Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Building Bigger Stronger Upper Back Muscles
by Jim Bell, PhD.c., President IFPA

Muscle: Upper Trapezius
Origin: At the occiput, ligamentum nuchae, and the spinous process of the seventh cervical vertebra
Inserts: At the acromion process and the lateral third of the clavicle
Function: Elevates the shoulder and laterally flexes the head and neck; it also assists in cervical extension

Muscle: Middle Trapezius
Origin: At the spinous processes of the sixth cervical to the third thoracic vertebra
Inserts: At the acromion process and the spine of the scapula
Function: Assists in flexion and abduction of the humerus by rotating the glenoid cavity and assists in maintaining a normal kyphotic posture in the upper thoracic spine

Muscle: Lower Trapezius
Origin: At the spinous process of the third to twelfth thoracic vertebra
Inserts: At the medial aspect of the spine of the scapula
Function: Assists in flexion and abduction of the humerus by rotating the glenoid cavity and assists in maintaining a normal kyphotic posture in the upper thoracic spine

Muscle: Rhomboid
Origin: At the spinous processes of the seventh cervical to the fifth thoracic vertebra
Inserts: At the medial border of the spine of the scapula
Function: Elevates and retracts the scapula toward the spine and provides stability for both the scapula and shoulder. The rhomboid prevents winging of the scapula when the arm is lifting a weight.

Muscle: Latissimus Dorsi
Origin: At the thoracolumbar fascia, crest of the ilium, lower six thoracic vertebrae, and the last four ribs
Inserts: At the intertubercular groove of the humerus
Function: Depresses the shoulder and extends the humerus. It also adducts and assists in internal rotation of the humerus. Bilateral contraction of the latissimus dorsi assists in extension of the thoracic spine.

Indications of Weakness: Weakness in the upper trapezius causes dropping of the shoulder on the affected side. If both are weak, the head is anterior to the thoracic cage.

Weakness in the middle trapezius gives a round-shoulder appearance and causes forward protraction of the scapula. The thoracic spine may also have an increased kyphotic curve.

Weakness of the latissimus dorsi allows the shoulder to elevate and move anteriorly in a standing posture. It may also cause difficulty in depressing the shoulder when the arm is overhead and pulling down.


Upper Trapezius: The best exercise for the upper trapezius is the shrug performed in the standing calf machine. Unlike the dumbbell shrug, all the stress in this exercise is on the upper trapezius and not the forearms. The head should remain neutral throughout the exercise (dropping the head and rounding the shoulders has become popular among many bodybuilders to recruit more fibers by getting a little extra stretch in the trapezius). Unfortunately, when the cervical spine is flexed, the risk of cervical disk injury increases dramatically. Despite the stretch felt in this position, there is very little additional recruitment of fibers, so it is certainly not worth the risk. Another popular variation is to “roll the shoulders” during the exercise; this has minimal additional fiber recruitment and places considerable stress on the shoulder capsule, acromioclavicular, and sternoclavicular joints. Optimal performance is achieved by keeping the head neutral and fully contracting the trapezius by elevating the shoulders straight up as high as they will go and lowering them straight down as low as they will go.

If a standing calf machine is unavailable, then dumbbells or cables can be used, utilizing wrist straps will reduce stress on the forearms. Keep the dumbbells/cables alongside the body during the entire exercise. Allowing the dumbbells/cables to drift forward causes torsion and shear on the acromioclavicular and sternoclavicular joints.

Middle Trapezius: The bent-over dumbbell lateral raise with elbows in line with the shoulders will stress the posterior deltoid and middle trapezius. Retract the scapulae fully at the top of the exercise by “pinching the scapulae together”. Use a slow, controlled movement; avoid “throwing the weight up” to keep the stress on the muscles.

Lower Trapezius: Dumbbell single-arm-extended-back extensions on back extension bench. Work one arm at a time by placing a dumbbell in the left hand at the 11:00 position or in the right hand at the 1:00 position (non-working arm: place hand behind lower back). Position bench seat high enough so that when your hips are on the bench and your working arm is hanging straight down, no part of your hand/dumbbell is touching the floor. Start in the hanging down position with the torso completely rounded and down. Begin the movement by contracting the upper back muscles to begin lifting the dumbbell upward with thumb up and arm nearly straight. Continue lifting the arm while uncurling the torso to arrive at the completed “Back Extension Position,” arm maximally elevated, back muscles maximally contracted, and shoulders squarely facing forward (rotating one shoulder backward is an advanced version of the exercise). Reverse direction by lowering the arm and “curling” the torso downward. The lower trapezius is usually the weakest muscle in the upper back, and this muscle weakness can cause upper back pain and shoulder instability.

Rhomboid Muscle: Rhomboid modified one-arm seated cable row. Keep the elbow at the same height as the shoulder. Drive the elbow back using the back muscles. Focus on keeping the biceps relaxed by concentrating on the latissimus dorsi’s insertion point on the humerus and by focusing on the latissimus dorsi, drawing the humerus backward (bicep stays soft). Focus on humerus/lat until the hand is in line with the shoulder.

Now focus on the origin of the rhomboid and draw the arm, shoulder, and scapula backward as one unit until the scapula is maximally contracted. This maximally contracts the rhomboid that is both weakened and stretched by people who sit in front of a keyboard all day with their shoulders rounded forward. This exercise will increase the strength of the rhomboid and reduce the pain between the shoulder blades when working at a computer.

Latissimus Dorsi: Lat pull-down-to-the-front is the most popular of the latissimus dorsi exercises because it is an excellent all-around developer. Begin seated under the pull-down bar with lower body anchored by knee rolls. Start with arms fully extended and shoulders and scapulae fully elevated. Begin the concentric action by depressing the shoulders and scapulae all the way to their lowest position. Then begin driving the elbows down by contracting the latissimus dorsi and keeping the biceps soft (relaxed). Focus on the insertion point of the latissimus dorsi, driving the elbows downward until the bar touches the top of the chest and fully retract the scapulae. A slight lean back is allowed to save yourself a bloody nose or loose teeth.

The behind-the-neck-lat-pull-down is a contraindicated exercise (high risk of injury—not recommended for the average client). Some bodybuilders feel that this exercise provides a greater stretch to the latissimus dorsi; the greater stretch they feel is actually greater stress to the shoulder capsule and rotator cuff muscles. This action does NOT allow enough arm extension (remember the lat inserts at the humerus) to completely stretch the lat.

In all back exercises, it is critical to visualize the origin, insertion, and function of the muscles involved. When performing back exercises, it is a fundamental mistake to think of pulling the hand, bar, dumbbell, etc. to the shoulder. This will naturally cause you to concentrate on the biceps brachii and brachialis instead of concentrating on the muscles of the back you would like to target. It is highly effective to imagine where the muscle inserts and the function it performs during the exercise. In the case of the lat pull-down, focus on the lat’s insertion on the humerus and its function of driving the arms down and backward. Focus on driving the elbows down and keeping the biceps relaxed to maximally stress the lats.

If you incorporate “Touch Training” with your clients, you can help the client relax the biceps by poking on the bicep and telling the client to keep the bicep relaxed. As you poke on the bicep, tell the client to “keep the bicep soft.” You can also touch the client’s thoracic vertebrae (T-6 through T-12) and bottom four ribs, crest of the ilium, and thoracolumbar fascia to have them FEEL where the lat originates, and stroke your hands from the origin, over the muscle belly, and into the intertubercular groove of the humerus where the lat inserts into the upper arm.

After the client drives their elbows all the way down in the lat pull-down and they think they are done, you have one more surprise in store for them. Place your fingertips on their spinal column between their scapulae and have them try to pinch your fingers by squeezing their shoulder blades together. This maximizes stress on the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and middle and lower trapezius.

When they begin the eccentric contraction, continuously remind them by your touch training technique of the muscles they want to work and the muscles to keep relaxed (biceps brachii and brachialis).

This touch training technique is highly effective for all muscle groups, provided you follow the rules for touch training as specified in the IFPA training manual, "The Book on Personal Training," (2006) by Jim Bell, PhDc and as depicted in the IFPA training video, "How to Take a Client Through a World-Class Workout" (2005) by Jim Bell and Francine Phelps, produced by the IFPA.

Pull-up (palms facing away from the body) and chin-up (palms facing toward the body) are two of the very best upper-back exercises. These two exercises replicate gymnast-type movements that are known to dramatically increase muscular adaptations as well as neurophysiological adaptations due to the body being forced to make significantly more biomechanical movements than the relatively simple movement of pulling a bar down and/or into the chest. Gymnasts are the most finely-tuned, kinesthetically developed of all athletes because of the nearly infinitesimal fine-motor adjustments of moving their bodies around fixed (or not so fixed) bars, rings, pommels, etc. These and other "functional" type movements will be very useful for daily activities.

Chin-up—narrow to medium grip stresses the upper latissimus dorsi and biceps brachii.

Chin-up—"V-Bar"-hands facing each other stresses the rhomboids and lower latissimus dorsi and brachialis (the pronated hand position places the upper arm in "Hammer Curl" position).

Larry Scott (the first Mr. Olympia and finest bodybuilder of his generation) is the innovator of a technique that highly stresses the latissimus dorsi, but be advised: THIS TECHNIQUE CAN PLACE A HIGH RISK OF INJURY on the shoulder capsule and rotator cuff. The Scott Lat Technique can be used for all pull-ups, but the “V-Bar” would be safer on the shoulder capsule (though NOT COMPLETELY SAFE) than straight bar positions.

The Scott Lat Technique: During the eccentric contraction (lowering phase), slow down to a 10 second negative. At the halfway point, pause and push the elbows forward, externally rotate the arms, and "flare" the latissimus dorsi to the maximum extent. Maintain this position and continue lowering slowly to the bottom. This variation maximally stresses the latissimus dorsi, but especially targets the lowest part to develop a longer, fuller back width.

Seated Row (palms up or palms inward): Arms are kept close to the body. This technique stresses the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids due to the amount of arm extension that can be achieved as the bar is pulled in towards the abdomen.

Seated Row (overhand grip): Elbows are kept at shoulder height. This technique stresses the posterior deltoid, rhomboid, and mid-trapezius as the bar is pulled to the chest.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row (arm close to the body) stresses the latissimus dorsi and posterior deltoid.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row (upper arm at 90 degrees away from the body, palm facing backward while pulling up): Once the arm is pulled all the way up, you can maximally contract the rhomboid muscles by retracting the whole arm, shoulder, and scapula through the full range of motion of the rhomboids.

Cross-bench pullover with dumbbell or curl bar used to be one of my personal favorite back exercises. Unfortunately, after numerous abuses to my shoulder, I find the stiff-arm lat pull-down far more gentle on my shoulder capsule. The added benefit of this exercise is that it can stress the latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboids, posterior deltoid, the various scapular depressors and extensors, and serratus anterior (if you add a deep breathing variation to the exercise).

