5 Healthy & Fun Facts About Chia Seeds

Chia seeds maybe one of the hidden nutrition gems in the health and wellness industry. For those unfamiliar, chia is an edible, whole-grain seed that originates from  Salvia hispanica, a historical Mexican plant that dates back to the 16th century. They are rich in protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and tons of fiber!

Here are a few fun facts about chia seeds and why you need to include them in your diet if you’re not already doing so:

1. Fiber: Chia seeds are very rich in fiber, packing a whopping 11 grams per ounce, which is about one-third of the daily recommended intake. Fiber, as we all know, aids in maintenance of the digestive system, elimination of toxic waste from the body and avoiding curbing food cravings because of their ability to keep you full faster. Basically they prevent you from overeating.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: By now many of us know the role healthy fats play in keeping our organs functioning at a high level. Omega-3 fatty acids is one of such healthy fats and they can be found in chia seeds as well. About 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in an ounce of chia seeds, more than the amount in a single salmon. Remember our bodies can’t manufacture omega-3 fatty acids so we must obtain them from outside sources.

3. Protein: One ounce of chia seeds is also packed with nearly 5 grams of protein, making it another great source of protein for exercisers and fitness enthusiasts. Protein, as we all know, is an essential macronutrient for the development of lean tissue and maintenance of muscle and bone.

4. Calcium & Joint Pain: Consumption of chia seeds has been linked to reduction of osteoporosis and arthritic conditions in some people. This is due to its moderately-high calcium content of about 20 percent of the daily recommended intake. Those who are lactose-intolerant or those looking for a dairy-free calcium source can look to chia seeds as an alternative.

5. The Best Type: You can pick up chia seeds in most supermarkets or via www.nuts.com, a great site for all types of healthy nuts and seeds. However I prefer Nature’s Intent Organic Chia Seeds. It is certified organic by the USDA and also gluten-free, making a staple for those with gluten sensitivity. Whole Foods and Costco have organic versions of chia seeds.



Chia seeds can be mixed with and sprinkled over cereals, oatmeal, beans, protein shakes and other beverages, cottage cheese, yogurt and pudding. They can also be used as an additive in baking snacks and foods or can simply be eaten raw.

5 interesting facts about caffeine

Walk into any coffee shop during the morning work commute rush and you’re bound to see long lines of people eagerly waiting to ingest some caffeine into their systems. As an avid coffee drinker myself, the lines at these coffee shops amusingly make us look like a bunch of wild, thirsty zombies looking to devour on fresh blood. Maybe its addiction but coffee consumption has become an essential part of the American way of living, thanks in large part of its superb boosting effects on the body. Caffeinated drinks like RedBull and coffee have been linked to exercise performance enhancement. People are often seen in gyms sipping on these beverages during their workouts. The truth is caffeine is here to stay and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Here are 5 interesting facts about caffeine:

1). Caffeine Reigns Supreme: Research shows that approximately 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine in one form or another everyday and over 50 percent of American adults consume over 300 milligrams of caffeine each day. So many of us rely on coffee to help jumpstart our day and can feel withdrawn and cranky without it sometimes. Annual coffee revenue alone in America is about $30 billion with another $70 million coming from soft beverages and drinks. Caffeine is by far America’s most popular drug.

2). Easy Access: Caffeine is the most readily available drug choice of Americans and the numbers back it up. About 75 percent of the caffeine consumption of the average American comes from coffee. Coffee shops and sales continue to skyrocket across the nation. This chart breaks down the numbers over the last decade and projects a bright future. More than 15,000 coffee shops were established between 2002 and 2014 and the numbers are only going to get better. However easy access sometimes means too much caffeine consumption which has been linked to nausea, insomnia, upset stomach and fast heartbeat.

3). Performance Enhancement: Up until the 90’s, caffeine was thought to have no impact on exercise and athletic performance. However several studies since then have proven otherwise and today many people consume coffee prior to their workouts. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) concluded in a research that caffeine consumption enhances performance in long, endurance exercises (running, group exercise class, etc) and short, intense activities (1RM test, 3 sets of barbell squat, etc). Studies on the impact of coffee on moderately-intense workouts (full body, split routine, etc) lasting more than 30 minutes remain inconclusive. Though many of the preworkout supplements used by weightlifters contain caffeine, it is the other powerful ingredients like arginine and nitric oxide that make them highly effective.

4). Diuretic & Dehydration: Too much consumption of caffeinated beverages will not cause dehydration, like many studies show. Lack of sufficient water is the main cause for dehydration. However ingestion of coffee and other beverages does act as a diuretic on the body. Though water is also a diuretic, drinking too much coffee and not enough water could lead to dehydration and potentially affect exercise performance. Some bodybuilders and bikini athletes rely on the natural diuretic benefits of coffee in shedding excess water weight from their bodies rather than take diuretic supplements. Whatever fluid you consume via caffeinated beverages is generally offset with fluid that  is lost via urination.

5). Darker Isn’t Necessarily Stronger: Contrary to what many coffee drinkers think, dark roast coffee does not contain more caffeine than light roast coffee. In fact, it is the other way around. During preparation of the dark roast coffee, the beans are left to roast under the fire for a very long time thus stripping away majority of the caffeine content. The dark in dark roast is usually a result of the burn accumulated. In light roast coffee, the beans only cook for a short amount of time in order to preserve a vast majority of the coffee. Keep in mind that the amount of creamer and sugar you put in your coffee can impact the effectiveness of the caffeine.


