Spartan Coaching:  Spartans Run Hills – Part II

by Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS, Director of Spartan Coaching

In my last blog I discussed the importance of hill training. Today I want to address the technique of running hills. Running efficiently during your Spartan race will be crucial to energy management. You only have so much gas in the tank, follow these guidelines and you will leave enough gas in the tank for a strong finish.

Uphill Running

Uphill running changes the dynamic of the interaction of the foot with the ground. Even the most hardcore heel-strikers cannot help but run on the ball of their foot on hills. In fact, on very steep terrain, it will be impossible.

-        Maintain a high cadence by taking small steps

-        Do no lean forward into the hill. Leaning forward will stress the hamstrings and lower back.

-        Lift and drive the knee up hill.

-        Use the elastic energy stored in your calf muscles and Achilles tendon to help propel you forward.

-        Minimize ground contact time, this will help keep the cadence quick and prevent the loss of the stored elastic energy.

-        Avoid large steps and trying to muscle your way up the hill.

-        If you are running a rocky trail, scan the trail ahead and choose the path of least resistance.  Avoid jumping from rock to rock, or jumping over rocks, that will require more energy.


Downhill Running

Here is where most people make mistakes. They bound downhill, taking large steps causing the quadriceps and hip flexors to absorb the energy of the ground reaction forces. Practice “letting go” and use gravity to propel the body forward rather than the muscles.

-        Keep the cadence high.

-        Take small steps and keep the feet in line with or behind the hips. If the feet land in front of the hips the legs will act like a brake.

-        Stay light on the balls of your feet.

-        If you find your foot striking the ground hard, then you are taking to large op steps

-        Take small quick steps; use your energy to pick the feet up and put them down, not to propel the body forward.

-        If you are running on rocky terrain, rock hoping can be fun and efficient as long as you remember to land with your foot under your hips not in front of them

-        Build courage. Running downhill fast is scary. But with practice you will master speed and control.

To master these techniques, it takes practice. Do your hill training and concentrate on form.  Leave the headphones at home, think about efficient movement, and eliminate other distractions. In time, you will master the hills; the movement will be natural and fluid and won’t require much thought.

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Spartan Coaching:  Spartans Run Hills

by Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS, Director of Spartan Coaching

The beauty of obstacle racing is that it exposes your weakest link. Lack upper body strength? You will pay for it on the 8 foot wall. Lack balance? You will pay for it on the log hops. Lack hill climbing endurance? You will pay for it all-day. Spartan Race is well known for its lung crushing climbs, and quad destroying descents. Listen to enough veterans and they’ll tell you about Tri-State, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Monterey, Utah… “the number of climbs is ridiculous”, as was once overheard.

The only way to beat the hill is to embrace it. Hill running increases oxygen consumption considerably. For example, an athlete running at an easy 10 min/mile pace has an estimated oxygen consumption of 36 mlO2/kg/min, where running the same speed on a 10% grade (a grade of 100% = 45 degree angle) increases oxygen consumption to 50 mlO2/kg/min. That’s almost a 40% increase in energy expenditure! Running on a flat surface, a runner only needs to produce energy for horizontal work. The extra energy needed to lift the body vertically against gravity accounts for this extra energy expenditure.

Running at an oxygen consumption of 50 mlO2/kg/min will be close to many athletes maximal oxygen consumption and certainly above the lactate threshold for all but the elite runners. This will result in an increase in muscle acidosis and increased rate of glycogen utilization. The end result is fatigue and possible glycogen depletion.

Although training will improve VO2 max and running efficiency, it will not be enough offset the increased metabolic demand of steep uphill running. The best solution is to adjust the pace or speed so the energy expenditure remains the same. For most, that will mean walking uphill at a much slower pace. This will prevent fatigue and spare glycogen and prevent bonking. Pace yourself on the hill climbs.

Spartans Run Hills
Walking or running uphill places unique stress on the locomotive muscles when compared to walking or running on flat ground. The change in slope puts the foot into severe dorsi flexion, stressing the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantar fascia. The trunk also leans forward, placing more stress on the hamstrings and back extensors. A couple of small hills won’t negatively impact these muscle groups, but in the longer events where there will be 3,000 – 5,000 ft of climbing, there can be major damage to these muscles, especially in athletes who have not prepared on hills.

