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. “A friend of mine recently began going to a CrossFit. What are your thoughts?” – Molly T.
Long before the Paleo dieting, callous comparing, and mobility obsessed brethren attempted to hijack the fitness and strength and conditioning industries, people and athletes got in shape and became formidably strong. In spite of my aforementioned and ill-fated allegorical depiction of CrossFit, I think it offers
some value. Last year, I had the honor of presenting and hosting Drexel University’s first annual Sport and Exercise Science Clinic, in which I detailed the benefits and drawbacks of CrossFit.
– Almost singlehandedly, Crossfit revitalized interest in Olympic weightlifting and raw powerlifting among fitness enthusiasts, including many of its participants.
– Unlike many of the antiquated resistance training programs which are packaged and pitched to women and novices a la the media, CrossFit workouts are composed of movements which correspond better to sport and activities of daily living.
– Fosters camaraderie and community among its participants.
– Usually calls for inclusion of exercises which are biomechanically incompatible for a majority of its participants. While this may seem as a gross generalization here, many showing up to a CrossFit are like you and me, they are working professionals. And unlike you and me, many of these people have blindly dived into CrossFit without any prior due diligence. Exercises such as jerks and snatches are excellent for
healthy individuals who desire increased force development and strength, but for those suffering from muscular imbalances of the upper extremities and shoulder region, they are woefully contraindicated. Some movements, such as the American Swing, Deadlift High Pull, and Kipping Pull Ups, serve no purpose outside of fattening the wallet of your neighborhood orthopod.
– Metabolic conditioning or “metcons”, which are inserted into the workouts, are often bioenergetically inappropriate for those desiring improved strength, muscle mass, or weight loss. The workouts often call for periods of incomplete rest, which is characterized by longer bouts of exertion punctuated with short rest periods. At this point, things go glycolytic real quick, meaning that
glucose and glycogen become the body’s primary fuel source and although calories are being burned, the capacity to add lean body mass becomes diminished as the intensity of workouts floods the mTOR metabolic pathway that plays a vital role in preservation and addition of lean body mass by governing muscle protein synthesis.
– Exercise variables are often improperly manipulated and many CrossFit affiliates do not prioritize systematic programming and periodization. Inattention to either can be frustrating at best, such as encountering a plateau and not knowing how to get out since variables are haphazardly strewn together. Or at the worst, when an injury arises.
– Many times exercises which involve high power outputs, such as Olympic lifts, squats, deadlifts, and jumps are taken to metabolic fatigue. Aside from reducing contractile force from the elevated blood acidity induced by engaging in a longer duration set which subsequently interferes with the myosin and actin coupling that are essential to muscular contraction, you are also elevating the injury risk. An exercise which requires
high power outputs, also carries high risks. And those risks are magnified if that exercise is taken to failure.
– The randomization of workouts and variables do not lend themselves to sustainability and are not appropriate for athletes
CrossFit as a training methodology can be cleaned up, but it would take a lot of effort and would defeat the purpose. I firmly grasp onto the belief that you need to be fit to derive any discernible benefit from high intensity exercises, especially CrossFit.
2. “What is the best exercise to build bigger biceps?” – Dario K.
If your goal is larger biceps and you haven’t done so already, I would suggest devoting greater emphasis to compound lifts, such as row variations, to optimize growth. I’m not a betting man, but I’ll wager the guy performing 150 pound dumbbell rows for multiple reps has girthier arms than the guy
banging out concentration curls with 20 pound dumbbells.
Anatomical considerations also have to be factored into the equation. The biceps consists of two aspects – the long head which originates at the supraglenoid tubercle of the shoulder and the short head which originates at the coracoid process of the scapulae, which domes the shoulder joint and attaches to the distal clavicle. Both heads flesh into the radial tuberosity and the aponeurosis. Together, both heads are responsible for elbow flexion AND shoulder flexion, thus classifying it as a biarticular muscle. Who woulda thunk it?
As such, when the shoulders are flexed, the the short head of the biceps loses its ability to exert enough force to move through a full range of motion. This phenomenon is known as an active insufficiency. So you may want to pay closer attention to your technique, because the shoulders and other unintended muscles may end up taking over.
EMG studies and anecdote have repeatedly pegged the standard barbell curl as being superior in terms of recruitment, so they should be established as a staple movement in your arsenal.
You can also tinker with agonist supersets, such as supersetting a set of supinated chin ups or inverted rows with supinated biceps curls, or as my boss, Vic Tringali, a former national level bodybuilder, advocates, pairing them with triceps throughout your workout to increase muscular activation and elevate hypertrophy inducing metabolic damage.
In order to prevent injury and to maximize performance, biceps should be performed following, not preceding, heavily loaded compound exercises. Experience and tales from the trenches suggest that lower loads with higher repetitions are recommended for those deadlifting heavily and performing strongman training.
3. “I enjoy brisk walking, whether I’m outside or on the treadmill and was wondering what I should prioritize, time or distance? – Daaimah E.
That’s a great question and walking is a great activity. In fact, it’s my preferred recommendation for my personal training clients. I would recommend that you focus on two metrics: duration and heart rate. For instance, strive to maintain a heart rate for a predetermined period of time. As a rough point of reference, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association collectively recommend that individuals receive between 150-300 minutes of physical activity per week. Target heart rate zones, which I covered in last month’s Q & A, can be found below:
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:
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
Keep in mind that your goals and current fitness level will determine your sustained heart rate and duration of the walks.
Please send your questions to Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.