One exercise only to do for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a question on my Facebook page asking my fellow fitness enthusiasts if they had to pick just one, what single exercise would they do for the rest of their lives. I received a lot of interesting responses including popular movements like squat, deadlift and push-ups. The fact of the matter is any exercise is good for the body so from that perspective any exercise is better than no exercise at all. But lets say, hypothetically, we could only perform one exercise for the rest of  our lives, which one would take precedence? Are there certain movements that are more impactful on the body than others?

Without a doubt!

Compound movements will obviously be favored because of their multi-joint actions. But as all-encompassing as compound movements are, they  don’t engage all muscle groups. Regardless, a few muscles will be left unworked. So how does one select the ideal exercise to perform for the rest of their lives?

I can make a case for 4.

1) A Case For The Deadlift: If you deadlift on a regular basis, you know it is one of the most whole-body engaging movements. Its functional impact on the body also makes it a staple in every workout program. The entire posterior chain gets worked from the upper trapezius muscles to the lats, erector spinae, gluteus muscle group and hamstrings. There’s also emphasis on the anterior core, quads, biceps, forearms and grip enhancement. Very few movements offer a barometer for strength like the deadlift due to its biomechincal physiology. The term ‘dead’ in deadlift essentially means picking up a dead weight from the ground which requires a great deal of effort and precision. It is why so many people hurt their backs when picking up items from the floor because their kinetic chain isn’t mechanically aware and alert enough. The deadlift corrects and addresses the problem while strengthening the body over time.

Although the chest, triceps and shoulders don’t get a lot of work, the fact that two-thirds of the body is engaged during this movement makes it an ideal exercise to perform for life.

2) A Case For The Squat: Widely considered as the premier exercise, the barbell back squat remains an essential component for weight loss, strength and lean muscle. It remains an assessment tool for many fitness professionals. Though I’d argue that the deadlift can and should replace the squat in assessment protocols due to the fact that preexisting knee and back ailments can affect a person trying to perform the latter. But I digress. The squat and deadlift are by far the two most functional movements in fitness, partly due to to their hip-hinging similarities  and identical muscle groups that are used. There are over 600 muscles in the body and squat is known to work about half of them! That alone is a good incentive to pick the squat as the ideal exercise to perform. Glutes, quads hamstrings, anterior core and upper back are some of the engaged muscles.

The only drawback, which I mentioned earlier, is knee and back pain can make back squatting difficult and unable to perform. Compressive forces from a loaded barbell on a weak lumbar spine could discourage an exerciser from doing squat. Although variations like the front squat (an ideal replacement for those with knee and back pain) and single-leg squat exist, they require near-perfect precision and execution and can take a while to master (the Bulgarian Split Squat being the exception). All things considered, the squat remains a great exercise and in my estimation, one of the two most important exercises (the deadlift being the other).

3). A Case For The Push-Up: By far the most popular exercise and best for working the upper body, the push-up is as ancient as Greek gods and is here to stay. Simply put, no exercise targets the pecs, anterior core, shoulders and triceps like the push-up. Keep in mind that the traditional bench press is a derivative of the push-up so both exercises are essentially the same. But unlike the bench press, the push-up requires no equipment and no set-up and can be done virtually anywhere so from that standpoint, it is more advantageous to many exercisers. Variations like the one-hand push-up, feet elevated push-ups, plyo push-ups, T-push-ups, atomic push-ups and band push-ups make for unique and interesting challenges, one disadvantage with the bench press.

There is little to no engagement of the lower body during a push-up which could come as a detriment later in life to someone who choses to make it their only exercise. That’s the only case against the push-up. Aside from that, it is the ultimate upper body builder.

4). A Case For Walking: As impactful and popular as the push-up is, not many people can perform it well or do enough of them. Walking is the one activity everyone can relate to. Barring any chronic knee or ankle condition, walking is the simplest and easiest physical activity to do. It is why so many health experts and professionals recommend it as part of an exercise regimen to lose weight, lower blood pressure and high cholesterol and promote a healthy lifestyle because all it requires is for you to just get up and move. Simple! So many people enjoy walking and have reaped benefits via weight loss, mood and overall positive state of mind. Believe it or not, walking can also be made challenging and walking programs do exist for its lovers. For an in-depth look at these programs, take a look at this blog post I wrote a while back.

As ubiquitous as it is, walking just fails to address many of the musculoskeletal needs of the body. While fat loss can occur via walking, so can lean muscle. Power, muscle mass and raw strength cannot be achieved through walking, regardless of the distance covered. On a more encouraging note, walking is the only activity that has the lowest risk for injury and can be done by people of all ages.

5 Nontraditional Ways To Workout With Minimal Gym Equipment

By now we know that in order to lose weight, build lean muscle and get strong, resistance training has to be routinely performed. For many of us who resistance train, barbell and dumbbell exercises form the foundation of our workouts and rightfully so. However, there are some of us who may not always have access to a gym to perform a barbell squat or deadlift. Furthermore, there are also people who have to travel for work so much that they end up spending more time in hotels than at their homes.

