Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
The squat is probably one of the best-known exercises around and is a staple ingredient in (most) fitness programs. Generally considered a lower-body exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes and hips, the squat movement is actually one of the best full-body, compound exercises you can do.
From the time we are toddlers through adulthood, we perform a variety of squat movements throughout the day — every time we sit down or stand up, bend down to pick something off the floor… Being able to perform daily tasks with good posture is vital for all ages, and is of particular importance during pregnancy.
Including squat variations in a prenatal fitness program is essential to help prepare the body for labor and delivery. Here are four good reasons why you should squat during pregnancy:
- Squats help to strengthen your lower body and maintain mobility in your hips so that you can achieve the squat positions that will help you cope with contractions during labor.
- Squats will strengthen your glutes, which will help to stabilize the pelvis and reduce the experience of lower back pain.
- Squats help to maintain balance and coordination as your center of gravity shifts with your expanding belly.
- Squats are a low-impact exercise that will elevate your heart rate and keep your cardiovascular system strong.
Squats for Every Trimester
First Trimester Squat Variations:
During first 14 weeks of pregnancy, your body composition is just beginning to change. This is the time to work on perfecting your squat form. You want to make sure to emphasize developing lower-body strength and endurance through all stages of pregnancy, so spend this time making sure your squat form is on point!
For some women, that might mean starting with body weight squats. But, all levels of exercisers can progressively increase the external load (the amount of weight used) for their squats during the first trimester.
When performing squats, stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart and think about rooting into the ground through your heels, big toes, and the outsides of the feet. As you bend through the knees, think about pulling yourself down to a low chair. In an ideal bottom position the knees are below the hips. From the bottom, think about pushing the ground away to stand up.
The following series of squat variations are demonstrated by my friend and physiotherapist Melanie Stevens Sutherland from RPM Physiotherapy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Melanie was seven months pregnant in these photos. She is an experienced lifter, and has continued to be “Mom Strong” through her pregnancy!
This is my favorite squat variation to emphasize glute recruitment. Stand in front of a low box or chair and bend through the knees to sit down fully. From this bottom position you’ll be able to focus on pressing through the heels to engage your glutes. Make sure to stand straight up without leaning forward. Video here.
This is a great variation to improve thoracic position through the squat. It can be done with a box to focus on form, or without a box to progressively challenge the movement. Increasing the external load will also increase the challenge to your upper body and core. Video here.
Barbell Back Squat
The back squat allows you to increase the weight used beyond what is possible with a goblet squat. Occasionally, I still like to use a box with this squat variation to continue to emphasize form and glute recruitment. Increasing the load will help to develop strength and endurance in your lower body to help prepare for the increased weight that your body will carry in the second and third trimesters. Video here.
Second Trimester Squat Variations:
During weeks 14 through 28, pregnancy weight becomes more noticeable, and the belly bump can’t be mistaken. At this point be aware of the added weight around your abdomen during workouts. You can use this added weight to your benefit to make your squats more challenging without increasing the external load as quickly as you would through the first trimester. Through this period, make sure to maintain the squat form that you developed in the first trimester — don’t allow the extra weight to pull your torso, particularly your shoulders, forward.
Continue to use box, goblet, and back squats through the second trimester, but include some variations that will further develop lower-body strength and stamina.
Offset Kettlebell Squat
With the external weight loaded on one side of the body plus the extra baby weight, in this variation you’ll be forced to engage your core and recruit your glutes to maintain squat form. Video here.
Single-Leg Sit-to-Stand Box Squat
This is a great accessory exercise to strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and quads while also challenging your body’s balance and coordination. You’ll notice this exercise is similar to the box squat above, but performed on one leg. To avoid overstraining through this movement, hold on to a suspension trainer or rings for assistance.
Third Trimester Squat Variations:
In the final stage of pregnancy you’ll experience the greatest weight gain, which will likely force you to either maintain or reduce the external load to continue squatting with good form. Focus on balance, coordination, hip mobility, and endurance as you get closer to labor and delivery.
Squat variations that emphasize the eccentric portion of the movement are perfect for this trimester. Assisted or unassisted box squats, goblet, sumo, and barbell back squats can all be used through the third trimester. For each variation, increase the amount of repetitions for each exercise as you reduce the external load. Developing endurance through this phase will be key to prepare your body for the greatest endurance event of your life. Get ready for it!
This wide-stance squat is a great exercise throughout pregnancy to maintain mobility in the hips. It is especially beneficial during the last trimester, as it doesn’t need to be heavily loaded to be effective. Video here.
What’s the payoff for all that squatting?
