Good Programming Vs Bad Programming

Justifying the way we write our gym programmes at Results FAST is important to me and our personal training clients. The fact is how you do something when you are training matters. Someone once said to me and I agree…

“It is very easy to make someone tired… Any monkey can do it!”


With the rise of high intensity training and it’s many varied methods it has muddied the water between what is good exercise and what is poor exercise. Now specifically I am looking at resistance training modalities but this could also be applied to most forms of cardiovascular exercise as well. One phrase we often use is…

“Best possible result…. Lease possible effort.”

That does not mean no effort, that means you do enough in your training programme to install the training effect you are looking for, or indeed train to get better, not just tired.

So what are the factors that affect this?

Exercise order is perhaps the most important as often what you do first will dictate the pace and your recovery later on in your training session. It will effect your recovery if intense and in some cases lower your intensity if some of your exercises have a cross over in movements or muscle groups used. While it may be possible to train strength, hypertrophy and muscular endurance in the same session there is going to be a negative effect to development if the session has too many goals which lead me to my second point.

Write programmes, not workouts. Programmes need to be programmed in to a hierarchy of needs. If your goal is fat loss then your programme should be different to a strength programme. A lot of  programmes now tend to blur the boundaries. Every form of training sits on a broad spectrum of facets of fitness to train including strength, mobility and cardiovascular efficiency. What is important is your gains over time- not just a non-directional workout of the day.

Train to improve. Progression is not always a linear pathway when looking at achieving your goals just as hammering yourself in a session is not always the driver for it being a better “fat loss” session. Cycling your training means that you push at the right time so that means that you cycle in your conditioning work with your strength work so that your primary goal is not hampered.

Reassess….. constantly. One thing that I have become a lot better as a coach is to review our approaches and practices. It means we can deliver better sessions to our clients knowing that every time each session has a specific goal. Assessing your progression is only possible if you have a start point. Now that may be to lift a certain weight or perform a certain exercise but by setting that goal and progressing exercises (and if necessary regressing exercises) we have a way not only to manage motivation but also from a goal achievement perspective a way of knowing how we are progressing.

Inefficiency is only good in fat loss and hypertrophy programmes, not in strength and power programmes. If your goal is to get stronger than your programme has to cater for that. In that sense there should be no unnecessary repetitions or extra training volume unless it has a carryover to developing strength levels. The emphasis is on intensity and therefore anything that hampers speed of movement may be counterintuitve to your overall result. In a fat loss programme this is tipped on it’s head. We want to create inefficency of how the energy systems are being challenged in order so they have to go into overdrive to maintain energy turnover. Certain people may have an affinity to work with certain energy systems for instance the difference between distance runners and sprinters. For fat loss creating as big a metabolic disturbance is the key and therefore rotating different training styles is vital for great results. What you find in strength and power training is excessive training volume leads to overuse injuries.


How To Stop Your Scapula Winging

Winged scapular is something that is common that I find when I asses a lot of my personal training and gym members. The best example of this is if you place the back of your palm in the small of your back the bottom of your scapular lifts away from the back and “wings” up. In extreme cases it may even wing up when your arms are in front of you. This is synonymous with shoulder pain and poor muscular balance around the shoulder joint.



Understanding this condition though is vital for resolving this issue. The anatomy is very relevant in why there is an issue at the shoulder. Now commonly in this situation I have seen people who have been told to strengthen their back or have been giving a theraband and told to strengthen their  rotator cuff. In the first line of advice this may be the actual problem and as for strengthening the rotator cuff… well it is probably a waste of time. Hence a lot of shoulder issues become chronic over a period of time.

If you look at the following picture of the shoulder blade you will notice the rhomboids and the serratus anterior muscle are separated by your shoulder blade. In fact you could consider that that shoulder blade is in a constant tug of war between these two muscles. Tightness or over strong rhomboids can pull the scapular away from the rib cage causing an anteriorly tilted scapular which may cause shoulder pain. If the serratus anterior is not strong enough it will not be able to keep the shoulder blade pinned to the rib cage.


scpular rhomboid and serratus anterior


If the serratus anterior isn’t fully effective at producing an upward rotation force (keeping the scapular close to the rib cage) and the rhomboid (a downward rotator as it pull the bottom of the scapular downwards towards the spine) is getting trained with both pushes and pulls then you can end up making the condition worse while maintaining a traditional training pattern. Often this leads to tighter rhomboids and tight muscles at the chest. Twining this with peoples habitual posture while driving, at the office and at home and it shows you why some shoulder issues take an age to clear up.

So in this situation what is the answer? Typically we start with waking up the serratus anterior. One exercise we use is 4 point back rocking where we encourage the shoulder blade to move laterally and upwards while not letting the scapular wing away from the rib cage. Please see below- it’s a simple exercise but phenomenally effective.


