Getting What You Want From Your Training and Nutrition Programme

It’s pretty obvious that most people who walk through the doors of a gym or who buy personal training are looking to improve themselves in some way. Now that could be their health, fitness, physique or mentally but most people enter with a goal in mind. Now what are the factors that lead to successful goal achievement?

It’s quite simple do your programme and eat the food that will help you achieve your goals.

Now this is where the confusion comes in because….

(a) Most people do not train, they exercise. They partake in random fitness classes, go for an occasional run and are generally non-directional about their goals. In today’s sedentary society it is by all means a good thing to be more active. The next step on though rather than to achieve a good result is to try to achieve a great result by making your training relevant to what you want to achieve.

Generally, people chase fatigue when they exercise… like being hot and sweaty and out of breath means it’s working… sometimes yes, but not all the time. Broadly speaking pick a few parameters to measure yourself. If body composition or weight is your goal then measure weight and % body fat. Power- a full body explosive movement e.g. cleans or a standing long jump. Strength- traditional moves like the squat, deadlift or pull ups, beginners may consider getting to 10 press ups or monitoring how long it takes to get to chest press 15kg in each arm. Endurance- 400m, 5km or whatever distance you are in to by whatever training modiality. Once you have a goal then you can frame your training. Is what you are doing leading you to improve…. or are you just making yourself tired?

(b) If your diet has a name it’s not working. Not because you labelled it but ultimately you will not stick to this plan. Now we have a quite a few Paleo dieters come through our doors at Results FAST, indeed a diet that emphasises quality protein and vegetables isn’t the worst thing on my list. However most people are not sticking to “the plan” when you see paleo granola as someone’s breakfast cereal it makes you wonder how middle class cavemen existed without supermarket- they would have been hunting and gathering all day to make that. Importantly if you are removing a range of foods from your diet because a book said so it doesn’t mean that all those “bad” foods are not good for you. Primarily dairy, wheat and grain are removed- in about 1/100 cases it can make sense. For most people it is totally unnecessary and you are cutting down your options to make good choices when your “ideal” is not available.

If you are on a diet or considering one- recognise this fact. In the absence of disease it’s simply a case of over supply and under activity. Some may describe this as calories in/ calories out- in most cases this is the point.

I prefer to describe it in a slightly different way…..

“What you eat will determine your body composition. How much you eat will determine your weight.”

Why do most people not hit their goals? What we find at our gym (before they train at Results FAST obviously :)) is that exercise is non directional or designed to give instant gratification e.g. fatigue and that a diet is unrelated to what someone needs.

A great example of someone who came in to see us the other day who performs a high intensity aerobic programme called “Insanity” (yes, the same one they sell on late night info-mercials) who was looking to lose weight. Nutrition wise she was on 900 calories a day- she had cut all carbs, her exercise sessions where gruelling and guess what… she lost weight for the first few weeks but she had started to plateau out. She was tired, sore, had the start of shoulder tendinitis/ simply her shoulders hurt….. but hey, she was 4 kg (8pounds) lighter after 6 weeks. So the question is what was her goal and what happened? Well she lost weight (tick) but couldn’t train because of shoulder pain (cross), couldn’t eat anything (bigger cross) and life was pretty tough as work became more demanding (low carb diets can be brutal and simply doe not suite everyone).

Let’s go back and look at her goal- lose weight. On talking to her she said “I don’t care what I weigh as long as I look good.” On talking to new clients I hear this 9 times out of 10.

So initially we are looking for a exercise/ nutrition programme that enhances her body composition by building lean muscle (resistance training being mindful of her injuries) and reducing body fat (a combination of different exercise modalities n.b. not just high intensity work).

Let’s consider the nutrition programme. Well we want to preserve lean muscle that dieting often reduces so we want to create a small calorific defect. We want to eat enough carbohydrates, proteins and fats to support the body. In this case we increase protein intake, match carbohydrates to activity and try to keep fat intake consistent. The rest is down to likes and dislikes from a food perspective.

So that is the programme set for the client, it’s a step wise process. Set some goals, set up your exercise programme, apply a nutrition programme that is relevant for your goals and the way you live your life and you should be on the way to hitting your targets.

The next part is probably the most relevant and where I will finish the article.

You could have the best programme in the world but each session you miss will take away from your overall results, every poor food choice will limit your returns. So be realistic- you may not be able to push hard all the time but consider that to get a great result a period of dedication will always be needed.

 

Things I Learnt From 2013….

