Join us every month as we showcase some of Dr. Cooper’s health suggestions for your fitness routine.
Squats are a great way to strengthen your legs and buttocks, but can cause significant damage to the vertebrae and discs in your neck, or cervical spine.
Traditionally, a squat is performed while holding a bar across the shoulders, behind the neck, while arching your back and having your head tilted slightly backwards. The problem is that the bar, weighing forty five pounds without weight, and often carrying a few plates on either side (thus increasing its weight dramatically), is often precariously balanced on the bony spinous process of your lower cervical vertebrae, or upper thoracic (mid-back) vertebrae. This little spinous process is not such a strong bone that it can or should support this weight.
Furthermore, the bar pressing on these little vertebrae and their equally little discs frequently results in damage to both the disc and the bone, as well as causing significant postural deformities in the neck. In a previous column I wrote about the dangers of developing a posture that “resembles someone looking for a contact lens on the floor.” Well this posture will resemble that of someone looking for an airplane.
I’ve been working with a group of body builders to develop a safe and effective way to perform a squat, and after a few months of measuring the outcomes, we have devised a very effective alternative to the traditional squat.
Stand on a step or solid platform, like a step or the spotter station on a flat bench. Take a bar, with the weight that you would like to lift, and hold it in front of you, level with your hips or groin. Perform the squat as usual by bending the knees, while at the same time, rolling or retracting your shoulders backwards.
The legs and buttocks will get the same workout as with the traditional squat, your neck won’t get crushed, you will strengthen the upper traps, the neck and posterior/back of the deltoids (shoulders), and your risk of injury will be greatly reduced. By standing on the raised platform, you will have the extra room to dip down, which is the major concern in squatting.
Remember, it’s still hard core to wear a weight belt! Have a good workout!
Bonds. Giambi. Castillo. McGwire. Canseco. Once, these were names on the back page of the sports section. Today, these names have made the front pages and are household names around the world.
Since the BALCO steroid scandal erupted onto the sports scene last year, the issue of steroids has turned into a downright media frenzy. It is virtually impossible to switch on the news without hearing about yet another athlete admitting to steroid use, or to open the paper without seeing the word “MLB” and “steroid” sprawled across almost every page.
But the truth is that steroids aren’t news. Steroids are a reality that is seeping out of the stadiums and arenas and into America’s homes and schools, where offenders start as early as nine years old.
Steroids first became popular in the 1980s, at a time when the focus in sports was shifting from skill and ability to size, strength and speed. Their benefits include increased muscle mass and speed, while their harmful effects range from increased body hair and severe acne, to more serious and often irreparable health problems, such as liver disease, pre-mature heart attacks and strokes, hallucinations, depression, and increased aggression, known as “roid rage.” Steroid users who inject the drug are also at a greater risk of contracting AIDS/HIV, Hepatitis B and other viral infections.
Steroid Use Among the Youth
Unfortunately, for many youngsters, the pressures of securing a college scholarship or maintaining a positive body image outweigh the potential health hazards of taking these drugs. Statistics show that since 1991, ¹there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of adolescents who have tried steroids, and since 1996, steroid use has increased by 39 percent for eighth graders, 67 percent for 10th graders, and 84 percent for 12th grade students. A recent survey by the Hormone Foundation (www.hormone.org) estimated that one out of every 16 high school students has tried steroids. Overall steroid use is highest among males, yet prevalence among females is on the rise.
Mr. Jon Almquist, ATC, Specialist for the Fairfax County Public Schools Athletic Training Program in Fairfax, VA, says that steroid use in high schools is a concern that is monitored closely. “[Students] seem to be starting younger these days,” says Mr. Almquist. “They know [steroids] work, and unfortunately, it’s hard [for them] to get caught.”
While steroids may be difficult to detect, they are not hard to get. Matthew Hopson, a senior who plays baseball at Cary High School in Cary, NC, says that he was approached at his local gym to buy steroids. Other students interviewed at Cary High School agreed almost unanimously that steroids are easy to get, and statistics reveal that 40 percent of teenagers feel the same way.
A Difference of Opinion
But despite the perceived accessibility of the drugs, the students at Cary High say that steroids aren’t being used in their school, or in any other schools that they are aware of. “I haven’t heard of anybody using them,” says 18-year-old Matthew Miller, who plays for the school’s football, basketball and track teams.
Mr. Kurt Glendenning, Athletic Director at Cary High School, stresses the importance of education and of communicating the right messages. “We try to teach parents and students that proper nutrition is the most important thing,” says Mr. Glendenning. “The message being conveyed is that you don’t need [steroids].”
According to the 2004 Monitoring the Future study, steroid use seems to have declined in recent years. While prevalence rates among 12th graders remained stable at 3.4 percent, usage dropped among eighth graders from 2.5 percent in 2003 to 1.9 percent, and among 10th graders from 3 percent to 2.4 percent.
There’s a New Player on the Field
Unfortunately, a decline in steroid use does not necessarily mean that the problem isn’t there. Dr. Lyman Smith, M.D., an Orthopedic Sports Medicine Surgeon in Raleigh, NC, says that since the 1980s, the use of performance-enhancing drugs has become more sophisticated, making it harder to tell if an athlete is abusing them. “Whether or not the numbers are different now is very difficult to say,” he says.
The evidence shows that the steroid problem seems to be shifting focus, rather than dissolving. According to Mr. Almquist, dietary supplements, such as Creatine, are gaining popularity and are being used much more than steroids.
“We see a lot of moms carrying cases of Creatine over their shoulder coming out of Costco,” says Mr. Almquist, who contends that the use of such supplements is dangerous and problematic due to the lack of FDA regulation. Very often, users don’t even know what is in these supplements, which are prohibited by the NFL, NCAA and the International Olympic Committee.
According to Mr. Charlie Rozanski, Associate Director of Athletics for Sports Medicine at North Carolina State University, the lack of information about supplements can send the wrong messages to athletes, who are confused about the effects these substances produce in their bodies. “The line between [steroids and supplements] is skewed,” he says.
Another athlete who is a senior at Cary High School says he used Creatine in order to gain weight and admits that he gained 10 pounds in one month. He states that he experienced no side effects from the supplements, which his father bought for him. He has also used amino acids, and says that, unlike steroids, these products will help to build the body up without damaging it. “Steroids mess you up in the long run,” he says. “I’d rather do it the natural way rather than cheating.”
Supplements can be easily obtained at health centers and gyms, and even from high school coaches. According to Mr. Almquist, there are many school systems that allow their coaches to provide students with supplements or to use supplements as a fundraiser for their sports programs.
Mr. Hopson says he was once offered Creatine by an outside coach during the off-season, and says he has heard of coaches who have used the supplement, and of one in particular who suffered health problems because of it.
Back to Basics
Sports are an integral part of American culture that celebrates the values of hard work, dedication, and pride. Unfortunately, the issue of steroids has crept up onto the playing field, leaving it tarnished by corruption and dishonesty.
The lack of information and conflicting data on the issue of steroids are sending mixed messages to today’s youth. It is the responsibility of parents, educators and athletic leaders to take a united and strong stance in the fight against steroids, and to bring the game of sports back to a level playing field.
*Statistics were taken from: Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., and Bachman, J.G. (2003b). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2002. Volume II: College students and adults ages 19-40 (NH Publication No. 03-5376). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse.