Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Knowledge of Squats Out of Date

“Deep squats are bad for the knees!”

Chances are you’ve heard this advice and maybe even given it to your clients. I know that for many years in my career I’ve been guilty of making similar recommendations to clients in all walks of life. The problem is, where did this advice come from? Is it valid and who is it valid for? What principles should we follow when doing or teaching one of the most popular exercises on the planet?

This article will share much of the latest research about the science and application of squats and help separate fact from myth.

Are Deep Squats Bad for the Knees?

It is understandable to assume that the deeper the knee flexes, the more pressure this puts on the soft-tissue structures surrounding the knee. However, is this true? And is more “pressure” or force a bad thing?

Interestingly enough, force applied to the anterior cruciate ligament and the posterior cruciate ligament during a squat actually diminishes during the deeper portions of the squat. In a study analyzing load on the knee at various squat heights, Hartmann, Wirth & Klusemann (2013) say that concerns over the apparent higher risk for chondromalacia,osteoarthritis and osteochondritis in deep squats are unfounded. In fact, shallower squats actually expose the knee to greater compressive forces.

If you’re looking to explore a deep squat, recognize these three basic squatting principles:

  1. Load and joint freedom of motion have an inverse relationship. This means as load increases, freedom of motion through the joints decreases and vice versa. In other words, the heavier the load, the stricter we want to be about enforcing ideal form.
  2. Rhythm and timing (joint synchronization) are things to look for. Joint synchronization is the ability for multiple joints to move in concert to promote rhythmical motion and force dispersion during multijoint movements such as squats. Ideally, the ankles, knees and hips will all flex and extend congruently. Limitations in ankle and hip mobility can alter joint synchronization and inhibit a deep squat. Therefore, a great place to start conditioning a deep range is to elevate the heels or hold onto a TRX®: Suspension Trainer™ to counterbalance the hips. Combine this with mobility strategies and clients will be on their way.
  3. Pain is a signal to modify the squat. If squatting causes pain, modify the exercise by altering the footprint, range of motion, speed or direction in which the pelvis is being driven. If pain persists, then refer to a specialist.

Variable Squats

You probably already know a lot about traditional squats, but what about variable ones? Webster’s Dictionary defines variability from a biological perspective as “the power possessed by living organisms, both animal and vegetable, of adapting themselves to modifications or changes in their environment, thus possibly giving rise to ultimate variation of structure or function.” From a mechanical standpoint, reduced variability is known to cause repetitive stress injuries, while an optimal movement system has the capacity to perform a given task in a variety of ways (Harbourne & Stergiou 2009). This enhances our entire being, from our heart and nervous system to our connective tissues and bones. And for bodybuilders, there may be benefits to including variable movement strategies for increased strength and hypertrophy (Fonseca et al. 2014).

A standard personal training certification covers most of the training principles for traditional, sagittal-plane, heavy-loaded squats. What’s missing in certification texts are the benefits and rules of incorporating variable squats.

Variable squats offer a host of potential benefits when performed in the right environment:

  • Exploring new positions through different planes of motion enhances the nervous system’s motor control. Simply put, learning how to squat in a variety of ways encourages the nervous system to find the optimal way to disperse forces through the system in multiple directions and positions.
  • Bone density may increase to tolerate variable directional force (see mechanotransduction).
  • Variable forces enhance the connective tissue matrix, improving shape stability, tissue resiliency and joint integrity (Myers 2011).
  • Withstanding different lines of force requires greater intra- and inter-muscular coordination, potentially enhancing strength gains and hypertrophy (Fonseca et al. 2014).

Info Cancer and Exercise

Cancer can be deadly. However, research is showing promising data on how physical activity helps the body and mind heal—and prevent—this disease. A paper published in theJournal of the American Medical Association (Moore et al. 2016) indicates that physical activity lowers the risk of 13 types of cancer.

There’s more positive news about exercise and cancer. A report from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center states, “Multiple studies show that regular physical activity is linked to increased life expectancy after a diagnosis of cancer, in many cases by decreasing the risk of cancer recurrence” (Grisham 2014). The American Cancer Society, World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research, American College of Sports Medicine, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are just some of the organizations that advocate physical activity for cancer patients and survivors (Grisham 2014). Thus, it is not a question of whether exercise helps, but rather of how much works—based on dosage, quality, conditioning and cancer type.

There are three ways to look at battling cancer. For those who don’t have it, lowering risk is the primary goal. For those who’ve had it, successfully recovering and of course reducing the chances of recurrence are of utmost importance. For those who currently have it, the priorities are getting rid of it and minimizing the harmful effects that both the disease and the treatment have on the body. Exercise has been shown to help with all three.

