuver, and increases pressure inside the thoracic and abdominal cavities, which in turn supports the spine. Think of the torso as a can of pop. It is much more difficult to crush when pressurized with soda (or air in our case), because the pressure inside supports the walls of the can. With this metaphor, we can think of the abdominal cavity as a cylinder, with a bottom, sides, and a top.

When you hold your breath, you create a tight thoracic diaphragm, which serves to increase pressure in the torso, stiffening the upper portion of the abdominal cavity. However, very few people will also contract the pelvic diaphragm (aka pelvic floor), leaving a weak spot in the system(bottom of cylinder) by causing the pelvic diaphragm to become stretched and inhibited. This can lead to urinary incontinence (failure to control urination; more common in women, especially after pregnancy), inguinal (groin) hernias, and reduced stability of the trunk, leading to lower force production.
Diagram of the abdominal cavity, with thoracic diaphragm at top and pelvic diaphragm (aka pelvic floor) at the bottom.
An easy fix for this is to do a Kegel before bracing the rest of your core. To do this, flex the same muscles that you would use to stop urinating. This sets the bottom of our metaphorical cylinder.
Pelvic floor contracted

Now that the bottom of the cylinder is solid, you will want to contract your abdominal muscles(sides of the cylinder), paying close attention to the transversus abdominis (TVA). This muscle acts like a corset (or weightlifting belt), wrapping horizontally around the lower torso and functioning to stabilize the spine and create intra-abdominal pressure.
Transversus abdominis muscle
To activate the TVA, push all of the air out of your lungs, contracting your abdominal muscles to push out every last bit, then, while keeping those same ab muscles tight, take a tight breath. You may notice that the muscles are engaged in a different way than if you simply flexed your abs. Another way to activate the TVA is to very strongly perform a kegel. Oftentimes the TVA will contract in addition to the pelvic floor muscles.
Pelvic floor + abdominal wall contracted
Finally, now that the bottom and sides of our metaphorical cylinder are braced, take as big of a tight belly breath* as you can and hold it. This solidifies the thoracic diaphragm (top of cylinder) and completes the Core Setup. Keep your abs tight throughout the movement to keep the spine and core braced, and you can take shallow breaths while staying tight during your lift if needed.

*Make sure to avoid taking a breath where your ribcage rises significantly (a chest breath), as this will overstretch the abdominal muscles and inhibit their force production.
Pelvic floor + abdominal wall contracted + tight held breath
Take-away: Set up your core in the correct sequence (spinal position, pelvic floor, abs, tight breath) in order to maximize your trunk stability and ability to generate force.

3) Creating Torque and Tension

If you perform a movement such as a heavy squat without creating a stabilized system, you are inviting injury, inconsistency, and loss of power. When there is no torque in the system, your body will resort to secondary positions to create stability, and these are often detrimental to health and performance. This is most often seen in the squat as knees and ankles caving inward and loss of pelvic and spinal position. To optimize your power output, you must put your joints in stable positions, and creating torque through rotational force is how you do this.

Your joints naturally have some slack in the joint capsule, this allows for full range of motion to be expressed. When you create torque in a joint, it becomes tight and stable, a good thing when a small deviation from optimal position could cause a missed lift.

In most weightlifting movements, you will want to create external rotation torque at both the hip and shoulder. In the hips, you can do this by pushing your big toe into the ground and screwing your feet in an outward direction without actually sliding your feet. At the same time attempt to split the floor apart, pushing laterally with your feet.
The right picture shows a foot with external rotation force, notice how the arch of the foot is regained.
External rotation torque at the hip can help keep the knees in a safe and stable position, while also reinforcing your ability to keep your lumbar spine neutral. Without this torque, the pelvis can easily lose position.
Generating external rotation torque at the shoulders
To create external rotation at the shoulder, squeeze your shoulder blades down, then you can either use clasped hands or the barbell, and try to screw your hands so that the palms turn up(pictured above) while also producing force like trying to pull your hands apart from each other(pictured below).