Overhead cable handles at approximately shoulder width apart work best (though rope handles on the overhead cable are a suitable substitute). Grip the handles with an overhand grip, arms extended overhead, with elbows straight, but not locked. Step back, keeping the arms fully extended, and bend over with bent knees and "weightlifter’s arch" to an approximately 45 - 90 degree angle. Extend arms backward until you feel a gentle stretch in your shoulders and back. DO NOT EXCEED YOUR PAIN-FREE ROM! Inhale.

Begin concentric action by contracting the back muscles and pulling the cables downward and backward in a big arc, while maintaining straight (but NOT LOCKED) elbows. In a manner simultaneous to your arm motion, begin to stand up straight, maintaining weightlifter’s arch, with scapula retracted and head neutral. Continue a smooth, controlled arm and torso motion until you complete the concentric action with arms straight behind the hips as far as your ROM will allow; the torso will be straight, with weightlifter’s arch, the scapula will be depressed and retracted, the chest will be out, the shoulders will be back, and the head will be neutral.

Serratus anterior variation: start with the deepest possible inhalation and explosively exhale while performing a faster concentric action. Eccentric action should remain slow and controlled, but make sure you achieve the deepest possible inhalation at the completion of the eccentric contraction.

The serratus anterior aids in exhalation.

Jim Bell, PhD.c. is the founder and president of the International Fitness Professionals Association, IFPA.
Building Bigger Stronger Arms: Triceps
by Jim Bell, PhD.c., President IFPA

Triceps Muscle

Muscle: Triceps Brachii: Long Head
Origin: At the scapular infraglenoid tubercle
Inserts: At the posterior surface of the ulnar olecranon
Function: Extends the elbow and extends the arm behind the body; has minimal action, except when the extension is forceful

Muscle: Triceps Brachii: Lateral Head
Origin: At the lateral and posterior proximal humerus
Inserts: At the posterior surface of the ulnar olecranon
Function: Extends the elbow; minimal action, except when the extension is forceful

Muscle: Triceps Brachii: Medial Head
Origin: At the medial and posterior distal humerus
Inserts: At the posterior surface of the ulnar olecranon
Function: Extends the elbow; “Work Horse”—active in all arm extensions

Indications of Weakness
If the triceps becomes shortened, the ROM of elbow flexion decreases.
Shortening and hypertonicity of the triceps can also decrease strength in the biceps neurologically due to the muscles’ interaction as agonist and antagonist.

Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arm, forearm, or hand indicate possible radial nerve entrapment in the shoulder due to shortening of the triceps long head compressing the nerve.

Weakness in the triceps can cause problems with locking out the bench press or overhead shoulder press.

Optimal Training Principles
In triceps extensions with little or no resistance, the medial head is the Work Horse and is always active.

The lateral head contracts minimally.

The long head is virtually inactive.

In triceps extensions with resistance, the medial is involved even more. The lateral and long heads are recruited to aid.

The lateral and long heads are reserved for heavily resisted elbow extensions.

Train all three heads with a variety of exercises in different planes and ROM.

Exercising the long head (a.k.a. the “Lazy Head”) requires a lot of weight. This head fully contracts only when the weight is in the 5 to 8 ROM range. It is maximally stressed in:
(1) Close-grip bench press
(2) Lying E-Z curl triceps extension
(3) Power lifter tricep push-downs (by internally rotating the
hands and allowing elbows to swing out)

Exercising the lateral head:
(1) Narrow grip triceps push-down
(2) Dumbbell kickbacks

Exercising the medial head:
(1) Used in most triceps exercises
(2) Dumbbell kickbacks
(3) Heavy overhead presses

Triceps isometrically contract the most at 90 degrees of arm flexion (Currier). The exercises that best mimic that position are:
(1) Close-grip bench presses
(2) Dips
(3) Triceps push-downs

All have external torque patterns that peak at close to 90 degrees. The triceps kickback has a reverse torque pattern, overloads the triceps at its weakest position of full extension, and recruits all three heads.

The triceps extensor or stabilization response: Pressure on the ulnar surface of the palm (little finger-side) causes a neuromuscular reflex that allows greater contraction of the triceps.

The triceps reflex extensor maneuver (TREM technique) can be used in the bench press and triceps push-down. TREM technique—Bench Press: The hands are positioned by internally rotating the arm five degrees when the person is under the bar, and the bar sits across the palm.

TREM technique—Triceps Push-Down: The hands internally rotate on the bar and allow the elbows to swing out. This is the “Power lifter” version and allows for more contraction and strength development, especially in the long head.

Gorman states that the strength of the triceps, like that of the biceps, varies with the arm position relative to the shoulder:
(1) Overhead Triceps Extension (arm above shoulder) = 95 pounds (43 kg)
(2) Horizontal Machine Triceps Extension (arms level with shoulder) = 82 pounds (37 kg)
(3) Dips (arms below shoulders) = 112 pounds (51 kg)
Obviously, dips are one of the better triceps exercises, provided the person is strong enough, or their shoulders are healthy enough to perform them with good form.

