Combating the Deep Freeze: Strategies to Optimize Performance in Cold Environments

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

A massive swath of the contiguous United States is once again enveloped by record breaking, near mercury solidifying temperatures. Actually, the aforementioned allegory is not that great of an exaggeration. Temperatures approaching -37°F, the point at which mercury begins to crystallize, have been recorded throughout the northern portion of the continental United States, most recently on Friday, February 13th in Watertown, NY, which experienced a low temperature of -30°F.

In addition to altering the properties of mercury, extremely cold environments are capable of impacting hypothalamic functioning, thereby triggering thermoregulatory functions which are governed by the body’s autonomic nervous system such as: voluntary shivering, non-shivering thermogenesis, and periperhal vasodilation. Each of these processes raises heat production, in turn, helping maintain body temperature closer to its physiological baseline, which in humans is 98.6°F.

When heat production via metabolic processes cannot satisfy heat losses, which largely transpire through water and air, conditions including chilblain, frostbite, or hypothermia may arise. Heat loss becomes magnified when the skin makes contact with colder water, as water possesses a thermal conductivity which is 25 times greater than that of air, meaning that heat loss occurs more rapidly when the body is exposed to water.

Exercise is rather limited in its capacity to offset heat losses associated with exercise. Thermal energy, more specifically, heat, is transferred through four key thermoregulatory processes:

  • Conduction, which is mentioned above, involves direct contact with a cooler object. Individuals suffering from heat illnesses and those who are attempting to allay inflammation associated with physical activity often practice cold water immersion, or CWI, which serves a conductive medium that allows for the dissipation of heat. However, unintentional and prolonged CWI is not advisable while exercising.
  • Convection, which involves the movement of air or water over the skin. This process occurs when individuals are running and/or biking during warmer weather and experience a breeze. This cooling breeze is actually created by their movement. The effects of radiation are magnified in colder weather.
  • Radiation, which requires the surrounding temperature to be cooler than the body. If the air temperature is cooler than the body, than prolonged exposure may cause a drop in body temperature if voluntary and involuntary metabolic processes are unable to nullify heat losses.
  • Evaporation, which occurs when perspiration and water evaporate from the skin.

Colder weather also presents significant challenges to the athlete and fitness and/or strength and conditioning professional, as it reduces exercise capacity, since a bulk of metabolic functioning is now being devoted to staving off heat losses. Instead of supporting exercise conducted at greater intensities, glycogen is being utilized to fuel shivering and non-shivering thermogenesis. Colder environments also make individuals more susceptible to exercise induced bronchospasms, as chilled air that is taken up by the mouth and nose and traveling through the airway may compromise pulmonary function. Further, aerobic capacity may be reduced as the body now has to “warm up” the cold air that is being inhaled, thus slightly delaying the delivery of oxygenated blood to thirsty muscles. Nervous system functioning, including activation, discharge frequency of motor neurons, and acetylcholine activity are impaired by colder environments.

Exercising in cold weather requires special care. The considerations below should be adhered to if decrements in performance and compromised safety are to be avoided:

  • Clothing should be multilayered to better insulate the body, thus enhancing its ability to maintain core temperature. Layers should include: a base layer to transport moisture away from the skin and disperse it to above layers where it can evaporate. Non-wicking, synthetic textiles, such as polyester and polypropylene are suggested; a middle layer composed of a thicker or denser material such as wool or fleece to “trap” warm air close to the body. Wool and fleece are suggested due to their water resistant properties; lastly, an outer layer should shield you from the environment, which can include water and/or wind. Extremities should remain covered as a significant amount of heat loss occurs at the head. In colder weather, blood is shunted away from the extremities to preserve visceral functioning and health. Reduced blood flow inhibits strength and muscle function of the extremities, and more profoundly, makes them more susceptible to frostbite.
  • Warm-ups should be lengthened and administered with gradual progressions in intensity as tolerated. The practice of overdressing can be utilized, which involves multiple layers of clothes and a subsequent removal based on comfort level and the achievement of maintenance of a body temperature is established. Additional measures to facilitate the warm-up may include: taking a warm shower prior to exercise, a useful practice, especially, if you do not have to travel a great distance or have to wait for a prolonged amount of time before exercising; cranking up the heat in your automobile, or applying certain topical liniments which promote vasodilation. Drinking warm beverages prior to exercising in the cold anecdotally seem to help, as does consuming caffeinated beverages, since caffeine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and the triggers the activity of the apocrine glands, which produce sweat.
  • If you have to train early in the morning, or are relegated to performing compound movements in the not-so comfort of a cold garage or gym, consider incorporating your assistance movements prior to the main lifts, provided they don’t significantly interfere with their safety performance. You may also use certain assistance exercises to activate dormant muscle groups and/or perform them in a circuit-like fashion with a number of exercises to elevate body temperature. Lightly loaded exercises and those performed with elasticized bands and bodyweight will often do the trick.
  • Fueling and hydration strategies are still vitally important in ensuring optimal health and performance. Since energetic demands are increased in cold weather (up to 400 kcal / hour), it would be best to ingest more calorically dense foods and items that contain greater amounts of carbohydrates prior to, during, and following exercise. Hydration status also needs to be paid close attention. And since cold blunts an already misleading thirst mechanism, hydration strategies similar to exercising in warmer environments should be practiced.



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Fitter U Q&A February 2015

A Fitter U Q&A: February 2015


Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

Coordinator of Fitness Programs

Drexel Recreation Center

Drexel Recreation’s resident fitness expert, Joe Giandonato will be fielding questions each month from employees, students, and members and addressing topics related to strength training, weight loss, injury prevention and health education.

