Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Squats: Technique and Injury Prevention

Squats are a fantastic exercise to improve athletic performance as well as daily quality of life. Performing squats activates over 200 muscles in your body and rarely causes injury when executed properly.

Correct technique, though, is crucial.  Squat movements are complex with many variables involving ankle, knee, hip and spinal joints. Improper technique and incorrect exercise prescription can cause muscle and ligament strains plus ruptured disks as well as instability, slipping or displacement of a vertebra.

 I was happy to find a recent study investigating how to optimize muscle development while minimizing injuries.

  • During the squat, the spine is most vulnerable to injuries
  • To maximize development of your quadriceps, squat down to parallel, i.e. your thighs are parallel to the floor and hips do not go below knee level; going lower provides no extra benefit
  • Take a wider stance to optimize your hip adductors and extensors; this also reduces shear forces on your knees
  • A front squat will place noticeably lower compression on the knee and lumbar spine compared to a low or high bar back squat
  • Position your feet in a comfortable stance that lets the knees move in line with your toes
  • Sit back into the squat while descending and don't push the knees forward over your toes
  • Your descent should be controlled with a two to three second tempo
  • Align your spine properly by gazing straight ahead or upward, keeping the spine as upright as possible and avoiding any movement from side to side
  • Avoid going deeper than 90 degrees (thighs parallel to the floor) to protect your knees, unless you have athletic goals that benefit from a deeper movement
  • If you have knee injuries, descend only 50 - 60 degrees
  • If your heels rise off the floor during the downward movement, try placing a barbell plate under the heels to help with stability

Source:  J Strength Cond Res 24(12): 3497-3506, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Positives about Negatives

Want to add variety to your resistance training program, increase results and protect against injury?

Try eccentric (negative) weight training.

Resistance is applied primarily to your muscles during the lengthening phase of a repetition.  Eccentric muscle movements act a brake against the concentric (shortening / contraction) action to protect joints from damage.

With the Back Row, the eccentric movement occurs after pulling the weight to your torso (the concentric phase) while resisting against the weight as your arms straighten back to your starting position.

Walking down hill is also an eccentric action.

  • Perform the concentric movement in one second and the eccentric movement over 3-5 seconds.
  • As you approach the end of the set and start to fatigue, you may need help lifting in the concentric phase.
  • To progress, increase the amount of time you spend on the eccentric phase.

Interesting Facts:
  • Because eccentric training uses little energy while producing markedly high force, “muscles respond to eccentric training with meaningful changes in strength, size and power,” according researchers.
  • Total body eccentric training will burn more fat by increasing your resting metabolic rate 9%, with the highest fat burn occurring during the first two hours.
  • Adding periods of eccentric training to your conditioning program helps protect against injury and/or re-injury.
  • Most people can use heavier weight with an eccentric exercise.
  • Eccentric training is a good post rehabilitation program for lower-body injuries
  • Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) often presents as tenderness rather than soreness
Source:   IDEA Fitness Journal, October 2010

Keep in Mind:   When starting eccentric training, regardless of fitness level, I strongly recommend consulting a certified personal trainer for instruction on proper technique! -- Jeanie

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Toning Shoes: Do They Actually Tone?

Toning shoes are all the rage in the fitness products industry. They promise extra toning benefits by having unstable soles, forcing your body to constantly work for a balance point.  But do they really deliver?  The answer is no, according to a new study just released by the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

When wearing these sneakers, people report tired and sore muscles; feelings they don't experience with other shoes.

Reebock, Skechers and MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology), citing their own studies, advertise the following benefits:
  • Increased muscle activity
  • More calories burned
  • Toned butts, hamstrings and calves
  • Eased joint pain

Questioning the validity of these claims and the studies backing them, ACE put the allegations to the test.  ACE hired a team of exercise scientists from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse (UW), to examine Skechers Shape-Ups, MBT and Reebok EasyTone shoes.

During the UW trials, the team compared the toning shoes to a New Balance running shoe on treadmill tests.

The researchers did not find any statistically significant increases in:
  •  Exercise response -- researches monitored oxygen consumption, heart rate, ratings of perceived exertion and calories burned
  •  Muscle activation --electromyography was used to record muscle activity in the calf, quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks, back and abs
     So what about those people who have sore muscles from wearing the shoes?

    As the  researchers pointed out, you may feel sore when first wearing them because you're muscles are working differently.  But this doesn't mean you are toning those muscles.  As your muscles adapt to walking with the shoes, the challenge will disappear.