Jim Bell, PhD.c. is the founder and president of the International Fitness Professionals Association, IFPA.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Building Bigger Stronger Arms: Biceps
by Jim Bell, PhD.c., President IFPA

Biceps Muscles

Muscle: Biceps brachii, short head
Origin: At the tip of the coracoid process of the scapula.
Insertion: At the radial tuberosity
Function: Flexor of the elbow, strong supinator and has a weak flexion effect on the shoulder (because it is biarticular- crosses both the shoulder and elbow joints).

Muscle: Biceps brachii, long head
Origin: At the supraglenoid tubercle of the scapula
Insertion: At the radial tuberosity
Function: Flexor of the elbow, strong supinator and has a weak flexion effect on the shoulder (because it is biarticular- crosses both the shoulder and elbow joints).

Muscle: Brachialis
Origin: At the anterior lower half of the humerus
Insertion: At the ulnar tuberosity
Function: Flexor of the elbow (uniarticular), regardless of whether the arm is supinated or pronated (since the ulna does not rotate)

Indications of Weakness
Biceps weakness is indicated when the arm hangs excessively straight or is hyperextended. This weakness may also make it difficult to supinate the forearm when the arm is moving into flexion.

Brachialis or biceps that have shortened will make full arm extension or supination difficult. This will impair strength and muscular development. Triceps strength can also decrease if the biceps has shortened and is hypertonic because of the agonist antagonist relationship.

Optimal Training Principles
To develop optimum size and strength of the bicep muscle group, will require a variety of barbell, dumbbell and cable exercises to work the various parts of the muscle.

Straight barbells keep the arm neutral. Curling bars keep the arm slightly pronated. Dumbbells and cables allow for adjusting and maximizing supination.

  • The preacher curl emphasizes the first part of elbow flexion.
  • The standing barbell curl stresses the midrange of biceps flexion.
  • The concentration curl stresses the last range of biceps flexion.

Variation of these 3 ranges are essential to optimize muscle fiber stress to increase biceps size, biceps strength and biceps function through a full ROM.

In any biceps curl, it is important to fully extend the arm before starting the next repetition. The prestretched position of the biceps stresses the muscle through its full ROM. Use caution to make this a controlled, gentle stretch to avoid damage to the muscle, tendon, and ligaments of the elbow joint capsule, from uncontrolled hyperextention!

Keeping the elbows in front of the body, as is typical of barbell and dumbbell curls, will stress the brachialis and short head of the biceps and reduce stress on the long head of the biceps.

The long head is stressed more when the arm is behind the body, as in an incline dumbbell curl, which is an excellent exercise to increase both its size and strength.

Many bench-press shoulder injuries are caused by weakness in the long head of the biceps. This can be determined by a functional muscle test.

Long head biceps curl: Perform regular bicep curl to full flexion and then raise the elbows to shoulder height while maximally contracting the biceps.

The brachialis muscle lies between the biceps and triceps and can be seen on the outer side of the developed arm.

Reverse curls with barbells, curling bars or dumbbells and Hammer curls (hands semipronated: thumbs-up) increase stress on the brachialis. The biceps is 20-30% weaker in pronation, this position will increase the size, strength and function of the brachialis.

Biceps supination is best done just before the elbow is at 90 degrees of flexion during a dumbbell curl. If supination starts when the arm is at the side, the supinator muscle in the anterior elbow joint does most of the work, decreasing the stress on the biceps muscle.

David Gorman states that the strength of the biceps varies with the position of the arm relative to the shoulder:
Chin-up: Arm is above the shoulder: flexion strength is 183 pounds (83 kilograms)
Horizontal Preacher Curl: Arm is level with the shoulder: flexion strength is 146 pounds (66 kilograms)
Barbell Curl: Arm is below the shoulder: flexion strength is 115 pounds (52 kilograms)

Notice that the strongest flexion strength is in the chin-up position. This is one of the better biceps exercises if the person is strong enough to pull up his or her body weight. If not, Gravitron machines or Bicep Pull Downs on the lat-machine can be used to increase size, strength and function.

Jim Bell, PhD.c. is the founder and president of the International Fitness Professionals Association, IFPA.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Urgent: Critically Important Update from the American Heart Association
by Jim Bell, PhD.c., President IFPA

Previous: “Healthy Dietary Pattern” Recommendations broadened to include important concept of: “Healthy Lifestyle Pattern!”

Please read and forward to all your clients, prospective and former clients, friends, family, associations, and anyone you want to live a long and healthy life! You should also forward this to all local state and federal representatives. Many government agencies are considering legislation to remove soda and candy machines from our schools. Allowing our officials to read this will provide them the evidence they need to do the right thing, to protect our children…the next generation of Americans!

Jim Bell, PhD.c., president of the International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA) was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to the Governor’s Task Force for the Obesity Epidemic. Jim was asked by the Governor to bring his knowledge, experience and dedication for the health and fitness lifestyle to the Obesity Task Force in order to develop viable solutions to this growing epidemic.

Currently, nearly 70% of the American Population is overweight, obese or morbidly obese. Statistical analysis of the current Obesity Epidemic predicts that 70% of the American population will be obese by 2012. The Obesity Epidemic has lead to the Metabolic Syndrome that has created both an adult on set diabetes epidemic and a Cancer Epidemic, as well as a tremendous increase in other diseases: cardiovascular, cardio respiratory disease, hyper-tension, osteoporosis, etc.