  1. “I’m interested in climbing. Do I need to be able hold a certain fraction of my body weight in order to climb?” – Sathiavanee V.

Rock climbing is an awesome activity which imposes a significant physiological demand on the musculoskeletal system. Did you know that climbing for one hour burns more than twice the amount of calories than vigorous strength training does and eclipses the metabolic demand of boot camp and cross training style classes conducted at an equivalent duration? Not only does rock climbing pack a powerful metabolic punch, it also serves as an ample strength building stimulus for a number of muscle groups, including the back, shoulders, arms, legs, and the core.

In an activity such as rock climbing, technique is just as, if not more, important than strength. Learning how to climb and developing a style which best suits your existing abilities will serve you much better than aimlessly trying to get stronger.

“While being strong certainly helps, if you are able to climb a ladder, you will be able to climb a wall,” says Drew Deming, Coordinator of Climbing and Experiential Learnig.

Drew also chimed in with the following helpful recommendations in getting started:

  1. Learn technique by mastering ascents on easier routes.
  2. Easier routes require more lower body strength than upper body strength to propel you upward.
  3. It would be wise to start incorporating some type of strength training, particularly involving exercises to strengthen the muscle groups involved in climbing.

Drew advises that anyone who is interested in climbing, should stop by the wall, which faces 34th Street and is located on the second floor of the Rec Center, for additional information or instruction.

  1. “Is swimming a sufficient way for a beginner, like me, to get in shape?” – Ellonda G.

Swimming is another excellent activity, and like climbing, imposes a great demand on the body, particularly, the cardiopulmonary system.

Swimming, like many forms of cardiovascular exercise, is accompanied by a plethora of benefits, consequently conferring the following health improvements:

– Cardiovascular efficiency, which is characterized by a collective reduction in: systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial pressures and heart rate at rest and exercise conducted at varying intensities and enhanced blood redistribution (process of shunting blood to visceral organs and redirecting it to working musculature).

– Ventilatory efficiency, which is denoted by aggregate increase in tidal volume and breathing frequency during exercise conducted at higher intensities.

– Increased enzymatic activity and mobilization capacity by way of mitochondrial proliferation.

– Increased RBC secretion affording enhanced oxygen carrying capacity

– Elevated blood plasma volume

– Enhanced thermoregulatory functioning

Other added benefits of swimming include it being a more welcoming form of cardiovascular exercise for those suffering with asthma, as the warm, humid air eminating from the surface of the water helps dilate the airways and ideal for those with orthopedic issues that may not be able to otherwise participate in physical activity.

Swimming, unlike most forms of traditional cardiovascular exercise, does not adequately strengthen bone due to the buoyancy property of water, in spite of water having greater density. With that said, swimming should be complimented by regimented resistance training to confer improvements in bone mineralization and to stave off common injuries associated with swimming, such as knee, shoulder, and lower back conditions which may arise from overuse or reliance on a particular stroke.

The intensity and duration of your swimming workouts should be guided by your experience and comfort level. As with all cardiovascular exercise, success hinges on proper progression. Suggested guidelines are as follows:

  1. 20-60 minutes of continuous or intermittent aerobic activity or for lesser conditioned individuals, multiple, shorter duration sessions (i.e. 5-10 minutes).
  2. 3 to 5 days per week.
  3. Increase variables such as duration or intensity (speed) one at a time.
  4. Increase duration by 10% per week once desired distance is achieved.
  5. Begin to increase the intensity between 5-10% at the conclusion of each week, provided the distance goal is met.

A strength training program for swimmers should involve shoulder care and exercises to improve hip mobility, core stability, and posterior chain strength. Many competitive swimmers engage in “dryland training”, a common practice which includes resistance training, to enhance their performance in the pool. Often times, dryland training is performed in a circuit-like fashion utilizing simple bodyweight exercises. Refer below for a sample circuit:

  1. Glute Bridge 1 x :30
  2. Push Up 1 x 10
  3. Step Up on low box 1 x 10
  4. Scapular Wall Slide 1 x 10
  5. Squat 1 x 10
  6. Plank 1 x :30

Repeat two to three more times, resting between exercises as necessary.


  1. “Why should I measure my recovery heart rate after exercising? What is a good target for my maximum and recovery heart rate?” – Stephanie D.

Recently, recovery heart rate has received a lot of press within the fitness industry. Before, the amount of time it took you to achieve a percentage of your max heart rate via a graded exercise test served as the gold standard measure of an individual’s cardiorespiratory fitness. Fitness professionals and coaches are now examining heart rate recovery more closely as many sports and activities require repeated bouts of energy and subsequent periods of recovery. Simply asked, what good is being able to run, jump, and lift, if you can’t recover well enough to do it again?

Why is Heart Rate Recovery So Important?

Heart rate recovery is defined as the reduction in heart rate from peak exercise to a predetermined heart rate throughout a fixed duration. Heart rate recovery has been used as an indicator to assess Coronary Artery Disease risk. Delayed recovery within a two minute window post exercise was found to be predictive of CAD and subsequent mortality. An earlier study conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, revealed that heart rates which do not reduce by 12 beats per minute following one minute after exercise are associated with increased mortality.

In order to dictate proper training intensities or target heart rate zones, you must first establish your maximum heart rate. Don’t worry, it won’t involve actually testing for it. Tests of that magnitude are conducted in controlled settings such as laboratories with qualified personnel on hand to provide emergency care, if necessary. Instead, all you’ll need to know is: 1) your age and 2) basic algebra. Use the Tanaka Formula below to calculate your estimate maximal heart rate:

Tanaka Formula

208 – (0.7 x Age) = Estimated Maximum Heart Rate

Since I do not know your exact age, I’ll plug in mine (30 years old) in the example below. Provided that I am not too rusty with my basic algebra, I should be fine in figuring out my estimated maximum heart rate.

