Let me start by offering a little insight as to how this topic came about. A little while back someone had pointed out that squatting to proper depth, albeit is great, it also seems odd that many people don a brace, sleeves or wraps before executing one said lift. In a roundabout way calling the whole deal counterproductive. Our stance falls in line with ‘to each his own’, if of course you are squatting properly and have a fundamental understanding of why you are using them, not depending on them. Needless to say this banter of squatting with wraps and whatnot’s prompted some noteworthy exploration into the world of people who squat with wraps. Having never squatted with them myself I had to grind away some due diligence with the information highway, but also get in the heads of the very people who stand by the lifting gear.
Let’s talk about the science for a moment. Most often I refer to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research to wander through and find pertinent studies or proper citation. Two other informative spectrums I respect are the Polquin Group and Breaking Muscle. Low and behold the study I found in the journal was the very article cited by both Breaking Muscle and Polquin (who would have thunk it?).
So what’s the verdict? To wrap or not to wrap?
To properly answer that question you have to question yourself as to why you’re contemplating or actually using them in the first place. The science completely explains why it helps you lift more, and it isn’t specific to people with knee issues, it’s just what it is… science.
The Pros -It provides joint warmth and can benefit the knee by decreasing intra-joint friction and increasing the elasticity of the supportive joint structures. -You have an increase in mechanical output due to the wraps themselves generating and storing the elastic energy, ultimately increasing peak power.
The Cons -The stored energy actually results in an alternative lift than without support by targeting different muscles throughout the lift. -Without proper joint health you can subsequently compromise the knee – defeating the whole purpose.
So in staying true to what Barbell Republic stands for, it makes sense to us to use them when you reach a certain level of training. If you are new to compound weighted movements via barbell or even early in your tenure of training, then it behooves you and all your working parts to start at ground zero and work your way up. Banded resistance, chains, paused, targeted training on your deficiency for a specific part of a lift, all this fancy stuff should come when you reach a point in training that you cannot break through to your next level of awesomeness by grinding away with the repetition of the lift itself. We truly believe that you have no business wandering out into the world of assistance until you have a firm grasp on the movement itself and proper health of the supportive features, unless of course your goal is rehabbing, then accessory work is right in your wheelhouse. This is why Starting Strength or StrongLifts should remain a beginner’s staple, because it builds the foundation you need to reach heights that may lead you down the road to proper assistance.
Now don’t hear all this mammer jammer and think, “oh man… they totally disagree with the use of sleeves, wraps and anything alike!” cause that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In talking with the strongest squatter we have the pleasure of knowing (the almighty Big Jess/Jesse Anderson/Bearded Beauty with a 931 pound squat), he is a firm believer in the use of wraps and explains it quite similarly to where we stand – There is a time and a place, but never commit to them 100% of the time. During his on and off season there is a gradual buildup to the use of wraps from sleeves, and the sleeves only come after committed time to using nothing at all. Jesse has built the supportive behavior and concrete understanding of the lift to truly take advantage of that roughly 10% increase of peak power on the vertical portion of the lift.
Lifting heavy as possible is downright rad, but smart training gives us longevity in what we’re doing. Do not be afraid to pull back the weight and get back to the basics. Truth be told, that’s one of the best strategies to blow through old personal bests – remembering your roots!
Active or deload week, these are a phenomenal dynamic effort and a valuable spin on the standard box jump. Seated at/or just above parallel you remove the stretch reflex utilized by loading the hamstrings and hips with a standard box jump. The video below isn’t perfect, but I included it because he actually does the initial jump fairly spot on.
Chest up and head up, you rock back briefly (feet coming up a touch), only then to slam the feet down and explode up. Meant to emulate the box squat.
Keep in mind the hands are equally important. As with any good jumper or sprinter you have to utilize the hands and arms correctly. On a jump like this, start with the hands extended out in front of you, eye level. As you perform that brief rock back while bringing the feet off the ground, bring the hands down quickly breaking the angle of the hip, to then snap them up to eye level as you progress through the jump. Even though we’re alleviating that stretch reflex in the legs, we can use the stretch reflex in the upper body.
Overall, using the upper body to its full potential on a box jump, vertical jump or even a broad jump may seem like a “moo” point, but it’s actually what can make the difference between plateauing and setting a new PR.
Let’s be honest, if you know me, then you know my answer immediately, but it still warrants an explanation. In cutting to the chase I can honestly say that everything has its time and place. Would a powerlifter benefit from yoga? Absolutely. Would a yoga’er (official term) benefit from some weighted squats? Absolutely. My hope is that people across the board can learn to appreciate and embrace the things they decide to skip. We all have room for improvement, and sometimes it’s in the form of the most unorthodox way. With that said, do we leg press or squat?
