The squat and it’s variations is one of the best exercises a recreational exerciser can have in their routine.  Squats not only strengthen quadriceps, hamstrings and glute muscles (when done properly) but they also stabilize your torso aiding in the reduction of low back pain.  In addition, squatting to at least parallel (90 degree angle at the knee) has shown to decrease knee pain and the risk of obtaining a knee injury.  So many older or uneducated exercises think squats will hurt their knees.  Quite the contrary.  Here are the 6 reasons squats are vitally important:

1.  Better hip, knee and ankle mobility and faster walking speed - If you are of the school of though where walking is exercise enough to elicit weight loss responses then you should add squats into your routine.  This will add in the ability for you to walk faster, therefore increasing the metabolic demand.

2.  Greater bone mineral density – as women age and retire they turn to their couches or comfortable chairs especially during inclement weather.  This sedentary lifestyle will not only wreak havoc on their body composition, but decrease muscle strength and mobility.  Lastly, this can lead to a decreased bone mineral density leaving our beloved mothers and grandmothers at a higher risk for breaking a bone during a fall.  The increased core and lower body strength will improve balance and reduce the risk bone fractures from occurring.

3.  Reduce lower back pain and prevent injury - There is alot of core stability during a squat with weights on your back movement pattern.  The stomach muscles act as a brace for the torso protecting the back and providing balance.  This repeated stimulus will lead to a much more stable torso and reduced risk of pain and injury.

4.  Faster running speed at short and longer distance – In order to become faster you have to train your body to be able to apply more force to the ground than it currently does.  One way to do so is to add in a closed chained lower body exercise like squats.  The heavier the loads the more force will be applied to the ground while running.  In turn, the more of a stretch reflex response increasing stride length and speed.

5.  Better vertical jump height – for those recreational basketball, volleyball or any other sport players.  The increased hip and hamstring strength will allow for a more productive vertical explosion from the ground.

6.  Better sports performance – As previously mentioned sport performance will enhance due to an increase in strength, which needs to precede power development.  The stronger an athlete gets the better position that athlete is in to increase his or her muscular power.  The old chicken and egg rule, one comes before the other.

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Being a slave to cardio – If you are looking to improve over health and fitness, reduce risk for hypokinetic disease, become leaner than cut your cardio time in half.  Increase the intensity and watch the fat drip off of your body.  Gone are the days where people perform 45, 60 minutes and more for weight loss.  Who has the time, and how long before you burnout if you did do that?  Short duration high intense bouts of exercise followed by either active or passive recovery have shown to dramatically metabolic rate and shed fat (when combined with a healthy meal plan) much more effectively than long duration aerobics. 

Here are two examples:

Tabata protocol – Can be done with alot of different exercises or combination of exercises.  This protocol combines 20 seconds of all out exertion followed by 10 seconds of passive rest, this is repeated for 8 rounds.    Here is one possibility. 

Mountain climbers 20 seconds

Rest 10

Squat thrusts 20 seconds

Rest 10

Medicine ball chop 20 seconds

Rest 10

Squat jump 20 seconds

Rest 10

Repeat this list again for 8 rounds.  A few weeks down the road if you feel you have plateaued you can either change some of the movements, or rest for 2-3 minutes after completing the first round of 8, then do another round.  If needed start with half of a round and build to a full second round.

Suicide sprints – brings back not so fond memories from high school sports, but can really make an impact on the metabolism.  Here’s one way to do it.

Find a basketball court or open field.  Make the sprint last at least 20 seconds.  Recovery for 3x the duration it takes you to complete the rep and perform 6-10 reps.  When you feel you’ve plateaued reduce recovery time to 2x the duration of your sprint.

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I’ve been having too many females coming to me asking what they can do for their shin splints that I have to write about this.  I wish I could gather all the women up in the Boston area and somehow communicate to them that distance running is a better way to get hurt than it is to lose weight.  I deal with a lot of college age males and females.  Let me put it to you this way; if I had $5.00 for every college age female that has induced a stress fracture I would only need a handful more to cover a year’s tuition over at Harvard.  Yeah, I get alot.  The males aren’t much better, but the women are definitely the larger population with this injury. 


     The more common fracture is of the tibia.  The larger of the two lower leg bones.  This bone bares body weight when running or walking.  If someone runs 6 miles on Monday, the very last thing they should do is run 6 miles the very next day.  Unless you are an elite level runner your body cannot handle the constant pounding day in and day out.  I have spoken with woman who run 60 minutes 7 days per weekfor weeks on end.  Top it off with not consuming enough claories for muscles to recovery and you have a sure fire recipe for a stress fracture.  Muscles need to recover and get stronger in order for tendons, ligaments and bones to do so.  If muscle tissue hasn’t been given the right amount of recovery the rest of your connective tissue and bones are in a vulnerable state. 


     Hip stress fractures are less likely to happen, but very painful.  Most hip stress fractures occur at the femoral neck of the femur.  The long bone in the upper thigh.  the femoral neck is located at the top of the femur.  This is the part that inserts into the acetabulum.  The acetabulum is the circular socket on the pelvis where the femur connects. 