Creating tension and activating upper back muscles (rhomboids, lats, etc)
The torque created in the shoulders helps to stabilize the shoulder girdle and thoracic spine, stabilizing overhead movements, as well as creating support for thoracic extension.

Take-away: Create external rotation torque in the hips and shoulders prior to lifting in order to stabilize joints and maintain rigidity in the trunk.

Review of Setup:
1) Squeeze your butt isometrically to create a neutral spine (don't go so far that your pelvis tucks under though)
2) Kegel
3) Brace abs and take a tight breath.
4) Create external rotation torque through your hips and shoulders.
5) Keep everything tight and continue creating torque while assuming your starting position and performing the lift.

Thanks for much of this information goes to Kelly Starrett and his efforts to educate the world through Mobility WOD and his book, Becoming a Supple Leopard.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Basic Guidelines for Health and Performance

More and more people have been coming to me lately for advice on what to eat to help them reach their goals, so I decided to share the basics of what I currently believe is optimal for health and performance.

These guidelines have been created from personal experience, research, and have been tweaked over the years to reflect new information and knowledge. I reserve the right to change my views if new information comes to light about any subject, however those changes will likely be small tweaks. I have seen many people have great success by sticking to these basic recommendations.

Everyone's situation is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all plan, these guidelines are just what I see as a good starting point for most people. I hope this is of help to you.

Basic Guidelines for Health and Performance
As much as you want:
  • Quality Meat/Fish/Eggs (grass-fed, pastured, free-range, wild caught, organic, etc.)
  • Non-starchy vegetables of all colors (broccoli, spinach, kale, bell peppers, carrots, eggplant, etc.)

  • Nuts and seeds (limit to a handful per day or 3 Tbsp of nut butter)
  • Fruit (berries are best; limit to 1 cup per day if weight loss is the goal.)
  • Starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, beets, squash, onions, etc; 100-250g/day carbs depending on activity level)
  • Good non-processed added fats (olive, coconut, macadamia nut, and avocado oils; pastured/grassfed butter; limit to less than 5 tablespoons or 60g added fats per day if weight loss is the goal)
  • Fermented vegetable foods like kimchee, sauerkraut, etc.

  • All grains (cereal, pasta, bread, chips, baked goods, flour, rice, corn, wheat, oats…)
  • All legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts)
  • All pseudograins (amaranth, quinoa, etc.)
  • All refined vegetable oils (soybean, canola/rapeseed, cottonseed, etc.)
  • All added sugar, natural or not (including honey, maple syrup, agave syrup/nectar, cane sugar, etc.)
*Most sugar substitutes (including sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, etc) *Stevia is okay occasionally.
**Most dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.) **Pastured/grassfed butter is okay.

  • Try to eat about every 3-4 hours, and only until comfortably full. Don’t stuff yourself and don’t starve yourself.
  • Try to eat around 0.8-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day(for a 180lb person, this would be 144-180g/day)
  • Drink 1oz of water for every 2lbs of bodyweight per day. (If you weigh 180lbs, drink 90oz/day)
  • Get 8-9 hours of quality sleep in a pitch black room every night. It’s difficult to overstate how important this is. Turning off lights and electronics an hour before bed will help you sleep better.
  • Stick with as unprocessed foods as possible. For example: steak is better than salami, and raw fruit is better than fruit juice, etc.
  • If the meat is good quality (grass-fed) eat all the fatty meat you want, it’s great for you. If it’s conventionally raised (most meat is), go for the leaner cuts of meat.
  • One day a week, eat much more than you would usually eat, try to keep it quality food, but just eat more calories than you would usually eat.

 For frequent high intensity training (CrossFit, HITT, etc):
  • For breakfast, include 50-75g of carbs from  yam, sweet potato or fruit(preferably berries or melon)
  • Eat a post-workout meal IMMEDIATELY after your workout containing 4-8oz of lean protein (meat/fish/eggs/etc) plus 75-100g of carbs from yams or sweet potatoes.

