Monday, July 26, 2010


Squats are often called the “King of Exercises” because it is one of the best exercises ever created. Some even say that if you could only choose one exercise to do, make it Squats. It trains your hamstrings, quads, back and abs. It truly is a functional exercise that utilizes almost all the muscles in your body. Now when it comes to squats, there have been various debates on how low you should go. The most popular is where you come to a halfway point (where your thighs are parallel to the floor). This is not the best technique and if you want to get the most from your squats, you want to go below the parallel point as low as you can as long as you can maintain your proper form and balance – preferably all the way down or what most peopole call ATG - Ass to The Ground. Unless you have a specific reason not to go so low (like a power lifter who would go just below the parallel squat where your waist is below your knees) for all other purposes, you would want to execute a full squat.

To get the most of your squat, you want to ensure you do the full range of motion (ROM) and not just half way through. Many people disagree and say that a parallel squat is safer on your knees compared to a full squat. This is not true as most of squat injuries occur during lift off (where you lift the bar off the rest and take a couple of steps back to get into position) and landing (where you step back to re-rack the weights). Almost all squat related injuries come from poor technique and not because you go all the way down. You can get just as injured doing a parallel squat if your technique is wrong. So it has nothing to do with how low you go.

This morning I was totally stunned to see a PT in the gym who was training his client to do squats. They were using a Smith Machine (Smith Machines are not very effective – I will cover why in another post) and he loaded up the weights for his client (a lot of weights). During the warm ups when the weights were lighter, the client kept going almost all the way down. As it got heavier, his descent was less and less. And finally when they reached the max amount of weight, the client barely even reached the parallel position – and best of all, the PT did not say anything! If I had to call it a name, I would call it a quarter squat, since he only did a quarter of his ROM. Then the PT caught me looking at his client and he casually just said “lower”, but it still wasn’t even near the parallel position.

It’s not about how much weight you can slap on to impress others in the gym. It’s about how much you can do while maintaining proper form through out. You don’t see people doing a half curl (actually I have seen this weird phenomenon) or quarter curl (so far I haven’t seen this…yet), so why is it that this only happens with squats. You should give it the full range of motion just like other exercises.

Here are some tips on how to execute a squat properly.

Chest Up - Keeping your chest up makes lower back rounding impossible & tightening of your upper-back easier. Your chest should be pointing forward.
Forward Look - Look down & your back will bend. Look at the ceiling & your neck will hurt. Look forward.
Bar Position - Put the bar low, on the muscles of your back shoulders. Below the bone at the top of your shoulder-blades. .
Elbows Back - Don’t let them come forward during the Squat. Pushing your elbows back prevents elbows injuries.
Foot Stance - I keep my foot stance at slightly wider shoulder width.
Toes Out - Point your toes out at about 30 degrees. Your toes must always follow your knees.
Knees in - While descending, don’t let your knees go forward past your toes. Try to keep it 90 degrees with the floor as far as possible.
Weight on your Heels - Never get on your toes. Push from the heels.
Use a power rack. Power rack is like a cage and the best place for you to execute your squats safely. Smith Machines may look like it simulates the same movement, but believe me, its far from the same.
If you have never done squats, you might want to practice the movement on a broom stick or mop stick until you get it right before attempting it in the gym with weights. Getting it right is important to ensure that you avoid injury. So practice it properly until you get it right. I would normally recommend you to get a PT in your gym to train you, but after what I saw this morning, recommending a PT in your gym will be unfair to you.

Anyway, if you are not already doing squats, I hope you start soon. Squats are a must in anyone’s workout or else your workouts will be incomplete. As usual, look forward to hearing your comments.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Detox - Hoax or Truth

Hi guys, firstly my sincere apologies for not having a post last week. I just tendered my resignation with Allianz recently and I have been really busy. What am I going to do after I resign? I will be working as a free lance corporate trainer and I also intend to put more focus on expanding Fitness Malaysia, which has seen tremendous growth over the past 6 months. Anyway, at the moment, I am trying to focus on my job in Allianz (handing over) as well as sorting out my corporate training and expanding Fitness Malaysia. So yeah, at the moment my hands are really full trying to juggle everything. That’s just a quick update to all of you on what’s going on my life. Initially I intended to make a post about my resignation, but as you can see, that’s about all I have to say about that.