One of my clearest memories from my first labor experience was being in a deep squat position over a toilet-like seat. The contractions I had in that position were so effective that my midwife asked me to stay there until I had four of them. Those contractions were as intense as they were effective, so I looked at my midwife with disgust — kinda how you might look at your trainer or group instructor if they’d just asked you to perform not one, but four more sets of your most the most grueling exercise you love to hate!
As much as I hated the thought of it, I knew my midwife was right, and I was mentally up to the challenge. My mom was standing in front of me at the time, coaching me through. I gripped onto her jeans and hoped that my legs would keep me up! Although I was supported at the bottom position, my feet were gripping the ground, my quads, hamstrings, and glutes were contracted, and I was in the deepest and widest position that my hips could achieve.
All the squats I had performed throughout the previous 10 months suddenly made so much sense!
(By the way, those four contractions helped me dilate from six to nine centimeters, and my son arrived moments later!)
When you’re working with a pregnant client the first consideration should always be safety. Pregnant clients come to you for motivation and guidance through their pregnancy, but they also want reassurance that they are supported and safe while engaging in exercise. Here are some considerations to make for your prenatal clients and classes:
- Make sure that the exercise environment is well ventilated. Avoid hot or humid environments so that your client does not overheat. Include frequent and longer rest periods, encouraging water intake to also prevent overheating.
- Monitor your clients for signs of excessive fatigue. You may need to reduce the reps, speed and/or intensity of your program. Expect that you’ll need to make modifications. Your client’s energy levels will most likely vary from session to session based on the stage of pregnancy she is in and how her body is adapting to those changes.
- If your pregnant client experiences a sharp pain at the lower front of her pelvis when squatting, you may need to provide an alternative exercise. She may be experiencing pain in her pubic symphysis, a joint that widens during pregnancy to allow the baby to be delivered through the pelvis. This is one of the amazing feats of the pregnant body, but some women can experience pain from the force that is placed on this joint. Squatting can trigger that pain. Refer your client to a women’s health professional or a prenatal physiotherapist for an assessment and advice on how to manage her symptoms.
Exercises To Do And Avoid During And After Pregnancy
There are so many myths about exercising during and after pregnancy, it can be hard to know if you’re doing the “right” thing. Our education materials are carefully vetted by OB/GYNs, PhDs, Registered Dietitians, Women’s Health Physiotherapists, and Pre and Postnatal Exercise Experts, and we have put together this FREE handbook where you’ll learn:
- The best exercises to do during and after pregnancy
- Exercises to avoid during and after pregnancy
Monday, May 29, 2017
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Saturday, May 27, 2017
Friday, May 26, 2017
Thursday, May 25, 2017
For years, I worked in academic research settings studying the role of exercise on weight loss and weight maintenance. Since weight loss was a primary goal, the most important outcome in these studies was body weight (or what percent of body weight had been lost).
Week after week, we coached clients on exercise, diet, and creating new habits. Week after week, clients came to the research center to step on the scale and weigh in.
It was in those moments, as women would step on the scale and assess what the number truly meant (about their likelihood of success, progress, even self-worth), where I would do most of my coaching. There would be moments of celebration, vindication, but also of rationalization.
“I’m so surprised.”
“Well, it’s that time of month.”
“I’ve picked up my workouts the last couple of days, I must’ve gained muscle.”
For the record, with regard to that last comment above, it doesn’t quite happen like that. While it would be great if gaining muscle were that easy, imagine what the World’s Strongest Man and Woman contests would be like?
The women in these studies weren’t necessarily concerned with getting stronger or gaining muscle. They just wanted to lose weight. Weight gain — any weight gain — was perceived as something negative. They turned to the muscle-gain explanation solely to offset the disappointment over the numbers on the scale.
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When I stopped working in academics, my client base became a more fitness oriented one. In this female population, the goals often went beyond just the number on the scale, to a more aesthetic-oriented goal. Body composition and muscle mass mattered, although many clients still didn’t want to necessarily gain weight in order to build more muscle.
And so, the questions would start coming…
“Can’t I just turn this fat into muscle?”
“How much muscle can I gain in a week?”
(That depends on a lot of factors, like how long you’ve been training and what you’re eating, for example.)
“Why can’t my body build muscle and lose fat at the same time?”
(It can, but it’s tricky — and again, it depends on a number of variables.)
It’s this last question I want to talk focus on, because for many people this is the best-case scenario — weight stays stable while fat mass decreases and muscle mass increases. Some consider this the “Holy Grail” of fat loss.
For many years, most experts and the scientific weight loss literature advised that weight loss inevitably would lead to both fat and muscle loss. That was a fairly easy explanation to grasp.