What goes up must come down! Running downhill would seem to be easier, and we think that we should  be able to make up for lost time during the climb. But, don’t fool yourself, the average speed of running uphill and then downhill for 3 miles will always be slower than running 3 miles flat. Running downhill requires control. No matter how much we think we are “letting go”, there is a natural “braking” action by the anterior tibialis on the lower leg, and the quadriceps on the thigh. This braking action is caused by eccentric muscle contractions; the muscles are developing tension and lengthening at the same time. Eccentric muscle actions cause muscle damage and are the cause of post exercise muscle soreness. If your muscles aren’t prepared for downhill running, the muscle damage will be accelerated and will result in premature muscle soreness, decreased muscle power output, and fatigue.

The good news is that this can be prevented with proper training. Yes, embrace the hills. Find the biggest, baddest hills in your area and run intervals up and down them. Do this twice a week. This will cause significant soreness initially, but over time your muscles will adapt to the eccentric contractions, muscle damage is reduced, and you will be able to tolerate longer bouts of downhill running. Training uphill will also stress the gastrocnemius, plantar fascia, hamstrings, and back extensions in a way that they will be used during a Spartan Race, thus minimizing the damage to those tissues as well. The reality is that running uphill will always be metabolically demanding and fatiguing not matter how hard you train. However, training with hill intervals, will improve your maximal oxygen consumption, increase your tolerance to acidosis, and improve your ability to utilize fat as a fuel, thus improve your hill running performance. Hill sprints suck as bad as Burpees, probably even more so, but if you embrace the hill training your body will thank you at your next Super Spartan or Beast.

Exercise Physiology 101 – During any activity that lasts longer than 3 minutes we rely primarily on the aerobic energy system. Aerobic means that we produce energy with oxygen. The more intense the exercise, the higher the rate of oxygen utilization. Oxygen utilization is typically expressed as milliliters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute (mlO2/kg/min). Oxygen consumption can also be expressed as energy expenditure or Calories per minute (kcal/min). The higher the rate of oxygen consumption, the higher the rate of energy expenditure. For example a 180 lb male running a 10 minute mile consumes 36 mlO2/kg/min or expends about 14.5 kcal/min. The same man running the same speed at 10% grade consumes 50 mlO2/kg/min or 20.5 kcal/min.


Jeff  received his Doctorate in Kinesiology from the University of Connecticut and is certified by ACSM, NSCA, and ISSN.  He is currently Chair of the Departmental of Exercise and Sport Science at Fitchburg State University and the Director of Spartan Coaching.

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The Burpee is quite possibly the single best exercise in existence. If you have done Burpees then you know why. But here are five top reasons you should do Burpees every day.

The Burpee trains almost every major muscle group in the body.

Read this blog for a detailed analysis. If the Burpee is done correctly it will train the pushing muscles of the upper body, all of the muscles of lower body, and the core muscles. Do you want to make it a complete exercise? Modify the Burpee to include a pull-up after the jump so that the pulling muscles will be involved.

The Burpee can train all of the energy systems.

Are you looking to develop power and train your phosphagen energy system? Perform 5 Burpees as fast as possible and jump for maximal height. Recover for two minutes between sets for complete regeneration of the phosphagen energy system and the nervous system so maximal power output can be attained on subsequent sets. To train the glycolytic energy system, perform your repetitions at a high rate but sustain the effort for 30-90s. Training this causes an accumulation of lactic acid and muscle acidity which will help your body adapt in a way that it can handle acid overload better and elevate your lactate threshold. Finally, to train the aerobic system, slow the pace down, just a little, so that you can maintain a constant pace for 3-5 minutes to maximize the utilization of oxygen for energy production.  For best results mix it up, and do Burpees at all three intensities and train all of the energy systems.

The Burpee develops total fitness: strength, power, muscle endurance, stamina, agility, mobility and improves body composition.