    What about the long term effect on walking gait and balance?  Both will have to be studied in longer-term clinical trials, the researches explained.

    Source:  Will Training Shoes Really Give You a Better Body? by John Porcari, Ph.D, John Greany, Ph.D., Stephanie Tepper, M.S., Brian Edmonson, B.S. and Carl Foster, Ph.D., with Mark Andrews,

    Keep in mind:  This is the first independent clinical study looking at the effectiveness of toning shoes.  For findings to qualify as "scientific facts," they need to be tested in additional clinical studies with matching results.  This is a quality study that provides helpful information. -- Jeanie

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Rock Climbing: Great for Aerobic Conditioning

    Even for beginners, rock climbing offers similar cardio conditioning benefits as running, swimming and biking.

    This is good news for current rock climbers.  For those of us who belong to gyms with rock climbing walls, a growing trend, we have a new exercise to try.

    For aerobic conditioning, climbing's most important aspect is the amount of time spent moving on the rock face.

    If climbing is your only aerobic exercise, time should total about 150 minutes a week on routes with a vertical displacement equivalent to 500-750m to meet American College of Sports Medicine recommendations for cardiorespiratory fitness.

    Otherwise, climbing time can be added to your other aerobic activities to reach the 150-minute goal.

    The difficulty of the rock face is not a factor in all of this.

    What's important:
    • the grade of the wall is climbable at a comfortable speed for the climber 
    • rapid movements are avoided that may compromise safety

    This means that climbers with little experience or skill can still maintain health and physical fitness.

    Source:  J Strength Cond Res 22(2): 359-364, 2008

    Keep in Mind:  Don't follow resistance training with a climb.  Your muscles will be spent, and you won't get very far on the wall--I speak from personal experience!

    Happy climbing! -- Jeanie

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Recipe: Pacific Halibut with Citrus Herb Dressing & Broccolini

    This is a Venice Nutrition-friendly recipe with a nice balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fat.  In addition to Pacific halibut, you can use Pacific cod and farmed U.S. tilapia (all are sustainable fish).  I found this recipe in my favorite nutrition newsletter, Nutrition Action Healthletter.
    Serves 4.
    Cooking time for the fish is based on a 1-1/2-inch-thick filet.


    2 oranges or blood oranges
    2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
    1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves--minced
    8 sprigs of dill--minced
    1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
    1/4 tsp. salt
    2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
    1 lb. broccolini or broccoli florets
    1 lb. Pacific halibut--cut into four pieces
    1 oz.Terra Exotic Vegetable Chips

    What is broccolini?  See the post:  Broccolini (April 5, 2010)

    To prepare the citrus herb dressing:
    • with a sharp knife, cut about a half-inch slice off each end of both oranges
    • slice off strips of the peel, pith and outer membrane, working from top to bottom around the fruit
    • over a bowl, cut between the inner membranes to separate out the segments [Comment:  this is too much work for me!  I don't mind having the membrane on my slices, so I skip that part and squeeze the tops and bottoms.  If I need more juice, I'll squeeze a segment.]
    • take the cut-off tops and bottoms and squeeze for one Tbs. of juice 
    • Whisk the orange juice, lemon juice, parsley, dill sour, cream and salt.  Set aside.
    To cook the broccolini and fish:
      • In a large, deep skillet, bring the broth to a boil.
      • Add the broccolini and cook covered for about 3 minutes, until tender.
      • Remove the broccolini and keep warm.
      • Reduce heat to low and add the fish.
      • Cover and poach for two minutes.
      • Gently turn the fish and cook for an additional 1--3 minutes until cooked through.
      • Discard the poaching liquid.
      To serve:
        • Arrange the broccolini and fish on 4 plates.
        • Spoon the citrus herb dressing over the fish.
        • Garnish with the orange segments and chips.

         Per serving:
        • Calories:  230
        • Total fat:  5 grams
        • Sat. fat:  1.5 grams
        • Protein:  26 grams
        • Carbohydrates:  23 grams
        • Fiber:  6 grams
        • Sodium:  280 mg
        • Cholesterol:  50mg
        Source:  Nutrition Action Health Letter, March 2010, p. 12


        Broccolini--what is that?  This was my first reaction when I saw a package in the produce section.

        As it turns out, Broccolini is a cross between broccoli (no surprise) and Chinese kale (this was a surprise), both of which appear on lists of Super Foods.

