The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2008 issue 5



Stretch to Grow

When you think about gaining muscle, stretching is probably not the first thing that pops into your head. But did you know that stretching plays a critical role in building muscle?

Every muscle in your body is enclosed in a bag of tough connective tissue known as fascia. Fascia is important for holding your muscles in their proper place in your body.  But your fascia may also be holding back your muscle growth. Think for a moment about your muscles. You train them and feed them properly. They want to grow and will grow but something is holding them back. They have no room to grow!  Because fascia is so tough, it doesn't allow the muscle room to expand. It is like stuffing a large pillow into a small pillowcase. The size of the muscle won't change regardless of how hard you train or how well you eat because the connective tissue around your muscles is constricting the muscles within.

The best example of this is the calf muscle. The lower leg is riddled with fascia because of its tremendous weight-bearing duties in the body. It is because of this fascia that many trainers have great difficulty developing their calves.  The solution: stretching.

Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don't make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won't be effective.

Using the pillowcase example from above, imagine you can expand the size of the pillowcase by stretching it. Suddenly, the pillow within has more room and will expand to fill that new space.  By stretching your muscles under specific conditions, you can actually stretch your fascia and give your muscles more room to grow.

The key to effective fascial stretching is the pump. The best time to stretch to expand the bags that are holding in your muscles is when your muscles are pumped up full of blood.  When your muscles are fully pumped up, they are pressing against the fascia. By stretching hard at that time, you increase that pressure on the fascia greatly, which can lead to expansion of the fascia.

One of the major reasons Arnold Schwarzenegger had such incredible chest development was that he finished his chest workouts with dumbbell flyes, an exercise that emphasizes the stretched position of the pectoral muscles. He would pump his chest up full of blood during the workout then do flyes, holding the stretch at the bottom of the flye. This gave his chest room to grow to amazing proportions.

Fascial stretching is more rigorous than regular stretching but the results can be amazing. When you stretch hard enough to cause the fascia to expand, you will really feel it! When you are stretching the fascia, you should feel a powerful pulling sensation and pressure as the muscle works against the fascia to expand it.

Be sure you do not stretch so hard that you cause the muscle to tear or cause injury to yourself. You will rapidly learn to distinguish the difference between a good stretch and a bad stretch. You should not feel any sharp pain, just a steady pull.

Hold each stretch for at least 20 to 30 seconds as you must give your fascia time to be affected by the stretch. Stretch hard like this only when you have a fully pumped muscle as you must give your fascia a reason to expand. If your muscles aren't pumped, just stretch normally.

One set of hard stretching after each set you do for a muscle group, besides the obvious benefits of increased flexibility, can have an incredible effect on the size of your muscles and their further ability to grow.

reference:  Nick Nilsson, president of Better U, Inc.

Read Any Good Books Lately?

My wife and I couldn't be more different when it comes to books.  She'll burn through romance novels and Nora Roberts books in a few days, while I'm constantly picking up those health and fitness reference books to keep up on the latest material. 

I recently picked up a great reference book called Eat This Not That by David Zinczenko of Men's Health and thought I would give you the 411 and my thoughts on this book.  My overall opinion?... Well worth the money!  Although the list price is $19.95, you can pick it up at Costco or BJ's wholesale for $15ish. 

When I'm on the run with my daughter, chauffering her to the activity of the evening and we happen to stop by McDonalds for a quick happy meal, I try to be "good" and get a Chicken McGrill or club.  Well it turns out that the chicken club has 570 calories, 21g fat (7g saturated) and 1,720mg sodium compared to a quarter pounder that has 410 calories, 19g fat (7g saturated), 730mg sodium.  Although I try to stay away from McDonalds altogether, I will opt for the less damaging meal next time! 

A Whopper with cheese has 760 calories & 47g fat whereas the Big Mac has 540 calories & 26g fat... that's a savings of 200 calories and 29g fat... you'd figure "The King" would be a little chunkier with those kind of numbers!

These are the types of comparisons that make up the heart of the book.  Simple and direct match-ups that show you the difference between meals at most of your favorite restaurants.  In addition, this book has some great chapters with a wealth of information that can be used on a daily basis (if you are THAT neurotic)..

  • chapter 1:  8 foods you should eat everyday - plus 20 you should avoid at all costs.
  • chapter 2:  At your favorite restaurants (the best and worst meals)
  • chapter 3:  Menu Decoder - strategies for eating right at any restaurant
  • chapter 4:  On holidays and special occasions
  • chapter 5:  At the supermarket
  • chapter 6:  Drink this not that - healthy beverage guide
  • chapter 7:  What to eat when you're tired, stressed, or in the mood - the right foods for every situation
  • chapter 8:  Eat This Not That for Kids

Anyhow... TODAY! Fitness gives Eat This Not That a big 2 thumbs up and although I wholeheartedly recommend this book, a word of caution:  if you would rather not know the damaging facts about your favorite restaurant foods... don't buy it!



Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Single Leg Calf Raise


Whether you're wearing shorts or a dress, your lower legs are always sticking out and when someone is walking behind you, they can typically tell that you are in shape if you have some well defined calves!  The calf muscle is the "forearm" of your leg and is used to push your heel off of the ground (plantarflexion).  There are a variety of ways to perform a calf raise.  You can do them with 1 leg or 2, standing or seated, from a step or just on the ground, with a dumbbell in your hand, etc...  Using a step as pictured above is your best bet to allow for full range of motion of your ankle joint.


Target:  calves (gastrocnemius)

Count:  2 count

Description:  Begin a calf raise by positioning the ball of your foot (or feet) on a step.  Drop your heel down as far as you can while still keeping your foot on the step.  Contract your calf and raise your heel up as far as you can while maintaining contact with the ball of your foot on the step.

What Sup? - Fish Oil

Fish oil is oil derived from the tissues of oily fish.  However, fish do not actually produce omega-3 fatty acids, but instead accumulate them from either consuming microalgae that produce these fatty acids, as is the case with prey fish like herring and sardines, or, as is the case with fatty predatory fish, by eating prey fish that have accumulated omega-3 fatty acids from microalgae.  When reviewing the contents of a fish oil supplement, be sure to look for contents that don't come from a "fish farm".  Fish farms mostly feed the fish corn meal or a related fish food, which means that they are not getting the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that result from the consumption of microalgae.

Studies are published almost daily as the scientific community discovers more and more of the many omega 3 fish oil benefits.  If you haven't already been swept up in the net yet, here are 7 proven omega 3 benefits you should know about.

1. Less Pain and Inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly EPA, have a very positive effect on your inflammatory response. Through several mechanisms, they regulate your body's inflammation cycle, which prevents and relieves painful conditions like arthritis, prostatitis, cystitis and anything else ending in "itis."

2. Cardiovascular Health. Omega 3 fatty acids have also been proven to work wonders for your heart and the miles and miles of arteries and veins that make up your cardiovascular system. They help to lower cholesterol, tryglicerides, LDLs and blood pressure, while at the same time increasing good HDL cholesterol. This adds years to your life expectancy.

3. Protection from Stroke and Heart Attack. When plaque builds up on arterial walls and then breaks loose, it causes what's known as a thrombosis, which is a fancy way of saying clot. If a clot gets stuck in the brain, it causes a stroke and when it plugs an artery, it causes a heart attack. Research shows omega 3 fatty acids break up clots before they can cause any damage.

4. Better Brain Function and Higher Intelligence. Pregnant and nursing mothers can have a great impact on the intelligence and happiness of their babies by supplementing with fish oil. For adults, omega 3 improves memory, recall, reasoning and focus. You'll swear you're getting younger and smarter.

5. Less Depression and Psychosis. Making you smarter is not all omega 3 does for your brain. Psychiatry department researchers at the University of Sheffield, along with many other research studies, found that omega 3 fish oil supplements "alleviate" the symptoms of depression, bipolar and psychosis (Journal of Affective Disorder Vol. 48(2-3);149-55).

6. Lower Incidence of Childhood Disorders. Many children are deprived of essential nutrients that fish oil provides.  Studies show that children (and adults) with ADD and ADHD experience a greatly improved quality of life. And those with dyslexia, dyspraxia and compulsive disorders have gotten a new lease on life thanks to omega 3 oils.  Fish oil has also been found to improve concentration, learning, language skills and increase test scores.

7. Reduction of Breast, Colon and Prostate Cancer. And finally, omega 3 fish oil has been shown to help prevent three of the most common forms of cancer – breast, colon and prostate. Science tells us that omega 3s accomplish this in three ways. They stop the alteration from a normal healthy cell to a cancerous mass, inhibiting unwanted cellular growth and causing apoptosis, or cellular death, of cancer cells.

So you can see why knowing these benefits is the second most important thing you can do for your health. Can you guess what number one is?  That's right! Now it's time to put your knowledge to work. Eat more cold water oily fish and start taking good quality pure omega 3 fish oil regularly.

It's Go Time!

April showers bring May flowers, so what do May flowers bring?  Pilgrims! (ba dum dum)  I know, that was bad, but that's ok... it's my newsletter and I can be corny if I want to.  Seriously though... May... flowers... spring... what's not to like?  How's that beach body of yours coming along?  Summer will be here before we know it!

Let me just reinforce my stance on diets... I'm against them!  There are a ton of never-fail "diets" out there and people have successfully dropped 10, 20, 50 pounds by following them.  Then they complain when they go off the diet and gain all the weight back, if not more.  No kidding... when you slash your calories, and then add them back, what do you think will happen?  Like I said, diets provide a quick fix solution, but "lifestyle changes" are what are going to get you leading a healthier life with lasting results.  Eating better and getting regular exercise are lifetime habits that you're going to want to embrace if you want to realize the benefits.

For prior issues of this newsletter go to  

Good Luck!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

“All growth requies that we stretch beyond where we've been before. ” - Dan Sullivan

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