Burpees are a form of resistance training; you are lifting your body weight. Sustained effort builds stamina and muscle endurance. To develop power and speed, perform repetitions quickly for short periods of time. Moving into the deep squat position will increase mobility in the hips and jumping with arms fully extended overhead will increase mobility in the shoulders.  In order to perform the Burpee correctly with maximum efficiency requires the coordination of many muscles working together as a synchronous unit while accelerating and decelerating body mass. This develops agility. Finally, depending on the rate at which the Burpees are being performed and the number of repetitions performed, a significant number of calories can be expended and an energy deficit created, thus burning body fat (but keep in mind you can’t out exercise a poor diet).

Burpees are good for your immune system.

The Burpee increases circulation and can help move fluid through the lymphatic system. During the Burpee, the muscles of the extremities contract and relax in a cyclical fashion, massaging the lymph vessels and facilitating the movement of lymph fluid.  The movement of lymphatic fluid has been suggested to enhance immunity and prevent pneumonias.

The Burpee can be done anywhere and doesn’t require any specialized equipment.

All you need is you and your body weight. You can do Burpees in the office, the woods, the gym, the beach, or in the snow. You can take a break from work and do a quick set between meetings. Take a trail run and do 15 Burpees every half mile. Structure your workout at the gym so that you finish each workout with metabolic conditioning using Burpees. Of course, nothing is sexier than doing Burpees on the beach. Are you doing the Winter Death Race? You better get accustomed to doing Burpees in the snow. It doesn’t matter where you do them, JUST DO BURPEES!

In 1996 the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report that concluded, people of all ages can gain significant health benefits by participating in 30 minutes or more of physical activity on most (preferable all) days of the week (1). In 2007, the guidelines were updated to include vigorous activity as well so that Americans can meet minimum guidelines by performing moderate physical activity for 30 minutes for 5 days a week or vigorous exercise for 20 minutes for 3 days per week (2).   Another health promotion guideline is to walk 10,000 steps per day for the prevention of chronic disease and weight control (3). Keep in mind these are minimums for health promotion not necessarily to place you in the top 10 of a Spartan Race. It is a good place to start for the 3+ billion people who are inactive globally.

Thirty minutes of physical activity is equal to an energy expenditure of about 150 kcals. Walking 10,000 steps is approximately the equivalent of 5 miles or about 500kcals.  Walking 5 miles at a moderate pace will take about 80 minutes.  Preliminary research from the Spartan Institute of Burpee Science (SIBS) indicates that a 150lb person will burn about 1.2 kcals per Burpee.

SIBS recommends that for overall good health, people of all ages can gain significant health benefits through the performance of 100-160 Burpees per day. In order to meet 10,000 steps per day standard, 240 -420 Burpees  will need to be performed. The Burpees can be accumulated throughout the day in three to six, 10-15 minute sessions.  The limiting factor for most individuals attempting to achieve this goal will be lack of muscular endurance and the inability to perform the 100+ push-ups associated with the Burpees.  Another potential limiting factor is poor mobility in the hips and spine. Insufficient flexibility can lead to inefficient movement and higher energy expenditures than those reported by SIBS. But as muscular endurance and flexibility improves with time, meeting the minimum standard can be achievable by all.

1)      Department of Health and Human Services. (1996).Physical Activity and Health: A Report from the Surgeon General. Atlanta:DHHS

2)      Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, Powell KE, Blair SN, Franklin BA, Macera CA, Heath GW, Thompson PD, Bauman A. (2007).  Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Aug;39(8):1423-34.

3)      Tudor-Locke C, Bassett DR Jr.(2004). How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary pedometer indices for public health. Sports Med. 2004;34(1):1-8.



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Spartan Group X:  Breaking Down the Warm-Up

by Jeff Godin

Always start your workout with a warm-up.  Although flexibility and unrestricted movement may be important for long term injury prevention, static stretching and flexibility exercises are not an important part of a warm-up. Stretching moves a joint through its full range of motion, however it does this passively and does very little to increase the temperature of muscle. The warm-up should be active and move the joints through their full range of motion. The warm-up progresses from low intensity towards high intensity. For some, the warm-up may actually have them gassed by the end. The benefits of a warm-up include; increased tissue temperature, tissue compliance, energy metabolism, movement efficiency and reduced tissue stiffness. The warm-up can also be used to reinforce fundamental movement mechanics related to speed and agility. The warm-up should emphasize proper foot placement to promote acceleration and prevent deceleration.

