Don’t Hate Steady State- Why Going Slow Can Help You Go Fast.

HIIT or high intensity interval training is becoming the “cardio”choice of the instagram generation. While it has some time saving benefits it means that low level/ low intensity work has gone out  the window. Here’s why you should consider not condensing all our workouts down to a series of 30 second smash ups.

There are a number of benefits of lower intensity work- better cardiovascular function, better sleep quality and a reduction of stress to start with.

But first let me frame a “back story” to give a sense of perspective. I recently started training someone who is time poor. Their workouts NEEDED to be efficient. Efficiency in itself does not always mean you cram “more” in to a session, in fact it should mean the quality of what you do goes up…. as opposed to doing more varied stuff badly. In itself the client needed to be re-educated that there is more to exercise then destroying yourself. Indeed no pain/ no gain really should mean no pain/ no pain but plenty of gain if training is appropriately measured (I guess that doesn’t really roll of the tongue does it).

There is a belief that HIIT work is a cure all for every goal.

Play sport- perform HIIT, get skinny- HIIT is what you need. Even to the point where I have even heard a story of someone trying to run a marathon of the back of purely high intensity work (it was their first marathon- it was not a great success).

Smart exercise programmes tend to cover all bases. If you have certain demands for a sport then certain work will be more relevant to you. For general fitness clientele there is no “best.”

What do we see though from a training perspective and what are the misnomers about steady state cardio?

Well the first thing you have to understand is that all exercise stresses a different energy system. They don’t compete with each other though to do the work. They are stressed at different levels providing different physiological adaptations. It’s not a competition to do more harder all the time.

Steady state work improves the efficiency of your heart allowing the heart to pump more blood, in turn it can help lower your heart rate and act to in effect relax your nervous system destressing the body. Throwing high intensity on to someone who is stressed and tired may have the opposite effect of chilling them out and leave them more “amped up.”

Beginners also tend to fly straight into HIIT work with programmes like “Insanity.”  These type of programmes are a bit like destroying yourself so you start doing everything really badly, and then carry on destroying yourself like you hate yourself.

If you have heard of self help books this is the opposite…. but at least you get a T-Shirt at the end of it.

It’s not measured, it’s not balanced but it’s hard… and obviously hard is better, no pain/ no gain after all. Dropping back though and doing some steady work though can help your recovery, indeed it will ultimately help you recover better from your high intensity work.

In itself though HIIT work is useful but it doesn’t need to be used at every freaking session. In my experience trainers are scared of not being the “toughest.” A client of mine (you know who you are) often goads me by saying “trainer b’s session was really hard the other day compared to yours.”My response is that “Do you want to do 2 sets of 10 repetitions well, or one set of 20 rows with patchy form for half of them.”

Quality counts as it’s about efficiency right!

Where though is HIIT useful?

  1. If your only goal is fat loss then HIIT work will help. That said though to start beginners on lots of HIIT work is unprofessional. We actually got a new client at the gym this week because her previous trainer kept on destroying her to the point of pain. As a professional you should be able to explain to a client about the different benefits of certain exercise and why they probably should go down a certain path programme wise. That said if you are time poor it can be programmed accordingly but not for an hour. 20minuts for the average gym goer should be enough.
  2. HIIT helps develop the aerobic system. This means you get some of the fringe benefits of aerobic work. That said in most people I will suggest 1 to 6 steady state sessions a week and maybe 2-4 HIIT sessions depending upon availability, goals and demands.

Developing a good aerobic base is a bit like building the footings on a pyramid. The bigger the base the larger the pyramid and this explains your adaptations when working at a higher level. If you find yourself getting gassed when performing short intense bouts it may be a good indicator that your recovery is hampered by having a poor aerobic system.

In a practical sense I keep an eye on my clients training by  performing a repeated sprint test (the rowing machine works brilliantly for this). If you can maintain consistently strong pace on your work interval with a 1 to 1 work: rest ratio with no drop of in form(we have used distances of 250m, 500, and 100m for this) then your aerobic base is allowing you to recover so your focus should be on top end/ power development. If your intensity falls away quickly and does not recover at all then your aerobic base may need a bit of work. This isn’t as sciencey as you can get but it’s a simple test to allow someone to see where there training may need a bit of attention while getting a training effect.