*The longer and harder the training session, the more carbohydrate you will need to optimize recovery. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hand Care for Weightlifters and CrossFitters

While ripped calluses may be considered badges of honor amongst CrossFitters, the reality is that they can also lead to sub-par and limited training sessions soon after. Taking care of your hands in advance can help you to avoid these injuries and keep hitting PRs. Here are some tips to keep your hands in good shape:

  • Never wash your hands immediately before training, this will soften the skin on your hands and predispose it to tearing. If you do, chalking up your hands before your warm-up can help to remove some moisture before lifting heavy.
  • Wash off your hands after workouts and apply some Corn Huskers Lotion. Corn Huskers Lotion acts to help heal, moisturize, and toughen up your skin. Bag Balm works too, but not as well.
  • Trim your calluses down to make sure they aren't too thick and have no rough edges. Don't completely remove them though. A pumice stone works well for daily maintenance, but if your calluses have grown way too thick, try using a callus remover like this one.
*Corn Huskers Lotion and callus removers can be found in most drugstores.
  • Often it is useful to tape the thumb before olympic weightlifting. The thumb takes a lot of abuse using the hook grip with heavy weights, so taping it can help avoid painful tears. See Donny's video below.
  • Applying a hand drying agent like Tite-Grip before taping your hands can help the tape stay on better throughout your training session.
  • Using an elastic athletic tape may help it stay on better during training. A good place to buy tape is Findtape.com(good prices and great variety).

    Quick Taping for Pullups

    Another Method for Taping
Hand Rip Care
  • Mid-session: Check out Donny's method for taping your hands in the video below at 7:30.
  • End of session: Wash your hands, apply antibiotic ointment to the torn skin, cover with a bandage overnight. In the morning, remove the bandage, wash your hands again, and apply Corn Husker's Lotion if dryness is an issue. If needed to train, tape your hands using the method described in Donny's video.

Donny Shankle Talks Hand Care

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review: Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo

Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo
Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle

If I had to pick only three words to describe Practical Paleo, those would be: COMPREHENSIVE, ATTRACTIVE, and PRACTICAL. And perhaps a fourth: PERFECT!

Practical Paleo is the most comprehensive and accurate guide to nutrition and lifestyle that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It is the only book I have come across that can stand completely on its own as a guide to healthy nutrition. If there were any book to give to someone to introduce them to paleo/primal eating, this would be THE one.

Not only does the book lay out the why's of paleo/primal eating, it provides diverse meal plans tailored to specific diseases or goals, a wide variety of beautifully illustrated recipes and cooking tips, and many different useful and attractive guides that make things easy.

The entire book is very orderly, information is easy to find, well organized. 

This book lays out the theory and science behind paleo/primal eating in a way that is both easily understandable to the layperson, but also provides enough scientific detail and interesting tidbits to satisfy even very well-read paleo-eaters. Diane balances scientific information and practical application throughout in a beautiful and artful way.

It lays out specific meal plans for handling different conditions/goals, ranging from heart health to cancer recovery, weight loss to athletic performance, and even covering stuff like multiple sclerosis, thyroid conditions, etc.

The illustrations are vibrant and the guides are eye-catching yet simple, and pack so much practical information onto a page attractive enough to proudly hang on your refrigerator.

Practical Paleo feels like a masterpiece; as if years and years of learning, planning, and tweaking went into this book, only to be released when it was absolutely perfect and complete.

I highly recommend Practical Paleo to anyone interested in improving health, well-being, or performance. Or anyone that breathes oxygen and can read...and that last part is optional. Buy it now, you won't regret it.

To purchase from Amazon click the link below:
Practical Paleo

Diane's website: http://balancedbites.com/

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why Saturated Fat? - A Mechanistic Look at Lipid Peroxidation and Its Consequences

Fatty acid peroxidation is a process in which fatty acids are degraded and free radicals form. These reactions are uncontrolled, unlike the ones that provide cellular energy, and their products can cause extensive damage to cell membranes and DNA in the cell. The body produces antioxidants in an effort to neutralize these free radicals before they cause significant damage, however some damage still occurs.