Poor scapular position also leads to poor rotator cuff strength and excessive challenge to the stability muscles in and around the shoulder such as the rotator cuff. But what exercises can help resolve this? Well the mighty press up- if done properly can be an amazing exercise but is often performed incorrectly. I will cover these in my next post.

The Serratus Anterior: The Shoulder Saver?

The serratus anterior is divided up in to three parts. All three parts pull the shoulder blade forward and on to the rib cage. The muscle is an antagonist to the rhomboids which are found between the shoulder blades. When the inferior and superior parts act together, they keep the scapula pressed against the rib age together with the rhomboids and therefore these parts also act as synergists to the rhomboids.


The inferior part can pull the lower end of the scapula laterally and forward and thus rotates the scapula to make elevation of the arm possible. Additionally, all three parts can lift the ribs when the shoulder girdle is fixed, and thus assist in respiration.

The serratus anterior is largely responsible for the protraction of the scapula — that is, the pulling of the scapula forward and around the rib cage that occurs when someone performs a press up or chest press.

The serratus anterior also plays an important role in the upward rotation of the scapula, such as when lifting a weight overhead. It performs this in sync with the upper and lower fibers of the trapezius.


Commonly in those with shoulder pain you will see the scapular wing or there is an anterior tilted scapula. This is related to having an over active pec minor which causes the change in shoulder position. In this case the serrated anterior is not strong enough to maintain the position of the scapula flat against the thorax.

Having a healthy functioning serratus anterior is vital for the shoulder joint. Without sufficient strength in this muscle poor scapula position will lead to shoulder pain specifically from shoulder impingement. This is where tendons are pinched as they don’t have enough space to sit in the shoulder joint. In an exercise programme this is usually caused by excessive amounts of pushing work such as shoulder press and bench press. In the next post I will upload some videos of drills we use to wake the serratus anterior up in our personal training sessions.

The Deep Squat- Are They Bad For Your Knees?

I like questions to be answered by science. Not that I think that research always defines fact but more because it gives you a trend of evidence to base how you train in the gym. One of the questions that constantly appear in the realms of strength and conditioning is squat depth.

Gyms in Ware

The classic squat is a fundamental movement defined by near enough simultaneous flexion of the hip, knees and ankle. How this movement may look like varies dependent upon limb length and relative joint mobility. This exercise is fundamental to fat loss programmes, performance enhancement and is probably the most prominent body weight exercise taught to beginners looking to incorporate multi-joint exercises in to their fitness regimes.

Performing this movement until you can sit  almost to the floor is even with body weight representative of great mobility and strength. With extra  load though dumbbells or barbells the question remains that “Is this movement dangerous for the knees?”  and specifically”Are the pressures too great in the knee complex to warrant squatting to this depth” or indeed “ass to grass” to be a bit cruder.

deep-squat (1)

From a muscular activation perspective there is little extra effect on hamstring involvement from deep squatting and that if quad involvement is the primary goal then squatting deep may not give any extra reward. Where the benefits are seen is at the gluteus maximus, where there is increased muscular activation in the deep squat compared to a parallel squat. Therefore if you are targeting the hip musculature then this may be a technique that you could utilize.

The concerns around deep squating and knee pain relate to a basic study that suggested that deep squatting can cause laxity in knee ligaments including the anterior cruciate ligament. In turn though this has been refuted in studies that show improvement in knee stability and tighter joint capsules on the anterior draw test in deep squatters. Further studies have shown that ACL and PCL forces are reduced at full flexion whereas their greatest tension is found at parallel- the typical distance recommended for a safe squat. Interestingly the connective tissue, cartilage and meniscus are under increased tension in comparison to ligaments in the deep squat position. Obviously those who suffer from degenerative conditions around the knees at the cartilage, meniscus or patella may find that deep squats may not necessarily be beneficial when also looking to maintain healthy joints.

There is minimal evidence to suggest that squat depth is dangerous for those with healthy knees. It does suggest those that with chronic or acute knees issues may not benefit from deep squatting. As with any training programme the exercise needs to fit the person but those with healthy knees who want to maximise their glute development may find that deep squats are a worthwhile addition to their training programme.

The Three E’s Most Gyms Are Missing

At my gym we pride ourselves on a number of things that define us as being different from the competitors. While there are a range of different training styles, equipment and programmes when it comes to defining if a gym sinks or swims it can come down to three objective factors

1. Environment. Creating a “feel” is quite an objective thing to measure but one of the things at Results FAST that we are pleased with is the culture that has been defined by our membership. In the New Year 95% of our training membership trained more than once a week. This statistic would close most commercial facilities. Creating a culture and environment of commitment focused around achieving great things is not just for those who believe they are the nations next great Olympian. It can be something as simply as a pain free shoulder or maintaining a sensible nutrition plan for a week. All of these things feed in to what defines a great culture that our staff and members sign up to.