Not having access to a gym can be discouraging for fitness enthusiasts and while a hotel gym is encouraging for those who travel a lot, many of them lack the basic equipment. The good news is that resistance training can be performed and even made challenging without the use of barbells, cable machines and dumbbells.

Here are 5 nontraditional ways to resistance train:

1. BODYWEIGHT TRAINING : This is unquestionably the easiest and simplest way to workout the body because all you need is your bodyweight and decent amount of room. The human body is designed to move in a plethora of directions and planes so multi-planar movements are made available. Keep in mind that in order to illicit a good physiological response from bodyweight exercises (Here’s my top 10 list), a structured program which allows for supersets, progressions and a short amount of rest is recommended. For example, if you can easily do 20 push-ups with minimal effort, try progressing to both feet elevated on a bench or lift one leg up.

Sample Bodyweight Training Program: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) Bodyweight Squat

A2) Push-Up

A3) Plank

B1) Reverse Lunge

B2)  Pull/Chin Up (If no access to a bar, then substitute for Scapular Wall Slide)

B3) Side Bridge

C1) Burpees

C2) Jumping Jacks

2) TRX SUSPENSION TRAINING : TRX training has become a mainstream phenomenon and it’s here to stay. Just like bodyweight training, TRX training can be done virtually anywhere, however it allows for more progressions and challenges than bodyweight training. What I like about the TRX is that nearly all the exercises force the core musculature to work a little harder than in a traditional setting because the body will always try to resist movement in every plane.

Sample TRX Workout: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) TRX Squat OR Single Leg Squat OR Overhead Squat

A2) TRX Push Up

B1) TRX Bulgarian Split Squat

B2) TRX Inverted Row

C1) TRX Roll-Out

C2) TRX Mountain Climbers

3) KETTLEBELL TRAINING : Although Kettlebells have been around for quite some time and a bit popular than the TRX, it appears that the only exercise I see most Kettlebell users do is the Kettlebell Swing. The Swing is by far the most popular KB exercise and a great one too. But there are  a multitude of exercises that can be performed with the KB. It’s important to know that handling of a KB requires thorough practice and possibly  coaching so if you’re unfamiliar with some movements, take time in learning the nuances first.

Sample Kettlebell Program: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) KB Front Squat (Unilateral or Bilateral; If Unilateral, perform the same number of reps on other side)

A2) KB Row (45-degree trunk hinge. Unilateral or Bilateral; If Unilateral, perform the same number of reps on other side)

B1) KB Single-Leg RDL (Contralateral)

B2) KB Push Press (Unilateral)

C1) KB Clean

C2) KB Swings

4) RESISTANCE BANDS :  Another inexpensive way to workout from a nontraditional perspective is the use of bands. Although the resistance bands with handles are the most popular, other versions like the thera-band and monster bands also exists. The resistance and monster bands allow for the most variety. Bands have the biomechanical advantage of constantly keeping tension in the muscles due to the elastic nature of them. This tension inevitably puts more emphasis on the concentric portion on the lift because it discourages you from relaxing or resting too long during the eccentric phase.

Sample Resistance Band Workout: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) Band-Resisted Squat

A2) Band-Resisted Push-Up

B1)  X-Band Walk

B2) 1-Arm Band Row

C1)  Band-Resisted Trunk Twist

C2) Band-Resisted Plank

5) GLIDERS: If you’re unfamiliar with this accessory, it looks just like one of those plastic plates you eat from at barbecues and cookouts. In fact, glider training can be successfully substituted with paper plates and they work on just about any floor surface. However smooth, bumpy-free concrete floors allow for the most rhythm and variety. The unique challenge with glider training is that you’re forced to work a little harder during the concentric phase because your feet and hands must drag or move the glider each time.

Sample Glider Training Program: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) Glider Alternating Reverse Lunge

A2) Glider Push-Up Fly (Modified or Regular)

B1) Glider Supine Hamstring Curl (Unilateral or Bilateral)

B2) Glider Prone Crunch

C1) Glider Bodysaw

C2) Glider Mountain Climbers


  • Make sure you warm-up the body dynamically and via some soft-tissue work to promote the flow of blood and oxygen to working muscles.
  • Notice I did not include specific number of reps because I want you to use good  judgement in determining that for yourself. If you perform 15 bodyweight squats on your first set and feel little to no challenge, perhaps you should perform 20 on your next set.
  • Because you won’t be doing any max effort work, keep your rest time between exercises and sets as minimal as possible. I recommend no longer than 90 seconds.
  • Another great way to make nontraditional training challenging is by documenting your workouts. This allows you to set new challenges and prevent you from regressing. For example if you rested 75 seconds between your TRX sets in week 1, increase the challenge by resting for 60 seconds in week 2.

Squats Vs. Hip Thrusts – Which Is Better For The Glutes?

Ask anybody at your local gym what exercise they think is best for the backside. I can confidently say most people will say it’s the squat. From the beginning of time, the squat has been associated with developing and building strong gluteal muscles. The backside of the human body has become an essential part of many training programs. Athletes require a strong posterior chain for optimal performance in their sports. Society’s obsession, though mostly women, for a firmer, tighter and rounder butt is at its highest. In fact, many women I come across these days tell me they want bigger butts. The butt craze is in full effect!

So what is the best exercise for building the backside?