While cruising the internet and a slew of books to try and find anything beyond a personal opinion, it seems as though the real determining factor derives from personal goals and whether or not someone wants to honestly digest the science behind a static machine versus a dynamic compound barbell movement. It seems to be openly accepted by the world of bodybuilding for its use in isolation and overloading, but I wouldn’t go as far to say the world of bodybuilding dictates what should and shouldn’t be priority. There also tends to be trend in the use of leg press and knee rehabilitation. There’s something to be said for being able to isolate one leg at a time and build such supportive measures like the Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO) (The knee has a laundry list of supportive factors that keep it primed and stable, so I’m going to spare the knee dissertation and just use the VMO as a good example). The leg press has the advantage in that it allows us to strengthen the leg as a whole without diving into full range of motion weighted squats, which may need to be built upon before executing. You don’t hit the track in a full blown sprint after tearing an ACL, so we must learn to appreciate the baby steps.
I’ve heard and read chatter about the leg press being bad for you lower back. Having used the machine myself I couldn’t really logic my way through it when considering it being done correctly, after all, anything can be bad for the back when done incorrectly. This lead me to venture out into the world wide information highway and seek some confirmation on whether this is true or not.
“The leg press sometimes causes the pelvis to rotate away from the back rest when the weight is lowered. The resultant lumbar flexion produces herniating conditions for the disc!”
-Dr. Stuart Mcgill
This comes straight from his book Low Back Disorders. T-Nation did an interview with him and like they so boldly reiterate, “If you’re going to argue with a professor who has over 300 peer-reviewed publications, you better bring you’re a-game”. The point is, the man knows what he is talking about and it can be counterproductive, but so can any exercise when done with caution thrown to the wind.
Bodybuilding and rehab aside, is there any evidence to promote one over the other? ALAS! There is! The Journal of Strength and Conditioning conducted a study to compare the leg press and barbell squat. They had a group of individuals who worked out on a regular basis do leg press one week, rest up, and then barbell squats the next. They drew blood before, during and immediately after (as well as 30, 60 and 90 minute periods) the exercise to evaluate enzymes and hormonal levels. While not a surprise in itself, the actual difference was staggering! Squats produced higher levels of both testosterone and growth hormone. Not only did growth hormone increase a whopping 200% during squats compared to leg press, they stayed elevated 30 minutes after the workout for a mind blowing 100%. I hate to say it, but… SCIENCE! If these numbers don’t speak for themselves, I’m afraid there’s little hope in helping someone understand the relevance of squats. The study, while a small group, had equivalent increases across the board, not fluky numbers that can be skewed for ulterior motives.
The big picture – there is a time and place for everything, BUT… if we are forced to choose one over the other, I’m afraid squats take the prize. Free standing barbell movements puts the body in an amazing position to provide its own internal stability. Talk about all systems go! I mean, essentially everything from your feet up play a huge role in making sure you don’t crumple into a ball of goo. So there’s my take on it.
Someone once asked me what it was I thought was the single most beneficial supplement to help in aiding fat loss, to which I replied, “Hard work.” After a quick har har har I explained myself a bit more specifically – nothing will work unless you do. Plain and simple. Having said that, I suppose it’s dealer’s choice as to what takes the title for best supplement in aiding fat loss. Caffeine? Green tea extract? B vitamins? Vitamin D? Calcium? Protein? Omega 3’s? CLA? Truth is, they all have their place in fat loss, but I want to shift my focus on a supplement that is a staple to some, yet foreign to others – l Carnitine.
Do I have to supplement it?
Similar to the above mentioned supplements, l-carnitine can be consumed through a well balance diet. Carnitine typically hangs out in red meat, but can be found in other forms of food like avocados and soy beans. Unlike creatine’s sensitive breakdown during its cook time, carnitine doesn’t necessarily breakdown, but you can shoot for higher amounts by keeping the meat as red as digestibly possible. Where the line gets foggy: trying to keep doses regulated through food. It is unknown in regards to dosing how much you will or will not get through food alone. Maybe you’re getting the right amount one day and falling extremely short another? Problem is, you just don’t know. This is where supplementation becomes more than ideal. We can now properly time and dose what it is we are choosing to take in. Huge positive. Additionally, there is no recommended daily dose, so deciding where to keep that sweet spot is relative. The Human Performance Resource Center quoted as high as 300mg/kg being administered without any apparent toxicity. In the end, 2-4 grams a day seems to be agreed upon by the masses.