Many medical and health experts agree that 80% of all health care related expenses in the USA are directly related to the poor lifestyle choices that Americans make. If this trend continues the result will be for more devastating for society. 70% of populations obese will place an untenable burden on not only our health-care system, but on society as a whole. Couple this number with a recent report form New York City that 50% of New York’s school age children will be obese by 2012 and anyone that has even a modicum of understanding of developmental physiology can predict that 50% of our nation’s children will suffer debilitating diseases far to early in life, so early in fact, that they will never achieve their mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, artistic, or financial potential.

Because of the “ALARM BELLS” going off, all over the country the American Heart Association (AHA) revised their dietary and lifestyle recommendations aimed at preventing cardiovascular disease and published them in the June 19 Rapid Access issue of “Circulation”:

“The previous recommendations stressed a healthy dietary pattern; the new ones broaden that concept to include the importance of a healthy lifestyle pattern, lead author and Chairwoman of the AHA’s Nutrition Committee, Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, from Tufts University in Boston, said in a news release. “The two go together-they should be inseparable.” The highlights of the 2006 American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations for a healthy diet and lifestyle are:

The AHA recommends consumption of an overall healthy diet, aiming for a healthy body weight (body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m2), a desirable lipid profile, a normal blood pressure (BP; defined as systolic BP <>
Jim Bell, PhD.c. is the founder and president of the International Fitness Professionals Association, IFPA.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Exercise Intensity and Body Composition
by Jim Bell, PhD.c.

Does the intensity of an exercise program modulate body composition changes? The International Journal of Sports Medicine; 2006 March, 27(3): 178-81, published research findings from the Laboratory of Sports Hygiene and Nutrition, Department of Physical Education and Sport Science, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece. The research was conducted by Doctors: Maugios V., Kayaki M., Christoulas K., Ziogos G., and Petridou A.

The results of this study showed that the low intensity group decreased total body mass by 3.3 kgrms (7.26 lbs) vs. 1.9 kgrms (4.18 lbs) for the high intensity group. It is important to note; however, that the low intensity group lost 0.2 kgrms (.44 lbs) of fat-free mass vs. an increase of 0.5 kgrams (1.1 lbs) in the high intensity group.

The researchers divided 14 healthy pre-menopausal, untrained women into two groups which exercised on treadmills at either 45%, or 72% of V(02max) four times a week for three months, spending 1548 kJ (370 Kcal) per exercise session. No dietary intervention was applied. Exercise training at 45% of V(02 max) without dietary restriction produced a higher weight loss than at 72% of V(02max), but the higher intensity tended to maintain fat-free mass, possibly, in part, through the smaller weight loss.

You might also assume that the Principal of Individuality {refer to the IFPA Personal Training Manual} may have been in effect due to the small study size of only 14 women.

You should also be aware that this research contradicts a previous study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association; 1995 June, Exercise Intensity Does Not Effect Body Composition Change in Untrained, Moderately Overfat Women; 95(6): 661-5. The study conducted by Grediaqin A, Coday M., Rupp V., Vernardot D., and Shern R. used 12 untrained, moderately overfat, weight-stable women. The women were again divided into two groups: low-intensity at 50% of V(02max) or high intensity at 80% of V(02max). They trained for 12 weeks (four times a week) at a duration sufficient to expend 300 kcal. The women were asked to maintain their normal diet and activity. The results showed that the average weight loss was 0.7 pounds for the high-intensity group, and 3.3 pounds for the low-intensity group. Each group lost an identical amount of fat (5.0 lbs), but the high intensity group gained more than twice as much fat-free mass (4.3 lbs vs. 1.8 lbs).

You should be well aware that gaining muscle and losing fat is a primary goal of anyone training to improve their appearance. While most of the research over the past decade seems conflicted whether high or low intensity aerobic exercise is better for fat loss, almost all the research indicates that higher intensity aerobic exercise either maintains, or increases muscle mass. You should also be aware that all measures of aerobic fitness showed substantial improvement over the low intensity exercises.

If you would like more information on this or other exercise related topics please visit the IFPA FitBits Archive.

Jim Bell, PhD.c. is the president of the International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Strength Training for Posture
by Scott Woroby, M.S.P.T., Rita La Rosa Loud, B.S., and Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D.

Put your clients on a regular program of strength and stretching exercises to improve posture and reduce back pain, both of which are often a cause of muscle weakness.

For the past several decades, a depressing health statistic has remained essentially the same: Four out of five Americans experience lower-pack pain and secondary effects. While we are not aware of the corresponding ratio for upper-back pain, it is undoubtedly too high and, based on our observations, a prominent physical problem that is becoming increasingly more common in adults of all ages.

Of courses, there are many probable causes for discomfort in the lower back, upper back and neck areas, and it is unlikely that any simple or single solution will successfully re-mediate or prevent all such problems. Nevertheless, two factors are typically identified as major contributors to reduced integrity of the spinal column, which can clearly lead to pain and related physical problems. These increasingly common factors, both associated with sedentary lifestyles, are muscle weakness and poor posture. Unfortunately, each problem adversely affects the other, as muscle weakness can result form poor posture, and poor posture can result from muscle weakness.

Fifteen years of research from the University of Florida Medical School has demonstrated that full-range strengthening of the lumbar spine muscles can significantly reduce or eliminate low-back pain in a large percentage of patients. It is therefore logical to assume that strengthening the muscles of the upper back and neck may likewise benefit people who suffer discomfort in these areas of the body. While there is less research quantifying the relationship between posture and pain, it is most likely that better posture will produce a corresponding reduction in spine-related discomfort.