2. Expertise. The barrier to entrance in the fitness industry around the world is quite low compared to other trades. It means that it can be quite easy to “get certified” and call yourself a personal trainer.  80% of newly qualified trainers leave the industry inside 1 year but of the remaining 20% most will remain on a similar wage to the person who cleans the gym. With most gyms they will hire at the cheapest level to do the job (I mean what business wants to over pay their employees!). This is not going to attract expertise- give me one great, hard working trainer over three cheap trainers and i’ll show you the difference in expertise and the value it will provide. The definition of expertise in practice though may not necessarily mean book taught. Expertise can be through experience and time training people however your own education is a fluid process and if it stops so does your development. Never has there been more information available to people but still people don’t know what is a healthy diet.

3. Excellence. This supports the previous points. If you have a great gym culture environment of commitment to success and accountability for your own actions in line with focused training programmes which work you have made a dedication to the process of excellence.

All summed up- if you are going to do something, do it well and and at the best of your abilities.

Why Soft Tissue Work on Your Shoulders Will Improve Your Squat and Take Away Back Pain.

At some point anyone who trains regularly will have an incident of shoulder pain. While looking to maintain healthy shoulders it is important to maintain good tissue quality in and around the shoulder.

The musculature of the posterior shoulder plays a direct role of how your shoulder posture positions itself. To the back of the arm pit you have two muscles that play a large role in shoulder position and generally stabilizing the shoulder joint. However stability and stiffness isn’t all that great if you don’t have enough mobility and stability as you raise your arms. This can commonly be seen in individuals who through training (the chest usually) or by their posture (usually desk based) can’t put their hands above their heads without moving their torso forwards. In fact the two pictures of an overhead squat highlight this quite well as someone with good range and someone with poor range.



The musculature that can help release the shoulder is located just under the arm pit. The teres major has a tendon, at its insertion that lies behind that of the lats (the big prime muscle down your sides which form your “bat wings”…. If you are a guy) from which it is separated by a bursa or fatty pad that acts as a shock absorber, the two tendons unite along their lower borders for a short distance.


The teres major is not part of the rotator cuff but it does play a role in humerus position in line with the lats. The lats when trained obviously recruit the teres major. As the lat are connected to the spine tightness or restriction in movement of the lats will not only cause back pain but also shoulder pain. The lats also act as internal rotators of the arm- just as the pectoralis major does. Typically in the situation I have seen a lot of aggressive chest stretches to try and create mobility here. Simply the pecs may not be an issue but the posterior shoulder may be causing the mobility issues.

The exercises that tend to be effected are any that necessitate barbells being placed on the shoulders and being stabilized by the hands such as barbell back squat as well as any overhead exercise. What you will typically see on a shoulder press is extension from the back- this effectively means that you perform a back extension as there is not enough space in the shoulder joint for the movement to clear without a bit of friction in the joint.

The following exercise is a great way of removing posterior shoulder stiffness- typically we have seen some people achieve a better hand position with a barbell on the shoulders as well as improvement in range of movement in overhead work.

Deconstructing the Deadlift

I like deadlifting…. Mainly because I am good at it. This is a common thing for a lot of people who lift weights or perform any form of structured exercise. We tend to master the things we are better at, be it squatting, bench pressing, sprinting or marathon running. We develop excellence by specialization. First we decide that we want to achieve something (such as picking up and deadlifting your own body weight) achieving a target before repeating this task to replicate the successful behavior  Twinned with that we may not prioritize that exercise and forgo other more challenging exercises. People usually say that they do yoga or run, rather than stating that their exercise programme is a multi-layered fusion of a number of training styles that will unlock their physical potential.

I am interested in strength training. It helps you maintain lean muscle tissue and mobility if performed in the right way,  it enhances your metabolism and ultimately makes you look good. From a physical potential point of view it is also a facet of fitness that can translate to the development of other- flexibility training doesn’t make you stronger and cardiovascular training doesn’t enhance lean muscle mass whereas strength training can help the performance of both of these. This means for time poor people it is a great way of training and developing a well rounded physique in line with a bit of interval and aerobic work depending upon time restraints (another post).

Deadlifts are perhaps the king the free weight domain along with squats and the bench press. Indeed these classic exercises have survived for decades as many a gym can testify. While other forms of training have come and gone there is an old school approach that highlights picking up heavy stuff is generally good for you (if done properly) and if done constructively in the right way may turn you in to an elite strength athlete (possibly).