208 – (0.7 x 30) =

208 – 21 = 187 BPM

So my estimated max heart rate is 187 beats per minute. There is one caveat, the calculation does’t take into account a person’s fitness level or any medical conditions. Highly trained individuals, especially including those who engage in endurance training, may be able to achieve higher heart rates. Lesser conditioned persons, elderly, and those with compromised cardiovascular functioning may not be able to safely achieve their age estimated heart rate max.

Besides, redlining is not ideal in any situation. Just ask your car’s engine.

As such, I have provided a way to calculate target heart rate zones using you heart rate reserve.

Your heart rate reserve or HRR, is the difference between your age estimated maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate. Since I don’t know yours, I’ll plug in my resting heart rate which is 58 beats per minute. The benefit of using HRR to construct target heart rate zones is that it accounts for one’s current level of fitness as indicated by their resting heart rate.

HRR = Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) – Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

HRR = 187 – 58

HRR = 129

  • At 60% of HRR (moderately intense exercise – fat and glycogen utilized for energy production)

HRR at 60% = [(MHR-RHR) x (60%)] + RHR

129 x .60 + 58 = 135 bpm

  • At 70% of HRR (moderately intense exercise – fat and glycogen utilized for energy production)

HRR at 70% = [(MHR-RHR) x (70%)] + RHR

129 x .70 + 58 = 148 bpm

  • At 80% of HRR (very intense exercise – predominant glycogen utilization for energy production)

HRR at 80% = [(MHR-RHR) x (80%)] + RHR

129 x .80 + 66 = 161 bpm



  1. Cole, C.R., Blackston, E.H., Pashkow, F.J., et al. (1999). Heart-rate recovery immediately after exercise as a predictor of mortality. New England Journal of Medicine, 341, 18,  1351–1357.
  1. Lipinski, M.J., Vetrovec, G.W., & Froelicher, V.F. (2004). Importance of the first two minutes of heart rate recovery after exercise treadmill testing in predicting mortality and the presence of coronary artery disease in men. American Journal of Cardiology, 93, 445-449.

Please send your questions to Joe at or drop by his office at the Rec Center, which is located in Room 310 on the third floor, nearest to the 33rd street side of the building.

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A Fitter Q&A

A Fitter U Q&A: January 2015 with

Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS
Coordinator of Fitness Programs
Drexel Recreation Center

Drexel Recreation’s resident fitness expert, Joe Giandonato will be fielding questions each month from employees, students, and members and addressing topics related to strength training, weight loss, injury prevention and health education.

Do you suggest using weight machines or utilizing free weights?

1. “Should I do cardio or weight training first?” – Reynaldo D.

That’s a great question and it often serves as a common dilemma for many gym goers. Before we discuss bioenergetic and biomechanical implications, the sequencing of exercise modalities largely depend on an individual’s priorities, which are rooted in a combination of needs and goals. Performing cardiovascular exercise at higher intensities (classified as 80% of Heart Rate Reserve or greater) prior to weight training can deplete glycogen stores which are needed to support weight training. A state of depleted skeletal muscle glycogen is capable of impairing maximal strength and has been proven amplifying fatigue
occurring as a result of isokinetic exercise (1). While research has demonstrated that chronically depleted glycogen stores can recruit glycolytically dependent fast twitch fibers (2), it stands to reason that this may be a long term adaptation, since oxidative slow twitch fibers are predominatly utilized during cardiovascular exercise.

It is crucial that an individual not be fatigued prior to engaging in weight training. Obviously, performing compound exercises with appreciable loads following
exercise which may have exhausted glycogen levels, can elevate injury risk. The accretion of metabolites, which include inorganic phosphate and lactate, an elevation of hydrogen ions, and increase of blood plasma acidity collectively stemming from prior exercise, is not an environment which is conducive to muscular contractility.

As such, intensive weight training should precede extensive cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise conducted at higher intensities (80%+ HRR) should precede cardiovascular exercise performed at lower intensities (60-79% HRR) and (40-59%). Within a training session, exercises utilized to develop maximal strength should be performed first. Subsequently performed exercise can transition from neurally dependent pathways to more metabolically dependent ones.

2. “What would you recommend for a quick 20-30 minute workout over lunch?” – Michael B.

For time constrained individuals, I would suggest circuit training involving one or all of the following: weighted object (i.e. dumbbell, weight plate, kettlebell) elastic bands or tubing, and one’s bodyweight. I would advise
selecting two exercises for the lower body (i.e. swings and squats), two exercises for the upper body (i.e. push ups and banded rows), one exercise for the core (i.e. planks) and another for the arms (banded biceps curls) and/or upper back
(banded pull aparts). Exercises for the lower body and upper body should be alternated to maximize efficiency and to increase the amount of work performed in the allotted time.

Here is a sample circuit which can performed within 20 minutes, which gives you the rest of your hour lunch break, to walk across campus to the gym and hopefully shower before you head back to work.

1. Swings (performed with a dumbbell or kettlebell) – 20 repetitions
2. Push Ups (performed from toes or knees) – 20 repetitions
3. Squats with Counterbalance (performed with weight held in front of body) – 20 repetitions
4. Banded Rows (affix band to stable and stationary object) – 20 repetitions
5. Plank x 1:00
6. Banded Biceps Curls – 20 repetitions
7. Banded Pull Aparts – 20 repetitions

Perform 2-3 sequences and punctuate each set with either :30 of active rest (jogging in place, jumping rope, cycling) or passive rest (standing, walking), depending on your fitness level.