The so-called forward-head/rounded-shoulder posture has become a common problem often observed in physical therapy evaluations. According to clinicians, this faulty posture frequently leads to neck, shoulder and back problems. For example, rounded shoulders may cause mechanical malfunction of the shoulder joint, resulting in tendon impingement, bursitis or rotator cuff injury. It is also possible that this posture causes increased feelings of fatigue due to the greater muscle tension and activation necessary for support purposes. Rounded shoulders may result in a kyphotic posture, which puts additional pressure on the anterior vertebral bodies of the thoracic spine. It is in this area, where there is insufficient trabeculae of the bone, that collapse may occur leading to reduce bone density, micro-fractures and loss of height. Add to these concerns the problems associated with forward head posture. The forward head position causes the weight of the head (approximately 15 to 20 pounds) to pull at the cervical spine, which may lead to muscle tightness, spasm and chronic tension headaches.

Study purpose and training programs
We conducted a study to determine whether an intervention program including aerobic activity, strength training, stretching and postural awareness would improve forward-head/rounded-shoulder posture and increase standing height.

Thirty-four men and women (average age 45 years) completed a 10-week posture intervention program, which was conducted twice a week in six-person exercise classes with two instructors per class. Each class was one-hour in length, and included about 20 minutes of aerobic activity (stationary cycling and treadmill walking), 10 strength exercises and 10 stretching exercises. Participants performed one set of eight to 12 repetitions on resistance machines for the major muscle groups. Each strength exercise was followed by a 20-second static stretch for the muscle group just worked. For example, the leg extension exercise was followed by a 20 –second quadriceps stretch, and the leg curl exercise was followed by a 20-second hamstrings stretch (see Table 1).

In addition to the basic program of endurance, strength and flexibility, all of the program participants received relevant information, verbal cues and positive reinforcement on proper posture. Two specific stretches for the chest and shoulder muscles were presented by the lead class instructor, who holds a master’s degree in physical therapy.

Assessment Procedures
All of the study subjects were assessed before and after the 10-week training period for bodyweight and body composition (lean weight and fat weight), as well as for forward head position and standing height. Participants did not significantly change their bodyweight, but did experience a 1.5 percent improvement in body composition, resulting form a 2.4- pound gain in lean (muscle) weight, and a 2.9-pound loss of fat weight. Their forward head position improved by an average of 0.4 inches, and their standing height increased by an average of 0.2 inches. Table 2 presents the pre-training and post-training data, and the statistically significant changes that resulted from the exercise program.

Practical Application
Based on these findings, it would appear that a 10-week program of basic endurance, strength and flexibility exercise is effective for significantly improving body composition by increasing lean weight and decreasing fat weight. When combined with postural awareness training and two specific stretches for the chest and shoulder muscles, the basic exercise program also seemed effective for improving functional posture by decreasing forward head distance and increasing standing height.

Written questionnaire surveys completed by the participants prior to the final assessment revealed an overwhelmingly positive response to the training program. Their comments included noticeable improvements in personal posture, reduced neck and shoulder-area discomfort, and less low-back pain. Essentially all of the respondents committed to continued postural awareness and to a regular exercise regimen, therefore indicating that they perceived the program to be both physically important and personally beneficial.

Although the long-term effects were clearly encouraging. While our findings with average adults may not be applicable to the geriatric community or persons with long-standing postural problems, we saw no indication that the training program was harmful, and obtained considerable evidence that it was helpful to the participants.

Exercises, Machines and Stretches

Strength Exercise/Machine
Leg extension
Leg Curl
Chest cross/chest press
Lateral raise
Biceps curl
Triceps extension
Low-back extension
Abdominal curl
Neck flexion/extension

Major Muscles
At-Machine Stretch
Pectoralis Major, Triceps
Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major
Erector Spinae
Rectus Abdominis
Neck Flexors/Extensors

At-Machine Stretch
Quatriceps stretch
Hamstrings stretch
Chest stretch
Upper-back stretch
Shoulder stretch
Biceps stretch
Triceps stretch
Lower-back stretch
Abdominal stretch
Neck stretch

Physical Changes Resulting From 10 Weeks of Basic Strength, Endurance and Flexibility Exercise (34 subjects)

Percent Fat: 28.2
Lean Weight: 133.9
Fat Weight: 54.7
Forward Head Position: 2.0
Height: 65.1

Percent Fat: 26.7*
Lean Weight: 136.3*
Fat Weight: 51.8*
Forward Head Position: 1.6*
Height: 65.3*
*Statistically significant change (p<0.05)

Setting up a posture-training program
When setting up a posture-training program, it is important to provide adults and seniors with a basic program of endurance, strength and flexibility exercise for comprehensive conditioning of the cardiovascular and muscular systems. Once a reasonable level of overall physical fitness is attained, you can add supplemental training. In our experience, this simple approach has proven both safe and successful, with essentially no injuries and a high level of participant satisfaction based on our written program evaluations.

We, therefore, recommend an eight-to 12-week basic exercise program that includes about 20 to 25 minutes of continuous aerobic activity (e.g., treadmill walking/jogging), about 20 to 25 minutes of standard strength training (e.g., 10 to 12 exercises) and about five to ten minutes of static stretching. A properly performed basic exercise program provides many physical benefits, including significant posture improvement.

In addition to the basic exercise program, give relevant verbal cues and related reminders for practicing proper posture. Also, teach two specific stretching exercises for the chest and shoulder muscles. These should be performed on a daily basis in the following manner.