Perform one set of each movement at a slow speed for 20 yards and then perform a second set at a faster speed for 20 yards. Stationary movements should be performed for 15 repetitions.

Linear Movements

Focuses on the muscles that cross the hip, knee, and ankle on the anterior and posterior side.

High Knee Walk

As you step forward, grasp just below the knee on the opposite legs and pull the knee towards the chest. Extend the stepping leg, and rise on the toes. Keep the chest high, don’t lean back.





High Knee Skip

This exercise is gentle skipping to warm-up the hip muscles. The focus is on rhythmic movement not height or distance. Swing arms opposite the legs. If the left knee is forward the, left arm is back.



High Knee Run

Start by running in place, keeping the knees high. Slowly progress forward. Focus on landing on the ball of the foot.  Do not lean back or round the shoulders. Pump the arms.





Quickly flex the knee bringing the heel of the foot towards the buttocks. Pump the arms in sync with the legs.



Straight-leg Walk

March with straight legs, and reach for toes with the opposite hand. Keep the chest high, don’t lean back. Do not kick the leg up, actively raise it until you feel tension in the hamstrings.




Straight-leg Skip

Same as above with rhythmic skipping included.





Straight-leg Deadlift Walk

Balance on one leg with the arms out to side. Rotate at the hip and lean forward until the chest is parallel to the ground. Keep both legs straight. Return to the upright position. To move forward, swing the back leg through for one large step.




Backward Run

Literally run backwards. Take large steps, reaching as far as possible with the lead leg. Lean forward at the hips, keep the eyes looking forward.



Start with the hips low, in a ¼ squat position. Take smaller steps compared to the backward run, keep the feet beneath the hips. Focus on short quick steps. Keep the hips low, and the chest held high.




Backward and forward lunge walks

Take one giant step forward; drop down into the lunge position, and then using the forward leg rise out of the lunge position and step forward with the opposite leg.  For the backward lunge, do the same except you are walking backwards.





Begin in the push-up position. Drop the hips until they touch the floor,  keep the arms extended so that the chest is off of the floor.  Keeping the legs straight, walk the feet as close as possible to the hands. Then walk the hands out until you are back in the push-up position.




Lateral Movements

Focuses on the lateral and medial muscles of the hip and thigh

Lateral Lunge

Begin with feet about four feet apart. Shift your weight to the right, flex the right knee and hip, and keep the left leg straight.  Keep the right heel down,and sit back without rounding the back. Drive through the right foot and step back into the upright position.  Repeat for the desired distance and repeat for the left leg.




This drill is done in a stationary position. Assume a push-up position and step forward as if trying to step on your right hand with your right foot. Then, drop the right elbow and touch it to the ground. Return to the start position and repeat for the right side.  Complete 6 reps for each side.



Upper Body

Focuses on the muscles that cross the shoulder and shoulder girdle

Jumping Jack

Stand upright with the hands by your side. Jump and raise your arms up from your side overhead and land with feet wider than shoulder width apart. Jump and return to the start position. Repeat for 15 repetitions.




Seal Jack

Stand upright with your hands together in front of your chest. Jump and move arms out to the side and land with feet wider than shoulder width apart. Jump and return to the start position. The arms are making a seal clapping motion. Repeat for 15 repetitions.




Ski Jack

Stand upright with the hands by your side. Jump and move arms and legs in a cross-country ski motion. Repeat for 15 repetitions.






Here is a link to the videos.


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Long Slow Distance (LSD) for Endurance

by Jeff Godin, Phd.D., CSCS

Director of Spartan Coaching

In recent years there has been a focus on High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) to improve anaerobic and aerobic capacity concomitantly. One of the earliest studies to show this was conducted in 1996 by researchers at The National Institute for Fitness and Sports in Japan.  This study showed that moderate-intensity aerobic training improved maximal aerobic power but did not change anaerobic capacity and that high-intensity intermittent training improved both anaerobic and aerobic energy systems significantly. This change was most likely due to imposing intensive stimuli on both systems. A year later, research out of McMasters University in Canada corroborated these findings and showed that HIIT improved aerobic enzyme activity. Since then much more research has come out confirming early findings with other populations including women and trained athletes.