There can be some misconceptions about l-carnitine as far as it being potentially dangerous – that can almost undoubtedly be proven false with good research. Carnitine is made in the body by the liver and kidneys and as much as 95% is stored is stored in the heart and skeletal muscles. It is an amino that plays a critical role in transporting fat into the cells to eventually convert into energy. Most fats are long chained, which for easy explanation can translate into meaning longer times needed to digest and do its primary directive. Just as carbohydrates can be categorized into fast or slow acting, so can fats (real butter and coconut oil are examples of medium chain fats, or faster absorbing). The point in explaining some quick basics is to then help understand that carnitine works more specifically with longer chained fatty acids and is essential. This stuff is very necessary for our bodies, things are just amplified once we look at the sedentary person compared to the active person. All this positive talk wouldn’t be fair unless a negative were addressed, like how some studies link carnitine to cardiovascular consequences (cardiovascular disease) and cancer. With enough research you too can find that no concrete evidence can back these wild claims. The closest thing I found was an article in Nature Medicine (2013) that made such claims, based on the idea that a gastrointestinal toxin provoked by read meat (and/or l-carnitine) promotes atherosclerosis. Just as easy as that article was found, a refute written in an editorial in the Nutrition & Food Sciences disproved this by explaining it isn’t the carnitine causing the toxin to then ultimately cause the internal degradation, instead the toxic build up is a result of poor kidney function. It even went as far to explain that halibut produces 100 times more of the said toxin, but with proper kidney function any given person will excrete most of this toxin via urine. All of this to say that l-carnitine can in most cases be considered as safe as vitamin c.
So where do we sit as far as performance? Well, I haven’t found anything directly related to performance being boosted as a result from supplementing l-carnitine, but that doesn’t mean it lacks benefits. We can use it to target fat loss when limiting calories or limit fat gain when your calories are increased during “bulking”. Due to the action carnitine has in mobilizing fat, it has become a go to for people dieting down. Often taken before a session of cardio or a workout in general, it can serve as a sort of “furnace effect” in that it will help mobilize fat for energy during these intense periods, ideally preserving muscle. Knowing what we know about it, it would then make sense why people opt to take it when increasing their calories to add muscle. Adding muscle without fat is hard enough, but supplementing l-carnitine during periods of these high calorie times, one can ideally limit fat gain use by mobilizing fat for energy and preserving the carbs and protein to build and repair muscle.
How do I take it?
As mentioned above the dose varies from person to person because there is no set dietary minimum or maximum. That said, professionals tend to agree that 2-3 grams taken with a meal will render its highest potential benefit before a workout. L-carnitine is absorbed more easily with food, so it goes to say that in most scenarios it will benefit you by doing so. That doesn’t mean the true blue fans of taking it on an empty stomach first thing in the morning before grinding out some fasted cardio are flat out wrong, it’s just their cup of tea. I prefer to take 2-3 grams before I work out and 3-4 grams before my biggest meal of the day. While I’m not currently trying to shed fat, I’m also not packing on the pounds despite my diet being in question post competition.
In the end
I’ve met two types of people when dealing with carnitine: the type who loves it, and the type who doesn’t know much about it. I’m not suggesting to be a specialist on the stuff, but I believe in it and I’m sure with proper research and a regimented supplementation… you will too.
We’ve all been told the same old story about how important it is to drink 8 glasses of water a day, and how the body is 65-75% water in a hydrated individual, but how often do you see the WHY? Why 8 glasses? Is that for you, or me, or does it not matter? What about the HOW? How is the body made up of so much water, yet regularly people fall short on a daily basis to consume the coveted 8 glasses… and they don’t die? For those individuals it makes sense to assume that water makeup will inevitably drop to a lower percentage… then lower… then lower, right? What is too low? I get that it’s a dramatic example, but really, why all the fuss about water?
The Fun Facts:
Water is by far the most abundant frame-worker in the body. It meticulously touches many of our daily functions including the transport of oxygen, nutrients, and waste products both in and out of our cells. Considering the fact water is a necessity in all avenues of both digestion and absorption, lubricates the mucous membranes in the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and respiratory tract, and serves as the medium for most chemical reactions in the body, you can see how paramount your level of hydration then becomes. Water accounts for 35% of what’s cruising along in your arteries and veins, and 65% of what’s beyond that. I repeat… 35% of what is coursing through your veins and retuned to your heart is water! That is huge! Especially when you consider what the heart then does with that retuned blood (runs it through the lungs for fresh oxygen), more specifically, pumps it out to literally touch every aspect of your functioning body. Are you piecing together yet how this affects even the layperson, let alone someone who is enduring rigorous work or training?
