Friday, January 24, 2014

4 Reasons to Forget Your BMI Right Now

This whole blog summed up in a pic. Now scroll down and watch me rant.

So the entire health and fitness industry has been royally ticking me off lately, and one of the plethora of annoyances has been that people care entirely too much about the Body Mass Index, or BMI. Let me skip the pleasantries and get straight the point.

At the time of this post I am 5'11" and 210 lbs. I have visible abs. My BMI is 29.3 and I am thereby overweight and less than 1 point away from being obese. According to the BMI, for me to be considered "healthy" I should weigh between 132.66 and 178.55 lbs. Forget that.

Along with age (don't even get me started), the BMI is the most worthless and inaccurate number used in gyms today, and you probably shouldn't even bother paying attention to it. Here's why:

1. You want to look athletic. Yes, you do. Stop arguing, yes you do. If your gut response is, "No, I want to look toned," slap yourself immediately. First, toning doesn't exist. Secondly, what do you think that "toned" look is? Lean body mass and low body fat. There's a reason why those workout motivation posters have taken over all things social media; the vast majority of people don't want to look skinny.

So what does that have to do with my BMI? It is widely accepted that the Body Mass Index is an inappropriate measurement for athletes. Why? Because...

2. If you really exercise, it's absolutely useless. By exercise, I'm specifically addressing those of us who weight train with a purpose. The reason why it's worthless in the case of athletes is because it doesn't account for muscle mass. In other words, it sees you as a blob. You could be chiseled out of granite or look like a Muk Pokemon, it doesn't matter. You're a blob that is this tall and ways this much. Somehow both are in the same health classification and are at the same risk for heart attacks and diabetes? Blob please.

3.It turns the scale into the Boogeyman. C'mon, we're still not over this yet? Aren't there enough people with eating disorders and body dysmorphia already? For people who are trying to get lean, this subconsciously teaches that lower on the scale = good and higher = bad. Even if you know that the BMI is no good with muscle, you can still feel bad for doing better!

4. There are much better measuring options. If low body fat is your goal, why not measure wellIdunno FAT?? Even if you're trying to gain some muscle, you can more accurately measure how much of that extra mass is muscle vs. fat. Throw in circumference measurements with a measuring tape and you've got a pretty clear picture of body composition. Every competent personal trainer knows how to use skinfold calipers, so why the heck are we still using the BMI?

In summation, The Body Mass Index has become a very dated resource for determining someone's health. It's not the inventor's fault, he came up with it in the mid-1800's. We as health professionals have completely dropped the ball on letting this stay relevant. Life insurance companies even look at your BMI before determining the price you pay, and a higher score means a higher premium. I'm paying more for trying to be a fit beefcake? For trying to live longer? Are you kidding me?

 If at all possible, have your body fat and body cirumferences measured. That way, you can fully understand what your body is comprised of and develop strategies to achieve or maintain those optimal numbers. And if you think I'm done ranting, just wait until the next one...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The 10 Squat Commandments (revised)

Trust, I'm making this exact face as I type this.

 Welcome to the Temple of Squat

I've been on a strange alpha male kick this year, and with it came a desire to toss my aesthetic pursuit to the back seat and become a 230 lb athletic juggernaut of a human being. For me, that means gobbling up all food morsels and some small animals, wrestling tigers, and attacking compound lifts on a daily basis.

 One of the most noticeable differences in my training is my approach to the squat. I've been squatting 4-5 times a week now and now there is no trepidation on my part. Where I used to spend the day in preparation, I now walk in with confidence and acquaintance with the most hated yet respected exercise.

There has been a set of Squat Commandments that has circled the internet for some time now, and while I like them, they're a bit scattered and feel somewhat incomplete. Plus, they aren't in Old English which should be a no brainer (because I can't write Aramaic and you can't read it).

In direct application to these commandments, I find that certain meatheads cannot be pursuaded to squat. However, they can be ridiculed for their puny legs and even punier squat numbers into doing something about it. Shun the non-believer! Shunnn!!
Probably the most delicious squat of all time
  1. He who doth not squat doth not train.  Plain and simple. If you are an able bodied human being (i.e. you have legs) and are capable of squatting, you better be squatting. Understanding its place as a both an essential pattern of human movement and fundamental element of strength should compel you to do it.
  2. Thou shalt not fear the squat. Eliminate all the myths about this exercise. They don't make you slower (Colts running back Trent Richardson squats 700 lbs with ease and runs a 4.3 sec 40 yard dash), your knees should go past your toes (or they wreak havoc on your hips), and squats will not hurt you if you follow the next few commandments.
  3. Thou shalt fear the squat. I know I just said not to fear it, but I mean it in terms of respect. Squats will hurt you if you approach them haphazardly or perform them outside of your abilities, which is why...
  4. Thou shalt learn to squat correctly.  One of the most common excuses for not squatting is that you hurt *insert muscle here* the last time you squatted so now you just leg press (because it's practically the same thing right? *facepalm*). Save your knees, hips, and back from the start and take the time to discover what a good squat looks like, how it feels, and practice the movement until you get it.
  5. Thou shalt squat often. That crippling soreness that tiptoes towards paralysis that you feel in the morning? Yeah, that's because you're probably not squatting enough. Increasing your frequency should alleviate some of that, provided you aren't stupid about it. Mix heavy days up with speed days to prevent overtaxing yourself.
  6. Thou shalt squat deep. The internet has made a huge deal out of squatting until the thighs are parallel in the last few years (thanks, Misc), but even that is somewhat misguided. The whole reasoning behind it is that parallel is the minimum for what counts in the sport of powerlifting. Parallel is nice, but you should really be squatting as deep as possible. CrossFit has a great standard of having the crease of the hip drop below the knee. Bottom line, get low. Friends don't let friends squat high.
  7. Thou shalt ditch thy gear. All of it, at least at first. Very few lifters will reach the point where they truly need a belt, and you're probably not one of them. Don't be lazy, learn to brace and breathe and you won't even miss that restrictive belt. As much as they help, toss your $200 Olympic weightlifting shoes to the side for the time being and work on good squatting mechanics with your dirty, mud covered pair of Chuck Taylors, or even better, your bare feet. And for the love of God, you don't need to sniff ammonia to squat 185 lbs, you wuss.
  8. Thou shalt pursue mobility with reckless abandon. Hips and ankles feeling locked up and hindering your deep squat? Fix them. Excuses like "I'm too old" or "I'm just not flexible" don't hold weight anymore. Youtube has thousands of squat-specific hip and ankle mobility videos at your disposal. Get to studying, kiddies.
    And you can't squat deep because...?

  9. Thou shalt not squat timidly. A pet peeve of mine is when I see people passively walk up to the bar and gently lift it off of the hooks. I'm not saying you have to roar and slam the weights, but show a shred of focus! Pick that bar up out of the rack as if you're standing up at the end of a speed squat. Control yourself on the way down, and explode out of the bottom as fast as you can. Be aggressive!
  10. Thou shalt squat with an open heart. A bit controversial, but what the heck. I use the squat rack to shape my character - resilience, strength, and the ability to overcome are continuously running through my mind. I've squatted myself clean out of depression before. Bad things happen, and the squat has become my therapy session, teaching me that no matter how much life may suck, I'll either die or I'll be better for it. That's something worth having.

    Hope this makes you look at your squat differently. In the words of Ido Portal, "Move. Because you can. If you won't, tomorrow you might not be able to. MOVE."