Although the method is proven and it is a time efficient method of training, I think we have lost our appreciation for Long Slow Distance (LSD) aerobic training. CrossFit nation has just let out a collective sigh. But wait… I haven’t finished, I think we can all get along.

The idea for this blog came about during the Ultra Beast and Beast race a few weeks ago in Killington, VT. As I was trucking up the last big climb, I came across a number of very fit appearing athletes who were clearly exhausted by 5-6 hours of continuous exercise. They had the power to barrel through obstacles, but lacked the endurance to keep up the intensity for more than a few hours. The Super Spartan and Beast requires athletes to go long at a submaximal pace.

Those studies that show HIIT improves aerobic capacity focus on VO2max as the variable of interest. Although this is an important parameter for predicting aerobic performance, it isn’t the only one, and in fact aerobic efficiency may be more important. By aerobic efficiency we mean consuming less oxygen or expending less energy for a given amount of work. The best way to develop efficiency is through LSD training. If you look at the training plans of some elite endurance athletes, the majority of their training (80%) is made up of this type of training.


I am not suggesting that we follow this path, rather suggesting that most Spartan racers would see huge gains in their performance if they would include some more LSD training into their programs. For most people, an hour of steady state submaximal running twice per week would satisfy this need. For athletes racing in the Beast, at least once a week they should build up their running time to 3 hours. For the well trained athlete, they could even do a HIIT workout followed by a LSD run.

I think the biggest complaint against LSD training is boredom. I cure this problem by running the trails, or by hiking mountains. The change in scenery and constant undulations in the terrain seem to make time go by faster. Buy a headlamp and try running the trails at night or early morning. The darkness and low visibility force you to go slower, and being in the woods in the dark adds an element of excitement. Don’t go alone though, and make sure you know your way around. I love HIIT training, but it needs to be accompanied by LSD training in order to promote long distance endurance. Rock hard abs won’t get you to the top of the mountain. Get at it!

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Spartan Ab 300

by Jeff Godin, Ph.D. CSCS and director of


15 crunches

30 bicycles

30 back-scratchers

30 rotating crunches

15 leg-lowers

30 scissor-kick

30 side-crunches

30 bicycles

15 crunches

30 back scratchers

15 leg lowers

30 side-crunches


Exercises for the AB 300


–      Lay in the supine position with the knees bent at 90 degrees and the feet flat on the floor. The hands are interlaced behind the neck and the elbows are out. Slowly curl the torso upwards, until the shoulder blades are about an inch or two off of the floor. Slowly return to the start position. Don’t pull on the neck while doing this exercise; keep the elbows back and the head and neck in a neutral position.


–      Lay in the supine position with the legs extended and the hands interlaced behind the neck. Crunch up slightly and hold. While holding the crunch position, flex the right hip and knee and rotate the torso so that the left elbow moves towards the right knee. Repeat with the opposite leg and continue until the desired repetitions have been reached.

Back Scratchers

–      Lay in the supine position with the knees bent at 90 degrees and the feet flat on the floor. The arms are straight by the side. Curl up so that the shoulder blades are just off of the floor and tuck the chin in to take stress off of the neck. Laterally flex the spine from side to side touching one heel and then the other.

Rotating Crunch

–      Lay in the supine position with the knees bent at 90 degrees and the feet flat on the floor. Flex the right hip and place the right foot on the left knee. The right knee should be pointing outward. The right arm is straight by the side. Place the left hand behind the head with the left elbow pointing out to the side. Curl up and rotate towards the right knee. Keep the elbow out, think about bringing the left shoulder towards the right knee.  Perform the desired number of repetitions and then switch to the other side.

