There is an absolute epidemic plaguing the fitness industry, particularly online. It can be seen around most gyms and on most fitness "influencers" pages. You have all seen it before. The absolute beef cake of a human around the gym. Shoulders as wide as the door and lats so big they can barely rest their arms by their side. All of that packed on top of two glorified bamboo poles for legs. Why so little leg development? I often ask myself, "What are people's reactions when they take their pants off?" I can only imagine it looks quite funny, disproportionate at best. Conversely, there is a population that continually exercises their legs, yet has trouble developing specific areas of their legs utilizing major compound lifts like the squat. More often than not, people will avoid or struggle with squatting or training legs because they are scared of injury or have previously had an injury. This is often due to the fact they are performing the squat with incorrect activation or are progressing the squat too rapidly for the body to adapt.
Squatting is one of the best total body exercises that you can do for yourself. Not only is it a functional movement pattern, but there is documented empirical evidence that it increases testosterone and growth hormone secretion, which is always good for those looking to make "gains". Some of the biggest mistakes made when squatting are: improper knee alignment, not enough/poor range of motion, varying spine angles and the use of assistive belts. How many times have you heard someone say, "I stopped squatting because it hurt my knees?" I can promise you that unless there is a massive injury or muscle atrophy present, their knee pain is directly related to improper knee tracking or executing the movement with poor range of motion. This is also a hallmark sign of someone who is probably not getting activation from their glutes in the movement or has movement issues that need to be addressed before squatting. A few simple drills, screenings and auxiliary exercises would be all that was needed to "fix" their squat. Instead, most will choose to abandon the movement altogether. What about, "I stopped squatting because I hurt my back?" I don't have any doubt that this is a result of two things: improper spine angle or compensation between the abdominals and erector spinae due to chronic use of an assistive belt. When squatting (an exception being the niche low bar position) your should never exceed a 45 degree angle with your pelvis. If you are squatting and find yourself leaning forward past this point, it is because the load is too heavy for your abdominals to hold. Do not use a belt when this happens. Instead lighten the load and practice with a proper spine angle. If you get into the habit of using a belt to squat, you will start to create a significant difference in strength between your abdominals and the muscles of your lower back. World class and elite lifters only use a belt for near maximal loads, so you should too. If you chronically use a belt, it will lead to you progressively overloading the movement too fast for your body to actually get the benefit of the movement. This will increase your risk for injury. The load used for your training should be challenging, yet allow for you to keep the best technique. Finally, leg development is quintessential to not only health and performance but also is important for a complete "aesthetic". Squatting is one of the best ways to develop your legs and core. The added hormonal benefits of utilizing this movement in your training regimen will also expedite the likelihood of you seeing gains in other areas. Squat right, squat for life. Don't be out here looking like an ostrich.
Stop me if you have heard this before, “Just cut out carbs and you will lose weight.” The simplicity behind this statement is obvious but a massive disservice to anyone who is actually trying to lose weight or body fat sustainably. Yes, of course, if you cut carbohydrates down you will lose weight, initially. A lot of that loss will come from water because about 2-3 grams of water is stored with every gram of glycogen (carbohydrate) in your body. So, the actual “weight” you’re losing isn’t coming primarily from fat. “How about if I cut my carbs low enough to get into ketosis?” Yes, if you are actually able to get into ketosis your body will primarily burn fat, and ketones too. Most people often believe they are in ketosis when they are actually not. The Atkins Diet and its rebranded little brother, the “keto” diet, have helped many people lose weight, gain it back, and, in the process, ruin their metabolism. Personally, I have seen numerous individuals try, succeed, and then regress with this particular practice. More often than not, they end up heavier with poorer blood work than their starting numbers. Unless you are diabetic, have Celiac disease or a traumatic brain injury (TBI), there are a host of better options for losing or improving how well your body utilizes fat. The Atkins/Keto diet is too restrictive unless you have a viable medical reason for following it. Even then, you can still have success without utilizing this extreme diet.