Deadlifts are what I am going to focus on today. After teaching the basics of any exercise you may consider adding some weight. This can often be the first issue as adding additional resistance changes the whole movement pattern of the exercise. With the deadlift you teach the movement by hinging at the hip, keeping the back straight and driving through the hips. See below….

Often though people don’t have the mobility to get in to that position, what you typically see is back flexion and forward bending. You may see lower back flexion- this is an inability to maintain a neutral lower back position and may be related to poor hip mobility and poor torso strength. You may also see upper back flexion in the thoracic area. This will be seen if people are weak in their thoracic/ back extensors. It is important to distinguish between the two as for individuals who move a large amount of weight may see a degree of thoracic flexion. Lumbar flexion needs to be avoided at all costs as it is potentially injurious. Individuals who deadlift in this manner should in the words of a great American rapper “check themselves before they wreck themself.”

But what to do if you lack hip mobility in this situation? Should you continue to deadlift? Well there are a number of options. Step one is to hammer hip mobility pre- session in your warm ups as well at every opportunity you can during the day- if that means telling your work colleagues you are now an athlete it is fine, though they may never understand. Step two is to ingrain the movement with lower threshold alternatives so that you can maintain a strong torso position while hinging at the hips. Kettlebell swings are a good alternative as are Rack Pulls.

Both of these should be undertaken while adding in to the mix a lot of hip dominant single leg exercises. Hip dominant single leg exercises are those where we can emphasise a strong torso while developing strength and mobility in the glutes and hamstrings. The humble step up is a good start point. Rear foot elevated split squats are perhaps a progression but are a great prelude to building up to deadlifting.

The next step is to deadlift from somewhere between rack pull height and full deadlift height. Typically this may be of boxes or a couple of plates. A lot of the time if someone has long legs, lifting from the floor provides too much stress on the lower back and form cannot be maintained. Indeed for a lot of our trainees at Results FAST it is smarter way to deadlift.

Full deadlifting as you see is a progression not a start point. While it is earmarked as a primary exercise it should only be done well in perfect form. If it isn’t then there are two things wrong. You are not mobile enough to achieve the correct form or the weight is too heavy causing you form to degrade. Mobility tends to shut down when you are not strong enough to maintain correct joint position- it usually means drop the weights a little as your back will thank you the next day.

Why the Small Things Count If You Want To Achieve Your Goals

Well happy New Year! As we get into 2013 the spate of New Year, new you offers and promotions are everywhere over the popular media.

There is good reason, most people do overcook it massively in the Christmas holidays, overeating, overindulging and generally not being very active. The general message and the way a lot of exercisers feel or are pressured to feel is to change everything in the short term rather than changing habits promoting long term change. In the habit formation research is well documented that if you have one goal you are more likely to achieve your primary goal if it is your sole objective. If you take this out to multiple goals the chances of success become smaller. I don’t mean goals like lose weight or build 4 kg of muscle mass what I mean is the smaller targets you set for yourself.

For example, your overall goal may be to lose weight or run a marathon. If you broke this down in to an attainable goal such as run intervals three times this week, get three weights sessions in or add an additional portion of vegetables to each of your meals these are small measurable targets which over time can be maintained.

If you say in the first week of January I am going to be eat more vegetables, drink more water and take part in activity five times a week the multiple goals involved in this process decreases the chances of success in each additional goal that you set.

It’s the small things that count a lot of the time. Wholesale change is an ineffective way of achieving your goals, that is why the diet and slimming industry is so big- people who achieve long-term change are successful as they create a number of habits over a period of tome which lead them towards the overall goal.

So how do you achieve your fitness and nutrition targets? Set small measurable achievable goals broken down into the simplest processes there are, forget about the overall result, that will come by undertaking a number of successful habits. It could be simply drink 2 L of water a day, drink one cup of green tea every time you are hungry, include nuts as an afternoon snack, focus on your primary exercises in the gym (this means the thing that you do first), make sure your warm up is really well structured to lead you into the good session these small little things will make a difference to your overall result.

Too often we become bogged down by changing everything and achieving nothing. Make this the year of habit formation and you’ll reap the rewards of success in your long-term goals. Often when I work with my clients at results fast I will set people goals for the week, that might be a session target, it might be a nutrition target. Either way it’s only one goal- it is one thing that they have to process, one thing that they have to think about, therefore they are more likely to achieve their target. The plus side obviously as well is that they had someone to be accountable to as well so writing your goal as a message on the fridge, a post it note on your computer or keep a note in a notebook, just somewhere where you can set targets. This way you also improve your adherence to the goal by having a culpability factor involved.

So the lesson learnt from this post is only set a small number of goals perhaps one of for exercise/ training and one for nutrition and aim to form those goals into habits once you have achieve those goals and then you can think about other processes and other targets. Reset and assess your goals on a weekly basis and enhance adherence by writing them down.