3. “Can ketoacidosis occur by following a ketogenic diet?” – Sammie L.

Before we delve any further, let’s clearly define each of the terms in the aforementioed question. Ketoacidosis is a condition characterized by an excessive amount of circulating ketone bodies which lowers blood pH, and for those with compromised metabolic functioning, such as diabetics and alcoholics, possesses the ability to be fatal.
A ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate diet which stimulates the production of ketone bodies within the liver. Ketone production stems from decreased energy intake, namely a reduction in carbohydrates.

In the absence of nutrients, ketone bodies enter the citric acid cycle, where they are converted into acetyl coenzyme A, a component which catalyzes fatty acid and carbohydrate metabolism. The ultimate goal of a ketogenic diet is to achieve a state of ketosis, in which the ketone bodies serve as the body’s preferred source of energy. However, operating in a ketotic state is somewhat inefficient and is not sustainable, especially, if regularly performing high intensity exercise is expected. The duration necessary to arrive at ketosis is highly variable, however, a safe bet is that it takes about seven days. An individual’s existing metabolic health, body composition, and activity levels all influence how long it may take to become ketotic and how impactful becoming ketotic will be.

The route from ketosis to ketoacidosis is even less direct, but it can be hastened if nutritional intake is suppressed and/or if an individual engages
in excessive physical activity. Ketoacidosis should be avoided at all costs.

So yes, you run a greater chance of slipping into ketoacidosis if you follow a ketogenic diet, however, you will likely need to establish a formidable imbalance between physical activity and nutrition.

4. “I am an avid runner who often competes in 5K races, and at times, experience knee pain. What can I do to prevent knee pain?” – Taryn D.

Distance running is an activity typically characterized by continous movements of low amplitude and high frequency, amounting to shorter stride lengths. Running longer distances requires less force output when compared to running shorter distances, since energy must be presereved for the duration of the activity. A shorter stride length is accompanied by greater moment forces of flexion and extension occurring at the knee joint, which pull on tendinous and ligamentous structures and create instability and in many instances, consequent pain. It is essential that the muscles of the core, which stabilize the lumbar spine and hips, as well as the posterior chain muscles, which extend and abduct the hips, be targeted within a complimentary strength training program. Your knee pain is the likely result of a muscular imbalance which has been exacerbated by continued running. It pains me to see many runners, including accomplished ones, eschewing what can be a vital cog in their success as athletes and prolonging their functionality.

5. “I am interested in becoming certified as a personal trainer, what do I need to do?” – Vijay E.

I commend you on your interest and desire in becoming a fitness professional. It’s an exciting and rewarding profession and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our field is projected to experience growth, especially as the Baby Boomer generation, a large faction of our population grows older. While working in a gym may seem cool to outsiders since you are able to don athletic attire to work each day and seemingly workout at
your own leisure during the day, it involves a lot of hard work and patience to succeed. The field is loosely regulated and has little to no barrier of entry for those interested in joining the ranks. However, since you’re affiliated with Drexel, I assume that you want to be successful, so I would highly encourage that you pursue a certification which is recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, such as the American College of Sports Medicine, National Academy of Sports Medicine, or the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Alternatively, you may consider a certification through the World Instructor Training School, an organization recognized by the US Department of Education, in which you may be able to earn credits toward your degree.

I would also suggest that you complete your formal education, even if it is not fitness related, as having a degree will open up many doors professionally and will make you eligible to earn advanced or specialty certifications such as the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist credential offered by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, which requires a bachelor’s degree to sit for the exam. But once you get certified, it’s far from over. You may need to complete an internship and will more than likely have to maintain your certification by earning continuing education units. For more information, I encourage you to contact me directly.


1. Jacobs, I., Kaiser, P., & Tesch, P. (1981). Muscle strength and fatigue after selective glycogen depletion in human skeletal muscle fibers.
Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol, 46, 47-53.

2. Krustrup, P., Söderlund, K., Mohr, M., & Bangsbo, J. (2004). Slow-twitch fiber glycogen depletion elevates moderate-exercise fast-twitch fiber activity and O2 uptake.
Med Sci Sports Exerc, 36, 973-82.

Please send your questions to Joe at or drop by his office at the Rec Center, which is located in Room 310 on the third floor, nearest to the 33rd street side of the building.

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Snowy Day Shape Up

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS


Beat the post-holiday blues and burn calories with innovative home based workouts.

Holiday season, which in the western world spans from Thanksgiving to New Years, giving rise to inordinate stress and associated poor health choices. This time of the year, especially for northern regions is synonymous with inclement and bitter weather, posing as yet another obstacle in beginning an exercise program or adhering to an existing one.

An investigation on weight gain, occurring between Thanksgiving to New Years, revealed an average weight gain of 0.37 kg, however, among sedentary individuals, who were classified as overweight or obese, weight gains exceeding 2.3 kg were reported (3).

Knowing that a lack of time coupled with the unpredictable weather may disrupt your workout routine, members of the personal training staff at the Rec Center have assembled simple workouts and tips to help you stave off unwanted pounds and/or get a jumpstart on your New Year’s resolutions, giving one of these workouts a try is definitely worth your while.

Bodyweight Blast

For second year physical therapy student and personal trainer, Akil Piggott, finding the time to workout is tough, especially when each day is jam packed with attending classes and studying. Akil, an ACSM Health and Fitness Specialist, suggests performing bodyweight exercises as they require no additional equipment and can be performed conveniently in your home.