Gaining muscle requires a positive energy balance (more calories consumed than burned). Losing weight requires a negative energy balance (more calories burned than consumed). So you can’t quite be in positive and negative energy balance at the same time.
Again, this is where things get tricky, and the science has evolved over the last several years. More recently, data have been published challenging that long-held belief and showing that losing fat and gaining muscle — simultaneously! — is, in fact, possible. So, what does it take?
1. The “Right” Training
The “right” training here means engaging in strength training regularly — trying as hard as possible to put on muscle with a smart, safe training program using appropriately heavy weights. It doesn’t mean endless hours of cardio.
Those who are newer to strength training usually have an easier time adding muscle because, well, resistance training is a new stimulus. On the flip side, the longer you’ve been strength training the more difficult it is to build more muscle. It isn’t impossible, but it’s definitely a greater challenge.
2. Dialed-In Nutrition
On the nutrition front, one commonality among the studies that support this notion — the “Holy Grail” of gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously — is the quantity and timing of protein in the diet. A recent study set out to answer the very question of just how much protein is required to have such an effect.
The study, published in The FASEB Journal, specifically looked at three different levels of protein during a calorie-controlled weight loss study based on the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA):
- The U.S. RDA (0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight)
- Twice the U.S. RDA (1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight)
- Three times the U.S. RDA (2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight)
In this study, 39 male and female subjects were first given adequate calories, but different amounts of protein based on the levels listed above. The goal within the first 10 days was to maintain their current body weight, yet grow accustomed to consuming a higher amount of protein. After 10 days, the subjects among all groups followed a calorie-restricted diet along with a supervised exercise program, to elicit an average weight loss of two pounds per week. To control for any confounders among the subjects, researchers provided all meals and supervised all exercise sessions. The entire protocol lasted 31 days.
The researchers found those who ate double the RDA of protein were able to lose fat without losing lean body mass, while exercising during the 31-day study. Interestingly, those who tripled the amount of protein didn’t experience more weight loss than the group doubling their intake. Both of the higher protein groups resulted in a statistically significant weight loss compared to the group eating the standard RDA of protein.
Increasing protein intake while trying to actively lose weight, can help shift the loss to more fat, while preserving lean body mass.
This is particularly important since that change can further help with the maintenance of fat loss since lean body mass itself increases metabolism.
The other piece to this protein question — actually, the most critical piece — is the timing of intake. Yes, protein quantity is important, but protein timing further enhances the likelihood of fat loss and muscle gain happening simultaneously.
There are two components to protein timing that makes a difference: one is the timing of protein eaten throughout the day and the other is the timing of protein around workouts. Let’s look at the first part of this – eating throughout the day. First, your body is constantly building (protein synthesis) and breaking down protein (protein breakdown) throughout the day. But keep in mind that the body also doesn’t really store protein (like it does carbohydrate and fat), therefore, eating protein frequently is important for long term maintenance of lean body mass.
What does “eating protein frequently” look like? A palm size portion — which is about 20 to 30 grams — at breakfast, lunch, and dinner (along with maybe some smaller snacks). To give you an idea, this is equal to about three to four ounces of fish, beef or poultry, or a cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, or three whole eggs plus two egg whites. Note: this is vastly different than how many individuals eat, which is to skip or eat very little protein at breakfast and snacks and over-consume protein at dinner.
Now, the second component is protein timing around a workout. Most research has demonstrated that eating protein before and/or after a workout is effective for building and maintaining muscle mass. Eating protein before a workout makes amino acids from the protein available during the workout to slow or limit protein breakdown. Eating protein after a workout means amino acids will be available to help speed recovery. A typical recommendation is to consume 20 to 40 grams of carbohydrate for 20 grams of protein within one hour before or after a workout. This could be a protein shake, smoothie, Greek yogurt with fruit, or the like.
Now, let’s look at how all this plays out for a 150-pound (about 69 kg) active female.
From the research just mentioned, it showed 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the most effective amount for the reasons discussed above.
In our example, at 69 kg x 1.6 g of protein, she should aim for about 110 grams of protein per day.
When divided into three meals, that comes out to about 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal, plus a couple of protein-based snacks to make up the difference.
Far too often, we see people give up on one or the other before ever seeing the changes they desire. If you want to see the greatest changes in body composition over time, the most important thing you can do is be consistent. This means making sure you are continuing to challenge yourself in the gym and progressing the difficulty of your workouts, as well as keeping your nutrition dialed in.
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- Stefan M. Pasiakos, Jay J. Cao, Lee M. Margolis, et al. Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. The FASEB Journal 2013; 27(9): 3837-3847
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