Energy system development in the glycolytic system from high intensity works returns occur will occur in the first 6 weeks. After this period of adaptation it’s prudent to look at maximal power and lower level aerobic work for improvements.

So there it is- a primer on why some low level work can help your HIIT work and your overall results.

 

 

 

Overhead Carries and the Overhead Athlete

With a lot of the guys we work with they have some pretty full on demands for maintenance of shoulder stability and mobility. Twinned with our fitness clients and the wear and tear of everyday life certain exercises are pretty much a necessity for building healthy robust shoulders.

Primarily, in the sporting arena we work with a lot of swimmers and tennis players. The overhead carry is great as it encourages upward rotation of the shoulder blade. If we lose upward rotation during a movement we may typically resort to placing more emphasis on to the elbow and shoulder joint rather than allowing the muscles around the shoulder blade to do the job to the best of their abilities. Swimming and tennis also have a lot of force placed upon the shoulder when it is overhead or near to full extension. This means that injury risk is highest if you can not stabilise the joint in place.

Single handed this exercise places a challenge to the rotational stability function of the abs as well as maintaining anterior core control – in simple terms it allows your abs to do the work as opposed to your lower back arching through the movement.

Loading this exercise can make the form pretty poor quickly if your ego is bigger than doing things properly. So try it out- we give it to some of our trainees early on in sessions to encourage good core position. We also use it as a challenging finisher- that said if you have had a heavy upper body training day form can fall apart on pretty low loads.

Quick Tips to Assess Your Squat

We use a squat based movement pattern in near enough every session. Their inclusion in some form in every warm up we perform highlights how functional and fundamental to effective training the squat movement is.

When we squat we see flexion at the hip, knee and ankle. This movement is performed in all of the major Olympic lifts, deadlifts and jumping so making sure this movement is dialled in is pretty important.

One of the most common impairments to this movement especially in more experienced lifters (not necessarily better) we tend to see is more anterior rotation of the pelvis meaning excessive strain is put on the lower back in order to avoid flexion or forward bending. This is often when load is added in order to counter flexion forward. It makes the lifter think they are getting lower but the movement really isn’t gaining depth through the lower body musculature. In fact the change in angle of the pelvis and forward lean of the individual is providing the extra “range.” This means there is more strain on the lower back.

So if this is the case try this challenge to help you clean up your squat. This is a good challenge to old and new trainees- aim to maintain balance while sitting all the way down to their heels while not leaning forward or coming on to the balls of your feet. Check the guy out on the right- if you look more like that than the guy on the left it may be wise to leave a bit of weight of the bar and work on your positioning.

If you fall forward it’s a good sign that your back extensors, hip flexors, quads and calves may be overactive and taking on a little too much work. Some people will remedy this by squatting with a wider stance to get lower- this is just hiding mobility issues by creating a stable wider base with less range to move through. Look where the centre of gravity is going (tip: forward). This will happen without load as you will find greater range of movement than the likely half range that you are squatting through loaded.

Why is this a negative? Well, allowing the abdominals and the other muscles around the pelvis such as the glutes to pick up the slack will result in less loading on the lower back and better force transfer. In turn not just in the squat movement but in rotational movements as well as the back and quads take the work on as opposed to the abdominals and glutes.

A good question to ask yourself is does squatting leave you with a sore lower back- if so consider dropping a bit of weight (your ego won’t suffer too much) and look to clean up your squat movement by balancing your programme and placing more emphasis on making your squat better by adjusting your strength leverages.

 

 

A bala

 

position of joint

muscular action

pressure/ breathing

 

 

 

 

 

From the Gym Floor: Part 4… Batman, Wall Balls, Speed Strength and Ambient Temperature.

This could be classified as the “super hero” edition. Why? Read on.

1. We were featured in Men’s Health in an article “How to be Batman” the premise was how to disrupt your childhood to leave you with a deep seated personality order meaning your role in life is defined by trying to imprison bad people while dressed up as a flying squirrel. Well not quite- it’s more of an article of what would Batman do in the gym- click above and enjoy.