Some fats are very resistant to fatty acid peroxidation, whereas others are vulnerable. These reactions play an important role in our health, and can be affected greatly by the temperature at which the fatty acids are. Thus, cooking with the correct fats can help to lower your intake of damaged fats.
Here I will explain the chemistry and implications of it on health.

Lipid Peroxidation 101

To begin with, fatty acids are composed of two parts:
- A hydrocarbon tail, which is hydrophobic, aka fat soluble (butane used as an example below). This chain can be anywhere from 4 to 28 carbons long and naturally occurring fatty acids only contain tails with an even number of carbons.
- A carboxylic acid group, which is hydrophilic, aka water soluble. (shown below) *The "R" group simply means any carbon chain.
Carboxylic acid group
Put together, these two above examples make butyric acid, a fatty acid commonly found in butter.
Butyric Acid

Carbon atoms will form 4 bonds usually, and as it pertains to this discussion, they always do.

Fatty acids can be broken into two main groups: 

- Saturated: Every carbon in the hydrocarbon tail has as many hydrogens bonded to it as possible(aka the carbons are 'saturated' with hydrogens), meaning there are no carbon-carbon double bonds.

- Unsaturated: There are one or more carbon-carbon double bonds(C=C), resulting in some carbons that are 'unsaturated', in that they don't have as many hydrogens on them as could be possible. In nutrition, this category is often divided further into monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs, containing only one C=C bond) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs, containing two or more C=C bonds)

Double bonds change a few things about fatty acids, including the structure(which affects melting point) and the rate of lipid peroxidation.

Stearic Acid, a saturated fat commonly found in animal products such as beef. Note the straight nature of the hydrocarbon chain; this lends itself to fitting together well with other fatty acid molecules, so that they can pack densely together, which results in a higher melting point. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature.
Stearic Acid

Oleic acid (the main MUFA in olive oil), an 18-carbon MUFA is shown below. It has one C=C bond (notice the C=C bonded carbons only have 1 hydrogen attached to each of them, rather than 2 as is normal on saturated carbons)
Oleic Acid

Also, notice how the C=C bond makes a kink in the chain, making this type of fatty acid less straight than saturated fatty acids. This kink is responsible for the difference in the melting point between things like butter (mostly saturated) and vegetable oil (mostly unsaturated). The more C=C bonds a fatty acid has, the more kinks in the chain and therefore the molecules cannot layer together as well. This reduces the inter(between)molecular forces, and lowers the melting point.

Carbon-carbon single bonds can rotate freely around the bond axis, but carbon-carbon double bonds are locked in position (the double bond has to be broken in order for it to rotate).

Here is an example of a polyunsaturated fatty acid, Docosahexaenoic acid (aka DHA), a major component of fish oil, with 6 double bonds. Its structure doesn't allow for the molecules to pack tightly, and therefore it has a lower melting point than more saturated fatty acids of the same length(increasing length raises melting point due to increased Van der Waals forces).
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Now that we know how double bonds affect structure, what do they have to do with cooking?

It turns out, that the hydrogens on the carbon adjacent to the C=C bond, referred to as allylic hydrogens, are highly susceptible to reacting by free radical mechanisms. When a hydrogen is taken, there is left a lone electron (this is what we call a radical) on the carbon where the hydrogen was. Because the free radical formed next to a C=C bond is surprisingly stable; it doesn’t take that as much energy to cause the formation of a free radical as it would without the presence of a double bond.

The double bond can shift between two resonance states (essentially states of electron distribution), and stabilize the fatty acid radical by spreading out the distribution of the free radical over two carbons instead of one. Essentially, there is only a half free radical on each carbon that shares the radical, and this sharing stabilizes the radical, lowering the energy needed to achieve this state.

By lowering the energy needed to reach the radical state, the reaction occurs at a much higher rate.

This is where cooking comes in. It is accepted that in general, the rate of a reaction in chemistry about doubles for every 10 degree Celsius increase in temperature. This is because the rate of collisions between molecules about doubles for each 10 degree increase in temperature.

