Sunday, January 23, 2011

Strength training for beginners: The Big Three

This will be the first post in a three part series about strength training for beginners.

If somebody were to come up to me and ask me what the three most important exercises they should learn if they were to embark on a strength program, I would answer without hesitation: Squat, Power clean and Press. In that particular order.

These three are the kings for developing a strong base and any young athlete or average Joe/Jane looking to get stronger without wasting their time should first become proficient with these movements before ever branching off to other movements or exercises. I know they can seem intimidating at first, but with a little practice and logical progression anybody can learn to do these movements safely and confidently.

So let's get to it shall we.

Part one: The squat

The Why

The squat on of the most natural movements to human bosy can do. Anybody who has ever sat down on the floor and then stood back up has done a squat. It is ingrained into our dna. Anybody who has seen a toddler get up from sitting ans most likely seen perfect squat form. Yet the squat has been haled by many as the "King of all exercises". It is true that no other exercise produces such dramatic results in such a short time as the squat. It involves every core and stability muscle in the body as well as all the large muscles in the lower body and forces you to work hard. It also elicits a neuroendocrine response like no other movement. This means that it tells the body to release hormones which make it get stronger.

When the body is worked as a whole it's hormone systems go into over-drive. It produces more testosterone and growth hormone in an attempt to adapt to the stresses you are putting it under. This is a great thing. It means more muscle, better recovery and it makes you stronger.

The How

High bar position
Place a barbell in the squat rack about an inch below your shoulders. Stand below the bar with it resting on your shoulders. Some people prefer the high bar position with the bar resting on your upper traps. I personally opt for the low bar position with the bar resting on my rear delts.
Low bar position
Low bar position doesn't work the core quite as much but it is easier on your low back. I find it allows me to lift more with less chance of injury.  If you go heavy, the you are still going to be getting a better ab workout than all the crunches you can do in a night anyway.

Feet at hip width
Stance it also a matter of personal preference. I'd recommend starting with your feet just outside your hips with your toes pointed slightly out. As you get comfortable and build strength you may want to play with this a little bit. I like to have my feet more shoulder with.

Personally I prefer the wider stance
Once you have the bar where you like it and figure out where you are most comfortable placing your feet, take a deep breath into your abdomen, tighten your abs hard so support your core and lift the bar off the rack. Breathe out, breathe in, lock your abs.....


Sit your butt back like you are going to sit on the toilet, keep every muscle you have in your body tight and bend at the knees and hips. Keep the majority of the weight on your heels and lower the bar until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Don't sell yourself short. Squat deep at least to parallel of even lower if you can. If you can't hit parallel, you have too much weight on the bar. You need to take some weight off and try again. 

Once you hit the bottom of the squat you need to push with all your might and get that bar back up. Drive through your heels and picture your hips being the driving force to get the bar up not your shoulders.

Don't fear the squat
Squatting is a perfectly natural movement. If anybody tells you not to squat because it's bad for your knees has no idea what they're talking about. Anybody who tells you squatting below parallel is bad for your knees has no idea what they're talking about. Squatting properly has been proven to reinforce the lower body muscles alleviating a plethora of knee issues.

We were born to squat. Take a few minutes, go to google and type in baby squat. These are only the first few results. As you can see these children are squatting with perfect form. Feet flat, weight back on their heels backs straight. I believe it was the invention of modern footwear which has caused us to loose the ankle flexibility which at one time had us all doing perfect squats as children. But that's another rant altogether

Take care!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy new year!

So here is 2011. I hope everybody had a wonderful 2010 and a great time last night.

Now that the holidays are winding down and it's about time to get on with our lives I am looking forward to renewing my dedication to my blog and all things related to caveman fitness.

First off I'd like to revisit an older post on Fish oil and omega 3. I recently had an argument with a doctor who was filling in in the clinic where I work. I was attempting to explain to him how I believe that supplementing with high dose fish oil is just as effective at preventing heart attacks as aspirin. He laughed in my face and told me you can't save somebody from having a heart attack by having them suck on a mackerel. Not a very professional way to respond in front of my colleagues but a whole article is going to come from it so I suppose it could have been a good thing.

Us nutritional enthusiasts have a basic idea of all the good that comes from taking our Omega 3's. Heart heath, brain function, respiratory health lower blood triglycerides. Most of these contribute to a lower risk of heart attack but I'd like to visit the direct mechanism I'm here to talk about today.


How aspirin prevents heart attacks
Aspirin is known as an anti platelet agent. Which means if prevents platelets from sticking together and forming a clot. Clots are a good thing because they stop you from bleeding if you cut yourself. The problem is that if a clot forms in side your blood vessles, they prevent blood from flowing to your tissues. In this case a clot forming or getting lodged in a coronary artery (an artery supplying blood to your heart) causes muscle death in your heart. This is a heart attack. Aspirin helps to prevent this clot from forming therefore reducing the chance of a blood clot being able to cause a blockage to major blood vessels.

Aspirin is used to prevent heart attacks in two ways. It is taken daily at low doses of 75mg/day. It this manner it reaches maximum effectiveness in about a week. This is used if the risk of heart attack is not immediate.
Taken in high doses of 325mg/day it reaches its maximum effectiveness in about 30 minutes. This is used when a heart attack is pretty much imminent. That's why if someone is having a heart attack and they call the paramedics,  we give you 325mg aspirin before we even leave your house and make you chew it. EEEW!

How omega 3 oil helps to prevent heart attacks
 All the cells in our bodies are encased in a soft pliable layer called the cell membrane. Cell membranes are made up of fatty acids, therefore, all the fats we eat go into the makeup of these cell membranes. Further proof that fats are essential to proper functioning and need to be included in our daily diets.

Omega 3 fatty acids remain stable at room temperature, meaning they keep their liquid form. Most other fats tend to harden at room temperature. Since all our dietary fats go into the makeup of our cell membranes, Omega 3 fatty acids help to maintain the integrity and health of our cell membranes. This keeps them soft and pliable and able to do their jobs more efficiently. Also, in keeping them soft and pliable this prevents them from clumping together and allows them to flow freely throughout the bodies systems. In the blood this results in improved circulation and reduced clot formation. Not only reducing the risk of heart attack but also contributing greatly to cardiovascular and respiratory health as well, as blood cells can pass through capillary beds more freely resulting in increased oxygen transport as well.

Another look at the benefits of omega 3
Aside from reducing the risk of heart attack some other benefits of Omega 3 supplementation include but are not limited to
  • Brain function and concentration
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Inflammation
  • Increased VO2 max 
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Schizophrenia
  • Allergies
  • Blood Pressure
  • Blood Cholesterol levels
  • Eye Health
  • Some types of cancer such as breast cancer
  • Energy levels
  • Healthy pregnancies
  • Skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema
It seems the health benefits of omega 3 supplementation reach close to all the bodies systems.

A Word of Caution
People with difficulties clotting or who have bleeding problems should exercise caution when choosing to supplement with Omega 3. Also people who and on anticoagulants and vitamin K antagonists as their clotting factors are already inhibited