For years, the traditional squat was the go-to movement for butt and still remains a fantastic choice. But in recent years the hip thrust has gained popularity and emerged as a true rival for gluteal development. No research comparing the two exercises and its effect on the glutes had been conducted until Bret Contreras (www.gluteguy.com), the creator of the hip thrust, conducted one. Bret examines 3 key factors that impact muscle growth and development : mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage on the gluteal muscles. Majority of this is based on his findings.

Gluteal Biomechanics During Squat: Glute activation during a sub-max effort on a barbell squat isn’t what most people think it is. With the loaded bar on your shoulder, the glutes are relaxed and only begin to contract during the eccentric phase. Contraction during descent is very low and lowest at the bottom of the squat. In fact, research now shows that a ‘bucket squat’ or going too deep has little to no impact on the backside.  The most amount of muscle contraction and activation takes place during the concentric phase; as you drive explosively upward from the bottom of the squat. Maximal contraction takes place during the middle of the rep, and slowly dissipates as you get back to the top.

Generally speaking, gluteal activation at the lowest phase of the squat is about 10-20% of maximal contraction, 20-30% at the start of the eccentric phase and 80-120% at the start and during the concentric phase. Overall the average gluteal activation percentage is about 60% of maximal contraction.

Gluteal Biomechanics During Hip Thrust: Using a sub-max load, the barbell hip thrust challenges the gluteal muscles a bit different from the squat. At the start of the movement, when the barbell is placed on the hip, the glutes are relaxed.  The lifter thrusts the hips concentrically upwards until full hip extension is reached. Average gluteal activation during this phase is about 160% of maximal contraction. Keep in mind that full hip extension must be achieved (squeezing the buttocks as hard as possible at the top of the lift) for full benefits to be reaped. Unlike a barbell squat where the glutes are relaxed at the top, the gravity effect on the hip thrust (the barbell constantly trying to push you back down from the top) inevitably places constant tension on the gluteal fibers resulting in more of a burn.

There is little to no hamstring activation during the barbell hip thrusts. However, when the drive occurs at the balls of the feet as opposed to the heels, some may get some hamstring work. As a rule of thumb, the heels should always be favored.

Squat:Hip Thrust

Conclusion: Both the squat and hip thrust are excellent choices for building the backside. The fact that both movements keep the knees in a bent position means there is limited hamstring activation due to its shortening and therefore more involvement of the gluteal muscles. The hamstrings can only fire maximally when they’re continually lengthened. Although both exercises require hip extension which forces gluteal activation, the minimal activation during the eccentric phase and the lack of tension at the top of the squat doesn’t cause immediate burn and soreness unlike the hip thrust where there is constant tension. However because the fibers get a deeper stretch eccentrically during the squat more than the hip thrust, a lifter is highly likely to get sore in the days following a sub-max squat workout. The only small drawback is the lower back strength limits the load a lifter can use on the barbell squat and quadriceps and hamstrings activation takes away from maximal gluteal activation. The hip thrust, though easier to perform, is limited by glute strength, meaning once the glutes get tired from firing, a lifter will no longer be able to thrust thereby ending the set.

So which is the better choice for the backside?

Based on what the research shows, both exercises build and develop the gluteal muscles effectively and should be incorporated in a training program. Though the hip thrust offers more gluteal bang-for-your-buck results, it shouldn’t be necessarily favored over the squat nor should it replace it entirely. The barbell squat engages more of the lower gluteal fibers than upper fibers whereas the hip thrust fully activate both fibers. If you want a fully developed butt, you’ll have to routinely perform these two exercises. Performing only one and not the other will rob you of the full results. Both can be performed during a workout session or on separate days. The load must be challenging enough in order to illicit good gains. Generally speaking, a sub-max effort of about 75% of 1RM should suffice. Ideal rep range should be between 8 and 15.

Keep in mind that the front squat and goblet squat, which place emphasis on the front side of the body and anterior core, has very minimal impact on the backside and therefore can’t be relied upon for maximal gluteal development. While both exercises are low-back and knee friendlier than the back squat, they don’t fire the glutes nearly as hard due to the placement of the load.  As a bonus, the deadlift along with other gluteal isolation exercises like the reverse lunge, stiff-legged deadlift and hip abduction movements will yield one heck of a backside.


5 Steps To Starting A Fitness Program

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Everybody wants to get and be in shape. Regardless of  how you feel about those who are obsessed with working out (like myself), you know there are worthwhile perks that can last an eternity. We all want to look and feel good and as crazy as it sounds, we’ve all got some vanity in us. Who doesn’t want to be able to look in the mirror and admire their hard-earned sculpted physique? If you’re a guy that workouts regularly, you know having a chiseled body is always going to attract the ladies. Ladies themselves know that having a nice set of sculpted abs and a firm, round butt are extremely important for those beach trips.

Speaking of summer, it is around the corner. Exactly three months away. It is the only season that requires the least amount of clothing, which means more exposure of the body. People usually have the habit of gearing up for the summer during spring season. A few steps must be explored before any fitness program can be launched. Even if you are a seasoned exerciser, you can still apply these steps. If you want to get in shape, better shape and see noticeable results, the following  5 steps must be considered:

1. Define Your Goals: This simply means know exactly what you want. In my experience, most people are often indecisive about their goals and often end up with more than they can handle. While it is possible to address more than one goal at the same time, it is and extremely daunting task. Trying to lose 20 pounds while also trying to bulk up will require too much of an effort and can disrupt continuity. Have an idea of exactly what you want and visualize it. Fit into a wedding dress, lose 10 inches off my hips and thighs, decrease body fat, gain power and strength, increase muscular endurance and improve core strength are examples of specific goals. Knowing exactly what you want allows you to design a routine more effectively, save time in the gym and promote quicker results.