        Broccolini's long, thin stalks are not woody, like broccoli and asparagus, and are completely edible.  A 3 oz. serving, about 8 stalks, has 35 calories and offers 130% of a day's worth of vitamin C, 30% of vitamin A, 8% of potassium, 6% of calcium and 4% of iron.

        Nutrition Action Healthletter suggests sauteeing broccolini with sliced garlic and a little oil form a bottle of sun-dried tomatoes then topping with some chopped sun-dried tomatoes.  It can also be roasted and steamed.

        The vegetable is also known as baby broccoli and asparation.

        Source:  Nutrition Action Healtletter, November 2009, p. 16.

        Saturday, February 20, 2010

        Warm-Ups, Cool-Downs and Stretching: Myths v. Facts

        True or False: Skipping a warm-up is okay if you want to save time

        True or False: Stretching before hopping on your bike is important

        True or False: Cool downs are optional

        All of these are false!

        I see people making these mistakes all the time simply because they are misinformed.

        So here is the truth, based on applied scientific research:
        • It is imperative to warm up your body before exercise
        • Stretching is not the same as warming-up
        • Stretching cold muscles can cause injury (muscles can be cold even if the temperature is hot)
        • Static stretching before exercise can inhibit performance and may cause injury
        • Static stretching is important after your workout
        • Skipping a cool down is unhealthy

        Warming up before exercise is essential because it prepares your body for work and improves your workout performance by:
        • Increasing blood flow to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your muscles
        • Enhancing the pliability of your tendons to prevent injury
        • Boosting the mechanical efficiency of your muscles
        Warm-ups should include at least 5 to 10 minutes of moderate intensity cardio; you should feel warm before starting your workout, maybe even breaking into a light sweat.

        For example: a walk or slow jog outside or on a treadmill. If you are preparing to play a sport, sport-specific drills can follow the warm up.

        Cool-downs ease your body back to a resting state and: 
        • Disperse metabolic waste products from the muscles
        • Bring heart rate and blood pressure to normal
        • Lessen the chance of dizziness or fainting due to blood pooling in your extremities
        Cool-downs should include 5 to 10 minutes of walking or slow jogging, depending on your fitness level and preferences, followed by 5 to 10 minutes of static stretching (see Stretching below).

        A recommended stretch after exercise is the static stretch-- a hold with continuous tension on the muscle for 20 to 30 seconds (do not bounce).
        • helps muscles relax and ease into position
        • improves the range of motion of your joints.

        Remember--static stretching should be done at the end of your workout as part of your cool-down!

        A couple of other great stretching techniques are dynamic stretching and PNF stretching. If you'd like more information, I suggest reading, Stretching: A Research Retrospective by Len Kravitz, Ph.D., at

        When you're putting the time and energy into a good workout, make the experience more effective and safe with these tips. Keep yourself healthy! -- Jeanie



        Thursday, January 21, 2010

        Exercise Technique: Lat Pull-Down (Behind v Front of Neck)

        As a personal trainer spending a lot of time in a gym, I often see people performing the lat pull-down behind the neck ("BN") rather than in front of the neck ("FN").

        The lat pull-down strengthens both back and chest muscles, but BN risks injuring the shoulder joint.

        While many people believe BN recruits more muscle fibers in the latissimus dorsi (the large back muscles extending from the low back to upper-mid back), a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research refutes this assumption.

        It turns out that FN and BN recruit the same amount of latissimus dorsi muscle fibers.  Adding to the good news, FN uses more pectoralis (chest) muscle fibers than BN.

        And finally, there is no functional advantage to BN since pulling a load behind the neck doesn't mimic any movement patterns existing in daily activity or sports.  So why do it?

        Bottom Line:  Performing lat pull-downs in front of your neck will protect your shoulder joint while providing a great workout for your back and better workout for your chest.

        Source:  J Strength Cond Res 23(7):  2033-2038, 2009

        Friday, January 15, 2010

        Recipe: Chicken Thighs wih Roasted Apples and Garlic

        This meal is low fat, nutritious and simple--everything I look for in a recipe.  Also, for us Venice Nutrition fans, it has a great balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fat.  Play with apple varieties and seasoning amounts to match your taste and be sure to remove the chicken skin.  Enjoy!

        5 cups chopped peeled Braeburn apples (about 1 1/2 pounds)
        1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
        1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
        1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
        4 garlic cloves, chopped
        1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
        Cooking spray
        8 chicken thighs (about 2 pounds), skinned
        1/4 teaspoon black pepper
        Chopped parsley (optional)

        Preheat oven to 475°.

