Squats, Deadlifts, and ACLs

"A torn ACL is the No. 1 reason women miss time from sports because of injury. And women are three to six times more likely to tear an ACL than men," according to the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Timothy Hewett, head of sports medicine at Mayo, states, "the reason women tear their ACL more often than men is because they tend to rely on different muscles and ligaments than men while jumping and running." Looking a little deeper, we also find that women have a slight anatomical disadvantage around the knee joint. With a greater Q angle -- the angle between the anterior superior iliac crest (ASIS) and the patella tendon, or the hip to the knee -- the knee can become less stable under stress and inwardly collapse more easily, resulting in more ACL tears.

How do we help mitigate and combat this unfortunate happening, at least from a weight-training perspective? We focus on strengthening key areas in the lower extremity. How do we do so? Two words: Squat. Deadlift.

Why the squat: According to an article titled ACL Injury Prevention Tips and Exercises: Stay Off the Sidelines!, by the Hospital of Special Surgery, "Having adequate strength in your hips and thighs is key to providing support for your knees and preventing ACL injuries." A properly executed squat significantly develops the hips and thighs, as well as the glutes, abductors, and hamstrings. (A stronger gluteus medius and gluteus maximus can directly fights against knee valgus.) As a result, we improve the musculature and strength of our lower extremity, which helps support and protect the knees; this allows our body to withstand increased forces placed upon it. In addition, the squat is an invaluable tool used to enhance balance; it requires the body to maximize motor control and learn how to maintain strict positioning while under load. When musculature, strength, and balance improve, we're able to run, jump, and move with less likelihood of injury.

Why the deadlift: According to Designing Resistance Training (4th ed.) by Steven Fleck and William Kraemer, "when the quadriceps strength is greater than the strength of the hamstrings, both the hamstrings and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) become more susceptible to injury because they are responsible for preventing anterior translation of the tibia on the femur. If the quadriceps can produce more anterior translation than the hamstrings and ACL can tolerate, injury is likely. Therefore, increasing the strength of the hamstrings in relation to the quadriceps could theoretically reduce the risk of ACL injury in women." Unfortunately, it is far too common to have a quadriceps-hamstring imbalance. Due to everyday activities and sport, we begin to rely on and develop our quadriceps at a disproportional rate. This is one reason to incorporate the deadlift into training. Like the squat, it activates a number of large lower-body muscles; however, this particular exercise focuses more on the posterior chain -- the hamstrings, glutes, and erectors, in particular. With the posterior focus, we can attack any imbalance while still benefiting other key areas.

ACL tears are never 100% preventable, but, from a weight-training standpoint, we can do our part to help lower the risk of injury. This holds true not just for women, but also men. We simply highlight the female population due to the drastic statistic skewed against this segment of the population.

Fight Gravity Vertically

When Sir Isaac Newton discovered the theory of gravity over 300 years ago, I'm guessing he gave little thought to its impact on lifting. But if Newton were to walk up to a loaded barbell, and lift said barbell, he would immediately realize its significance. (I'm guessing he'd know how to handle business, though.)

Gravity is a force we can always count on being around, and that force always acts vertically. Never will it slide to the right a little, or drift to the left some. It ALWAYS acts straight up and down. As a result, when lifting a barbell, we want to move it on the path of least resistance. What is that path you might ask? You guessed it, vertically! We want to move the bar straight up, and then straight back down. Any horizontal motion when lifting the barbell will result in wasted movement, as well as inefficient energy expenditure; this happens because the weight veers from our center of mass, or the optimal balance point by which we execute the barbell lift.

To illustrate this, take a look at the picture we pulled from Starting Strength Basic Barbell Training, third Edition, by Mark Rippetoe. From the picture, you can see that even a slight deviation can significantly impact a weight. (Granted, the picture doesn't show a weight being lifted, but hopefully you get the point. As a weight moves off balance horizontally, it become much more difficult to manage.)

So the next time you attempt to pull a heavy deadlift or squat a new PR, just remember what Sir Isaac would do. He would fight the vertical force of gravity by gritting his teeth and moving that bar straight up!

(What's the best way to biomechanically do this? Stay tuned to future posts...)

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Super Bowl Game of Fitness

In case you missed it, here's yesterday's Super Bowl Fitness Challenge! Go back and watch it again. How far can you make it through the game?