2. Wall/ Slam Balls are awesome and fun at the same time. At the moment we are incorporating a lot of med ball slams/ wall ball work. In our more advanced clients they are great way to work on hip drives roll in rotational sports. We cue the movement by encouraging a hip turn first. Often you find that people when they fatigue start only using their arms especially on rotation or side to side based work. From the point of view they are a great tool for conditioning and varying movement load and speed. Most importantly they are fun. Too often I see coaches get caught up in the pursuit of “heavy” without working on varying repetition speed. Which leads to my next point…

3. Strength has a component of speed and endurance, to get the best returns you have to train speed and endurance to see a return in maximal strength. That means that quick work as described above is vital when you are looking to get stronger. It also means that endurance work or slightly higher repetition work can be good as well (typically we perform this on single leg work). Performing training in the same rep ranges all the time is an ineffectual way of training. 3 x 10 works for 6 weeks for beginners but to progress more variation is key.

4. Ambient temperature plays a roll in warm ups. We have come off the back of a pretty good summer and a warm Autumn but as the clocks change and the temperature drops it’s vital to take up the duration of your warm ups. When it’s warmer circulation is better and we find that our clients have less joint pain. If you suffer from poor circulation it can help to include a few more rounds of dynamic mobility- your joints may thank you for it. We have a few people who suffer from joint pain and adding additional work for the calves and wrists can help greatly in getting ready for your training sessions.

 

 

From the Gym Floor…. Episode One

As a regular feature and as an effort to make this blog more practical and applicable to training and nutrition I am starting a new series of posts which are going to be made up of an assortment of questions/ discussions we have had with our clients in the gym this week.

Obviously this could turn in to a pretty obscure mix of information but hopefully it will be informative none the less. That said I hope that episodes 1-3 are better than the Star Wars prequels, 4-6 is where it will really kick off and as for 7 onwards who knows. So back to training….

1. Don’t bounce pull ups. In my opinion pull ups are a strength exercise, not a cardio conditioning exercise. I recently watched a video of someone total 100 pull ups. The way we coach at Results FAST 6 would have counted as a full repetition the other 94 looked like a shoulder dislocation combined with a head butt.

Sometimes you have to decide what fitness parameter you are working on if it’s strength then load the pull up, if it is muscular endurance then work within a high rep range and then add loading (we don’t really go much more than 12 on our programmes).

Now I have a few colleagues who perform the “kip” during the pull up. It’s a gymnastic move repackaged for the gym sport/ Crossfit or whatever it is you want to call it. That’s fine if that’s what you “do”, these things are for a sport- practice them if you want…. but not at our gym as it’s our job at Results FAST to keep our trainees shoulders strong and stable.

Bouncing pull ups therefore are a higher risk manoeuvre. Just because you are a good athlete it doesn’t mean you need to utilize higher risk exercises just to “do” more. I compare it to the fact that boxers don’t practice being hit in the face 365 days of the year- if you don’t need to be hit in the face why would you do something that perhaps increases the risk of injury?

2. Fitness wearable’s are fun. I recently got given a Nike Fuel band and being the alpha male that I am logged in and set my daily activity goals to be that of the top 20% of the Nike Fuel wearing community. Here are my observations after a couple of days.

If you are a busy personal trainer (10 coached sessions daily) or a person who has a job where you are on your feet then you will smash you general activity targets easily- this is interesting to me primarily as you have to answer the question then is any “unnecessary” activity useful e.g. training to turnover calories if your nutrition is in check.

These trackers don’t define intensity e.g. how heavy or how vigorous a certain exercise is. It would indicate that activity is not related to if you do a squat with 5kg or 200kg.

That said I am looking forward to a low activity day when I have to hit my daily activity goals by running on the spot, doing star jumps or indeed waving the band around in the air vigorously as that seems to cheat the readings.

That said I think they are quite useful if you work in a sedentary job. Firstly, this device will encourage you to move more to hit your activity goals and secondly, it allows you to take responsibility for your activity levels and therefore can become a good form of extrinsic motivation to “do” more.