        Combine first 5 ingredients. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss well to coat. Spread apple mixture on a jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray.

        Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper, and arrange on top of the apple mixture.

        Bake at 475° for 25 minutes or until chicken is done and apple is tender. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.

        Partially mash apple mixture with a potato masher, and serve with chicken. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.

        Yield:  4 servings (serving size: 2 thighs and about 2/3 cup apple mixture)

        CALORIES 257 (20% from fat); FAT 5.7g (sat 1.4g,mono 1.6g,poly 1.4g); IRON 1.7mg; CHOLESTEROL 107mg; CALCIUM 30mg; CARBOHYDRATE 26.6g; SODIUM 405mg; PROTEIN 25.9g; FIBER 3.5g

        Cooking Light, OCTOBER 2002

        Tuesday, December 1, 2009

        Holiday Eating Help

        Family gatherings, celebrating with friends, office parties--the holiday season is upon us!  This is a fun, loving time of year.  And it can be very challenging to those of us who are trying to live healthy.  I have a few suggestions to help enjoy celebrations with family and friends without burdening ourselves with guilt.

        Don't skip meals on the day of a special occasion!
        • Keep to your normal eating schedule, preferably healthy meals with a snack in between; be sure to consume lean proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats each time you eat.
        • Skipping a meal will cause you to store proportionately more body fat the next time you eat and, since you'll be extra hungry, you'll  likely over-eat and store even more fat.
        • Skipping meals also slows your metabolism, causing you to burn fewer calories and store more fat.
        Eat some protein and healthy fat before diving into the sweets, treats and alcohol.  This will slow the absorption of the carbohydrates, keeping your blood sugar more steady and hindering extra fat storage.

        Alcohol is a carbohydrate.  Choose vodka over other spirits and avoid mixes full of juices, sodas and creams.  Wine is a nice alternative as well, and tends to be sipped more slowly.

        Protect your workout schedule.  If you have a day when you are just too busy to go to the gym or don't have time to perform your complete workout:
        • Go for a walk, even if it's a short one.
        • For a simple, full-body workout, perform these exercises in a circuit:
          • squats
          • push-ups -- if you are unable to do a full-body push-up, go on your knees or place your hands against a wall or table top instead of the floor
          • a back row with tubing (inexpensive and easily found at Target and sporting goods stores).
          •  Complete as many circuits as you can.
        Sleep well to keep your stress levels down; higher stress causes higher fat storage.
        Don't try to loose weight during the holidays.  The most realistic (and sane) goal is to maintain!

          Enjoy the people you're with and have a fun and tasty holiday! - Jeanie

              Tuesday, October 20, 2009

              Reduce Breast Cancer Risks

              As October Breast Cancer Awareness Month closes, I'd like to pass along this information.

              To limit your risks of breast cancer, essentially you need to control your estrogen levels to limit or slow cancer cell growth and boost your immune system to fight disease.

              Achieve a healthy body composition
              • Extra body fat produces more estrogen which can stimulate cancer cell growth in the breast.  Estrogen levels tend to be lower when you are at a healthy weight, and loosing weight will lower the risk of developing breast cancer.
              Exercise regularly
              • Activity helps control body weight, lowers estrogen levels, and supports your immune system.
              Eat a healthy diet
              • Good nutrition helps attain a healthy body composision, supports normal estrogen levels and boosts your immune system.
              • A daily healthy diet includes at least five servings of vegetables and fruits, three servings of whole grains and restricted consumption of processed meats.  Also, be sure to limit saturated fats, so stick with lean meats (including lean red meats that are not seared when cooked) and fat-free or 1% dairy products--some people prefer to consume hormone-free meats and dairy as well.
              • A couple of things to consider:  green tea has been found to slow breast cancer growth by protecting cells from damage and premature aging (I recently heard three cups a day suggested), and vitamin D3 can stop cancer cells from dividing (try 1,000 to 2,000 IUs a day).
              • Eating to stabilize blood sugar levels, as promoted by Venice Nutrition, and myself as a nutrition coach, helps to keep your endocrine (hormone) system in balance.  If you're interested in more information, please see the Venice Nutrition link listed under My Favorite Sites--or contact me! (click on: My complete profile (in the upper right corner)).
              Limit alcohol consumption
              • Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink per day to help your liver regulate blood estrogen levels. 
              Don't smoke
              • Research shows that smoking increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
              Please know your own risk factors and keep up to date with regular screening with mammograms and breast exams at your annual check-up!  --Jeanie