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Barbell Row Back Angle

When performing the barbell row, it's important to pay attention to back angle. Not so much to prevent injury, but more so to focus on desired musculature. The closer our back is parallel to the ground, the more of a pure back exercise the the lift is -- we significantly engage your lats in this position. As we begin to stand up and our back approaches a more vertical angle, our traps and shoulders start to take over. In essence, the row goes from, well, a row, to more of a shrug or an upright row. Unfortunately, many times a lifter will lift his or her chest and become more upright because he or she is tired; or, other times, he or she will begin to stand up because the weight is too heavy, and by standing up, the lifter is less inclined to have a rounded back. If you find yourself in either scenario, you're too tired to execute a proper lift or the weight is too heavy to execute the right form, stop. Rest, or use a lighter weight, a weight more suitable for your strength level.

*Seen in the picture, from left to right, is a progression from more of a back exercise to that of a trap and shoulder exercise. A properly performed row needs to have a flat, neutral back parallel to the ground.

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2nd Annual Take a Swing at Childhood Cancer

Farmer Gym's 2nd Annual Take a Swing at Childhood Cancer was a success! Thanks to you, $1,389 were donated to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital! Your generosity is truly appreciated. (The number of swings completed: 1,420.)

Keep the 3rd Annual event on your radar. Let's get a number of people to participate in next January's swing-a-thon!

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Avoid the T-position in the Bench Press

Our shoulders play an integral role in the bench press, and it's incredibly important that we execute the lift in a manner that promotes their longevity. The placement and movement of the elbows help us with this. When executing the bench press -- or a similar pressing movement, such as the push-up and burpee -- it's advised that you avoid "elbows up", or the T-position, where the arms and chest are at a 90-degree angle. Why? This can compromise the rotator cuff tendons, as they can catch between the head of the humerous and the acromioclavicular (better known as the AC) joint; this is called shoulder impingement, and it is not desirable. With repetitive back and forth movement in this location, increased wear and tear has been known to occur, leading to a number of injuries and eventual surgeries. Instead of the T-position, try using a more neutral placement, with your elbows down slightly, placing your humerous and chest at a lesser angle. This helps diminish the stress on the powerful shoulder joints and it can decrease the likelihood of tendon impingement. #growstrongandliftlong

Now...you might ask next, "well, what about the overhead press?!" That's for another post at a different time. BUT, due to the scapula's rotation and the upward movement of the arms, we're dealing with something completely different. So there is no T-position situation to fret, friends. 


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Eye Sight in the Squat

Where we focus our eye sight during the squat matters: as we squat, we want to look down and ahead -- approximately 8-12 feet in front of us. By doing so, initiating hip drive out of the hole is more easily accomplished. However, if we look straight ahead or gaze up toward the ceiling, many times we tend to lead with our chest because it follows where we focus. When our chest comes up first, our hips, and subsequently our knees, move slightly forward; this decreases our knee angle and results in reduced hamstring tension due to the relationship between our knee and hip joints. (Our hamstrings are a valuable prime mover in this exercise -- many people fail to recognize this), and when we lose even the slightest bit of elasticity, power is reduced. So the next time you set up for and execute the king of exercises, be sure to have the appropriate line of sight. Your gains will thank you!

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Water Helps You Grow

The "pump," or the look of an expanded body after a voluminous lift, is a result of water being displaced from your blood to your muscles. This puffed-up appearance is actually a good thing. Why? Water is anabolic; or, more aptly stated, the lack of water can limit a building condition. That's right: H2O actually helps muscle grow! If you don't have enough of it in your system, build-up can be compromised. When you're in a dehydrated state, your body goes into preservation mode. (The body is pretty smart. It knows what to do to survive and thrive.) If water is not abundant, it does not adequately enter the muscle cells after a workout, and thus, it more so stays in the blood and surrounding areas. By limiting the entrance of water to the muscle cells, protein can be stripped and synthesis can be reduced. (We want to PROMOTE protein synthesis, not prohibit it.) So take that sip of water when you have the chance, and consume that extra drink from the fountain between sets.