In cooking, the increased heat causes a rapid increase in the formation of fatty acid free radicals by the process shown below. The lipid radical continues to react (propagation) with other lipids until either two radical react (highly unlikely unless radicals are present in very high concentrations) or it reacts with an antioxidant.
Lipid Peroxidation

The consumption of lipids that have undergone peroxidation will result in the absorption of these compounds. These compounds continue to react with fatty acids in your body, causing major damage to cell membranes, hormones, cholesterol, and more.
(a) Initiation of the peroxidation process by an oxidizing radical X · , by abstraction of a hydrogen atom, thereby forming a pentadienyl radical. (b) Oxygenation to form a peroxyl radical and a conjugated diene. (c) Peroxyl radical moiety partitions to the water-membrane interface where it is poised for repair by tocopherol. (d) Peroxyl radical is converted to a lipid hydroperoxide, and the resulting tocopherol radical can be repaired by ascorbate. (e) Tocopherol has been recycled by ascorbate; the resulting ascorbate radical can be recycled by enzyme systems. The enzymes phospholipase A2 (PLA2), phospholipid hydroperoxide glutathione peroxidase (PH-GPx), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and fatty acyl-coenzyme A (FA-CoA) cooperate to detoxify and repair the oxidized fatty acid chain of the phospholipid. (from Buettner 1993).

The production of free radicals increases oxidative stress on the body, which is known to play a key role in the progression many chronic inflammatory conditions, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, etc[3]. Oxidative stress increases inflammation in the body [1],[2](inflammation increases oxidative stress as well), which also reduces insulin sensitivity[4],[5],[6], a key marker in diabetes.

  •          Saturated fats do not undergo lipid peroxidation at anywhere near the rates that unsaturated fats do.
  •          You do not want to eat fats that have undergone lipid peroxidation
  •          Cooking increases the rate of lipid peroxidation
   Bottom line: Cook with saturated fats, limit, but don’t eliminate polyunsaturated fat consumption (there are some essential fatty acids such as omega-3’s and omega-6s’s that you need; still limit omega-6, don’t worry, you’ll get enough.)

For a practical guide on what fats to choose, check out FAQs: What Are Safe Cooking Fats & Oils?

1. Inflammation, Oxidative Stress, and Obesity
2. Oxidative stress, antioxidants, and endothelial function.
3. Oxidative stress and diseases - Wikipedia
4. Inflammation and insulin resistance.
5. Obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance.
6. Insulin sensitivity: modulation by nutrients and inflammation

Friday, April 27, 2012

Perfecting The Squat

Camille Leblanc-Bazinet demonstrates an excellent air squat.

The Air Squat (otherwise known simply as the squat)
The squat is the basis for a great number of movements in CrossFit. The unweighted squat is also one of the most basic functional movements someone can perform. It is useful in training and in the real world. In CrossFit, we often use the Olympic-style squat because it carries over well into other movements such as the thruster, clean, snatch, overhead squat, high-bar back squat, and wallball shots, just to name a few.  Mastering the proper form for the squat may take some athletes a  long time, as the squat requires not only coordination, balance, and flexibility, and for many people, an elimination of bad habits. The benefit gained from mastering the squat, however, is enormous, and well worth the investment of time.

How I cue the Air Squat to start is as follows:
  1. Set your feet about shoulder width apart, toes pointing slightly out(about 5-10 degrees from straight forward).
  2. Brace your abs like someone is about to punch you in the gut. Hold your arms out in front for balance.
  3. Send your butt back and down while pushing your knees out.
  4. Descend to the bottom of the squat, keeping your weight in your heels.
  5. Stand up the same way you came down.
This usually gets people moving pretty well, from there I triage the form errors and assign homework for issues that can't be addressed immediately.

There are 5 main Points of Performance for the Air Squat

1. Maintain Midline Stability - Imagine a person standing tall, with a neutral spine (with a natural slight S-curve viewed from the side). Now imagine a straight line piercing that person from the top of their head, down through spine and ending at the bottom of their pelvis. This is what we refer to as the MIDLINE. The CORE constitutes the muscles that stabilize and maneuver the midline. Maintaining midline stability means that our torso does not flex, bend, or twist around the midline. Now, note the midline does not include the knees, and thus, in a proper squat, as shown below, the midline is kept intact.