              Sunday, October 18, 2009

              10 Super Foods!

              One of my favorite nutrition sources, Nutrition Action Health Letter, has named 10 super foods:
              • sweet potatoes
              • grape tomatoes
              • fat-free or 1% milk
              • broccoli
              • wild salmon
              • crisp-breads by wasa
              • microwavable quick cooking brown rice by Uncle Ben's (my personal favorite is Trader Joe's frozen pre-cooked brown rice--it microwaves perfectly!)
              • citrus fruit
              • pre-diced butternut squash
              • spinach and kale
              Interested in more of this kind of information?  Check out their website listed under My Favorite Sites--Jeanie

              Thursday, October 1, 2009

              How to Weight Train to Increase Metabolism

              How to take advantage of weight training's fat burning benefits?
              • Avoid non-active rest periods between each set of repetitions.
              • The idea is to work one muscle group while allowing the another muscle group to rest.  By removing the inactive rest periods, you boost the intensity of the workout.
              • You also shorten your workout time!
              Here are a few ways to accomplish this: 

              Perform your exercises in a circuit. 
              • A circuit is a group of exercises performed in a row one set at a time.  A set should consist of 8-15 reps.  Typically, when you complete the circuit once, you will go back to the beginning and repeat the sequence one or two more times.
              • For example, an upper body circuit might include the following exercises:  chest press, back row, shoulder press, bicep curl and triceps extension.  You perform one set of the chest press, one set of the back row, one set of shoulder press and so on.

              Alternate between upper and lower body exercises.
              • You can alternate between upper and lower body muscle groups in a circuit like this:  leg press, chest press, squats, back row, leg extension, shoulder press and hamstring curl.  Do one set of each and then repeat the sequence.
              • Or you can alternate sets between two exercises:  leg press with chest press; leg extension with back row; and hamstring curl with shoulder press, and so on.
              Perform supersets.
              • With supersets, you alternate between two opposing muscle groups for two or three sets.
              • For example, you perform one set of the chest press followed immediately by one set of the back row.  Then go back to the chest press for one set, followed again by the back row. 
              • When you finish this pair, you move on to two other opposing muscle groups like the quadriceps leg extension and the hamstring curl.
              These suggestions are just snippets--they are not complete workout plans.

              Don't forget to warm up first and stretch at the end! -- Jeanie

              Tuesday, September 15, 2009

              Metabolism & Weight Loss

              I recently attended a seminar on metabolism and weight loss and gathered some great information.  Here are some highlights:

              Eating breakfast increases metabolic rate by 5% while skipping meals slows down metabolic rate.

              Eating too little (=deprivation) triggers your body's survival mechanism, dropping your metabolic rate by an average of 15%. With consistent deprivation over time, the body becomes very efficient at storing body fat, i.e. a larger percentage of the food you eat is stored as fat.

              Eighty to ninety percent of weight loss is due to how and what you eat; the remaining 10-20% is exercise.

              Exercise is crucial to maintaining weight/weight loss.

              The more fit you become, the more efficient you become at burning calories and fat; a fit person will enter the fat burning stage sooner in her or his workout than a non-fit person.

              Trained v. untrained individuals use more fat at rest (saving glucose stores), burn more fat at any level of intensity, and mobilize fat sooner and more efficiently while exercising.

              Weight training, when performed correctly, prevails as the higher intensity exercise over moderate aerobic exercise.  Studies show that more calories are spent during weight training, and more fat is burned during the recovery period.

              An effective workout schedule (for those who have time): Five to six days a week for about 45 minutes; weight training three of those days and aerobic exercise the other three days.

              The best combined workout: Research now shows that weight training first followed by aerobic exercise will give the best results. Yes--it's better to have a stronger weight training session and a weaker aerobic session than the other way around.  I suggest 30 minutes of weight training followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.

              Please remember that maintaining or increasing lean muscle mass increases your metabolic rate!

              The thyroid controls metabolic rate by releasing the hormone thyroxin. For as many as 20% of women, thyroxin may be too low, reducing metabolic rate. This may cause weight gain as well as depression and high cholesterol. When the thyroxin count falls into the normal range, but is approaching outside of normal, doctors have started to prescribe medication with positive results. You need to keep track of your numbers; don't expect your doctor to do this.

              Exercising for an hour a day with no other activity (sitting the rest of the day) will burn less calories than not exercising for an hour and spending the rest of your day actively. Bottom line: everyone should increase their activities of daily living.

              Happy fat burning! -- Jeanie