     Two years ago I had a female runner who was training for the marathon approach me with hip pain.  I am not someone who can diagnose injuries and I do not try to act as such.  But if I can help someone narrow down the possible causes of their pain I will do that.  This woman mentioned a pain in her hip and was told by a physical therapist that it was a tight hip flexor and that she wasn’t stretching correctly.  The woman said it had been bothering her for approximately a month’s time.  Which didn’t sound right to me.  I referred her to an orhtopedist and din’t hear back from her.  I saw her less than a week after the marathon; she had decided to run the marathon without seeing the doctor first and ended up with a sever stress fracture of her hip.  She was on crutches when I saw her.  

     Most hip stress fractures are fatigue related stress fractures.  Fatigue fractures are caused by strenuous, very repetitive forces like running, excessive jumping.  Women in the military will suffer from hip stress fractures due to all the marching and distance running involved in basic training. 

     Moral of the story:  Contact me ( a personal trainer in the Boston area ) if you do not know how to design a strength training program to promote a faster metabolism and a leaner body.  Strength based programs produce better results than aerobic based programs for fat loss.  Injuries happen from repetitive motion.  Tennis elbow, tendinitis all happen from doing something over and over again.  Running is no different. 

     Body fat reduces as a result of increasing lean muscle mass; which in turn burns more body fat at rest and during exercise AND all day and night when you are sleeping.  Distance running or walking will not do this. 

     In conclusion, if the goal is fat loss make sure you have 2-3 strength training workouts in your weekly schedule.  This means with free weights.  Not rubber bands or anything else.  Free weights and body weight exercises.  Supplement your strength training with aerobic training.  Increasing lean mass will aid in burning more calories during aerobic training.

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Your spine hydrates and discs expand overnight when you are in bed.  There aren’t any compressive forces on it when lying in the horizontal position.  An expanded spine is a more vulnerable spine.  An expanded spine is stiffer and less effective in supporting shear forces. 

backpain_000.jpg image by voorson

People can throw out their back very easily in the morning right when they wake up due to the expanded state of their spine.  I have often heard of people throwing their back out early in the morning and not being able to get out of bed for the rest of the day.  Actually I have heard of people hurting their back trying to get out of bed in the morning.  Don’t let yourself get to this point.  Please do yourself the favor. 

If you are one of those people who gets up every morning and does 50 push ups and 50 sit ups before you do anything; you are putting your spine at risk for injury (not the push ups).  An expanded, stiffer spine isn’t going to flex as well.  The discs need time to dehydrate.  The good news is that most of the spinal dehydration happens in the first hour you are awake.  You actually lose a little bit of height during the day while the dehydration process is happening.


First thing in the morning isn’t an ideal time of the day to be performing exercises like squats or dead lifts.  On the other hand, this is the only time for a lot of working professionals with families to workout.  So, what can you do? 

Wake up a little earlier so dehydration can start sooner.

Take a hot shower to increase body temperature.

Avoid lumbar flexion during early morning sessions.  Loaded or unloaded.

Do a thorough total body warm up prior to exercise.

Check back for examples of warm ups


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As I mentioned in my previous entry many people still do workouts they learned in high school or college.  Men will still work their biceps and triceps one day, their trapezius muscle one day, their calves and abs one day, chest and forearms one day and you get the picture.  My brother in law who is either 38 or 39 years old still has a program like the one I just outlined.  It’s interesting seeing smart, successful white collar people like my brother in law not having a clue when it comes to health and fitness.  He is also someone who wouldn’t think of meeting with a personal trainer prior to taking advantage of the the free session he got with his new gym membership.  Which I will discuss in a succeeding entry.  Below is a sample program for someone like my brother in law that I would suggest.


Dynamic stretching exercises

2 legged glute bridge on swiss ball

Front planks 3 x 30 – 60 seconds

Front medicine ball chops 3 x 10 reps.  For my brother in law approximately 12lb ball.

Dumb bell step ups 3 x 10 reps

Dumb bell incline bench press 3 x 10 reps

1 leg RDL 3 x 10

Dumb bell 1 arm row 3 x 10

Low back extension 3 x 10

Conditioning:  1 minute interval with 1 minute recovery for 15 minutes.

Highlights:  Unilateral exercises to decrease gap between right and left imbalances.  No flexing at the trunk due to low back pain.  Back extensions to offset excessive trunk flexion.



Dynamic stretches

Lateral band walk 3 x 5-10 yards

Side lying plank 3 x 30-60 seconds

Side medicine ball chops 3 x 10 with 12lb ball

Lateral dumb bell step ups 3 x 10

Standing overhead dumb bell press 3 x 10

Lateral pull down 3 x 10

Conditioning:  15 minutes 2 minute interval with 2 minute recovery.

Highlights:  Lateral movements to strengthen muscles in the frontal plane.  Our lives are lived in the sagittal plane (walking straight ahead).  This leaves important structural muscles (glute medius, obliques) weak and unused.   


Dynamic stretches

Standing barbell twist 3 x 10

Cable torso rotation 3 x 10

Circle lunge 3 x 10

Supinated grip pull ups (assisted if needed) 3 x 10

Weighted push ups 3 x 10

Conditioning:  3 minute interval with 3 minute recovery for 15 minutes.

Highlights:  Exercises that occur in the transverse plane are featured (rotational movements) to even out the body’s movement patterns.  Lactate threshold training for conditioning.   Working towards increasing the time cardiovascular system’s ability to perform during high intensity work.

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