Inherently, people believe carbs will make you fat because they are sugars. Repeat after me, “All sugars are carbs but not all carbs are sugars”. Yes, your body absorbs almost all carbohydrates as glucose (sugar). However, not all of the carbohydrates we ingest have the same rate of breakdown/absorption in the body, and subsequently the spike in insulin secretion will vary. The glycemic index is a great tool to understand and leverage this concept to meet your goals. The glycemic index is a scale that measures the insulin response of all the carbohydrates we consume, using glucose as the standard. This is important because our insulin levels dictate whether or not the body is burning fat. There is a healthy range for insulin, as well as blood sugar, for our bodies to burn fat. The real problem with carbohydrates is having too many carbohydrates that spike our insulin levels (blood sugar) above that healthy range. I utilize this scale often when developing practical nutritional interventions. A client of mine, a type 2 diabetic, actually has achieved better resting glucose levels utilizing this information than when he was taking a full dose of Metformin. Originally, his doctor wanted to increase his dose of Metformin. Instead my client decided to try an exercise and diet protocol before increasing his dosage. After six months, his doctor actually said that he could take his original Metformin dose, as needed, because his resting glucose levels were almost to the pre-diabetic range!
The truth of the matter is that your body needs carbohydrates to function optimally, neurologically and muscularly. The complete removal or avoidance of carbohydrates can often lead to an increase in oxidative stress, hyperketonemia, ketoacidosis and metabolic inflexibility. It is totally possible to lose body fat and get the most out of your workouts utilizing carbohydrates. In fact, I would argue that it is nearly impossible to do both without carbohydrates. The most important factor when it comes to carbohydrates is considering the type, timing and volume of carbohydrates in relation to your performance and composition goals. The best type should mostly be low-to-moderate glycemic carbs. The timing of those carbohydrates is contingent upon the goals and preferences of the individual. The volume should be sufficient enough to fuel workout demands yet also be in proportion to the body composition goals of the individual. If you do it right, you can still be shredded and regularly eat a pizza.
The fitness industry, particularly online, is like the American Wild West. Lots of simple goons pedaling their “snake oil” ideologies and programs, only to be reinforced by their “henchmen” who are lacking enough knowledge to reconcile what they are being told with what they know to be factual. The use of medicinally enhanced images and the exploitation of consumer behavior has resulted in many people shelling out dollars for products and programs that aren’t reasonable or are patently false. All these programs and products contain “secrets” that no one else knows about. Individuals will see some results, initially. However, most do not see continued progress and then fall off completely. This is because the majority of the programs or products being sold are gimmicks with shiny packaging or half-truths that will often leave consumers’ physiologic state worse than it was previously. How many people have you seen successfully achieve and maintain their goals utilizing “Keto”? What about “intermittent fasting”? How about “CrossFit”? All of these are valid protocols in their own right depending on the individual circumstances, and the coach applying the regimen. Now, ask yourself how many of these individuals who participate in these regimens regain their losses or injure themselves? Probably the substantial majority.
How do we change the perspective and approach to this toxic “yo-yo” relationship between manically pursuing a gimmicky diet and an exercise program? It starts with a fundamental education about your physiological needs and the nutritional values of foods. Without that knowledge, most people will continue down the path of paying the loudest “Adonis” to tell them, “you just have to be committed and work harder, bro.” Secondly, you should know about what adaptations are garnered from particular training modalities. Furthermore, you should know how these stimuli should be arranged in order to maximize the adaptation you are looking to see. If your goal is to compete in an Olympic-length triathlon, would do you need to resistance train 3-4 times a week? If you don’t have this knowledge you will be hard pressed to determine if your protocol is in line with your goals. Lastly, and most importantly, you need to understand how to determine exercise modalities based off your current movement patterns. I guarantee you that an overwhelming majority of individuals who have purchased an on-line program have done so without having their movement issues screened, much less addressed. Is it reasonable to have an individual do a pull-up if they can’t even complete a set of pull-up negatives? What about a barbell back squat when they cannot yet achieve proper alignment and knee tracking in a body weight squat? Bottom line, if you are not educated or screened on proper movement patterns, it is only a matter of time before you will be addressing a much more significant and self-induced problem. Movement modalities exist on a linear continuum, meaning the individual must master the movement modalities in a hierarchical order. This order is based off their particular movement pattern, and where that pattern lies in the movement continuum. Without this understanding, you will likely injure yourself because there has not been a proper progression to your movement pattern programming. In summary, the most successful and sustainable approach to achieving your exercise, health and body composition goals is rooted in science. Without an understanding of physiological adaptations, nutrition and proper movement patterns you are limiting the potential for long-term success. My recommendation for anyone looking to start a new exercise program or body composition goal is to ask yourself two questions. Do I have enough applicable knowledge to be able to pursue this goal successfully? Do I want to just achieve this goal or do I want to sustain it? The best answer to these questions is rooted in having a science-based foundational knowledge of physiology, nutrition and exercise. Not a “get fit fast” program with a “tummy tea”.