Leg Lowers

–      Lay in the supine position with the legs extended, and the arms straight by the side. Begin by flexing the knees and hips moving the knees towards the chest. Once the hips are fully flexed, extend the knees and slowly lower the straightened legs to the floor. When the feet are about six inches from the floor repeat the sequence.  The key during this exercise is to maintain a neutral lower spine throughout the movement. Brace the stomach muscles as if someone was going to punch you in the gut. Keep the back from arching.

Scissor kicks

–      Lay in the supine position with the legs extended, and the arms straightened by the side.  Raise the legs so that the feet are about 12 inches off of the floor. Open and close the legs for one repetition. The key during this exercise is to maintain a neutral lower spine throughout the movement. Brace the stomach muscles as if someone was going to punch you in the gut. Keep the back from arching,

Side crunch

–      Lay in the supine position with the knees bent at 90 degrees and the feet flat on the floor. Roll the hips to one side, but keep both shoulders flat on the floor. Crunch up by lifting the shoulders off of the floor. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions and then repeat on the other side.

Vertical toe touches

–      Start with the legs straight but flexed at the hip so they form a 90 degree angle. The feet should be pointed towards the ceiling. Crunch up and try and reach the toes. The shoulder blades should come off the floor by about 6 inches. Perform the repetitions under control. Tuck the chin to prevent straining of the neck.

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Understanding BMI, Body Composition, and Body Fat

by Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS, of Spartan Coaches


The Difference between BMI and Body Composition 

It is no secret that the incidence of obesity is on the rise and that the approximately 34% of Americans are obese. These statistics are based off of data collected using the Body Mass Index or BMI.

BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s body weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters.

A score between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal, 25-29.9 is overweight, 30-34.9 is obese, and greater than 40 is extreme obesity. The advantage of the BMI is that it can be easily administered, can be administered to large groups, and it does correlate with other chronic disease risk factors. The negative, for some, especially people that are Spartan fit, it can classify people that are of normal weight as overweight or even obese.

BMI doesn’t take into account body composition. Body composition is the relative amounts fat mass versus fat free mass. For example, we could have two people of identical height and weight, one is sedentary the other is a highly trained athlete. They would have an identical BMI, yet if you compared them side by side they would have widely different physiques. For this reason, in athletes I coach we don’t use BMI, I measure their body composition and actually calculate percentage of body fat.  But don’t misunderstand, BMI is a valuable tool and will correctly classify 85% of the population, but for people that train regularly (5+days per week) it may not be the best tool in the chest.

Measuring percent body fat isn’t a perfect science either. The margin of error is dependent on the method used. For the two most common methods used, skinfolds and bioelectrical impendence, the standard error is 3-5%.

For example, if an athlete’s measured body composition is 10%, their actual body composition is between 7-13%.  It takes experience and practice under a trainer technician’s supervision to be proficient in skinfold measurement, so the error may actually be larger in many cases. Bioelectrical impedance varies widely depending on time or day, hydration, previous exercise, and food intake. Are they useless? Yes and no.

When people use the score as an end themselves, yes they are useless.  Yay I am 5% body fat!!! Pointless.  But as a tool to track changes and progress it is excellent. In order for the measurements to be reliable, they should be made by the same person and under the same conditions. Even though the process is standardized, if one person deviates slightly from the protocol, or uses a different piece of equipment, or does it under different conditions the score may differ. I monitor my % fat with a bioelectric impedance scale. I measure it every Friday morning after voiding, before exercise, and before eating. The numbers are reliable and will track changes. I use it to make sure it is going in the right direction or staying the same.

What is ideal?

But what is ideal? For most of us to have a body fat % lower than it is now would be better, but what is that target number? Somewhere between 10-20% and 20-30% is considered healthy for men and women respectively. But what about those who want to race competitively in a Spartan Race? Like many endurance sports, having extra body mass is a hindrance to performance. An athlete has to carry that extra mass up hills, over obstacles, or crawl with it under barbed wire. Body composition recommendations for athletes have been determined by taking the average body weights and fat percentages from large groups of athletes in various sports. These body fat percentages ranged from 5-15% in males and 10-20% for female athletes.  But that is not to suggest that they represent an ideal for a particular person, and actually for some having a body fat percentage too low may actually be a hindrance.  Very low body fat is associated with increased risk of infections, maladaptation to training or overtraining, amenorrhea and poor reproductive health in women, and chronic fatigue.

