A Fitter Q&A: August 2015

Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS
Manager of Health Promotion
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. How important is receiving sunlight during the summer months? – Ari K.

Although we don’t convert sunlight into chemical energy a la our plant counterparts, the sun remains a vital nutritive mainstay as it emits vitamin D secreting ultraviolet B rays.

The ultraviolet B rays are absorbed by melanin within the dermis as well as DNA, transurocanic acid, and cell membranes and then converted into cholecalciferol, a naturally occurring form of vitamin D, which undergoes a final conversion into 25-hyhdroxyvitamin D, the form from which it interacts with multiple
physiological systems.

Vitamin D has been linked to warding off and helping treat various metabolic diseases.

It triggers the production of insulin and has been shown to elevate insulin sensitivity, lending credence to its supplementation among diabetics.

Vitamin D has also been shown to enhance the absorption and transport of calcium, a versatile mineral that is intimately involved in both facilitating muscular contraction and bone formation. Further, vitamin D supplementation has been
associated with lowering blood pressure as well as boosting testosterone levels and serving as an ancillary treatment for numerous dermatological and thyroid conditions.

Relevantly, those living in the northern hemisphere above 30 degrees latitude (this applies to residential Drexel students, staff, and faculty) are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency. The intemperate winter months relegate people indoors which predictably
leads to the lowest vitamin D levels being reported during the early spring months.

But the benefits of increased sunlight span beyond boosting vitamin D levels.

Juzeniene and Moan (2012) revealed that ultraviolet radiation is capable of conferring a host of benefits, prominently including:

– Preventing dermatological diseases, such as dermatitis, scleroderma, and psoriasis
– Lowering melanoma risk through repeated exposures which cumulatively evoke a protective effect through a process known as photoadaptation, or solar elastosis
– Reducing pain among those suffering from fibromyalgia
– Preventing and tempering the effects of numerous immunopathological diseases, including multiple sclerosis and asthma
– Prompting the secretion of nitric oxide which influences nerve transmission and blood perfusion

While no universal recommendations for sun exposure for health purpose exist due to the impossibility of quantifying absorption rates while accounting for genetic variability, prudent measures must be enacted to ensure

– Those with a proclivity to burning should avoid prolonged sun exposure during peak hours (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.). Further, babies should be kept from the sun as should elderly individuals, whose aged skin has a reduced capacity to absorb UVB rays.
– Lightly colored and breathable clothing and broad brimmed hats as well as sunglasses should be worn to reduce unwanted or excessive sunlight
– Sunscreens with an SPF of 15 of higher should be applied at a quantity of two tablespoons for entire body surface 30 minutes prior to going outside
– Sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30 should be applied if prolonged outdoor activity is anticipated
– Sunscreen should be reapplied immediately following water exposure or excessively sweating or at a rate of every two hours
– Lastly, sunscreens should be checked for their expiration date and should contain the following ingredients: organic chemical compounds that absorb ultraviolet light and particulates which also reflect and scatter ultraviolet light.


Juzeniene, A. & Moan, J. (2012). Beneficial effects of UV radiation other than via vitamin D production. Dermato-Endocrinology, 4, 109-117.

2. Is fasted cardio all that it’s cracked up to be? – David W.

While this approach has been popularized by fanny pack toting bodybuilders and svelte fitness models for ages, fasted cardio doesn’t fuel the metabolic
conflagration many have been convinced.

This approach is entrenched in the belief that it burns more fat, which cannot be further from the truth.

While research has indicated that more fat is oxidized during fasted cardio, the number of fatty acids which are freed from the mitochondrial membrane and subsequently broken down
exceed the amount needed to fuel the lower intensity activities, such as steady state cardiovascular exercise conducted at or below 70% maximum heart rate or between 40-59% of heart rate reserve, which are associated with training in a fasted state.

The unused fatty acids are simply reesterfied in adipose tissue.

Schabort and colleagues (1999) indicated only after 90 minutes of exercise did fasted subjects yield a discernible effect stemming from fat oxidation. Therefore, you would need to exercise for a minimum of 90 minutes before encountering any fat burning effects!

While individuals who exercise in a fasted state register respiratory quotients which are more indicative of fat burning (0.7 or lower), they only do so because that is all they are capable of doing.

Training in a fasted state is not conducive to anaerobic training, from which gains in strength and improvements in body composition are greatest. Imagine trying to move a bar loaded with three plus bills for multiple reps on an empty stomach and dangerously low blood glucose levels.

And since greater training intensities are less likely to be achieved during a fasted state, EPOC, or the “afterburn effect”, in which more calories are burned restoring the body to its preexercise state, is blunted.

Anecdotally, fasted training may lead to compensatory overeating following exercise.


Schabort, E.J., Bosch, A.N., Weltan, S.M., & Noakes, T.D.  (1999). The effect of a pre-exercise meal on time to fatigue during prolonged cycling exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31, 464–471.

3. What are some of the differences in working with athletes versus the general population? – Spencer G.

While the preparatory approaches of each segment may have vast contextual and conceptual differences, it should be noted that many similarities exist, albeit scalable, such as expectations, requisite effort, and goals.