Chest stretch. Instruct your clients to stand facing a corner and rest their forearms on both corner walls. Make sure they maintain tall posture and upright head position as they gently lean their chest forward toward the corner. Have them hold this for 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat three to five times.

Shoulder stretch. Have clients stand with good posture and hold a dowel (36-inch wooden rod) behind their back, palms facing forward. Next, they should raise the dowel upward, maintaining proper posture and keeping the arms extended. Have them hold this for 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat three to five times.

Finally, give regular positive reinforcement to your clients whenever they exhibit better posture. For example, acknowledge clients who sit without slouching on the weight machines, who stand tall on the treadmill and stepper, and who keep their head up and shoulders back throughout their training session.

Data Collection
To collect objective data on your clients’ postural improvements, follow standardized procedures for accurately assessing head position and standing height.

Forward head measurement (goniometer). Place the vertical arm of the goniometer (locked at a 90-degree angle) just in front of the clients’ ear. Measure the distance (nearest ⅛ - inch) on the horizontal arm of the goniometer to the midpoint of the acromion process (bony protrusion on top of the shoulder joint).

Height measurement (tape measure, goniometer). Have your clients stand tall in stocking feet with their back close to the wall and in line with a vertical tape measure (attached to the wall). Make sure their head is neutral without tipping forward or backward, and not touching the wall. Rest the goniometer arm horizontally across the top of their head, and record their height to the nearest ¼-inch where the goniometer intersects the tape measure.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA and author of the new book Strength Training Past 50.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Summertime Is For Cycling
by Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D.

Although it is possible to run and walk all year long, most people find it both difficult and dangerous to cycle during cold weather and on snowy/icy surfaces. On the other hand summer is the perfect time to enjoy the benefits of cycling.
First, cycling enables you to cover much more ground and see many more sights during a given period of time than other types of exercise. For example, an average runner may complete five miles in 45 minutes, but the same individual may cycle over 10 miles during this time period. The change in scenery alone tends to make the exercise session pass more quickly.

Second, because you cycle at a faster speed than you run or walk, there is a significant cooling effect from the greater air currents encountered when riding a bike. This is especially appreciated on hot and humid days when no breezes are blowing. While it is just as important to replenish fluids regularly, cycling is one of the most comfortable warm weather activities.

Third, riding a cycle is an ideal exercise for individuals who experience overuse injuries from the landing forces encountered when running, stepping or doing other weight bearing activities. Because the seat supports your body weight, cycling provides an excellent workout for the leg muscles without producing repetitive impact on the feet, ankles, knees, hips and back. The body support function of cycling is also advantageous for overweight individuals whose size hinders their performance in ambulatory activities.

Fourth, when positioned properly on a bicycle, the consistent mid-range movement pattern of the legs is a relatively safe, simple and easy to perform exercise action. Although any activity can be overdone and cause overuse injuries, recreational cyclists typically have a low risk for these problems.

Fifth, for those who prefer a variety of physical activities, cycling is ideal for cross-training purposes. For example, walking and jogging emphasize the hamstring muscles in the rear thigh. Cycling, on the other hand, places more stress on the quadriceps muscles in the front thigh. Therefore, a combination program of running and cycling tends to enhance muscle balance and reduce the risk of imbalance injuries so common in single activity exercisers.

Sixth, cycles offer storage space for water containers, snacks, and windbreakers. Extra fluid and fuel are important considerations for longer exercise session, as is a place to store outer layers of clothing after your body temperature has increased.
Seventh, cycles are interesting to use due to the different gear ratios that can be selected for best traversing various terrains. Whether cycling on the roads or trails, it is challenging to choose the most effective gear ratio for every riding situation. Generally speaking, it is advisable to use the highest gear ratio that enables you to maintain your desired pedal cadence (such as 75 to 80 revolutions per minute).

Eighth, bicycles are an excellent investment, costing relatively little on a long-term basis. For example, a $300.00 bicycle averages only $30.00 per year over a decade of use. Even with an annual tune-up and a couple tube replacements for flat tires, the yearly cost is on par with a good pair of running shoes. No doubt about it, bicycling is a bargain even with the additional cost of a helmet, which is absolutely essential and represents money well spent.

Ninth, cycling is an ideal activity to do with a friend or a small group of riders. This is partly because of the drafting benefit, by which all but the lead cyclist experience a pulling-along effect related to reduced wind resistance. By frequently changing lead cyclists, everyone enjoys an easier and faster ride than cycling solo.
Tenth, contrary to popular misconception, cycling is an excellent exercise for the muscles of the upper body as well as for the legs. Consider that the low back, chest, shoulder, upper arm, and forearm muscles work throughout the ride to support your torso, and that the upper back and neck muscles are active most of the time to maintain a head-up cycling position.

While there are at least 10 good reasons to do some cycling this summer, there are also a few precautions that should be taken for safe and satisfying bicycle experiences. As one who has been hit by a car, let me assure you that automobiles must be taken seriously when cycling. Unfortunately, many drivers are in a hurry to get where they're going, and they do not give much consideration to cyclists. Always anticipate possible problems at intersections, and always stop at red lights and stop signs, especially since some drivers do not. Be on the lookout for people backing out of driveways, and avoid roadways with narrow shoulders.

Never sit on your bicycle without first securing your helmet, and tucking your shoestrings inside your shoes so they won't hook your pedal or front gear sprocket. It is a good idea to carry a full water bottle on all your rides, as well as a few supplies such as a spare tube, air pump, and plastic tire tools.
Although not essential, most riders enjoy using the detachable mini-computer that displays your cycling speed, distance, time and other interesting calculations. Some riders also prefer to wear cycling shoes, shorts and gloves designed to enhance both your performance and comfort.