Lactic Acid Is Your Friend

"Slow down! I have too much lactic acid built up in my legs, and I can't run any faster!" You've most likely heard this, or something similar to it at some point in your training career. And like most people, you probably accepted the notion that the L word limits performance. But is lactic acid really the bad guy? Is it the byproduct that inhibits what you can do on the track or in the gym? The answer appears to be no. Thanks to the work of George A. Brooks, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, the once-believed theory behind lactic acid and its accompanying workout inhibition has been debunked; in fact, a number of other researchers investigated Brooks' new-found theory, and they confirmed his findings. Could it be? Lactic acid is actually your friend? That seems to be the case. It has now been shown that lactic acid is a source of fuel, and it helps the body during bouts of exercise; without it, your training actually suffers. When you're performing an intense workout, your body, via the cell's mitochondria, takes up lactic acid and turns it into energy to help further drive performance. So what's the limiting factor that makes you slow down or stop performance? Hydrogen ions and a decrease in cellular pH, which increases bodily acidity. As the body heightens its level of work output, it simply cannot buffer the excess ions. This is the reason extended bouts of intense running or lifting suffers. So the next time you "feel the burn" which causes you to cease further effort, don't blame lactic acid; instead, thank lactic acid for giving you a little more time before the muscle fatigue sets in.

Deadlift Back Angle

Angles play an important role when weight training (geometry *did* come in handy after all!). Too little here or too much there and your body moves out of place; when your body is out of place, you can't lift as much weight, you can become injured, or you end up performing an entirely different exercise. The back angle -- which is formed by the torso and the floor -- is largely dictated by the opening and closing of the hips; as the hips open, so too does the back. In a properly executed deadlift, the back angle stays relatively horizontal during the early phase of the pull. As the bar approaches the knees, however, things begin to change; it's at this point that the hips really start to extend and the back starts to appear vertical. Why is this important? If the back -- which remains isometrically contracted throughout the lift -- appears too vertical too early, you're likely sitting back and down, which looks and feels more like a squat. You'll have a problem lifting the bar up and around your knees in this position. If the back appears too horizontal later in the lift, you've likely opened your knees entirely without much hip extension, which looks and feels more like a good morning. You'll have a problem keeping the bar close to the body and lifting it to the the final position. Seen below are approximate back angles at the various stages of the deadlift. When you pay attention to the details and allow your body to do what it's supposed to do, you'll likely become stronger while experiencing fewer injuries. (You'll perform the proper exercise, too!)

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Traps and Deadlifts

Have you ever woken up with sore biceps after a day in which you moved? Thinking back upon the loading and unloading of heavy furniture, you recall your arms being at a 90-degree, locked (isometric) position in order to carry couches up and down stairs and throughout rooms. Although you weren't performing bicep curls with a repeated up and down motion, you were still demanding a lot of work from these muscles through prolonged, strenuous contraction.

(This is our long-winded intro to why deadlifting builds the traps...)

Do you want strong, well-developed traps? (Traps are the new abs. Why wouldn't you want them to be bigger and better?!) Then you must deadlift! Deadlifting arguably helps develop this 3-part muscle more than any other lift on the planet.

The traps, like the biceps in the above example, must operate in a similar manner during this lift. The large muscle group, through isometric contraction, must withstand large amounts of weight pulling down on it and transfer force from the lower back up through the shoulders. They are liken to a beam supporting a bridge. The accumulation of reps, sets, and weight mean greater work; greater work results in a larger, more well-developed support beam for the body -- bigger, better traps!

So the next time you're picking up hundreds of pounds from the floor, just remember, your upper body is doing just as much work as your lower body. The deadlift is a valuable strength- and muscle-building tool for the traps.


The Farmer Gym Way

Challenge yourself to our 16 parameters of fitness, and put your body to the 14-week strength and conditioning test... And see why The Farmer Gym Way has been flying off the Amazon shelves!

Week 1, Day 5 -- Testing Week:
(1) Maximum Overhead Press:
(2) 30-second Row for Distance:
(3) 7-minute of Burpees:
(4) 2-mile Run:

*The above example is one of the testing days where you'll set a personal baseline.


How Many Calories Do I Need?

How many calories should I consume in order to lose weight? What if I want to gain weight? You may have asked yourself these questions more than once. Luckily, there's an equation that can help guide you. The Mifflin-St Jeor method, the most recently constructed caloric-need formula, approximates the number of calories we need in order to lose, gain, or maintain weight.

Male BMR = 10 × weight (kg) + 6.25 × height (cm) – 5 × age + 5
Female BMR = 10 × weight (kg) + 6.25 × height (cm) – 5 × age – 161

* lb. / 2.2 = kg.
* in. x 2.54 = cm.