Akil’s Workout:

Repeat the following sequence three times:

  1. Reverse Lunges with Kick x 25 repetitions each side
  2. Burpees x 15 repetitions
  3. Mountain Climbers x 15 repetitions each side
  4. Bodyweight Squats x 25 repetitions
  5. Oblique Twists x 15 repetitions each side
  6. Push Ups x 15 to 25 repetitions (can be performed with either knees or toes as the pivot point)

Perform the sequence with little to no rest between exercises.

Keeping strong when most of your waking hours are spent on the pitch can be challenging, just ask Maty Brennan, who recently concluded his collegiate soccer career at Drexel. During long seasons, Maty would rely on bodyweight exercises to maintain his strength. While traveling, Maty utilized a workout similar to the one appearing below:

Maty’s Workout:

Stationary dynamic warm up consisting of: butt kicks, high knees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and lunges

Complete three sets of a total body exercise, performed explosively, which can include one of the following: burpees, jump squats, plyometric push-ups with a clap

Alternate three to five sets of an upper body strength exercise with a lower body strength exercise from the lists below:

Upper Body: push-up, pull up, or inverted row (using stable object or a suspension system), hand stand push-ups (supported or unsupported)

Lower Body: squat, step up, rear foot elevated split squat, glute bridge

Core: sit up, crunch, leg raises, plank, side plank, oblique twists, bicycles

Maty advises that the number of repetitions performed should be based on a person’s capabilities and goals. For those who are bit newer to the exercises, is advisable to keep the repetitions fewer per set in order to establish proper motor engrams. Once a certain exercise has been mastered, Maty suggests to increase the repetitions to make each set, and the entire workout, more metabolically demanding.

Logan McIntosh, an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and newest addition to the personal training team, put together a one-time workout which is not designed for the faint of heart. Burpees performed in a descending repetitions scheme are paired with push-ups which increase with each subsequent set. Doing so will reduce injury risk as fatigue becomes a factor. If you are proud that you’ve survived that part, Logan snuck in some planks at the end, ensuring that you’ll keep your core strong enough to dismantle and pack away decorations after the holidays.

Logan’s Workout:

Burpees x 10 repetitions

Push Up x 1 repetition

Burpees x 9 repetitions

Push Ups x 2 repetitions

Burpees x 8 repetitions

Push Ups x 3 repetitions

Burpees x 7 repetitions

Push Ups x 4 repetitions

Burpees x 6 repetitions

Push Ups x 5 repetitions

Burpees x 5 repetitions

Push Ups x 6 repetitions

Burpees x 4 repetitions

Push Up x 7 repetitions

Burpees x 3 repetitions

Push Up x 8 repetitions

Burpees x 2 repetitions

Push Up x 9 repetitions

Burpee x 1 repetitions

Push Ups x 10 repetitions

Plank 5 x 1:00

Master Movements and Mobility

Nick Deacon, one of our longest tenured team members and also an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, suggests dedicating the winter break getting good at the basics.

Can’t perform a full depth squat? Find new positions and hang out down there for a few minutes every day.

Can’t do a push up? Gradually decrease your leverage over the break, beginning with push-ups performed on a few steps and work your way down the floor one step at a time.

Nick advises catching up on flexibility and mobility by stretching and foam rolling, which in turn, will help you achieve greater ranges of motion thus improving your ability to squat, hinge, push, and pull.

Correct Muscular Imbalances

Deficits in flexibility and mobility in conjunction with muscular imbalances can render simple tasks unnecessarily arduous. I personally like to devote a few minutes each day, especially during days off from the gym, with simple activation exercises. I’ll wager that most reading this blurb aren’t professional athletes, therefore, a majority of our days are spent either sitting or standing. Life’s demands including activities of daily living or vocation can create muscular imbalances. As I alluded to a bit earlier, we either sit or stand a majority of the day.

If we sit throughout the course of the day, the muscles of the anterior and deep core and posterior chain “shut off”. Our hip flexors become stiff and rigid. Our neck stiffens, our shoulders become sore.

If we stand throughout the day we may experience “extension based” back pain, whereby the spine slips into extension when the core muscles aren’t doing their job in stabilizing the hips and lumbar spine.

If we throw in activities such as running or lifting, these muscular imbalances become magnified.

I’ll often perform an activation block similar to the one below:

  1. Deep Cervical Flexion Activation
  • Lie on your back, keep the shoulders and head in contact with the ground. Flatten your lower back and hips while keeping the knees bent and feet planted on the floor.
  • “Tuck” the chin to your throat.
  • Hold for 1 to 3 seconds.
  • Repeat for 3 to 5 repetitions.
  • Complete 1 to 2 sets.
  1. Short Lever Side Plank
  • Assume position on side with bodyweight supported on forearm and outside of knee and lower thigh of the leg making contact with the floor. Use padded surface to alleviate discomfort associated with downward pressure and load of bodyweight.
  • Bend knees and extend hips, keep head, shoulders and hips in neutral alignment (all joints should be stacked a top one another).
  • Relax shoulder and head carriage.
  • Fully inhale and fully exhale for 5 breaths.
  • Switch sides and repeat for 2-3 sets each side.
  1. Glute Bridge
  • Lie with back on ground, knees bent, feet on floor and arms to sides.
  • Drive through heels and extend hips to lift pelvis up.
  • Squeeze glutes and push knees out; hold position for one second.
  • Release and lower to ground.
  • Repeat for specified reps.
  • Perform 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps.
  1. Wall Supported Shoulder Protraction and Retraction
  • Place the palms of your hands against wall.
  • Walk the feet out from beneath your body.
  • Brace the core by tightening the glutes and abs and keep the neck long by tucking the chin.
  • Try to push your shoulder blades behind you by lengthening you arms and stretching the upper back.
  • Now, pull your torso closer to the wall, by pulling your shoulder blades together.
  • Repeat for specified reps.
  • Perform 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