A lot of the time marketing is aimed more at the “athlete” market or those who aim want to personalise their experience. The technology isn’t really there to “personalise” your experience but if you want a cool looking activity tracker to get you motivated then this can be a useful tool.

3. Lifting heavy stuff is great abdominal work. We have been integrating a lot of trap bar deadlifts in to our clients training as they more from beginner to intermediate level. We are using this as a progression from goblet squats towards more advanced/ heavier forms of lifting. Why? Improving your strength levels is perhaps one of the best ways to enhance your work capacity in the gym and also change your physique.

Progressing towards heavier weights leads to an increase in strength levels and the best way to give a full body effect is by using multi-joint movements such as squats and deadlifts. The trap bar is an intermediate style exercise from a complexity perspective that is easy to coach and easy for clients to pick up. As you progress towards this style of training there are two main complaints. ” My hands hurt” this is usually down to either a weak grip or not gripping the bar appropriately. Chalk can help improve grip and in some cases some people prefer to use gloves. Glove use is a contentious issue for some coaches who tell there clients to man up- however not everyone needs thick calluses on their hands and if you work with your hands e.g. as a sports masseur then your clients are not going to respect being rubbed down with sand paper like hands.

The second major complaint is back ache/ tension. This comes down to coaching of the exercise and making sure the weight lifted is suitable. A common issue is for some people is to be anteriorally tilted at the pelvis (hips facing down) and finishing the lift by over extending at the back. Teaching individuals to keep their pelvis in a more neutral position during the lift as well as squeezing their glutes/ bum at the top of the movement are two of the more successful cues we use for this exercise. As always it takes a bit of time and in some cases the exercise just doesn’t work for them due to mainly previous joint damage so some form of single leg loading is more useful.

 

 

Burpees: Saint or Sinner?

One of the most poorly programmed exercises in the history of fitness is Burpees. This post looks to examine their placement in training and the rationale for their inclusion in different parts of your workout.

Predominant more in bootcamps, outdoor fitness and when working with limited amounts of equipment the rationale for their inclusion in training can vary.

As it is such a big exercise which mobilises the whole body the question to be asked initially is what level of fitness are you?

Burpees commonly feel like the end of the world to new exercisers. They cause a massive elevation in heart rate and ultimately poor exercise form limits performance (which is caused by fatigue).

With most boot camps they seem to be included in the middle of circuits as well as used as finishers (the last thing that you do in a session which leaves you lying on the floor in a puddle of your own sweat). If included with other exercises in a circuit format to induce fatigue then their form may be compromised if their repetition range is too high. By nature they are not an exercise you should struggle through so when do you tolerate bad form? In my eyes never. Therefore, beginners are suited to low repetition numbers predominantly at the start of a session. If you are not combining it with resistance training it is likely to be the most neuromuscular fatiguing exercise you will perform. So for beginners it is as much a strength exercise as it is a conditioning drill. In my experience most coaches place them in the middle or at the end of sessions to invoke fatigue? My question is that if it is the hardest thing you do in a session should it not go at the start so form is maintained if you are a beginner?

With advanced exercisers does the parameters move? Well, the ability to perform the exercise against fatigue does as does power output (in theory). The limiting factor to the exercise is still failure of form so in that case it’s pretty much the same compared to beginners. Someone who has good recovery therefore can do more repetitions for longer but as it is still an explosive exercise should it not be placed at the start of all routines or does the training focus dictate its position?

If the training focus is on strength and power development it could be considered more sensible to place it at the start of a session or at least early on after your primary loaded exercises. If looking to use it as an energy systems training tool e.g. Fat loss or full body conditioning sports then it can be used as a supplemental exercise in essence in the second half of your training session. As advanced exercisers generally recognise good posture and bad form compared to beginners then it is suitable for this to be used as a finisher.

What is the relevance of this post then to training. Beginners need to recognise form and body position first and will find this harder if already fatigued. Advanced exercisers can use certain exercises to build up their capacity to do more but like beginners will ultimately be limited by fatigue. Often though beginners are thrown Burpees too early in too large amounts to develop suitable strength while advanced exercisers could throw them in to the start of a session as an explosive “primer”.

