by Dan Camp

Woman-Pull-upsWhile burpees are a Spartan staple, there are other exercises that will become a foundation to your Spartan fitness routine.  T

What does “form over reps” mean?  It simply means it is ALWAYS more important to execute the specific exercise properly with good form at a controlled tempo than to do it with shaky form at a faster tempo.  This includes both weight training and cardio moves.

Good form is basically about:
1) Understanding what muscle(s) you are primarily isolating.
2) Having your body in proper alignment
3) Knowing what other muscle groups are supporting the exercise in a synergistic manner.

Here are a number of moves, I will do my best to describe proper form and common pitfalls!

The Pull-Up
Pull-ups are one of the hardest thing in the world to do, literally.  It takes a lot of control and upper body strength.  What most people don’t realize is that they are truly a BACK exercise.  Try this: stand up and bend at the waist like a hinge.  Now, bring your shoulder blades together, but try to do it without moving your arms.  Congratulations! You just isolated your back.  That feeling of “engaging” the back is essential before you execute a pull-up.

Now go to the pull-up bar.  Clasp the bar with your thumbs around the bar, palms facing away from you.  Hang and make sure you are in proper alignment by NOT collapsing your shoulders.  Now engage the back by slightly pulling your shoulder blades together like I described above.  Now keep your elbow in as you bring your chin over the bar and slowly lower yourself!  What you’ll find is that as you build your arm strength you might be able to muscle yourself over the bar a few times with your arms and shoulders only, but realistically to up your pull-up number, your back has to be involved.  It really is a synergistic move where many upper body muscle groups work together, but the back is the driver.  For a slightly easier pull-up, try a chin-up which has the palms facing in.  On this pull-up, the biceps are also integrally involved.

One last note, make sure to bring yourself all the way down in between pull-ups, don’t go halfway down and then use your body to “kip” up, at that point you aren’t using the full muscle groups in your back and are also using your body’s momentum to get you up.
Now, when doing modified pull-ups, like with the chair, ALL of these principles still apply.  Engage the back and go all the way down!

The Squat
If you do P90X Plyo or an Insanity workout and your quads are sore, but your glutes are squat - Ringwood sports massagenot sore, you might be doing something wrong with your squat.  It’s important when doing any kind of squat, whether you are jumping, standing, doing a leap frog squat, a squat switch pick-up, or whatever, that you TAKE A SEAT!  A squat is bringing you butt back while bending your knees and putting the weight on your heels!  This means you should almost feel as though you are going to topple over backwards.  To really test this see if you can ever so slightly lift your toes off the ground.

Additionally, whenever you do a type of squat where you touch the floor on the way down, make sure your head always stays up, your butt always stays down, and your back stays mostly straight, and you don’t arch it.   If you bow your back and look at the floor you are cheating yourself out of precious inches!!  Always keep your eye on the TV when doing these types of squats, it makes sure you are looking up.

The Curl
Biceps curls, easy right?  Not necessarily!  In order to really isolate your biceps, hold the weights with your elbows at your sides, and while gripping your weights have your palms facing out.  Now, slowly lift the weights keeping your elbows at your sides, don’t let them “drift” forward!  Additionally, don’t bring the weights ALL the way up so that they hit your shoulders and are in a resting position.  You should actually squeeze the biceps and do an isometric hold just at the top point while it still feels difficult, then slowly bring the weight down again.  That is the basic biceps curl.  Adjust from there if you are doing single arms, cross-body, hammer curls, twisting grip, etc.  Unless you are doing something like “21′s” where you intentionally do curls halfway up, make sure to bring the weight all the way down between reps.

If you are standing, the back is always somewhat involved with a biceps curl, but it’s important for you to make it as much about the biceps as possible.  That is why preacher curls, or Tony’s “crouching Cohen curls” are great, because they further isolate the biceps.  These almost always call for a lighter weight than a standard curl, but you really feel the burn!

Whether you use a barbell, or dumbells, this form is of utmost importance if you want guns! (girls too!).  The benefit of the dumbbells is that each arm is pulling the exact same weight.  Sometimes with a barbell, if you have a stronger arm, that arm will take a little more of the load.

Those are just 3 exercises, but I hope my description gave you a little insight into them!  If you have other moves that you think you need help with, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help you!  Basically, when you use good form, you not only reduce the risk of injury, but you complete the exercise as it is intended and work the correct muscle groups at the right times.  Even if you do fewer reps, using proper form often “elongates” the moves, whether it is a lower squat, or a larger range of motion on a weighted exercise, which in the end gives you move burn and more results!!

[Editor’s Note: Dan Camp is a certified STRIDE Instructor and a certified Sports Nutrition Consultant who has raced with Spartan in Staten Island.  Dan Camp’s posts from will regularly be making an appearance on the Spartan Blog.]


by Dan Camp

Most of the time, we are given advice on what to EAT but forget that there are many types of drinks out there (and I’m not talking about just alcohol) that can blow your daily calories out of the water!  It starts with soda…but ends up being a variety of other drinks that may not even cause our radar to go off, and some which may even seem “healthy.”  If you Google “worst drinks in America” you can probably find a million different countdowns that go blow-by-blow what the highest calorie, highest sugar drinks are, but instead of worrying about a specific brand of this and that, I’m going to just give you an overview of the “types” of drinks you want to avoid.

sodaWe all know it’s not good for you, but why?  First of all – sugar.  A 20 oz. bottle of most sodas have over 60g of sugar, which is about 15 teaspoons of sugar!  And we usually drink the whole 20 oz. bottle let’s be honest.  Also, watch out for “black” sodas which have phosphoric acid in them.  Phosphoric acid can clean rust off of a car engine, can wash a 100 year old penny and make it look like new, and will therefore eat away at the enamel of your teeth not to mention what it does on the inside!