Side Bar

Say our area gets sacked by an archetypal snow storm over break relegating you to shovel your driveway and sidewalk clear. I know, shoveling is no fun, but it can burn a chockfull of calories as it classified as vigorous exercise (exceeding six metabolic equivalents or <6 METs) (1) which six times as many calories as your body does at rest. Among sedentary individuals, snow shoveling is capable of eliciting myocardial oxygen demands similar to that of the maximal treadmill and hand crank tests we administer to determine an new client’s aerobic capacity. Brave shovelers should exercise caution when shoveling by adhering to the prudent advice below:

  • Those who have existing cardiovascular, metabolic, or pulmonary disease should avoid shoveling
  • Deconditioned individuals should punctuate their snow removal efforts with frequent breaks (1) (in terms of its structure, shoveling should be viewed as a strength training workout)
  • For those with creaky lower backs, a shovel with a bent shaft is recommended to reduce excessive trunk flexion (2)
  • Clothing should be layered to prevent hyperthermia and water resistant materials should be worn to ward off frostbite and pernio


  1. Franklin, B.A., Hogan, P., & Bonzheim, K. (1995). Cardiac demands of heavy snow shoveling. Journal of the American Medical Association, 273, 880-882.
  2. McGorry, R.W., Dempsey, P.G., & Leamon, T.B. (2003). The effect of technique and shaft configuration in snow shoveling on physiologic, kinematic, kinetic and productivity variables. Applied Ergonomics, 34, 225-231.
  3. Roberts, S.B., & Mayer, J. (2000). Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction? Nutrition Reviews, 58, 378-379.





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Fitness Q&A: Weights, Sleep, and Weight Loss

A Fitter U Q&A: December 2014


Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

Coordinator of Fitness Programs

Drexel Recreation Center

Drexel Recreation’s resident fitness expert, Joe Giandonato will be fielding questions each month from employees, students, and members and addressing topics related to strength training, weight loss, injury prevention and health education.

  1. “Is lifting weights really that important?” – Jennie K.

I commonly receive questions which are associated to lifting weights. Much maligned perceptions which emanate from old wives tales have proliferated

concerns about strength training. Women are fearful that strength training will add unsightly bulk. Athletes fear that strength training will make them “muscle bound”. Another ill-conceived consensus is that strength training will pestle joints and induce pain. These common misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth.

Females secrete a comparatively scant amount of testosterone, thus hindering their ability to add slabs of muscle. Research has indicated that females produce roughly 1/10th the amount of testosterone that a healthy male produces. Testosterone, a sex hormone which is enzymatically converted from DHEA into DHT, becomes immersed in a number of physiological processes, including muscle growth. If men with low testosterone, which is roughly one half of what a healthy male produces, experience difficulties adding muscle, it can be reasoned that it will be even harder for women to gain muscle.

Strength training, if performed through full, pain free ranges of motion, will improve muscular flexibility and proprioception which governs the stability and mobility of each of the body’s joints. It must be noted that gains is strength are range specific. If you perform an exercise with a small range of motion, you will only get stronger within that range of motion. Contrarily, if you perform an exercise with a greater range of motion, you will become stronger through the larger range of motion. Consistent strength training establishes a neural imprint as messages are sent to and from the brain regarding controlling the range of motion via the activation of muscle fibers, which in turn enhances and develops motor skills needed for activities of daily living and sport.

Becoming “muscle bound” is much harder than it seems. Of course there are gains in muscle size associated with strength training, but they are usually an adaptation that accompanies concerted strategies to add muscle, which are ascribed to by bodybuilders and athletes whose sport demands require bulk, such as playing offensive or defensive line in American football. In my experiences, an individual’s genetics as well as their nutrition and hormonal status will impact muscle mass far more than a strength training program will. If one wishes to gain heaps of muscle, significant consideration must be given to these aforementioned factors.

Strength training will not grind joints into a fine powder as many people have been lead to believe over the years. There’s probably more merit to this point than any other. Yes, there are inherent dangers of strength training. And yes, if you perform an exercise incorrectly, or perform it too frequently, you become more susceptible to injury. However, strength training is one of the safest activities a person can engage in. Unlike sports, all variables are controllable and can be advantageously manipulated to one’s preference or goals. Proper strength training will not only strengthen muscle, but will improve bone density and joint movement.

Strength training also serves as an ample metabolic stimulus and evokes a pronounced calorie burning effect AFTER exercise, which is known as excess post exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. This process entails the body working to restore itself back to its pre-exercise or resting state. Efforts to regulate cardiac functioning, respiration, body temperature, nutrient absorption, and digestion are metabolically costly and require a lot of calories to do so. Research has indicated that strength training can elevate metabolic functioning for 24 up to 72 hours afterwards.

2.         “How many hours of sleep per night should a person get?” – Robert N.

Well if you’re a student working fervently through term papers and exam prep, you can compensate by ingesting copious amounts of caffeine. The same can be suggested for the employee who is rushing to complete work projects while hatching holiday plans. #sarcasm

In all seriousness, sleep is crucial to virtually all aspects of physiological functioning. Americans, especially college students and our nation’s workforce are sleep deprived. Since sleep is linked to physiological functioning on a number of fronts, a lack of it can alter neurocognitive functioning, making it harder to think, concentrate, and perform tasks associated with school or work. So if you really care about your academic or job performance, cutting back on your sleep is like borrowing money from a loan shark. A couple of late nights or an all-nighter may not seem to affect you on a surface level, but over time, a sleep deficit will accrue as will interruptions in metabolic, hormonal, and neuromuscular function.