For example: John, 40 years old, weighs 95 kg. (209 lb. / 2.2), and has a height of 182.88 cm. (72 in. x 2.54). His BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) -- the number of calories you would burn if you did nothing all day -- is 1,898. (950 + 1,143 - 200 + 5)

10 x 95 = 950
6.25 x 182.88 = 1,143

Now we need to adjust this number to account for activity. How do we do that? We multiply BMR by an approximate activity factor. The numbers are:
1.200 = sedentary (little or no exercise)
1.375 = light activity (light exercise / 1-3 days per week)
1.550 = moderate activity (moderate activity / 3-5 days per week)
1.725 = very active (hard exercise / 6-7 days per week)
1.900 = extra active (very hard exercise / every day and physical job)

John works out 6 times per week, and thus, is considered to be very active. 

1,898 x 1.750 = 3,321.5

Therefore, according to Mifflin-St Jeor's formula, John needs to consume just over 3,321 calories per day to maintain his current weight. If John wants to lose approximately 1 lb. per week, he must restrict 3,500 calories a week (there are 3,500 in 1 lb. of weight); therefore, a good strategy would be to consume roughly 500 fewer calories per day (500 calories per day x 7 days per week). He would have to do the opposite to gain approximately 1 lb. per week. 

It should be noted, the formula is not perfect, as every person is different due to metabolic demands. 

Of course, if time is limited, you can always Google "caloric needs calculator". 


Open Hips, Not Over Arch

Finish the lift right; don't injure yourself! A common problem for many deadlifters occurs at the end of the exercise. Yes, we absolutely want to finish the lift by standing up with the weight; but, unfortunately, some people illustrate its completeness by over emphasizing "open hips." A finished deadlift happens when the body is in alignment, from head to heel, and the hips are open, without a present crease (the picture on the left). It's when people take the openness too far and arch their back excessively (the picture on the right). When we have too much of an arch, a few things can take place, both leading to possible injury: it can overload parts of the spine, and it has the potential to cause misalignment of the hips. So, instead of leaning back a few extra inches, know that once you're upright and you have open hips, the lift has been successfully executed!

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Hand Placement on the Bench Press

The bench press is not only the most popular exercise in the weight room (just look around gym floors everywhere on a Monday), but it is also the most dangerous. With hundreds of pounds hovering overhead, it's absolutely vital that hand placement be properly administered. Above all else, do not -- we repeat, DO NOT -- use a thumb-less grip. Someone, somewhere, may have told you that "this will add pounds to your lift," but he or she obviously did not have your best interest in mind: your safety... Once your thumbs are securely wrapped around the bar, you can fully squeeze it, thus helping increase the lift's efficiency. By firmly gripping the weight, a more rigid system -- your hands and arms -- can be anchored to the barbell, and your ability to fire more motor neurons through your upper-torso and into your arms can best be achieved. When the bar is in the hands, it should not roll backward onto to the finders; this creates a mechanical disadvantage, as the bar is no longer over the bones of your forearms and is instead being supported by compromised wrists. When the bar is on the back of the palms (over the forearm bones), the greatest forced can be exerted. As you lift the weight, be sure to maintain a powerful grasp on the barbell so that it does not shift during your repetitions.


Bar Over Mid-Foot

To perform your best squat and deadlift, the bar must be placed over your mid-foot. Period. When it's too far forward, your weight goes toward your toes and you move forward. When it's back too far, your weight shifts away from mid-line and your torso leans toward the rear and becomes too upright. Either too far forward or too far back will result in diminished strength and a less-than-optimal lift. When the bar is directly over your mid-foot, balance is best maintained while force is maximally transferred. If you start the lift ahead of or behind this position, you must expend more energy than necessary to correct the position and get into proper placement. (Your chance of injury also increases when the bar is out of placement.) So be certain to start the lift -- decent for squat and ascent for deadlift -- with the bar directly over your mid-foot; and try to maintain this position throughout the exercise. By doing so, your chance to perform your best lift is ideal. 


Foot Placement on the Squat

In order to optimally squat, we must make sure our feet are anchored to the ground correctly. When setting up this exercise, our feet should be approximately shoulder-width apart, with our toes pointed out at roughly 15-30 degrees. (Anatomical structure, mobility, and lift variation -- high-bar, low-bar, and front squat -- will largely dictate the angle of the toes.) By pointing the toes outward, we are creating a slightly wider base, while also allowing for greater external hip rotation. This lets up get back and sit down more easily; it can also activate our groin muscles -- the adductors -- more, aiding in the force placed through the floor. In addition to depth and added force, setting up for the squat in the manner listed helps with knee placement and movement, or lack-thereof. (We don't want the knees to buckle in! We want them shifted outward, like the toes.) Again, foot placement it relative to the individual, with several variables dictating optimal position. If you're able to safely execute the exercise with "your" position, great! 

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