With athletes, you are concertedly working to improve one or two biomotor skills, such as limit strength, rate of force development, speed, and coordinative abilities, whereas, with the general population, you are designing and implementing programs to prompt
global improvements in fitness qualities, including strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory fitness. Non-athletes, especially those who are older, are often at a greater risk of having cardiovascular or metabolic disease, since many persons who inquire about our services lead
sedentary lifestyles. Conversely, many high level athletes are usually ailed by musculoskeletal pain which largely stems from overuse and faulty biomechanics.

Though the approaches may differ, the quality of care provided to each person is held to the highest of standards irrespective of needs and goals. Our team supports a diverse clientele ranging from professional athletes seeking improved athletic performance to staff and faculty members wanting to improve
their quality of life.

Anyone interested in our services should contact me directly at jag476@drexel.edu

Joe will also field any questions related to programs and services at jag476@drexel.edu. You may also ask for him at the Member Services desk, which is located in the lobby of the Rec Center.

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A Fitter Q&A July 2015

Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

Manager of Health Promotion

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’ve heard that doing core exercises create a blocky waist, is this true?” – Max K.

In my experiences working with a plethora of clients, ranging from individuals with weight loss goals and both aesthetically and performance oriented clients, as well as my interpretation of existing literature, I have found that (3) factors influence the appearance of the midsection.

– The selection and subsequent execution of exercises which target the core musculature, including variables such as volume, frequency, and external tension
– The shape and insertion points of the musculature collectively accounting for the physiological cross sectional area (PCSA), which is largely attributable to genetics
– The deposition of fat, which again is influenced by genetics as well as hormonal output and obviously a sustained postitive energy balance

As it pertains to the protruded bellies sported by many professional bodybuilders and high level strength athletes, a combination of training (repeated increases of intra abdominal pressure as well as muscular coactivation during heavily loaded compound lifts) and exogenous hormones can potentially be implicated.

“Bracing the core”, a cue that is advocated by many coaches, is also capable of contributing to muscular hypertrophy, provided that the stimulus, a product of tension and time, is significant enough. The concept of bracing is to initiate circumferential expansion and muscular coactivation of the lumbopelvic hip complex which stabilizes the lumbar spine during heavily loaded
as well as ballistic exercises which involve considerable ground reaction forces. But, since many professional bodybuilders and powerlifters especially, maximally brace. it stands to reason
that a blockier waist will result. Maximal bracing sharply increases intra abdominal pressure through the engagement of the Valsava manuever, an act which involves vigorously expelling air against a closed airway, while performing exercises of maximal intensities.

Adding fuel to the fire, is an inappropriate selection of exercises and ill-advisedly loading them. Exercises involving a greater range of motion and loads activate swaths of muscle fibers.

A response to performing core training in this manner will often result in an increased size of the external obliques, the muscles which are located on the sides of torso and are responsible for producing same side and opposite side rotation as well as laterally flexing the trunk. As such, common oblique exercises, such as weighted oblique situps and loaded side bends, should be eliminated if a smaller waist is desired.

Alternatively, plank variations, unilateral carries and holds, and Pallof variations can be included, which engage the external obliques in their anti-rotation and anti-flexion capacities, with less movement and often, lower loads than traditional rotation and weighted oblique exercises.

And while genetics plays a vital role in the shape of muscles and how the body stores fat, the appearance of one’s midsection can be modified through sound nutrition and the inclusion of cardiovascular exercise collectively creating an energy balance which is favorable for fat loss.

So, in summary, core exercises can create a blocky waist. However, if your core training does not involve heavy loads and extended ranges of motion and if you aren’t saddling the bar with mantle crushing loads everyday, you should be fine, provided your diet is squared away.

2. “What are the biggest mistakes that beginners make at the gym?” – Quanzell F.

The mistakes that many new gym goers make are akin to the gaffes committed by new car owners. A new car owner is just learning the ropes of car ownership, which includes routine maintenance and occassional repairs. However, unlike many new gym goers, most new car owners won’t hesitate to seek help when they have an issue. Many new gym goers ill-advisedly listen to the pseudoscience festering on the fitness floors. Alternatively, they may scour internet forums and create a training philosophy
which is based on someone’s musings who knows just enough to be dangerous. And of course, the grand slam mistake is enlisting the services of a someone who talks a good game, but is nothing more than a scamming charlatan with bogus credentials.

However, the biggest mistake I see begginers make is failing to account for individual differences. They may have seen a testimonial from someone who lost “x amount of” pounds or increased their [insert lift here], but there are so many different and transient factors affecting that person’s outcome. Perhaps that person had more resources, or presumably that person had more knowledge or less experience in the gym, which may have led to their drastic results.

Another mistake I see is an inattention to progression of variables, which chiefly include: frequency, intensity, volume, and duration. These aforementioned variables should be strategically manipulated to elicit continued improvements in fitness qualities, however, the novice gym goer haphazardly and often unknowingly, adjusts these without discretion amounting to randomizing their training. Random variables equals random results, or none at all.