Cancer and Exercise Research: An Overview

Cancer is simply a collection of abnormal cells that are dividing without stopping; in other words, their growth is out of control. Most often (not always), the result is a tumor. Some tumors are benign and will stay localized, but cancerous tumors are malignant and may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

The immune system houses the forces that keep cancer at bay. In fact, we have a potent inflammatory agent called tumor necrosis factor that can be friend or foe, depending on the situation (Wang & Lin 2008). When our immune system is strong, we battle cancer successfully. When immunity is not strong, or if the cancer is potent, we may lose the battle and develop noticeable symptoms of cancerous growth.

Taking an “active approach” to fighting cancer is indeed the best choice. In a 2005 Harvard study, breast cancer patients who exercised at moderate intensities 3–5 hours per week (high volume) lowered the odds of dying from cancer by about half, compared with sedentary patients (Holmes et al. 2005). Even a little exercise improved patients’ odds, regardless of stage or diagnosis timing.

Studies have also shown that those who exercise early in life have a lower chance of breast cancer later in life. Chinese women who exercised an average of 70 minutes per week during their teens reduced their chances of dying from cancer by 16%, and those who kept exercising as adults had a 20% lower risk of premature death from all causes, compared with other women (Nechuta et al. 2015).

The amount of exercise to aim for, particularly during or just after dealing with a bout of cancer, is a delicate balance of getting enough to make a difference and not getting too much—an amount that could suppress immune function. The reason for this yin-yang relationship is linked to the endocrine system and the body’s perception of exercise asstress.

Epinephrine—released during exercise—helps to circulate natural killer cells in tumors. The NK cells move into the bloodstream and infiltrate tumor cells, causing them to shrink. Researchers confirmed this theory using several different methods, including using mice with no NK cells, blocking epinephrine flow and injecting mice with epinephrine. All studies led to the same conclusion: Epinephrine caused NK cell infiltration (Neiman et al. 1995). Further studies found that it was Interleukin-6 (IL-6), a known inflammatory marker, that served as the immune cell signal. Only IL-6 sensitive NK cells showed this response, and IL-6 helped guide NK cells to the tumors.

Other hormonal effects of exercise include insulin reduction, an increase in insulin–like growth factor 1 (IGF–1) and a decrease in leptin levels (Dutta et al. 2012). When leptin levels are high, various cancers survive better, grow faster and spread more (Dutta et al. 2012). Additionally, leptin causes the release of inflammatory agents that can complicate cancer risk. Sex hormones, cortisol and prostaglandins are currently being researched for their roles in cancer progression and prevention. Exercise has also been shown to minimize the negative effects of conventional cancer therapy. A meta-analysis of 16 studies found that cancer patients who exercised had consistently better quality of life, compared with their nonexercising counterparts (McTiernan 2006). The benefits were both physical and mental and included less fatigue, more energy, fewer hospital stays and doctor visits, and higher self-esteem.

For Total-Body Strength

To see results from exercise, it’s important to switch things up from time to time and push your students to a safe edge. This workout does that with circuit training principles that focus on compound strength exercises and unique HIIT drills. Dazzle your participants with fresh, intense moves that will challenge them in new ways. Have fun with a variety of equipment in this fast-paced, nonstop exercise experience. Students will love this social approach to fitness.

Here are some tips to make this class a success:

  • Select compound moves that use multiple muscle groups requiring core activation.
  • Maximize equipment usage by designing strategic stations.
  • Increase challenge by providing less rest between exercises.
  • Offer endless options for variety.
  • For each cycle, use different exercises and adjust the timing.
  • Provide options for increasing or decreasing intensity, depending on participant needs.

Fit Frenzy Details

Time: 60 minutes

Format: circuits mixed with high-intensity interval training

Goal/Emphasis: total-body strength and cardio

Equipment needed: steps with platforms, Gliding™ discs or paper plates, small weighted balls, dumbbells, stability balls and BOSU® Balance Trainers

Music: 130 beats per minute


  • Set up six stations around the periphery of the room.
  • Have participants travel in small groups from one station to the next.
  • Offer different timing at each station, to keep students interested.
  • Set up two to five sets of equipment at each station, depending on class size.
  • Offer a 2-minute rest between cycles, and use this time to review exercises for the next round.

Introduction and Warm-Up (8–10 minutes)

Briefly review all exercises for the first cycle. Label each station so that participants have a visual cue to use as a reference. Preview the movements, going over alignment and safety. Select exercises for all planes of motion, beginning with simple movements and gradually increasing range of motion and intensity.