2. Budget: Once you definitively establish your goals, the next step is to figure out how much you’ll have to spend to get the ball rolling. Embarking on a fitness program is like working on any other project in life. It requires time, effort and some spending of money. Comfortable workout attire, good pair of workout sneakers, gym membership (unless you have free unlimited access to exercise machines and equipment and don’t need one), healthy groceries and a plethora of workout accessories like a weight belt, workout gloves, water bottle, etc. A good amount of money may very well end up being spent on the aforementioned items, but know that you are making a lifetime investment that will yield lifetime dividends.

3. Seek Assistance If Need Be: Now that your goals and budget are set, it’s time to get on with the show. Working out for the first time, whether at home or at the gym, can be quite intimidating and challenging. Most novices usually need initial guidances to get them on their feet. I still remember the first time I stepped foot into a gym and how intimated and clueless I felt being around seasoned exercisers. It can be very tough on a person and can cause discouragement. Hiring a certified personal trainer is great way to address this issue. Make sure you do enough research on the trainer you want to work with. Observe the trainers at your gym and watch how they conduct themselves. He or she should be professional, polite and punctual. Gather intel from other gym members and request for clients’ testimonials. Although seasoned personal trainers tend to charge a bit more than less-experienced ones, it isn’t always a given that paying a lot of money means you’re working with the best. You’ll inevitably get the value of a trainer’s worth after a few training sessions.

If you’re working with a low budget and simply can’t afford a personal trainer, I’d suggest you find a more experienced exerciser at your gym that works out at the same time you do and ask to become his or her training buddy. Most seasoned gym folks usually don’t have a problem with this, not to mention it’s also an easy way to make a new friend.  Group exercise classes can also be taken advantage of. The drawback with that is there is no one-on-one attention to detail so the chances of injuries and poor form are high.

4. Nutrition : This is a no-brainer. By now everyone knows how important a role nutrition plays in fitness. The two go hand-in-hand. Regardless of your fitness goal, majority of your calories will come from whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits. Over the last decade, so many diet programs and meal plans have been created to assist the public in making healthier decisions. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem are some of the popular diet ads that frequently flash across our TV screens. While I consider these three to be highly reputable, there are some that are gimmicks and don’t deliver the results they guarantee. Be careful not to fall prey to some of these fads. Simply put, nutrition will account for about 65 percent of your fitness goals. Some fitness experts have this number as high as 75 percent but a widely accepted number seems to be two-thirds of the process.

5.  Commitment : There’s an old saying that says “you can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink”. Many people embark on a  fitness program but only a few commit to it. One of the biggest challenges in fitness is staying committed to your workout sessions. Juggling work, family time, personal errands with going to the gym can be a very daunting task. There are going to be intense work days on the job that will leave you too spent to want to go to the gym. While I won’t fault you for missing a workout every now and then, consistency is the key to continue upward progression. Results may not come right away but remain patent and don’t get discouraged. Staying and getting in shape isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.

5 Healing Herbs That You Should Take

If you’ve been an avid exerciser for a while, then you must know how important a role nutrition plays in achieving long term health and fitness benefits. It is universally proven and accepted that a balanced diet consisting of whole grains, lean protein, healthy fat, fruits and vegetables is they key to building lean muscle, reducing body fat and a host of other things. However, many of the healthy meals we consume on a daily basis lack one vital ingredient that helps promotes long life and good health : Herbs.

Herbs are naturally-growing plants that provide flavor and taste to food and used partly to add extra scent to fragrances. Through extensive research and study, they were known to also have some medicinal value. Although herbs have been used for hundreds of years to heal in several parts of the world, they just became an integral part of the health and fitness community not too long ago. Health experts and fitness professionals now encourage everyone to include herbs as part of their meals in an efforts to strengthen the immune system, keep the heart healthier and lower bad cholesterol.

So what herbs offer the best medicinal value and which ones should you be taking?

There isn’t a known number of herbs that exist in the world since some flowers and trees have herbaceous value. That number is debatable. But according to early findings, there are over a thousand known herbs in the world today. Figuring out which is the best may be a daunting task. However, I have been able to narrow that list to some really good ones.

Here are 5 herbs you should take:

1. TURMERIC : An origin of India, Turmeric is a spice obtained from the ginger plant family, Zingiberaceae and is widely used in cooking. It’s yellowish color gives cooked food a unique look and exudes a great aroma. Several studies have linked turmeric to having anti-inflammatory benefits, preventing colon cancer, aid in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and digestive problems. Although it’s been around for thousands of years, it’s just now becoming a mainstream phenomena in the western world. According to a study conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center, turmeric offers a multitude of anti-oxidant benefits including helping to prevent osteoarthritis, heart disease and cancer. Turmeric comes in pill, powder and tincture and can be found in local health stores and supermarkets.