I can ramble off a dozen others, but rather than doing that, I suggest that any member needing any assistance approach one of our fitness specialists on the floor, they are identifiable by their bright blue shirts. Our team is more than happy to help any student or member who has a question or needs some direction.

3. “Should I stretch before or after working out?” – Chi A.

Conventional wisdom has long suggested that static stretching be performed prior to exercise. However, the desired activity is the most important factor in determining the type and sequencing of stretching.

Static stretching has long been a staple in the routines of many gym goers.

However, did you know that little, if any, evidence supports the inclusion of static stretching in preventing injury or reducing muscular soreness?

Also, did you know that engaging in static stretching prior to activities and sports involving high rates of force development, such as squatting 3 plates per side, or knifing through a lane clogged with defenders enroute to a deuce, may inhibit performance?

Studies have revealed decrements of up to 10% in performance. If that holds true, an overture with three plates per side will be tempered and become a more pedestrian effort with 270. And perhaps you won’t be able to generate the necessary force quickly enough to evade defenders and may have to settle for a jumper.

I’m not trying to sound alarmist here, but the selection and sequencing of stretching should be influenced by the activity.

For those wanting to move more iron and blur through the lane, dynamic stretching prior to those activities would be more appropriate.

Dynamic stretching involves movements that are performed with a smooth and controlled cadence. These movements often mimic the movements performed during the desired or impending activity. For instance, someone who later plans on bench pressing will first perform handwalkouts, crawling exercises, and push up variations as dynamic stretches.

Dynamic stretching generates more thermal energy, thereby increasing body temperate and core and peripheral blood flow.

Static stretching is characterized by a slow transition into a constant position and held for 15-30 seconds. Prolonged holds (60 seconds or greater) have been shown to interfere with mechanoreceptor functioning, thereby affecting body awareness and force production. Static stretching has been suggested to promote
relaxation following exercise as it influences parasympathetic nervous system activity.

While approaches to training need to be individualized, dynamic stretching is best performed prior to exercise and static stretching is best performed following exercise or as a standalone. Both types of stretching can be performed within the same session.

Please send your questions to Joe at jag476@drexel.edu or ask for him at the Member Services desk, which is located in the lobby of the Rec Center.

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Drexel Is One of Philadelphia’s Healthiest Employers!

Drexel_Food_Day_2014-106Drexel Recognized for Fifth Consecutive Year as Leader in Workplace Wellness

The Philadelphia Business Journal has named Drexel University one of Philadelphia’s Healthiest Employers for the fifth year in a row. Drexel, one of five colleges/universities to make the list this year, was honored at a June 4, 2015, breakfast program and was featured in the June 5 edition of the Business Journal.

Drexel also recently earned a Fit-Friendly Worksite Gold Award from the American Heart Association for the fifth consecutive year.

“Since its inception in 2010, the goal of A Healthier U has always been to encourage the lifestyle choices that are most relevant to improving health and preventing disease,” said Vic Tringali, Executive Director of Wellness. “I am proud of our accomplishment and success and excited for the future and the development of new and impactful programming.”

Drexel’s “A Healthier U” program is aimed at everyone, including full-time and part-time employees, adjunct faculty and more than 25,000 students and provides numerous opportunities for improving health and well-being, such as a walking club, meditation group, workshops and weight management programs. Drexel Proactive Health services, located in the state-of-the-art Drexel Recreation Center at 33rd and Market Street, are also open to working professionals in the region seeking to improve their fitness and well-being.

University Wellness continues to partner with Human Resources, the Recreation Center, the Center for Integrated Nutrition and Performance and other departments to host popular annual events such as Food Day, the Health and Wellness Fair, Employee Olympics and the Drexel Indoor Triathlon/Duathlon. Over the past year and a half, the new Dragon Nutrition program, offering free nutrition counseling services to benefits-eligible employees, has been wildly successful, with over 300 employees taking advantage of the program.

More information about A Healthier U is available by visiting drexel.edu/healthieru. More information on Drexel Proactive Health is available at drexel.edu/reccenter/Health-and-Wellness/Proactive-Health-Services/.

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June Q&A

Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS
Manager of Health Promotion
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. “Do you have to lift heavy to get bigg?” – Kyle J.

There are three key factors which influence hypertrophy (aka getting bigger): mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage.

Mechanical tension can be best described by the length tension relationship, an expression of muscular force exerted against opposing forces, such as load coupled with gravity. It can be postulated that resistance exercises and activities which impose peak tension at longer muscle lengths, induce greater muscle damage.

Metabolic stress describes the accretion of metabolites, or byproducts, which are created in response to resistance training, such as lactate, hydrogen ions, and inorganic phosphate. Resistance training protocols commonly employed by bodybuilders utilize glycolytic pathways for energy production. Increased acidity stemming from training in this manner potentially yields an increased hypertrophic response.