There is not a hard and fast requirement regarding sleep duration that people must achieve, however, the consensus is that 7 to 8 hours per night is sufficient for adults. It should be noted that during the growth and developmental periods, more sleep is required. And for individuals engaging in intense physical activity on a regular basis via exercise or through their occupation, more sleep may also be indicated to promote recovery.

While no magical number exists for sleep duration, sleep quality is very important. High quality sleep is comprised of extended periods of slow wave sleep, or deep sleep in which hormones are secreted in bountiful amounts prompting the transpiration of recuperative cellular processes allowing for repair and recovery of cells.

If one yearns not to yawn frequently throughout the day and be better equipped to handle daily tasks, which may include a pop quiz, getting whisked into a meeting where they may be required to present to institutional brass, or attempting to resolve an erroneous parking ticket with the fascist Philadelphia Parking Authority, incorporating the following strategies might prove assistive should any of those aforementioned scenarios present themselves.

– Gradually adjust to establish a desired bedtime

Experts recommend doing so 15 minutes at a time to avoid disrupting the circadian rhythm, also known as your body’s biological clock. Merely add or subtract (don’t do both at the same time) in increments of 15 minutes from your nightly sleep until a desired bedtime is met.

– Set a lower temperature

Recent research has suggested that sleeping at lower temperatures might increase metabolic functioning, as more calories are burned to keep your body warm. The study showed the greatest elevations of activity in brown adipose tissue, which is metabolically active fat tissue and has the capacity to generate heat, at lower room temperatures.

– Avoid blue light

Don’t watch TV or use the computer or operate nanotech devices immediately before bed as they emit an blue hued light which suppresses the pineal gland’s secretion of melatonin, a chemical that helps you fall asleep quicker. Instead, read a book or while this may not sound environmentally friendly, print off articles, e-mails, or assignments to read before bed instead of viewing them on the computer screen as artificial light has been shown to increase alertness, something you don’t want as you try to fall asleep.

– Cut the caffeine

Limit your consumption of caffeinated beverages throughout the day. Excess caffeine and ingesting it too far along in the day can alter your sleep patterns. Research suggests you should avoid cease all caffeine consumption six hours prior to bedtime.

– Cease carbs before bed

Avoid consuming high carbohydrate foods before bed which triggers insulin production and blunts growth hormone production, by interrupting your sleep.


Chen, K.Y., et al. (2013). Brown fat activation mediates cold-induced thermogenesis in adult humans in response to a mild decrease in ambient temperature. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 98, 1218-1223.

  1. “How much do steady state activities really help with weight loss?” – Pratik A.

Steady state activities are quite beneficial for individuals who are looking to lose weight. Low intensity steady state exercise, more affectionately known as ‘LISS’ in fitness circles, is defined as sustained rhythmic exercise occurring between 50-75% of one’s VO2 Max, or 40-59% of one’s Heart Rate Reserve. For practical implementation, this can be translated to 60-70% of one’s max heart rate.

LISS will allow the participant to engage in exercise for longer durations, which will expand aerobic capacity thus, improving cardiorespiratory fitness, which is a key tenet of health that many gym goers and athletes tend to overlook. A more robust aerobic capacity streamlines fuel partitioning allowing for more fat to be utilized as an energy source. So, initially you’ll be burning more calories during the lengthier workouts, but over the long haul, your body will wind up leaning on fat stores for energy.

Please send your questions to Joe at or drop by his office at the Rec Center, which is located in Room 310 on the third floor, nearest to the 33rd street side of the building.



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Technologically Enhanced Body Composition Assessments

By Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

Drexel University, long considered one of the nation’s most technologically advanced institutions, is now availing cutting edge technology to those wanting to achieve a better and healthier body. Drexel has partnered up with PhIT (, a company founded by three Drexel graduates, John Gunn, Jason Burns, and Basil Milton, to collect and track longitudinal changes of one’s body composition and measurements through proprietary imaging equipment.

PhIT utilizes a digitized optical method and photonic imaging technology to gather anthropometric measurements and a three dimensional body scan. New clients simply create a user name, have their photos and measurements taken during a brief scan and stored for later comparison, ideal for those with goals consisting of losing fat or gaining muscle. Newer images are superimposed on older images which helps denote changes in physiological cross sectional area of muscle and fat.

The technology has been pivotal in providing feedback to the client by showing them what areas need to be improved upon, especially if their goals are aesthetically driven. PhIT has also been embraced by gym newcomers as it is a less invasive, albeit highly effective means to gather measurements.


“Clients don’t have to worry about having their personal space invaded. They just show up, get scanned, and have an image produced for them, which includes measurements,” says Milton.

Milton noted that clients don’t have to remove clothing, provided the clothing is minimal and close-fitting.

“People entering the gym for the first time have enough to worry about. With PhIT, we feel that we have eliminated many of the fears revolving around the onboarding and assessment process,” expounds Gunn.

Gunn continued that the scanning process takes only a few minutes, a contrast from the time most personal trainers spend collecting girth measurements and pictures.

Though photonic imaging has been recently introduced to the fitness industry, research indicates that photonic imaging technology accurately collects body volume and circumferential data and estimates body fat percentage (1).


  1. Wang, J., Gallager, D., Thornton, J.C., Yu, W., Horlick, M., & Pi-Sunyer, X. (2006). Validation of a 3-dimensional photonic scanner for the measurement of body volumes, dimensions, and percentage body fat. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83, 809-816.




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Preparing for the Battle: Strategies to Optimize Immune System Functioning

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS, Coordinator of Fitness Programs, Drexel University Department of Athletics

With much of the globe gripped by panic concerning Ebola, I have been receiving a number of questions regarding keeping healthy as the colder weather and accompanying cold and flu season approach.