Of course, there is an entirely different option for those who prefer a more challenging ride off the roads. Mountain bikes offer exciting opportunities to explore wooded trails and a variety of other cycling environments away from traffic and the hustle of civilization. Although cars pose no problem in the woods, the uneven terrain requires both a high level of attentiveness and a high level of physical fitness. Upper body strength is particularly important for safe and successful off-road cycling. I recommend starting off with a friend who can teach you the essential techniques for riding in the rough. Once you learn the strategies and get the feel of mountain biking you are likely to make it a major component of your fitness program.

My final recommendation is to spend a little time at your local bicycle shop to better understand the facts about cycling and equipment. Most shop personnel are devoted cyclists who love this superb physical activity and enjoy sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with others.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA and author of the new book Strength Training Past 50.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Concerns Over Compulsiveness
by Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D.

Are you a compulsive, task-oriented individual? For many of us such behavior is natural, simply our normal way of life. I have always been that way, the old all or nothing attitude. Whether I'm exercising or working in the garden, it's always the same approach. Go as hard as I can until the task is complete. When I was younger, this process proved satisfactory, but with age I have attempted to address my physical activities more sensibly.

Let's begin with a brief self-assessment to see if this column has any practical application to your life. Please respond to the following statements as best describes your typical behavior.

1. Once I begin mowing the lawn, I keep going until I finish the job.
Yes ___ No ___

2. Once I start raking leaves in the yard I stay with it until the lawn is leafless.
Yes ___ No ___

3. Once I start cultivating the garden, I keep hoeing until every weed is history.
Yes ___ No ___

4. When I ride the exercise cycle, I pedal until my pre- determined training time is attained, no matter how fatigued I feel.
Yes ___ No ___

5. When I do my strength training workout, I complete all of my predetermined repetitions, even if I have to compromise form on the last few reps.
Yes ___ No ___

6. When I take a run, I never slow down or walk even though it would be better to do so.
Yes ___ No ___

If you answered yes to three or more of these statements, then you are probably a task-oriented individual who may benefit from the following information.

Here's the final test. It's December and imagine the forecast is for 12 inches of snow. It's Saturday and there are some good college football games on television. Here are your choices:

(a) You quickly go to the store and purchase a snowblower.
Yes ___ No ___

(b) You contract with the teenager next door to shovel your driveway.
Yes ___ No ___

(c) You wait until all the snow has fallen (and all the games are over) so that you shovel only once.
Yes ___ No ___

(d) You shovel the driveway whenever four inches of snow accumulates.
Yes ___ No ___

Depending upon your personal health and fitness, you may be wise to use a snowblower or have someone younger and stronger shovel the driveway until you are able to do so without risk. Be sure to check with your physician regarding your physical capacity for vigorous activity such as shoveling snow, raking leaves, hoeing the garden, and exercise.

However, even if you are in good shape, I strongly recommend shoveling small layers of snow at a time, rather than hoisting foot high loads on the end of your shovel. Three shoveling sessions may seem like a lot, but the overall effect is much better tolerated and far less likely to cause injury, because every shovel lift is relatively light and easy to perform. On the other hand, waiting until all of the snow has fallen makes every shovel lift a near maximum effort. Although the total time expenditure may be a little longer by clearing the driveway three times, it is time well spent from an exercise perspective, and time wisely spent from an injury prevention perspective. Your back, shoulders, arms, and legs will be most appreciative if you do three low effort work bouts rather than a single high effort session.

This same reasoning process may be applied to raking leaves. It's okay to do one section of your lawn a day, rather than feel compelled to eliminate every leaf on your property before putting the rake away. Working in sections is a much more sensible approach than doing it all and feeling it all for several days following your yard session.

Of course, this same philosophy is equally relevant to your exercise program. Research shows that three 10-minute walks on a given day are equivalent in fitness benefit to one 30-minute walk. In other words, it is fine to break your exercise program into manageable segments, rather than completing a comprehensive workout and feeling fatigued for several days following.

We like to encourage this exercise approach in our fitness center, even on the strength training equipment. For example, instead of doing two exercises for each muscle group during long and infrequent workouts, we recommend doing one exercise for each muscle group on Monday, a different exercise for each muscle group on Wednesday, and back to the first exercise protocol on Friday. This approach permits a consistent exercise program without overtraining and experiencing overuse injuries.

Another favorite for people over forty is interval training. Instead of maintaining a steady state of uninterrupted aerobic exercise for the entire workout, consider alternating between higher effort and lower effort periods throughout your exercise session. For example, if you really find your 40-minute runs too demanding to be enjoyable, consider the following interval training approaches.

Approach A: Harder Training Day
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes

Approach B: Easier Training Day
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes

Being compulsive may be acceptable if you are twenty, but a more relaxed approach to physical labor and exercise is definitely preferred for those of us over 40, at least for purposes of general conditioning. Competitive athletes must obviously put greater effort into their training programs. However, if your primary goal is physical fitness, you should be pleasantly surprised by how well your body responds to regular and reasonable exercise sessions.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, and strength training consultant for IDEA, the American Council on Exercise, the International Fitness Institute, and the YMCA of the USA. Dr. Westcott is the author of the college textbook Strength Fitness, and the professional textbook Be Strong.