Muscle damage occurs in response to localized trauma to muscle tissue, thus triggering a volley of systemic immunological and hormonal responses. When skeletal muscle becomes damaged, satellite cells, which are located between the sarcolemmal membrane and basal lamina, are activated and dispatched to the damaged fiber, where they donate their nuclei to facilitate the reparation of the fiber’s contractile proteins, actin and myosin. Cellular swelling occurs, which triggers the proliferation and differentiation of macrophages and cytokines. Cytokines signal the activation of prostaglandins, lymphocytes, neutrophils, and monocytes which inaugurate the recovery process. A varying degree of endogenous growth factors, peptides, and steroid hormones are secreted, thus impacting longer lasting responses and pursuant adaptations.

In order to elicit an optimal hypertrophic response, a proper balance of the aforementioned factors must exist. The requirement to elicit an optimal response starkly contrasts from the societal mantra of “more is better”. For instance, excessive mechanical tension via an external load far too heavy, may incite significant injury to the musculotendinous junction. Metabolic stress or muscle damage far too great may trigger acute illness, such as rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal ailment characterized by muscle tissue necrosis and the release of constituents into the bloodstream leading to kidney failure.

My supervisor, Vic Tringali and I authored a piece in the twilight of 2014, which noted the following:

– Loads representing 60% of 1RM are capable of eliciting a significant increase in muscular size
– Controlling momentum and time under tension may be just as important as load as it pertains to educing a hypertrophic response

Look at strength athletes who compete in weight classes. While they are capable of producing high rates of force development and demonstrate appreciable strength, they often don’t carry more skeletal muscle mass than bodybuilders of the same weight. Conversely, many bodybuilders, while considered strong by a layperson’s standards, often do not train with circa maximal loads that are comparable to powerlifters, strongman competitors, and Olympic weightlifters of similiar dimensions.

2. “What material is best for a workout shirt?” – Allen H.

When selecting apparel for training, competitive, and recreational activities, two factors must be considered: utility and comfort.

Two of the most prominent constituents in athletic apparel are polyester and cotton. Polyester is a non-wicking material, meaning that it will glide over prespired skin thus permitting greater heat dissipation of heat. While wearing polyester athletic shirts is advisable in warmer, humid weather to augment thermoregulatory function, exceptions must be made for those engaging in strength training exercises in which the bar or loaded implement is making contact with the body. I have witnessed instances in which the barbell slipped off the shoulders of those donning polyester shirts while catching the barbell in the rack position following an Olympic lifts. I have also seen countless athletes and lifters squirm around while performing torso supported exercises on padded surfaces, likely exacerbated by polyester shirts.

Cotton is extremely versatile and more economical, however, it retains heat as has the tendency to wick. Wicking materials will inhibit the transfer of heat during environmental conditions, which is why wool, the ultimate wicking material, is advocated for dress during cold weather.

Also, a certain odor causing bacteria, micrococcus, has an affinity for polyester. A recent study which investigated the microbial odor profile of fitness and cotton revealed that abundant amounts of micrococcus were found on polyester materials (1). So it may be tougher to eliminate smells from polyester workout attire versus cotton workout attire.

For activities conducted outdoors in warmer weather, such as running and gardening, opt for polyester.

For activities transpiring within temperature controlled environments or while engaging strength training, cotton is your safest bet.


1. Callewaert, C., De Maeseneire, E., Kerckhof, F.M., Verliefde, A., Van de Wiele, T., Boon, N. (2014). Microbial odor profile of polyester and cotton clothes after a fitness session. Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology. [epub ahead of print].

3. “What are ‘Voodoo Bands’ and how do they work?” – Katrina G.

Voodoo Bands have gained notoriety in recent years as they have been alleged to confer improvements in tissue quality, function, and movement capacity. Voodoo Bands are simply tensile bands which are constructed with natural latex rubber that are capable of being stretched to 1 1/2 times their length. They are often utilized prior to the execution of structural and compound movements that are indigenous to CrossFit training to improve range of motion. Scouring threads founds on popular message boards will undoubtedly unearth scores of anecdotes which support their use. However, you would also be hard pressed to find scientific reasoning lending credence to their use.

So let me attempt to explain their function.

The application of Voodoo Bands compresses the tissue it surrounds. A stack of intertwined structures sit atop the muscle, which include the epidermis and dermis and superficial fascial membrane they connect to, a layer of subcutaneous fat, the deep fascial membrane, hyaluronic acid, and the myofascia which houses the muscles and fascial structures which encapsulate it and transmit force throughout the kinetic chain.

Users simply manipulate the positioning of joints or body segments which disperses shear forces throughout the surrounded area, thus redistributing stresses through the alteration the viscolelastic and thixotropic properties of the myofascia. Doing so, accents the functioning of mechanoreceptors
which richly populate the dermal and myofascial structures. Mechanoreceptors include Golgi tendon organs, which detect tension, Pacinian Corpsucles, which detect pressure, and muscle spindles, which are bundles of intrafusal fibers that detect length changes in the muscle, and sensory receptors in the skin that detect touch. Collectively, these receptors provide the CNS necessary feed-forward information which dispenses kinesthetic feedback, such as proprioception and body awareness, which lends explanation to improved movement following Voodoo banding.