The Sad Facts:
Due to its relevant nature water then becomes either friend or foe (in a case of lack there of) to an individual. Since this is the “Sad Facts”, let us use the example of a person who under hydrates – How is this so harmful? I guess the simplest way to illustrate this is to look at the 35% water makeup that composes our blood. This very blood either supplies every inch of our body with oxygen rich blood to properly function at its highest capacity, or retrieves the waste and/or unneeded elements to be find its way out of the body. Losing any of this 35% leaves your body looking for the almighty homeostasis, and it does so by drawing out water from outside sources and/or intrinsically starting a variety of cascades to tell the body, “preserve what we have!” Whether it’s a mountainous cascade or redistributing water to compensate, all of this takes energy to conduct. None of this is a free pass, and take a guess at what plays an enormous role in metabolic reactions involving energy production? You got it, WATER! So now we have a body that internally is working harder to no fault of its own all because you decided the liquid in soda or juice is more than enough water to keep you on par (that is a whole other can of worms, so we’ll stay on topic). The heart begins to pick up speed leading to an increase in breathing to keep up with what the body is cycling in and out of our system. It’s a vicious cycle. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Take this into account as well – as your body’s overall water count steadily drops, the core temperature raises. This becomes a huge damper when someone tackles physical activity which innately increases your core temp. Which you guessed it – thermal increases also increase the heart and its workload. The faster things are moving the more sugar you burn through and the more lactic acid you accumulate. To an athlete this whole vicious cycle is flat out detrimental! When you truly think about what it is our blood keeps going, the trickling effect down to even the smallest of things, you can easily see how chronic dehydration can render severe consequences or even acute dehydration can persuade someone’s performance.
Some More Fun Facts:
The beauty of this all – the body is smarter than you. In the end, your body can and will make so many adjustments just to keep things running smoothly, so much that you sometimes have to push its limits to even notice things are off. Don’t think after all I said in the above writing that I’m downplaying staying hydrated, because piggyback on the fact that in most scenarios are body can hold it together to a high threshold before you feel it, but that’s the problem – by then you are way behind.
Understanding What You Need
The 8 glasses of water works out to 64 ounces or 1.9 liters, which is only one-half gallon of water. This may seem like a lot to some and nothing to others, but let’s put it into some perspective. The average person who lives averagely from sunrise to sunset loses close to a liter of water just through breathing and 1.5 liters through urination. Think about that – just existing, not doing anything extraordinary you lose more water than you take in, if of course you abide by the 8 glasses rule. This doesn’t account for water taken in through certain types of food, of course there are many variables to this whole thing, but we’re just talking from the standpoint of an average individual being gloriously average. This discrepancy prompted The Institute of Medicine to redefine the parameters in which we use to address water intake. They even went as far as to account for typical water intake through food, but still amounted a whopping 3 liters or 101 ounces for men and 2.2 liters or 72 ounces for women as the daily recommended water intake. This again is for the layperson, not accounted is the athlete or construction worker. Unfortunately for the people who live beyond average lives with varying activity levels, it’s a game of “knowing your body”. It’s been said that a good rule of thumb is to drink an extra 12 ounces of water for every 30 minutes of working out. It’s a worthwhile starting point, but remember it’s completely relative from individual to individual.
Here’s the kicker, you can overdo it. Paracelsus, a 16th century scientist took a bold stance that anything, dependent on dose, can be poisonous. The American Chemistry Society released a YouTube video showing all it takes is 6 liters to kill a 165 pound man. For some athletes that is nothing in regards to consumption of water, but again, even water is relative. How can water be so toxic? The short – one of the many functions the kidneys serve is to flush out what we don’t need and keep what we do. There comes a point that you can overwhelm the kidney and inevitable turn it on you by allowing much of this overdone water remain in your system, essentially watering down insanely important electrolytes. Sodium (Na) and Potassium (K) virtually keep your heart going by way of a 24/7 run Na/K pump, Calcium (C) plays a huge role in muscular contractility and its essential function, Magnesium (Mg) plays roles in countering that of calcium by being a potent smooth muscle relaxer, the list goes on. All of these electrolytes begin to lose sight of what their roles are, and especially sodium, which is a huge player in the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord. The excess water dilutes the cells and voila! You are not on a straight path to seizure – coma – death. Womp womp womp.
The Best News
It’s really simple. As stated above, it’s just about being mindful of your daily activity and recognizing that water should be your first go-to when trying to quench thirst – your body will thank you. If you’re out in the sun and/or sweating excessively, you’re losing both water and electrolytes, so be mindful and consume a sports drink, but get this, match it with water as well – your body will thank you. I cannot recall where I read it, but a certain study on water and athletes suggested something as simple as 20 ounces of water 2-3 hours before activity will help prime the body and be ahead of the curve when it comes to potentially dehydrating once activity commences. That doesn’t mean you’re out of the park, you still have to hydrate during whatever activity you take on, and equally important for hydration is once your activity ends. Many of our body’s daily “issues” can come back to not being properly hydrated. That isn’t to say it cannot be something more, but the harsh reality is that subtle and/or severe effects of skimping on the water are real. So drink up.
Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “ Make sure to stay hydrated, or you might die.” Just kidding, but the truth still remains – stay hydrated!