2. CINNAMON : One of the most popular herb, cinnamon is a spice that’s obtained from the bark of the parent tree, Cinnamomum. It is mixed with many of our beverages, pie and cereal and offers amazing taste and flavor.  Certain individuals like diabetics and arthritic patients benefit from the use of cinnamon because it helps to regulate blood sugar and reduces inflammation from cytokines in arthritic joints. Furthermore, it also reduces LDL cholesterol which automatically prevents heart disease and aids in pregnancy by helping  to balance hormones  and prevent infertility in women. Cinnamon can be purchased in powder version or via the common sticks.

3. GINGER : Another spice from the Zingiberaceae family, ginger is an origin of South Asia and has similar benefits to turmeric. It can be used to add taste and flavor to food and also has a big impact on the immune system by fighting off bacteria and viruses from the environment. It works as a powerful antioxidant to prevent stomach upset and acts as an anti-inflammatory agent to reduce pain in arthritic patients. Ginger also has the power to regulate blood flow and thus may help reduce blood pressure in high blood pressure patients.  Further research is still being conducted on its effect in preventing and treating ovarian cancer but researchers are optimistic. Gingers comes in many forms including the raw root and powder versions, though it appears the tea is the most commonly consumed.

4. GARLIC : Just like cinnamon, garlic is another popular herb with ties to Central Asia. It’s been around for over 7,000 years and is one of the most widely used herb for cooking. Consumption of garlic is linked to reduction of the risk of colon, rectal and ovarian cancers.  High blood pressure patients also benefit from eating garlic as it helps to lower blood pressure.  Prevention of heart diseases and stroke are also benefits associated with garlic intake. This 2006 research study by the Medical Journal of Australis supports the impact of garlic and other herbs in lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. Though garlic can be purchased as dietary supplements,  the natural, raw plant seems to offer the best benefits.

5. DANDELION : This may be one of the hidden gems in the herbaceous family. Dandelion can be found on flowers, leaves and roots of many of the trees in around us. In fact, they are so accessible that they can be obtained directly from trees and brought home to be used to make tea. Though its medicinal value has received little scientific research, some studies show correlation to cleansing the liver, treating acne problems, lowering blood pressure and prevention of breast and prostate cancers. New findings suggest it can also help alleviate premenstrual issues, cure urinary infections and act as a diuretic to eliminate excess water weight gain.  Dandelion root is available in capsule and tincture forms for consumption. Some health stories also sell the natural leaves which can be purchased and consumed as a food or mixed with other vegetables.

Why You Should Box Squat

By now we all know the squat is arguably the most important exercise of all partly because of its functional benefits and whole-body engaging work. Over the years, many variations have emerged as a means to accommodate conditioning levels, injuries and embrace newer challenges. The Front Squat, Overhead Squat, Goblet Squat, Bulgarian Split Squat, Zercher Squat and Pistol Squat are versions that have made their way into the realm of strength training. But there is one that many people still rarely do. The Box Squat.

Although it came to fruition at a Polish weightlifting facility in the 1950’s, the box squat was popularized by legendary powerlifting coach Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio.  Simmons began box squatting in the 1960’s and is the chief reason the exercise is utilized my many fitness enthusiasts today, including olympic and recreational athletes, powerlifters and bodybuilders. It is a simple exercise that requires squatting down to a plyometric box (for the remainder of this post, ‘plyo box’ will be used as a replacement) that’s low enough so the thighs are beneath parallel. Yet it remains misunderstood and underappreciated by many. Let’s take a closer examination at this unique exercise.

Simmons’ discovery is based on the theoretical fact that by squatting down to a low plyo box that puts the thighs beneath horizontal, there is greater muscle recruitment by the hamstrings and glutes, which subsequently improves the depth on a traditional barbell squat. A majority of the people who do traditional squats almost never make it to parallel while others don’t have the flexibility in their hamstrings to squat deeper. This can eventually limit strength and gains potential due to the fact that the posterior chain of the body isn’t getting challenged enough.  The box squat effectively addresses these issues. So how can one successfully do a box squat? Are there more than one way to box squat?

According to Simmons and contrary to other unsubstantiated claims, there is only ONE way to box squat. With the barbell resting on your trapezius, hinge your hips and butt rearwards and slowly descend towards the center of the ploy box. A descent towards the front of the box with cause the heels to lift off the ground greatly affecting your drive back up during your ascent. The knees should stack over the ankles or even slightly over. Both the knees and ankles should be in a slightly wider than hip-width stance for easier descent and better muscle activation. When fully seated on the box, the glutes, hamstrings and lumbar region are relaxed. Gravity forces acting downwards  and the loaded resistance will inevitably lead to an explosive firing of the aforementioned muscles during the concentric phase.  During ascent, push the bar into the traps first and tighten the abdominal muscles first to create rigidity in the torso. The forceful drive through the heels of the foot is the final step. Keep in mind that driving through the heels without pushing the bar into the traps first will cause the trunk to lean forward putting the body in a ‘Good Morning’ position.