It has also been suppositioned that the compression associated with Voodoo Bands enhances recovery through the prompting of a hyperemic response which drives oxygen rich blood containing prostaglandins, neutrophils, and amino acids to restore balance within adhesed fascial regions. Blood occlusion has gained attention in recent years within the bodybuilding community for its purported benefit of enhancing hypertrophy as the hypoxic environment caused by the compression of elastic bands magnifies the metabolic load created by resistance training.

It has yielded improvements in restoring musculoskeletal function, such as improving strength among those with chronic pain and weakness of the peripheries (1) and knee extensor strength in those with osteoarthritis (2), presumably from an increase in blood perfusion resulting from the removal of the bands.

It should be noted that no existing studies have affirmed the veracity of Voodoo Bands. Therefore, circulating claims which support their usage are rooted in anecdote.

If you are desiring more information on Voodoo Bands, I urge you to attend Be Well Philly at the Rec Center on Saturday. Our lead fitness specialist, Logan will be on hand to discuss their application as well as provide strategies for lifters and athletes in keeping healthy.


1. Hylden, C., Burns, T., Stinner, D., & Owens. J. (2015). Blood flow restriction rehabilitation for extremity weakness: a case series. Journal of Special Operations Medicine, 15, 50-56.
2. Segal, N.A., Williams, G.N., Davis, M.C., Wallace, R.B., & Mikesky, A.E. (2015). Efficacy of blood flow-restricted, low-load resistance training in women with risk factors for symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Journal of Injury, Function, and Rehabilitation, 7, 376-384.
Please send your questions to Joe at jag476@drexel.edu 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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Sizzling Circuits for the Summer

Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS, Manager of Health Promotion, offers up tips in jacking up your metabolism through mixed circuit training.

Circuit training has swelled in popularity over the past decade and has garnered acclaim from media outlets and fitness professionals alike for packing a metabolic punch. Research has demonstrated that circuit training interspersed with brief rest periods elevates post exercise caloric expenditure.
Our revolutionary group training platform, R.I.S.E. incorporates mixed circuit training (MCT) which involves a host of modalities—including plyometric, free weight, bodyweight, and functional movement—which jointly challenge multiple energy systems and improve a continuum of fitness qualities and biomotor skills.

R.I.S.E Mixed Circuit Training Guidelines

• Exercises that require a high degree of technical proficiency should not be heavily loaded. For example, free weight exercises should be loaded with less than 25% of your max.

  • Exercises comprised of complex movements and those involving rapid rates of force development should not be performed to failure.
  • Rest time may be reduced between individual exercises and circuits to intensify the workout. However, work-to-rest intervals should be kept at 1:1 or greater. For every 60 seconds of work, rest for 60 seconds


R.I.S.E. Mixed Circuit Training Workouts

Linear Movement Circuit

  • Medicine Ball Jump Throw x 5 reps
  • Kettlebell Swingx 10 reps
  • Inchworm x 5 yards
  • Walking Lunge x 5 strides each side

Lateral Movement Circuit

  • Heiden Jump x 3 each side
  • Lateral Lunge x 5 each side
  • Lateral Raise x 10 each side
  • Waiter’s Carry x 10 strides

Repeat each circuit three or four times and rest for up to 60 seconds between exercises.


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Spring Training Strategies


by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS
Manager of Health Promotion, Drexel University

Drexel Recreation’s resident fitness expert, Joe Giandonato, chimes in with helpful tips to facilitate warm weather exercise.

1. Combating Spring Allergies

Emerging from the frigid grips of old man winter are colorful blossoms and outdoor activities. Accompanying the botanical vibrance, picnics, and games of
pick up is the omnipresence of spring allergies.

Allergies are symptoms which stem from the particalization of pollen which is released to fertilize plants. In the northeastern United States, pollination
peaks during the late spring, when the heights of tree and grass pollination overlap.

Circulating pollen then enters the respiratory tract where it incites a cascade of immunological mechanisms, most notably inflammation which elicits
symptoms that are most synonymous with allergies, including sinus irritation and watery eyes.

Suggested Strategies:

– Limit or avoid early morning outdoor activites. The greatest quantities of pollen are released between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Also, keep doors and windows closed. Although seemingly innocous and highly refreshing, a spring
breeze remains capable of bombarding the sinuses with pollen particles. Instead, crank up the A/C to keep cool while shielding yourself.

– Optimize immune system functioning by cleaning up your nutrition. Barring trans fats and reducing intake of saturated fats and processed foods is advisable as they are capable of rousing systemic inflammation by eroding the antibody producing lymphatic tissue which lines the gut.

– If working outdoors, shower immediately and segregate your laundry, by bagging up pollen coated clothing until the next load of wash.

– Produce should be rinsed thoroughly prior to consumption or preparation. The removal of rinds, roots, and leafy roughage may also be warranted.

2. Be wise and acclimatize

Increases in temperature and humidity must also be considered. As such, those conducting physical activity outdoors should permit time to acclimatizing, or adapting to the warmer weather. Acclimatization is inherently critical to maximizing physiological performance and preserving health. Literature suggests that acclimatization requires 7-14 days and protocols which gradually increase exposure are capable of increasing exercise tolerance while reducing the risk of exertional heat illness, an umbrella condition which describes one or a combination of the following: cramps, syncope, hyperthermia, and stroke.