This week I wanted to cover the topic of Detox and whether it really is as beneficial as people claim it to be. There are many types of detox services available in the market today. The one I am going to cover in this post is the one where you are supposed to consume a vegetable / fruit shake which is supposed to flush your system of toxins. As you know, Malaysians are becoming a lot more health conscious these days and I see more and more detox companies opening up everywhere offering you detox services. The usual claim is that detox helps you to:
· Remove Toxins from your body
· Helps you lose weight
· Keeps you free from illness

So does it really work and do we really need it or is just another marketing scam. Let’s look at it topic by topic.

Removing Toxins from your body
Usually, when you go for a detox session, you are given this “shake” which is a mixture of all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Due to the high fiber content of these fruits and vegetabls, most people end up getting a bit of diorhea the next day. Of course this is supposed to be good thing, since its “flushing” your system of all these harmful toxins. Is this true?

Our bodies are designed to remove toxins by itself without any assistance. From our kidney to the liver, these organs primary function is to process harmful material and excrete them from the body. Technically speaking, you don’t need to detox yourself since your body is already doing this all the time. Its like trying to sit in an oxygen tank for 30 minutes a day for 5 days with hopes of detoxing your respitory tract so it functions better – after all we are exposed to carbon monoxide and other contaminents daily. Again, our respitory tract is designed to handle normal levels of contaminents, so you don’t have to sit in that oxygen tank to detoxify it.

I am not saying that doing this is bad for you or harmful, but I personally don’t see the value of it in terms of removing toxins, since the body already has this system in place.

Helps you lose weight
Does detoxing help you lose weight? Usually when you go for a detox, you are asked to replace one of your meals with this vegetable / fruit shake. This of course translates to weight loss as there is a noticeable calorie deficit when you replace your normal meal to one that is purely fruits and vegetables. Honestly, this is a great strategy to lose weight as long as you can stomach it. The question then is, for how long? Most people I know do this for a week and then get sick of it and revert to bad habits again. But if you can maintain this for a long period, then yes, go for it.

Some recommend that you only drink the shake for 2 whole days. Meaning all your meals are replaced 100% by just these shakes. You are supposed to drink a shake every 2 or 3 hours to ensure your body receives enough nutrients throughout the day. Not very convenient, but the big question is, does this help you to lose weight?

For me, doing a detox for 2 days is a great way to reboot your digestive system. My wife was having trouble shedding the last few kilos no matter how much she exercised and how much she cut back on, she just couldn’t shed it. So she tried a detox for 2 days where all she did was drink the juices. We did it over the weekend and not a working day. She couldn’t stick to the juices 100% all the way without eating, but when she felt really hungry, she just had a slice of bread or something very light. But as far as possible, she tried to refrain from eating.

The results? After the 2 days of detoxing, once she went back to her normal diet, the kilos just melted off. She lost 1 kilo within the first 3 days of returning to her normal diet, another 1 kilo dropped off 7 days later. As you know, if you were to do the same exercise again and again, eventually your body would adapt and you wouldn’t see results anymore and you would have to shock your body by doing different exercises. Similarly, our body adapts to our eating habits and the best way to shock it is to go through a short detox session. This is especially helpful when you have come down to that last 2 or 3 stubborn kilos that just won’t disappear. A detox helps to shake things up and gets your body moving again.

Keeps you free from illness
Now the believe here is that since the detox cleanses your system, less toxins means you are healthier, which also translates to you not falling sick as often. Reality check amigos. Disease is caused by viruses and bacteria. Granted that the fruits and vegetables in the detox shake are high in vitamins and minerals, but if you already have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, you will be benefitting from this. So you don’t have to detox yourself this way. If your diet is poor in fruits and vegetables, then making a shake like this every other day (everyday would be better) will be beneficial to replenish your supplies.