Here are 5 benefits of the box squat:

1.) Quicker Recovery, Less Soreness & Frequent Squat Sessions: During the eccentric phase of a box squat, the kinetic energy slowly goes away during descent. Some of it remains isometrically stored in the glutes and hamstrings, but most of it is gone. This means when you’re seated on the box, most of the working muscles are going to be relaxed with a few in isometric tension. They only engage during the concentric phase. This leads to an efficient utilization of the energy systems of the body and better recruitment of the muscles of the entire lower body. Essentially the nervous system is only challenged during the concentric phase which helps minimize energy.

2.) Teaches Proper Squatting Technique (Parallel) & Improves Flexibility : Not many people can achieve the parallel depth on a conventional squat. I still see many squatters stopping miles away from hip-knee alignment. And of course it becomes extra miles away as the weight gets heavier. Lack of flexibility in the hamstring is a big reason for this. Simply squatting onto a plyo box addresses these problems. If a lifter successfully achieves the beyond-parallel depth on the box squat, the traditional squat depth will improve automatically because the kinetic chain will proprioceptively adapt to the stimulus over time. Hamstring flexibility is also improved via the static-dynamic sequence. The working muscles relax statically when the lifter is fully seated on the plyo box and dynamically stretches during concentric phase. When this is repeated at the right intensity and over a period of time, the muscles of the hamstrings will effectively stretch themselves out. Keep in mind that ample time must be devoted to box squatting training sessions in order to see an improvement in traditional squats.

3). Safety & Injury Prevention : Generally speaking, the box squat is safer than the traditional squat. Although the load and form are the two key determining factors for injury prevention, the box squat is more knee and lower back friendly. Explosively driving up from the heels creates rigidity in the torso and fills the diaphragm with air which leads to less spinal compression. The knees are also forced to stay at a 90-degree angle with the ankle during descent thereby protecting the patellar tendons.

4). Better Hamstring, Gluteal & Hip Muscle Recruitment : As mentioned earlier, the below parallel depth on the box squat forces the lifter to explode from the heels concentrically. This means the muscles of the lumbar region, hamstrings, glutes and hips will work much harder than they would in a traditional squat. These muscles will become stronger leading to better performance in other posterior chain exercises like deadlift, reverse lunge and hip thrust. This is also key because most exercisers are anterior dominant and are usually at a disadvantage in exercises involving the posterior chain as well as some day-to-day activities.

5. Development of  Absolute Strength & Power : Power is defined as maximal force generated instantly or rapidly. It is impacted by strength and speed. In a traditional squat, power must be produced during the eccentric (descent), isometric (bottom of squat) and concentric (ascent) phases. This greater effort usually limits the power potential of the body and can thus affect the long term development of power and strength. In a box squat, the eccentric and concentric phases are broken apart so that the muscles of the hip and lower body relax and rest a bit in the seated position. This allows for a better utilization and redirection of power during the start and execution of the concentric phase. By breaking up the eccentric-concentric phase, box squatting provides a power and force output three to four times greater than traditional squat. It also helps build starting strength in sports and increases pulling power in the deadlift off the floor.

Anyone can box squat. However there are 3 key factors squatters must consider:

Factor #1: Deconditioned and less experienced squatters should start with just their body weight initially. Simply squatting onto a plyo box that puts the thighs beyond parallel will illicit a good physiological response by the body. A barbell can be used after successfully performing the exercise for a period of time or a lower plyo box (2 to 4 inches shorter) for an increased challenge.

Factor #2: The plyo box must be low enough so that the thighs are beyond parallel. Most plyo boxes (usually wooden or steel) have a depth height ranging from 12 inches to 30 inches. Taller individuals will fare well with the boxes in the 12 to 18 inch range. The underlying factor is that the lower the plyo box, the better the challenge. However an ideal format to use is to first sit on any box and see how parallel the thighs are to the ground. Any box that puts the thighs at parallel or beneath will work just fine. Yoga and pilates mat can be placed on boxes for much taller individuals who have a hard time sitting on the lower boxes.


Factor #3: Box squats should be done periodically and scheduled between traditional squat programs. This means if you box squat once or twice a week for 3 weeks in a month, you should return to traditional squat for at least 3 weeks to test your depth and range. Many people I know, including Simmons,  have completely replaced traditional squats with box squats, doing the former only once in a blue moon. If the goals are pure power, strength and explosiveness, as is the case with powerlifters and athletes, then box squats should be performed routinely. Everyday fitness enthusiasts should box squat at least every other 2 months for 3 weeks straight at a training frequency of 1 to 2 days a week.

Preventing Knee And Back Pain By Improving Hip Mobility

The hip complex is indeed a very complex joint –  no pun intended. It is responsible for almost every action we execute everyday. Like the shoulder, it is a a ball and socket joint which is capable of movements in all three planes of motion. In all my years in the fitness industry, I’ve noticed that the knee and hip joints of people seem to be the most vulnerable to injury. Some of you reading this have had your share of these joint pains. Some of these pains and injuies are due to falls, natural disasters and playing sports. However, many are a result of infrequent training of the hip complex and poor exercise selection leading to compensation of the knee and ankle joints.

If you look at the human body, you’ll see that the hip is located at the center of the body. This makes it come into play nearly every time we perform a task or action. Sitting, getting up, climbing stairs, playing sports, running and a plethora of other activities require hip involvement. But many of us have hip mobility issues, and because the body is one big chain of stack of joints, hip immobility can affect the knee and ankle joints. Many joint aches and pains can actually be resolved by strengthening the muscles of the surrounding joints. Even low back pain can be attributed to poor hip mobility. If the gluteus maximus muscle group is weak, it forces the opposing hip flexors to shorten and subsequently pull on the low back in seated positions. If the gluteus muscles, hip external and internal rotators are not trained often enough, it won’t be long before the knees, low back and even ankles are forced to compensate themselves in hip-dominant activities.