Vertical line is the frontal plane. Diagonal line is the midline. This squat is precisely AT parallel.
The infamous "dog-poop squat" Midline stability is compromised. This is a both dangerous and weak position, especially when loaded. 
Midline stability is important for many reasons, among them are the prevention of spinal injuries, higher performance output, and better muscle recruitment. When we break the midline, the ability to develop force drops dramatically, so this concept is important not only for safety reasons, but for performance. Injury prevention isn't sexy, but performance IS sexy! Frame it in this light, and people will be much more likely to pay attention to this aspect of the movement.

Developing midline stability in the air squat will transfer over to movements in real life in an awareness of the midline and a need to keep it intact. Midline stabilization is a key component of all weightlifting movements and many bodyweight movements as well.

Sometimes, near the bottom of the squat, the pelvis will tuck under, rendering the "dog-poop" squat position. This is often caused by tight hamstrings, which nearly everyone has to some degree. Stretching or otherwise mobilizing (foam rolling, lacrosse ball, myofascial release, etc) of the hamstrings and surrounding muscles can be beneficial in many cases. Check out the videos at the end of this post for more mobility work.

2. Squatting Below Parallel - In life, we all squat below parallel. Whether you are sitting down to a chair or toilette, squatting down to look at something on the ground or shooting the duck, our bodies were meant to go below parallel.

Squatting below parallel. Note that the crease of the hip is below the top of the knee.

Contrary to popular misguided belief, squatting below parallel does not damage the knees, it in fact strengthens them when done correctly. Any incorrectly done movement has the potential for injury, especially when loaded up with weight. Correctly done squats strengthen the ligaments and muscles around the knees, which actually help prevent injury in the case of falls and twisting motions (such as those often experienced in sports like soccer or basketball).

Squatting below parallel is also safer in the short term as well (except for people with certain knee issues). At the beginning of the squat, the majority of the load is handled by the quadriceps, which pull from the front of the knee. When the hips drop below the knees the weight shifts so that the glutes and hamstrings carry much more of the load, balancing the forces at the knees and lessening shear(sideways) forces at the knee. As a result, stopping above parallel, which involves a sudden stop, and therefore puts increased load on the quadriceps and front of the knee, without balancing force from behind the knee. As a result, squatting correctly below parallel can be actually safer than squatting to just above parallel.

Some common reasons for improper depth may include lack of flexibility, strength, or simple laziness.

Turning the feet out a bit can help if flexibility is an issue and there is pinching at the hip crease. If strength is an issue, squatting to a high box works great; slowly reduce the height of the box until it is no longer needed.
If laziness is the issue...stop being lazy.

3.Knees Track over Toes - Keeping the knees spread apart so that the knees are directly over(or slightly outside) the feet is very important for both safety reasons (preventing twisting and shear forces on the knee) as well as performance reasons. Forcing your knees out on the squat activates the glutes(largest muscle in the body), allowing you to sit farther back on your heels,and acts to stabilize the midline as well. Just take a look at the pictures below. You will never see someone squatting massive weights successfully with knees caving in. If you do, you can be assured they probably won't be squatting like that for very long.
Knees are out over toes. This is a solid squat.

Knees are inside the feet. This increases shear forces on the knee, and reduces the ability to produce power in the squat.

Some common reasons for an inability to keep the knees tracking the toes(assuming it has already been cued) include weak glutes/abductors, tight adductors, or a lack of external or internal hip rotation.

Squatting with a small band around the knees can be very useful for developing abductor strength. Foam rolling or working with a lacrosse ball on the insides of the thigh can be very beneficial for tight adductors, as well as for a lack of hip rotation. The videos at the end of this post will help you work on mobility in the squat.