While Ebola antidotes reportedly exist, many of them have not yet made it to the clinical trial stage. In response to the fears of a globally paralyzing pandemic, government agencies and public health experts have purported that the likelihood of catching Ebola remains rather remote. While their suppositions remain up for contention, the threat of falling victim to colds and flus during the colder portions of the year constantly looms.

As the weather grows crisp, the masses, especially those leading active lifestyles retire to temperature controlled environments to continue activities or to resume exercise. For those living in parts of the country above 30 degrees latitude, you’ll notice runners disappearing from trails and sidewalks and fewer events scheduled outdoors. Save for fall sport playoffs and obligatory yard work, most people spend their time indoors, often in close proximity with others, giving rise to the proliferation of illness- causing pathogens.

The body innately responds to threats, whether actual or perceived. In the case of an actual threat, such as the body coming in contact with a foreign antigen, or protein containing a virus or bacteria, the body’s immune system recognizes the threat and responds to it.

Lymphatic structures with the body, which prominently include the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and bone marrow, collectively secrete and subsequently deploy a combination of antibodies as well as, lympochytes, macrophages, dendritic cells, natural killer cells, B cells, T cells, and phagocytes to the external threat. Some of these constituents may be of familiarity, since they are also involved in the response of exercise, a deliberate stressor and incite an inflammatory response. Our survival hinges on the functioning of the immune system and the mechanisms it employs, which in addition to triggering an inflammatory response, also comprises attaching to, combating, and dissolving the foreign body.

However, external threats can be magnified if a person does not ascribe to sound nutritional, hygienic, sanitary, and stress management practices, which involve balancing stimulus and recovery.

Poor diets, particularly those consisting of trans fats and excessive saturated fats, may goad systemic inflammation, thus impeding immune system functioning. More inflammation equates to a less efficient immune system. Excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates weakens gut health, which cannot be overlooked, since the digestive tract is heavily lined with antibody-producing lymphatic tissue.

Poor hygiene and sanitary practices elevate susceptibility to illness causing pathogens.

An imbalance between imposed stress and recovery, whether the origin of stress is physiological or psychological, may also degrade immune system functioning.

If avoiding the common cold or preventing the transmission of the yearly flu are goals, the following guidelines, rooted in common sense, should be helpful.

Immediate Preventative Measures

  1. Cleanse hands frequently throughout the day, preferably with antibacterial soap and warm water. Alcohol based hand sanitizers will also suffice. For those suffering from dermatological issues, such as dry skin, many antibacterial soaps and alcohol based hand sanitizers are infused with moisturizing solutions.
  2. Disinfect equipment and surfaces prior to and following use.
  3. Equipment and surfaces which appear to be covered in bodily fluids should also be cleaned and if this is observed at a public or corporate owned facility, specific laws and procedures involving health and safety must be adhered to. As such, staff members should be notified immediately.
  4. Those working with the public in a non-essential capacity, such as a personal trainer, should advise customers, or clients, to refrain from meeting with them if they are ill.
  5. Avoid touching face, including eyes, nose, mouth, and ears throughout the day and use facial tissues when coughing or sneezing. Soiled facial tissues should be disposed of immediately following use, and if available, soap and/or sanitizer should be used to cleanse the hands or area of the body producing or making contact with bodily fluids.

Longer-term Preventative Measures

  1. Individuals should view exercise as a stressor and should adjust their training accordingly, if they are juggling competing demands, both physiologically and psychologically based. Progressions in exercise intensity and volume should be gradual. Those partaking in activities involving endurance training are at an increased risk of respiratory illnesses and should be especially mindful of their volume.
  2. If an individual is not exercising, they should strongly consider commencing an exercise program, as exercise, more broadly, physical activity has been linked to hastening the turnover of illnesses that the body comes in contact with by way of streamlining digestive, urinary, and cooling mechanisms of the body. Long term exercise also boosts the release of antibodies and triggers a greater release of white blood cells from the spleen. Also, the thermogenic environment created by exercise may blunt bacterial growth, similar to a the effects of a fever.

Immediate Supportive Measures

  1. If stricken with an illness, including a bacteria or virus, it is advisable that medical attention be sought.
  2. Exercise should be avoided if symptoms include: headache, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and bleeding
  3. Exercise intensity and volume should be significantly reduced, at least initially, if cold-like symptoms including runny nose, coughing, and profuse sweating are experienced.
  4. Symptomatic individuals should avoid traversing public places or areas populated by many people, if possible.
  5. Since activity is reduced, so should energy intake, especially those containing simple, sugary carbohydrates, which are often utilized to fuel intense, glycolytically dependent exercise.
  6. Consumption of foodstuffs and beverages containing antioxidants, minerals (zinc), and vitamins (B and C), as well Echinacea may support the immune system in fighting off illnesses.





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Fight Fall Allergies by Visiting the Farmer’s Market

Ever wonder how you can beat your allergies by eating or avoiding certain foods? What you eat can play a powerful role in your health. Check out this article for more information on what to eat to beat fall allergies.


fall food

And while you’re at it, stop by Drexel’s Farmers Market! Every Tuesday at Chestnut Square.

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Beat the Summer Heat Safely

Ever wonder if summer is ever going to end?

Medicine Net offers 15 tips to stay cool safely. From exercise program alterations to sunblock to increasing your water intake, learn new tips and review time-tested favorite ways to beat the summer heat!


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Beat the Summer Heat and Stay Safe

With temperatures rising as the Summer starts to find its peak, be sure to stay healthy in the sun. Check out this great article from the American Heart Association about staying healthy and active in the summer sun!

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