A logical strategy would be to compare present body composition to standards for good health. The first goal should be to make sure it is within that range. Next, if the goal is to improve performance try and reduce body fat percentage to the mid to upper range cited for athletes. Notice any significant improvements in performance? Are you recovering well, do you have energy, have you been avoiding infections? If yes, this new body composition is appropriate for you. You could then set a new goal and strive for a percentage slightly lower and monitor those same feelings. You may also just decide to maintain your current level. Essential fat for men and women is 3 and 12% respectively. Striving for body fat percentages below essential fat will be detrimental for just about anyone.  There is no “ideal” body fat percentage for everyone. Get healthy first, then if you desire, see what you can accomplish that is reasonable for you.

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Muscular Analysis of The Burpee

by Jeff Godin, PH.D., CSCS

Phase 1:  Squat Position

From standing position to squat position.

Squat down so the hands are flat on the ground. The knees and hips are flexing and the ankle is moving into dorsi flexion.  The spine is also flexing to a minor degree. This movement requires the eccentric contraction of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and the gluteus maximus. The muscles of the back are working to prevent excessive flexion of the spine. Think about holding the chest high. Eccentric means that the muscles are contracting and lengthening at the same time. The muscles are producing force to control the rate of descent against the effects of gravity.


Phase 2:  Push-up Position

From Squat position with the hands on the ground, to the start of the push-up position.

-        From the squat position, using the arms to support the upper body, the legs are thrust back until the body is elongated into the start of the push-up position.

-        This movement requires concentric contraction of the quadriceps to extend the knee, and concentric contraction of the hamstrings and gluteus maximus to extend the hip.

-        The pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and rotator cuff are contracting isometrically to stabilize the shoulder and the triceps brachii are contracting isometrically to stabilize the elbow. Isometric is a term to describe a muscular contraction without movement. In this case, the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii are producing just enough force to oppose the effects of gravity and prevent the chest from crashing to the ground.

-        Muscles of the scapula, including the trapezius, rhomboids, serratus anterior, and the pectoralis minor, are contracting isometrically to stabilize the scapula. These muscles are co-contracting creating a stabilizing effect on the scapula so the muscles of the rotator cuff have a stable platform to act upon.

-        Muscles of the trunk are contracting isometrically to stabilize the core and prevent unwanted movement in the spine. Muscles that extend and flex the spine are co-contracting to stabilize the spine. If you notice the back sagging or an exaggerated arch in the back this is indicative of a weakness in the abdominal muscles. Practice the Plank exercise to strengthen this region.


Phase Three: The Push-up

One push-up is completed.

-        The chest is lowered to the ground in a controlled fashion. It should be fast but under control. The pectoralis major and anterior deltoid muscles contract eccentrically allowing the shoulders to horizontally abduct. The triceps brachii contracts eccentrically to allow the elbow flex.

-        The torso should be rigid throughout the movement; the muscles of the trunk continue to act as stabilizers.

-        In the down position, the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii contract concentrically causing shoulder horizontal adduction and elbow extension respectively, returning to the body back to the up position.


Phase Four:  Return to Squat Position

From the top of the push-up position to the squat position

-        This is an explosive movement where the athlete springs back to the squat position.

-        The gastrocnemius, contracts forcefully causing plantar flexion, lifting the feet from the ground so that the knees and hips can be rapidly flexed and the body is returned to the squat position.

-        Flexion of the hips is caused by a concentric contraction of the iliopsoas and rectus femoris muscles and flexion of the knee is caused by concentric contraction of the hamstring muscles.

Phase Five: Jump

From the squat position the athlete jumps as high as possible.

-        Jumping is the product of a forceful concentric contraction of the gastrocnemius muscle at the ankle, the quadriceps at the knee, and gluteus maximus and hamstrings at the hip, causing plantar flexion, and knee and hip extension respectively.

-        Prior to the jump the back should be rigid and this stabilization is provided by the back extensors.