A few cues I use for helping athletes with this point are:
- Spread the floor! (useful for visualizing the proper way of pushing knees out, activating the abductors)
- Knees out! (useful for quick reminders during a squat)

4. Hips Back - Pushing the hips back, as in sitting down on a chair behind you, leads to two things: one, the powerful posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, etc) is loaded first, and two, the knees stay back in the squat. Loading the posterior chain first allows it to be loaded more throughout the squat(tissues which are loaded first are loaded maximally), which allows for a stronger squat. Keeping the knees back in the squat serves to reduce shear forces at the knees, which is essential for preventing knee injuries. This also allows heels to stay on the ground, as the farther the knees travel forward, the more ankle flexion is required to keep heels on the ground.

Often, if an athlete is not pushing their knees apart and trying to "spread the floor", they will fall over before they are able to get their hips very far back. Cueing this can benefit both issues simultaneously.

Useful cues include:
- Butt back!
- Sit back!
- Sit back and down.

5. Heels Down - The weight should be centered towards the back of the foot. If the heels come up off the ground, there are a few things that quickly turn bad in the squat. First, the load by necessity shifts to the forefoot and toes. This makes it much harder to balance than standing with flat feet, especially if loaded with weight. Secondly, this shift to the forefoot inhibits in a large part all of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, etc) muscles that are the major movers in the squat.

Sometimes this fault can come from a lack of ankle flexibility and/or tight calves.

A collection of videos from Kelly Starrett on fixing mobility issues in the squat:



Below is a collection of videos to help you understand what IS and what IS NOT good form.


Guest Post - Getting Active in the Fight Against Cancer

Getting Active in the Fight Against Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer was once, and still is by too many people, considered to be a death sentence. Advances in treatment, new treatment options, and advanced diagnostic tools have combined to greatly increase the odds for patients. Modern techniques have likewise led to fewer complications from treatment and better management of symptoms. A new understanding about the role of exercise during every phase of treatment is making treatment even more successful while also improving quality of life and reducing reliance on pharmaceutical medications.

Exercise Recommendations Follow Research

The leading research organizations are currently recommending that every cancer patient engage in a regular fitness routine. Guidelines have been developed to support the beneficial use of exercise for the most common forms of cancer and treatment, and doctors have been advised to help patients achieve their fitness goals by working with a physical therapist.

Research has shown that exercise is applicable even in cases where it may seem contraindicated by the cancer, such as during treatment for mesothelioma or lung cancer. The benefits highlighted by studies on colorectal cancer have consistently been replicated and expanded. It was found that modest amounts of exercise provided significant gains in both preventing cancer recurrence and making treatment more successful. Treatment outcomes that were once thought to be subject only to genetic predisposition of the patient are now understood to hinge on lifestyle factors, such as balanced nutrition and physical fitness.

In the studies on colorectal cancer, chance of death from the cancer was reduced by 40-61 percent. The risk of recurrence was reduced by 40-57 percent. As a side benefit, the risk of death from any cause was reduced by the same amount. This is only one side to the benefits of engaging in physical fitness. The other side can be thought of as short-term benefits. Patients have reported in study after study that exercise helps in managing common symptoms. Fatigue, rapid weight changes, emotional disorders, and digestive upset can all either be moderated or eliminated entirely with responsible use of exercise. Reducing reliance on medications is a major benefit for patients, because the commonly used drugs can be expensive and typically cause side effects.

Individualizing the Workout Program

Since no two patients have the same fitness profile, the same cancer, and the same treatment program, it stands to reason that workout routines will have to be individualized for each patient. Those in outpatient treatment programs will have the widest range of exercise options. Special consideration must be given in many cases. Breast or prostate cancer treatment often involves the use of hormones, and weight-bearing exercise will be needed to prevent bone loss. During radiotherapy or chemotherapy, patients will often have trouble sustaining motivation, and programs that include family and friends will be useful.The best source of advice for exercise recommendations during cancer treatment is a physical therapist trained in cancer care.  The doctor will also be able to help by providing any contraindications. Exercise offers a unique method of building health during treatment.
By David Haas
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

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