Diet Sodas aren’t much better, as they mostly use aspartame, and artificial sweetener.  Studies show people gain weight from diet soda, perhaps because the body is confused at the sweet taste but no true sugar delivery and therefore craves sugar more and possibly stores food differently.  Another problem with diet sodas in particular is that their pH is nearly identical to the pH of the stomach, so they can cause acid reflux.

Energy Drinks
Again, sugar is the biggest culprit here, but also effectiveness.  Anything with 50+g of sugar you have to wonder what kind of energy is this really providing?  A short burst, like a Roman candle, followed by a crash.  Your body can’t take in all that sugar and utilize it fast enough before it begins to be stored as fat.

Other ingredients in energy drinks tend to be caffeine and taurine.  Taurine is an organic acid, found in some meats, but realistically the amounts of taurine in any energy drink is not enough to actually impact biology in any way, and most studies show it doesn’t have much of an effect on energy levels.  Likewise, caffeine is fine in moderation, but you might as well get it from a cup of coffee as a natural stimulant.

“Beer is evidence that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – Ben Franklin.  Yes, I have to agree.  However, with beer you have a double whammy, because not only does alcohol carry empty calories, but beer is made with hops and barley and carries starchy carbs as well.  In some ways, knowing this you might as well go for a quality beer instead of drinking Bud Light all the time, even though the B Light obviously has fewer calories  – I’d rather have a beer with quality ingredients, it’s almost like thinking of it as the difference between white bread and a hearty whole grain bread with seeds on it.
Beer is about moderation, it’s easy to double your dinner’s calories by having several beers with it, so just be careful!

Milk Shakes
Milk Shakes are probably the highest calorie single entity among all pieces of food and cups of liquid in the world.  The reason they are so thick and sweet is that the sugar used is Maltose – which are two molecules of glucose bonded with one another.  Add high % milk fat, and you have one tasty treat – that can cost you an entire day of calories within 10 minutes.

For example, the PB&C shake, 24 oz. size, at Coldstone Creamery has 2010 (yes, I didn’t accidentally add a 0 there!), 68g of Saturated Fat and 153g of sugar in it.  That’s basically 10 tbsp. of butter mixed with 40 tsp. of sugar and for many Americans, a day’s worth of calories!  Just be wary, they taste delicious and you can gulp ‘em right down, but you are destroying your diet with one of these.  I don’t care about my “Don’t let a bad day turn into a bad habit” sentence, if your day includes one of these shakes, you don’t have to worry about it becoming a habit, you’ve already done the damage!

Now, it takes a certain kind of person to order a 24 oz. shake, but the fact that one exists is preposterous!  And a 16 oz. shake of the same flavor…well do that math, it’s still about 1350 calories.

Coffee Drinks
Starbucks drinks – they are a common luxury.  But not only will they rob yourWorst-Chocolaty-Coffee-Drink pocketbook, but they will destroy your diet.  However, you can be smart.  I personally love plain, black coffee, I guess I am just lucky, but that is what I always order at Starbucks.  Avoid the drinks that have multiple pumps of sugary syrup and whole milk.  Also, avoid the coffee drinks you can buy at the grocery store as they, too, are loaded with sugar.  There are healthy treats at Starbucks: for example a skim cappuccino is a delicious beverage!  And you know what, adding a tsp. of sugar to a coffee is not the end of the world, and in fact it is better than adding an artificial sweetener.

Sports Drinks
Sports drinks are basically all about the “when.”  For athletes, replenishing the body with a high carbohydrate beverage with some electrolytes like sodium and potassium has been studied and shows a better impact in performance and recovery.  But many sports drinks use high fructose corn syrup as their sweetener.  If you are looking for a recovery drink, having 10g of protein is a nice touch, and also look for a sugar source that is glucose and/or maltodextrin instead of fructose.  Fructose takes longer to absorb and be utilized and is primarily digested in the liver and can cause bloating during physical activity.  So a sports drink is ok at the end of a workout, but rarely, if ever, needed any other time of the day.

My best advice to you – be label smart!  Note that 4g of sugar = 1 tsp. of sugar, so calculate, even just for the visualization of it, how many teaspoons of sugar you are ingesting with your drink!  While sugar is the main culprit, as you see above there are many other reasons these drinks are not good for you.  When in doubt, have your cup of coffee in the morning and drink water throughout the day, you can’t go wrong!

nuvision_action_image_storefront_3_461789[Editor’s Note:  Dan Camp is a certified STRIDE Instructor and a certified Sports Nutrition Consultant who has raced with Spartan in Staten Island.  Dan Camp’s posts from will regularly be making an appearance on the Spartan Blog.]

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