Gather students in the middle of the room and lead the following (16 repetitions, 2x):

  • March in place, then jog in place.
  • Squat and add lateral movement (right, then left).
  • Do alternating front lunges, followed by alternating rear lunges.
  • Do plank with an alternating knee-in. Reach knee to opposite elbow (rotate).
  • Alternate push-ups with side planks.

Work Phase (45 minutes)

Cycle One

Do each exercise for 60 seconds, taking 15 seconds to transition. Move in a clockwise direction.

  • box jump off high bench
  • mountain climber with discs
  • squat, swinging small weighted ball overhead when standing
  • renegade row with dumbbells
  • elbow plank with forearms on stability ball, bringing knee to ball, alternating sides
  • alternating front lunge to top of BOSU ball dome

Cycle Two

Do each exercise for 60 seconds, and take 15 seconds to transition. Move in acounterclockwise direction. Have participants meet in the middle of the room for a 60-second cardio drill between stations.

  • step-up on high bench, with alternating lead leg
  • jumping jack (cardio)
  • plank on discs (progression: bring knees in and out)
  • squat jump (cardio)
  • squat, tossing weighted ball overhead
  • jumping jack (cardio)
  • overhead press
  • squat jump (cardio)
  • incline supine crunch on stability ball
  • jumping jack (cardio)
  • alternating rear lunge from top of BOSU dome
  • squat jump
  • squat on top of BOSU dome
  • plyometric jumping jack

The Three Systems for Improving Client Adherence

It can be a challenge to make sure all of your clients arrive for sessions consistently—and on time. Inevitably in your career, you will deal with clients who frequently reschedule, show up late or don’t show at all.

Many trainers I know are quick to point the finger at disobedient clients and blame transgressions on clients’ lack of motivation.

At some point, however, you need to take a step back and accept that you might be partly to blame in these scenarios—especially if several of your clients display similar behaviors. If this is something you experience in your business, it’s time to assess what you can do to prevent it from happening in the future.

The first step to improving client adherence is to evaluate why it happens. In most cases—barring true emergencies, of course—the simple answer is that your clients don’t perceive their sessions with you to be as important as their other commitments. This means it’s up to you to create enough value in your services that your clients make their time with you a priority.

In this article I share three systems that will supercharge your value and ensure that your clients put their appointments with you first.

Offer a Coaching Report

Request feedback from your clients at the end of each workout, so that you can understand how to keep them engaged. Based on what you learn, you can offer a coaching report that details what to work on and how that will affect what you have planned for the coming weeks. This is a bit like a teaser trailer for the next episode of your favorite show. A sneak peek into the future keeps clients interested in coming back for more.

Here are a few questions you can ask clients to elicit useful feedback:

  • “How did you feel during today’s workout?”
  • “Which exercises did you feel the most or enjoy the most?”
  • “Which exercises were the most difficult, and did you enjoy them?”
  • “Were there any exercises that you disliked or that made you feel uncomfortable?”

It’s up to you to ask these types of questions, because some clients won’t be forthcoming with their thoughts about your programs. And if your sessions make clients feel uncomfortable, or if you ask clients to complete exercises they dislike or they don’t understand, they may become discouraged and cancel on you more often. Requesting regular feedback can help you facilitate sessions that mesh with client sensibilities and circumvent cancellations.

In your report and “conclusion” to each session, include details like these:

  • Compliment your clients on something they did well.
  • Point out something they need to work on.
  • Give them some sort of homework.
  • Remind them of their goal/vision.
  • Give them a teaser of what you have planned for the future.

Here’s an example:

“Great workout today. You really surprised me on the walking lunges—those were amazing. How did they feel? I’m really excited that we’ve come this far. With all of this hard work, though, you’ve got to get in the gym those extra two days per week to bring all of this together. One day between now and our next session, get to the gym and complete these three arm exercises that I know you enjoy, along with 20 minutes of intervals. Can you make that happen? I really think if you can do that consistently you will begin to see progress soon, and get the body you want before summer is here. Also, after today’s session I have some really great ideas for a new lower-body/core workout that I think you’ll like. Let’s plan on doing that in our next session this Thursday! Are you excited? I am! See you then.”

Build a Strong Foundation

Newer clients are usually the most “fragile.” They may feel nervous or self-conscious, and they may have significant challenges to overcome before they’re comfortable with training. It’s important to foster a community of people and a culture of support that will put newbies at ease and motivate them to put in the work to reach their goals. It is also important for you to be prepared with personalized messages, especially for your newer clients. The more you reach out, the more likely your clients are to show up to your sessions and see results.