Suggested Strategies:

– If unfazed by heightened circulating pollen, outdoor activities should intially be reserved during the early part of the day. Alternatively, physical activity can be performed during the evening hours.

– Intermittent exercise is advised initially, as it allows for greater disspation of heat than prolonged bouts of physical activity. Frequent rest periods are advocated, especially for deconditioned individuals and athletes.

– Sports and activities which require protective equipment should entail a transition, in which clothing and pieces are gradually added throughout the acclimatization period.

3. Drink Up

Hydration is of vital importance in ensuring health and performance. Thermoregulatory functioning hinges on hydration status as does the transport of nutrients and electrolytes to working muscles during exercise. Electrolyte losses are accelerated during warmer conditions. One liter of sweat approximately contains 50 mmol of sodium, an electrolyte which maintains a normal osmotic gradient within cells. As such, consider adding table salt to food or consuming foods which contain
sodium, especially if much of your physical activity or day is spent outdoors in warm environments.

Suggested Guidelines:

Prior to Physical Activity:

– Establish a hydrated state by consuming non-caffeinated, non-carbonated and sugar-free beverages throughout the day. The average healthy person excretes 1.5 liters of urine per day, so consume an amount greater than 1.5 liters of water.

– Consume 16 to 20 fluid ounces two to three hours prior to physical activity.

– Consume another 16 to 20 fluid ounces 30 minutes prior to physical activity.

– Weigh yourself before physical activity without clothes or wearing undergarments.

– Never engage in physical activity while thirsty.

During Physical Activity:

– Consume 8 fluid ounces every 15 minutes.

– Never allow yourself to become thirsty.

– Consider a sports drink to replenish electrolytes lost from sweat.

Following Physical Activity:

– Weigh yourself immediately and replenish lost fluids. For every pound of body weight lost, drink 20 ounces.

– Do not reengage in physical activity until you successfully replenish lost fluids.

If you haven’t already heard, Proactive Health is offering our annual Spring into Shape package, in which we will provide you a FREE session for every (6) you purchase! Take advantage of this offer by Friday, May 29th by calling Membership Services at (215) 571-3830 to register.

Any inquiries related to programs or or questions pertaining to fitness and health, can be directed to Joe at jag476@drexel.edu.

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May Fitness Q&A with Joe Giandonato

A Fitter U Q&A: May 2015 with

Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS
Manager of Health Promotion
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 trying to get information on how exercise helps employee productivity. Can you steer me in the right direction?” – Anonymous

While physical activity has garnered praise for its impactful benefits on musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and metabolic functioning, many people fail to realize that it tenders significant improvements in neurocognitive functioning, thereby streamlining executive control, processing speed, and controlled processing functions of the brain.

Physical activity stimulates the production of brain derived growth factors, which are neurochemicals that catalyze corticogenesis, or the creation of neural circuitry which compose the brain’s outer layer, commonly known as the cerebral cortex.

The cerebral cortex is the epicenter of CNS activity and is awash in interminable neuronal functioning. Sensorimotor neurons which facilities the necessary “networking” so action potentials can be sent and received consequently ensuring muscular and glandular functioning.

One key brain derived growth factor of relevance is brain derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF for short. BDNF signals the proliferation and differentiation of neurons, in turn influencing synaptic communication and neuronal plasticity which collectively enhance the ability to acquire and recall information. BDNF also economizes energetic and endocrinological functioning as it bridges the gap between the brain and gastric hormones which are involved in hunger (ghrelin) and satiation (leptin). Lastly, BDNF possesses preservative characteristics by repairing damage and allaying degeneration of cortical structures which transpire throughout the aging process.

Literature has pegged both aerobic and anaerobic exercise as efficacious in harbinging BDNF activity.

College aged subjects who underwent five weeks of aerobic training boosted their BDNF levels at rest and following graded exercise testing. Similarly aged participants engaged in a five week anaerobic training program which elicited greater amounts among groups who completed traditional and eccentric based resistance training protocols.

The uptick in BDNF activity stemming from exercise might be the catalyst for boosting workplace productivity of 15 percent among employees who spent 30 to 60 minutes working out during lunch, as pointed out by a landmark study. Substituting work hours with allotted time to engage in physical activity also demonstrated improvements in productivity. Further, intermittent breaks involving exercise throughout the day was found to reduce musculoskeletal discomfort associated with modern day desk-jockeying.

Viable strategies could include endorsing walking meetings, regularly assembling team building initiatives which for example, may involve competitive and recreational activities. For those have trepidations concerned with immersing themselves in competition, have the entire team work together toward a common goal (i.e. accumulation of steps, completion of a list of trick basketball shots, time based relay race or scavenger hunt), rather than pitting them against one another, which may the proclivity to boil tensions.

For those who are less motivated to exercise, you can incentivize participation in physical activity by having them exchange work hours for gym time, provided the employees remain in good standing and that freeing employees does not significant impact operations, such as in the fields of emergency services and hospitality.

Which brings up the point of quality time at work. Quality time spent with loved ones and friends and while engaged in hobbies or leisure is cherished. So why can’t quality time be endorsed within the workplace. For exempt employees, you could encourage working from home or relieving employees once their tasks are completed. In positions which are performance driven, you could establish a “results only work environment” which provides employees greater autonomy and hopefully more time to include physical activity.


Barredo, R.D. & Mahon, K. (2007). The effects of exercise and rest breaks on musculoskeletal discomfort during compyter tasks: an evidence-based perspective. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 19, 151-163.

von Thiele Schwarz, U. & Hasson, H. (2011). Employee self-rated productivity and objective organizational production levels: effects of worksite health interventions involving reduced work hours and physical exercise. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 53, 838-844.

Yarrow, J.F., White, L.J., McCoy SC, et al. (2010). Training augments resistance exercise induced elevation of circulating brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Neuroscience Letters, 431,  161-165

Zoladz, J.A., Pilc, A., Majerczak, J., Grandys, M., Zapart-Bukowska, J., Duda, K. (2008). Endurance training increases plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor concentration in young healthy men. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 59, 119-132.

2. “What are your views on the Functional Movement Screen?” – Leonard J.

Although we incorporate the Functional Movement Screen, or FMS, in a majority of the fitness assessments we conduct, I cannot endorse it as a patent standalone given the emergence of research which demonstrates that the entire battery of tests comprising the screen is ineffective in gauging injury risk.

However, each test included in the screen has distinguishable qualities (i.e. multisegmental stability/mobility, rotary stability, multiplanar function, phasic and tonic properties) and assesses movement capacities of a different collection of joints throughout the kinetic chain. As such, some tests as the aforementioned research also suggested, are more reliable and correlative in the discernment of injury risk.

I think elements of the FMS are great. There is no test which provides more insight on kinetic chain functioning than the Overhead Squat. However, test selection should be specific to the demands of the sport or activity and should also consider needs and goals instead of pigeonholing athletes and clients via blanket protocols such as the FMS, which garnered acclaim through savvy marketing and certification workshops and has become accepted by seemingly ever pseudo physical therapist on the planet as the holy grail to assessing movement.

Furthermore, research has shown that the test is a poor indicator of athletic performance, lending credence to my initial point of it being a component of a comprehensive assessment, rather than utilized as a standalone.


Hotta, T., Nishiguchi, S., Fukutani, N., Tashiro, Y., Adachi, D., Morino, S., Shirooka, H., Nozaki, Y., Hirata, H., Yamaguchi, M., & Aoyama T. (2015). Functional Movement Screen for Predicting Running Injuries in 18-24 Year-Old Competitive Male Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. [Epub ahead of print]

Parchmann, C.J. & McBride, J.M. (2011). Relationship between functional movement screen and athletic performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25, 3378-3384.

3. “I’m interested in citrulline supplementation. Is it worth it?” – Gary L.

Citrulline has gained a considerable amount of traction within the bodybuilding and fitness communities as both a standalone nutraceutical and additive to proprietary blends, commonly consumed prior to and following strength training.

An endogenous constituent of arginine, citrulline bypasses splanchnic metabolism which amplifies its potency on influencing muscle protein synthesis and maintaining a favorable nitrogen balance, two aspects which are vital for tissue growth.

A recent collaborative review of existing literature revealed that citrulline is capable of rendering the following health improvements: moderate improvements in aerobic and anaerobic work capacity as well as strength endurance, streamlined resting and exercise left ventricular functioning, visceral perfusion, and lowered blood pressure. Evidence also suggests that citrulline supplementation assists with the excretion of ammonia, thus preventing the activation of glycolytically suffocating rate limiting enzymes which consequently wards off fatigue incurred during exercise. Citrulline has also shown effectiveness as a libido remedy.

The verdict: Citrulline does work; between 6-10 grams per day works best if improvements in performance or body composition are warranted.

The caveat: The benefits yielded from citrulline supplementation are comparatively miniscule. You won’t jump a shirt size or break personal records immediately. Keep your expectations realistic.


Giandonato, J.A, Tringali, V.M., Policastro, C.D., & Bryant, J. (2015). Evaluative analysis of citrulline supplementation among athletic populations. Italian Journal of Sports Rehabilitation and Posturology, 3 (2), 311-318.

If you have any inquiries related to programs or or questions pertaining to fitness and health, please contact Joe at jag476@drexel.edu 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 April 2015

Drexel_Triath_2015_Run-7Joe 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 recently sprained my wrist, how would you suggest treating it?” – Marco D.

Unfortunately, I cannot broach issues pertaining to the treatment of injuries as it is both illegal and unethical for me to do so, however, I will happily provide you considerations to help you maintain an ample training effect in light of your injury.

Establishing or maintaining a training stimulus is absolutely imperative when injured or recovering from an injury, provided that clearance is obtained from your treating physician or therapist. Although you may be temporarily bereft of performing upper body bilateral movements, you remain able to train the non-injured limb via unilateral exercises. Doing so will facilitate the neurophysiological phenomenon of cross education, in which strength is maintained in the injured and/or non-working limb. Literature has elucidated strength enhancements ranging from 8-22% in the non-working limb.