By strengthening the muscles of the hip, the lumbar spine is better equipped to handle everyday stress of life. Barbell squat, deadlift, single-leg squat, reverse lunges, hip thrust, step-up and certain quadruped exercises are some excellent choices for improving hip mobility and strengthening the muscles. Flexibility in the hip flexors, hamstrings, adductors and hip external rotators is also key to achieving and maintaining a strong and pliable hip joint. Active stretching and myofascial work will help improve flexibility in these muscles while keeping them lose and warm. The foam roller is arguably the most vital fitness accessory because of  its impact in reliving the body of aches, inflammation and tightness. Myofascial work via foam rolling or lacrosse and tennis balls may be advantageous over stretching because of its ability to go deep into muscle tissue.

Whether you’re an all-around gym enthusiast, an athlete or weekend warrior, hip mobility is crucial for long health and prevention of  injury. A training program that addresses strengthening of the hip muscles and improvement of flexibility will successfully achieve this goal.

Reflecting on 2013, looking forward & why you should avoid resolutions

And just like that, another year has come and gone. For many of you, 2013 , just like any other year, had its ups and downs. Hopefully a lot of you experienced more positives and accomplished most of, if not all the goals you set at the top of the year. As we embark on 2014, now is a good time to reflect back on this year and ask yourself some very pertinent questions.

Did you get a work out in at least twice a week?

How many goals did you have at the top of the year and how many of those did you accomplish?

Did you see progress in any of the components of fitness? (strength, body composition, muscular endurance, etc)

What was your biggest challenge from a health & fitness standpoint?

What was your greatest accomplishment?

Over my years in fitness, I’ve come the realization that a great way to encourage continued success is being able to review and dissect your efforts from a dietary and fitness perspective. A lot of seasoned fitness enthusiasts can get somewhat complacent after a number of years. Imagine a person who goes to the gym 4 days a week and trains his/her body as intense as possible.  After a couple of years, no matter how hard this person continues to push, if there are no goal set in stone, this person could actually have regressed even if the frequency of going to the gym is unchanged. If you continue to squat 100 pounds for 10 reps and run 2 miles every week, how would you know if you’re making progress in those areas?

I’ve never been a fan of the so-called ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. I think they’re just another commercial ploy employed by health clubs to take money out of the public’s pockets. It’s also a misleading and deceitful attempt to get a sedentary person to become physically active. But I  can see why they work for many people and can be a effective strategy. The beginning of a year is like the start of a book. It’s clean, it’s fresh and unblemished. People like to start out the year on a clean slate and just like their health and fitness goals,  they set other goals in their personal lives.


2013 Journal of Clinical Psychology study show that  only 8% of people who make resolutions successfully achieve them. Also looking at the chart above, courtesy of statisticbrain.com, 36% of  people who made resolutions in 2012 dropped them after only a month! In my humble and professional estimation, the reason for these failures is unnecessary and unwanted pressure to succeed and frame of mind. No matter what time of the year it is, the ability to embark on a fitness program is hinged on the state of mind of an individual. There are several stages we all must go through to determine readiness to become physically active. Whether its a scare in our lives or that of a loved one or a doctor’s recommendation or even not being able to play with our kids and grandchildren, something will trigger the need to exercise. More than anything else, mentally is the biggest challenge. At the end of the day, a person has to look in the mirror and say, “It’s time”. No doctor or personal trainer or even the commercial marketability of New Year’s Resolution will have a stronger impact than the mental aspect.

As we approach 2014, here are some ways to break out of the New Year’s Resolution mold and successfully stay competitively healthy and fit all year:

1. Set short-term goals rather than long-term goals. “I’ll aim to drink an additional 15 ounce of water every week” and “I’ want to lose 5 to 10 pounds of fat every week” are much more attainable and realistic goals than “I want to lose 30 pounds by the end of the year”. Always think ‘SMART’ goals (Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely)

2. Find a way to challenge your workouts every week or month. Cutting down your rest period between sets by 30 seconds, adding an additional set and trying a new routine are simple ways to achieve this feat.

3. Dietary speaking, look up a new healthy meal and its recipe and include that to your daily and weekly meals.  I’m still surprised how much money I save from cooking my meals as opposed to buying and ordering.

4. Prepare and plan your meals ahead of time. I find this to be the single most challenging aspect of eating healthy. Many of us, myself included, wait until the morning of each day to decide on what we’ll eat that day. This can sometimes lead to bad habits like not getting enough meals or eating the wrong meal. I try to plan my meals ahead most days of the week. It can be a very daunting task but it is very gratifying and worth the effort.

5. Read a book, attend a class or watch a documentary on a health and fitness related topic. You don’t have to be a fitness professional to do these things. You will learn so much about yourself, your workouts and diet just by reading books, journals and even watching YouTube clips on fitness and diet. Even after almost 10 years as a fitness enthusiast and certified personal trainer, my passion for learning more has not changed. In fact it is stronger today.

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2014!