- "Get Conditioned for Summer Sports"
- "Abdominal Training - Guest Column"
- "Weight Belts and Lifting Straps"
- "Hydration and Heat Acclimatization"


As summer nears, it is time to turn your thoughts toward summer soccer, baseball, and trail running. It is important to prepare your body specifically for these activities and not to just rush out and play hardcore.

For injury prevention, strengthen the legs and body core (abs and low back). Strong legs will help in any summer activity such as Ultimate Frisbee, golf, beach volleyball, and rugby. Well-built legs will also turn heads at the beach and will prevent your huge upper body from causing you to topple over!

Begin with a basic program of leg presses or squats, hamstring curls, and calf raises. Add wide-stance squats for hip adduction training (for lateral movement sports) and hip flexion exercises (to assist running and sprinting). Lunges are awesome for developing single-leg strength, balance and sport-specific movement.

The abdominal muscles stabilize the body during sport performance. Rotational movements are important because of the rotational component of most sports (i.e. making a cut in Ultimate Frisbee OR returning a shot in tennis). Always train the lower back for muscular balance to prevent injury.

Upper body strength will aid arm stride (fast running), tackling (for our rugby players out there), swinging (tennis and baseball), and throwing (slo-pitch and tossing cans of beer to friends on the other side of the pool). The basics should include a balance of pressing and pulling movements (i.e. a chest press + a back row, a biceps curl + a triceps extension). Consider the importance of upper body strength in your sport, a little more work will be necessary for a slugger, but less for a road cyclist or English footballer.

Some team sports will benefit from an endurance fitness base. Hopefully you have developed this over the winter. If not, training for sport-specific endurance will be much more uncomfortable. But remember to ease into your sport. Don't go too hard on your first day outside or you could end up with a nasty groin, hamstring, or other injury that could delay your season even longer than the cold weather! If an injury develops, treat it properly! Give it rest, ice, compression, and elevation for two days after, evaluate the seriousness of the injury, and determine if professional help is necessary.

Make sure to warm-up! And remember, as helpful as training in the gym is, there will always be some soreness as you become re-accustomed to your summer activities.


The author of this column is Mike Zappetelli. Mike graduated from Kinesiology at McMaster and is now a registered massage therapist. He is also a certified personal trainer and a successful competitive amateur bodybuilder. Here is his take on the "upper/lower abs" controversy.

The majority of muscles contract so that the insertion moves towards the origin, right? i.e.) biceps brachii origin = shoulder joint (coracoid process and glenoid tuberosity) the insertion = forearm (radial tuberosity)

Thus the contraction moves the forearm (insertion) to the shoulder (origin).

Let's use this principle with ab training. Some anatomists say there are upper/lower abs while others say that they don't exist. I agree with the former, however, the rectus abdominus ("6-pack abdominal muscle") always contracts to flex the trunk regardless of the exercise. The entire rectus abdominal will contract during crunches (supposedly for the upper abs) or reverse crunches (supposedly for the lower abs). Therefore, they are both effective at training the same muscle group. You really can't isolate specific areas of the rectus abdominus. However, the oblique muscles help to flex the trunk as well and this may allow a distinction between "upper" and "lower" abs.

    External Oblique:
  • Origin: lower ribs
  • Insertion: Iliac crest (top of the hip bone)
  • This muscle runs from lower ribs inferiorly (down) and medially to grab onto the iliac crest. It will aid leg raises/reverse crunches as the insertion moves toward the origin. Hence, the "lower abs" would include the rectus abdominus & external obliques.
    Internal Oblique:
  • Origin: Iliac crest
  • Insertion: lower ribs
  • This muscle runs from the iliac crest superiorly and laterally to grab onto the lower ribs. It will aid regular crunches as the insertion moves towards its origin. Hence, the "upper abs" would include the rectus abdominus & internal obliques.

Note: The rectus abdominus is a continuous muscle from the sternum/xiphoid process to the pubic bone. There is no possible way (I know of) that one can only contract/recruit a certain segment (i.e. 1/3) of a muscle. Therefore it is active in all abdominal movements!

Mike's information gives us some ideas for our abdominal training. It appears that all abdominal training will stimulate the rectus abdominus but we may be able to isolate the oblique muscles. The bottom line is to train the abdominals with a variety of movements, proper intensity and technique, and allow them adequate recovery like any other muscle group.

Thanks for the input Mike! Good luck in your future bodybuilding contests. To contact Mike:


These pieces of equipment are common place in the gym, but are they necessary, beneficial, or detrimental?

Using a weight belt may increase lifting safety during heavy lifts that stress the lower back. However, at the same time the use of the belt prevents the abdominals and lower back from being trained. Abdominal muscles then become weak and may be injured during heavy lifting without a belt. A weight belt is only necessary for extremely heavy squats and deadlifts which most of the gym crowd avoids anyway.

It is certainly not necessary to wear a belt for bench press, biceps curls, or any other exercise that does not stress the low back. Try your warm-up sets without a belt and then continue to add one working set without a belt. Soon you will be back up to your previous weight but will also have stronger abs as well.

For building functional gripping strength, straps may be detrimental. On the other hand, they are very helpful when grip strength limits your ability to fatigue other muscle groups (i.e. during pulldowns or shrugs) and therefore have bodybuilding applicability. However, you will not develop proper grip strength by using straps in all these exercises, thus limiting your functional (daily activity and sport-specific) strength and performance. So consider your training goals before wrapping on the straps prior to each and every exercise.

Use straps and belts with caution and moderation. Make sure to train the forearms, abdominals, and low back separately if you do use these aids in order to develop muscle balance, functional strength, and a healthy low-back area.


It is very easy to take water to the gym, or to grab a drink from the fountain, and it is essential that everyone drinks plenty when training. However, when beginning summer activities, consuming adequate water often becomes forgotten. So make sure you take some cold water to practice or strap on a water bottle when you run or bike.

The acute weight loss following exercise is all due to water loss. Sweat is produced to evaporate heat and results in fluid loss from the body. Performance decreases with dehydration, therefore it is important to drink a minimum of 10 cups of fluids (preferably water) every day. Drink an additional two cups for every pound you lose during exercise. Before your run or sport, drink 500ml and then try to drink 250ml every 15 minutes. Don't wait until thirsty as this indicates dehydration has already set in. DRINK, DRINK, and DRINK AGAIN!

Extra fluid intake will be necessary for the early stages of the summer as you get used to exercising in the heat and obviously you will need to drink more when the temperature rises. Post-game drinks should consist of water (most important), pop (no caffeine), juices, or sports drinks (second best). Add a small amount of a protein shake or meal replacement drink for a protein source to further help prevent muscle breakdown. When hitting the pub post-game, include a round or two of water with every pint to re-hydrate, recover, and to prevent those nasty hangovers.

During exercise, heat production increases greatly. The greater the fitness level of an individual, the greater the ability to dissipate heat (i.e. sweat more). Acclimatizing to the heat (allows your body to get used to exercising in heat) increases heat tolerance but is a gradual process. Be careful not to overheat (hyperthermia - can cause fatal heat stroke) when you exercise in the heat, and be very careful (or even avoid) exercising in humidity. Prevent dehydration with lots of fluid intake. If you must exercise in a hot, humid environment, plan plenty of fluid breaks.


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