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 firstname.lastname@example.org or ask for him at the Member Services desk, which is located in the lobby of the Rec Center.