Examples of unilateral exercises and their bilateral counterparts of which they share a close relationship are included below:

– One Armed Dumbbell Press (flat, incline, overhead) in place of barbell presses

– One Armed Dumbbell Row (chest supported, three point, bent) in place of barbell rows

– Unilateral Plate loaded or cable press (flat, incline, overhead) in place of bilaterally performed presses

– Unilateral Plate loaded or cable row (chest supported, three point, standing, bent) in place of bilaterally performed row

Eccentrics can also be performed unilaterally on machines with connected handles and on the Smith machine. Proximally based exercises for the upper body, such as wall slides and those involving various scapular movements should be tolerable as they do not involve gripping objects, can be performed bilaterally. They can also be safely loaded with band attachments and cuff weights.

Lower body training may also be impacted as squat and deadlift variations require a gripping component. As such, bodyweight, machine, or alternatively loaded exercises, involving bands, sleds with a belt attachment, and offloaded exercises, such as carries, lunges, squats, and deadlifts, may prove beneficial, especially if strengthening the lateral and oblique muscular subsystems – those largely involved with balance and multiplanar planar stability – is desired.

Injuries can also serve as a blessing in disguise as they force you to work on fitness qualities, including cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility, and mobility, which may be comparatively lagging behind strength and strength endurance. You can also concentrate on improving tissue quality through self myofascial release modalities, which in turn will confer gains in muscular extensibility and range of motion. If you’re an athlete, you can redirect your training zeal and focus to translating your strength to developing as an assortment of biomotor skills, which include power, speed, agility, and reactive abilities.

Don’t let an injury derail you. As it pertains to dealing with an injury, eliminate the self-defeating mindset by thinking in terms of abilities, not limitations. I wish you a speedy and productive recovery!


Munn, J., Herbert, R.D., & Gandevia, S.C. (2004). Contralateral effects of unilateral resistance training: a meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Physiology, 96, 1861-1866.

  1. “What is your take on amino acid supplementation?” – Mike H.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. More specifically, they are biologically indispensible compounds consisting of amine and carboxylic acid functional groups and a side chain of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen molecules, which are unique to each individual amino acid. Amino acids facilitate a host of physiological functions and as it pertains to improving body composition, are capable of simultaneously increasing muscle protein synthesis and decreasing muscle protein breakdown, which equal added lean body mass. Further, amino acid supplementation has been demonstrated to curtail exercise induced muscle damage stemming from strenous physical activity and has been shown to quell the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness, plausibly hastening recovery time between workouts.

Based on my extensive review of the literature, the branched chain amino acid leucine is probably the most important if you’re looking to add lean body mass due to its interaction with metabolic pathways associated with anabolism, which chiefly includes mTOR. mTOR, which is short for mammalian target of rapamycin, governs the rate of muscle protein synthesis. Leucine as a standalone has demonstrated the ability to stave off decrements in strength and lean body mass and has been shown to elevate protein synthesis in the presence of heightened free radicals. Literature has illustrated a positive correlation between the proportion of leucine contained within protein supplements and improvements in strength, muscle mass, and recovery.

Amino acids can be obtained through a diet consisting of protein sources. Higher quality protein sources, which hail from animal byproducts are advocated as they possess a richer amino acid profile, which typically contain an abundance of leucine and a sufficient amount of essential amino acids, which cannot be manufactured by the body.

While amino acids can be extracted from supplements, the soundest recommendation would be to obtain them from the ingestion of higher quality protein sources through a balanced diet. It should be noted that protein needs are influenced by health status, activity level, and goals. For more information as it relates to nutrition, please contact Morgan Kilroy, Coordinator of Member Services, at mak384@drexel.edu to set up an initial consultation with a Proactive Health Registered Dietician. Additional fees may apply.

  1. “I’ve been hearing a lot about RISE group training lately. What are the benefits of group training? – Ellen L.

Thank you for your interest in RISE! We are proud to avail a customized group training platform to multiple constituencies in an effort to improve a constellation of fitness qualities and biomotor skills among all of our participants.

Group training is an attractive option to the value minded consumer as the price points associated with group training are considerably lower than one-on-one personal training. The groups will remain small enough so participants are still able to receive individualized attention while they work alongside their fellow participants, who may consist their neighbors, friends, classmates, or significant other. This brings us to our second benefit – the establishment of camaraderie. Participants will feel like they are a part of team and will encourage one another and perhaps compete against each other in the collective effort of achieving improved health and enhanced fitness levels. Furthermore, engendering a sense of community among participants will bolster motivation and will help drive accountability.

We’ll eliminate the guesswork through the administration and subsequent interpretation of fitness assessments and will handle the programmatic aspects, while show up each day ready to work so you can reap results in time for summer!

If you have any inquiries related to RISE or questions pertaining to fitness, please contact Joe at jag476@drexel.edu 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 U Q&A March 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. “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.

The Good:

– 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.

The Bad:

– 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:

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

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 jag476@drexel.edu 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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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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