Research Review: 4 Links To Make You Strong, Get Lean and Perform Better.

L Carn it Doesn’t

Supplements claims are abundant and one that is getting a lot of press recently is L Carnitine. It is proposed that it gain help reduce body fat among other things. From a fat loss perspective this study highlights an insignificant changes in fat mass after a period of supplementation

And While We Are At It….

Coconut oil is proposed to burn more body fat. Well it doesn’t…. or at least that is what the science says. The incredibly intelligent guys at Examine.com highlight “the inclusion of coconut oil in the diet is unlikely to induce any fat loss effects of noticeable magnitude inherently but its inclusion in the diet in lieu of other dietary fatty acids can be a part of fine-tuning a diet plan.” Check their review out for more information.

Stop Quicker to Go Quicker….

This paper is relevant to anyone who plays a sprint based sports. We work with a few tennis players and rugby players and we have found that teaching someone to “stop quickly” allows them to change direction quicker. This piece of research highlights the benefits of unilateral strength on an “enforced stopping” protocol.

Put Your Hands Up… Or Not…

This paper from Mike Reinold is on pubMed as free review so check it out. It highlights the issues of managing overhead athletes and how to build rehabilitation programmes. It talks about microinstability and the issues around spending and exerting a lot of force from an overhead position. This was a great read for me as we work with tennis players and swimmers- both who spend a lot of time with their arms elevated. That said the information relates to anyone who is physically active and wants to maintain great shoulder health.

 

 

Exercise of the Month: The Perfect Press Up

The press up is one of the most commonly used but most abused exercises used in the gym for upper body strength/endurance. We use a lot of press ups in our programmes at Results FAST. The reason being that unlike traditional bench pressing the shoulders are allowed to move freely into abduction (out) and protraction (forward around the rib cage) maintaining a normal scapular motion if performed properly. In certain cases the shoulder blades can become fixed in abduction or downward rotation, usually due to poor posture cues (“Keep your shoulders back and down/ stand up straight!”) or indeed because of excessive bench pressing or fixed scapular pushing. The press up encourages correct scapular movement and is a useful exercise in maintaining strong stable shoulders.

Commonly the faults associated with the press up are dropped hips (sometimes called anterior tilt) and forward progression of the humerus (upper arm bone) in joint. While these are more torso strength issues that can be remedied by taking the press up on to a raised platform one of the key teaching points that can remedy poor form is to use the perfect press up.

A lot of the time we see people who can perform a form of press up…. what I mean by that is a bad form press up. Typically the hands are wider than the shoulders, the elbows are placed at a 90 degree angle and the movement looks like it is coming from the neck. The reason we see this change in form is two fold. Firstly, the individual is shortening the range  to move- typically you see a forward head position leading to an assumption that they are achieving a suitable depth in the press up. Secondly, the chest hollows up creating a rounded back (sometimes the hips flex upwards as well) again shortening the distance moved. In both cases the shoulder blades are placed in their end of range abducted position before the movement starts, this is synonymous with being overdeveloped through the anterior shoulder and trapezius muscles where the press up is performed without the scapula moving from square with the spine to its abducted position at the end of movement.

Allowing the shoulder blades to move through range  it differs from the barbell bench press as it does not (if performed correctly) fix the shoulder blades in downward rotation. While this is neccesary for force production on heavy loads on the bench press and heavy dumbbell pressing the press up provides an alternative allowing movement through the shoulder blade.

As a teaching cue the perfect press up is a handy tool for those that have good strength but are generally unsure on elbow and shoulder positioning during movement. The turn of the hands cues the shoulder blades to tuck in to the torso. The end position allows protraction of the shoulder blades. The key point of this exercise is also safety. The shoulder joint is at one of it’s most unstable positions when at 90 degrees. A poor form press up therefore places unnecessary stress on the tendons and ligaments of the shoulder. Using the perfect press up cleans up form allowing good scapular movement and is a good refining tool for reformed press up addicts looking to take care of their shoulders.