So what’s the final verdict on detox? To me personally, I don’t think its bad for you but a lot of the benefits that they advertise, is not exactly right. I would recommend just typing in “detox recipes” in Google Search and you will get a whole host of recipes which you can do right at home for a fraction of the price. It does help you lose weight (when you do it properly), but I am afraid the other benefits are just not true. So what are your thoughts on detox? As usual, look forward to hearing your comments.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Zig Zagging

Have you ever tried to go through a muscle gain phase where you eat more, so you can lift more, gain size but end up also gaining unwated fat? Or have you tried going through a fat loss phase where you lose weight but end up losing healthy muscle mass as well? Let’s face it, it is difficult to gain muscle mass and stay lean at the same time. The reason is, most people only have one diet plan and follow it day in and day out for weeks depending on what they are trying to achieve - regardless of what their workout routine looks like. So if you are trying to gain muscle mass, you eat more and continue eating more everyday for 3 to 4 weeks everyday. Then when its time to cut the fat, you cut down your caloric intake for the next 3 or 4 weeks everyday while maintaining your workout. Needless to say, during the weight loss period, you lose fat, but you also end up losing muscle mass and strength in the gym.

So how do you gain as much muscle mass as you can without gaining too much fat? Striking that balance between the 2 is hard, but not if you know how.

The answer is a Zig Zagging. Zig Zagging is one of the best ways for you to gain muscle while keeping your fat gain at a minimum. This means you will eat according to your training days and your training days will consist of Weight Gain days (where you lift like a bull) and Weight Loss days (where you do your cardio) or where you are resting. For you to gain muscle mass, your body has to remain in an anabolic state and the only for you to achieve that is to eat more calories than you need. Of course this would mean that you would gain some small amount of fat as well as additional unused calories turns to fat. On weight loss days, you have to eat less calories than you need and this results in you losing fat. So whatever additional fat you gained during your weight gain days will be lost during the weight loss days without having any effect on your muscle mass. This balances off nicely where you get to keep the muscle you gained and lose that fat which you don’t want.

Ok let me share with you what I do, so you have good idea on how to do this yourself.

Monday through Thursday is my weight gain days. This is where I lift heavy to try and gain as much muscle mass as I can. Since these are heavy workouts, trust me, if you don’t eat enough, you are going to struggle through the routine and won’t get the most from it. So these are days where I eat more carbs and if I have to indulge in unhealthy food, I usually do it on these days – since it is supposed to be my weight gain days. So if you like to eat fast food, here is your green light to eat it during these days. Now of course how much you indulge in will depend on how heavy you are pushing yourself in the gym. The heavier you push, the more you need to consume.

Friday to Sunday is my weight loss days where is usually do cardio or just rest and relax. Usually I do the treadmill or run outside for about 40 minutes. Sundays are usually my lazy days, so following the principal of eating for what you are about to do, since I laze around most of the time, I don’t eat that much. Usually my meals are small, consisting of very little carbs but lots of lean protein. This is where you want to eat your salads and other weight loss type foods as well.

How about if I just want to lose weight and not gain muscle? Should I still do zig zaging? Absolutely. On days when you do workout, you are going to want to eat more so you have the energy to push more in your workouts, but maybe you don’t want to eat as much as a person who is trying to gain muscle mass would. On days when you are not working out (you must have this at some point in the week), you will stick to your usual weght loss type diet. The thing is, many people obsessed with what the weighing scale says and end up losing healthy muscle as well along with their fat. As you know loss muscle means lower metabolic rate. Whatever your weight loss goasl are, you goal should always be to lose fat, not muscle. So this is where zig zagging helps to ensure your body does not waste away muscle. So you look healthy and not haggard.

Eating exactly the same way all 7 days of the week is not an efficient technique at all. You need to zig zag and keep changing your meals according to what you are doing for that day. Try it out and see the results for yourself. I have been doing it and its really great. Besides helping you get the results you want, it also ensures that you don’t get bored with your diet. Most people quit their diets because its just too boring and they get sick of eating the same thing again and again. Zig Zagging allows you to add variety to the entire plan since you do get to different kinds of foods every week and still look your best. There really isn’t any reason not to do it. As usual, look forward to hearing your comments.