Every year I tend to way in with my opinion of a few things that we either do at Results FAST, have borrowed of other people and use at Results FAST or changes in approach to the way we work as professionals at the gym. These often can be translated in to many things whether it’s fitness industry related, business issues, down to nutrition and exercise tweaks we have put in place. So here goes this years run down:

1. Attitude is everything…. This crosses over to what goals you want to achieve, what new challenges you want to take on or in some cases just holding it together to make an omelette for breakfast everyday because eating a high protein breakfast is congruent to your goals. Life is tough sometimes but that doesn’t mean you let your health and fitness slide. Do you keep on getting ill? Are you looking to improve your health because of this? Are you overweight and want to lose weight? What are you doing to improve this situation is the question you should be asking. Your attitude then will define your actions. As a conversation point I now have morning omelettes down to 3 minutes 15 seconds….. so if someone says they have no time then there is your answer…. Can you spare 3 minutes 15 seconds!

2. Top post this year was on Glute Bridging– people simply must enjoy glute bridging! Bret Contreas would be happy!

3. People still love reading about trainers– this post is over a year old but still gets plenty of hits. The content for me still stands up for what is available in the current market and for the way we train clients at Results FAST.

4. Running your own business is the most fulfilling career move you can make if you dislike your current job. The fitness industry in no way rewards mediocrity- you have to be hard working to be successful. In all of the companies I have worked for there are some good guys who are going somewhere and there are people who watch the clock and punch in and out. There are good bosses and bad bosses. There are people who want to tell you what to do and people who want to help you (it’s not the same). When you are the head honcho I found it a weirdly cathartic experience. My expectations now have become my own limits. I wasn’t living up to someone else’s ideal or business practices which I no longer believed in. When you own your own business you have to have full engagement and a “buy in” with what you are doing and where you are going. It becomes your job to engage your clients and employees in that vision. That’s when your company grows… That’s also when you create what you can call a “brand” because it is more about what you do and how you act  and do it rather than what you say and what you tell other people to do.

5.  Language is important in your interpretation of peoples goals. Understanding that what people say occasionally has a hidden meaning and their use of phrases indicates where they see themselves in the world. My wife is a counselor with a major in psychology so I have only considered this when she became fully qualified and started analyzing my psychological make up (not quite Silence of the Lambs level but close). Getting a grip on understanding that if someone defines their place in the world by describing them self in a certain way does not highlight what is reality…. but it in turn is there reality. It means that your responses should not be about just what people say but understanding the sub text of their statements. For example, if someone describes themselves as a certain type of person e.g. happy, sad etc. then they are categorizing them self. It may not be true, we see it with body dismorhphia when guys see them self as small when they are large and women see them self as fat when they are a normal size. Understanding how people display this is important, as is your ability to discuss this with your clients. When someone redefines how they see themselves in the world it can make a major difference to their confidence, attitudes towards training and health as well as their whole personality and how they deal with change (which is what all fitness coaches deal with).

6. Yoga press ups are a great teaching exercise for progression to full press ups. I didn’t have time to shoot a video so the above is from Eric Cressey. We have used a lot of yoga press ups this year for two reasons. Firstly it creates controlled upward rotation of the scapular if performed properly which is great in exercising populations who’s shoulder blades may get fixed back and down. Secondly, a press up is a big torso exercise. If performed badly you will see dropped hips and a hyper extended back. Simply the yoga press up takes the tension out of the exercise at the hips high portion meaning that the elbows can be tucked on the decent portion of the movement and better overall form can be maintained.

7. Diets are for children and people looking for a cult to follow. Grow up and start thinking about nutrition like an adult. The reason that the human race colonized the planet was not that we had to only eat carrots on a Tuesday or that caveman represented our evolutionary peak for health. It’s because as humans we can survive under a broad range of nutritional intakes. Be it Eskimo, Sioux, Mayan, Viking, Hippie, Mod, Rockers etc. they all had variable diets and guess what pretty much all survived to pass their genetic line on to today. Some were better than others at this but it really had little to do with eating in the Zone. What do you need to survive. A bit of protein, some fat and ideally to keep you moving a bit of carb. Over do it on any of these and you find bad health. Eat healthily- you don’t need to remove food groups to do this. Detoxing and juice diets are sold to you- it’s not sustainable it’s not “healthy”. Eat fruit and vegetables and some lean protein at every meal, eat healthy options of fat, avoid overly processed food types. Is it that hard? My main point is not a discussion on the best diet but dealing with people as individuals is key to them understanding what healthy is. Ditch the diet attitude and aim for long term health.

8. Use bands to get your pull up numbers up. Everyone at Results FAST has had a crack at pull ups. We have had few niggly shoulders which need to avoid them but on the whole as long as the exercise is scaled back properly to the individual then most people can attempt them. we use a lot of band supported variations. When we started putting these exercises in during a strength phase of training for a lot of our new members the one reaction  they where not reacting was sore abs- most expected sore arms and shoulders but not the ab workout of a lifetime. Pull ups still stand up for us as a defining guide to upper body strength as well as a great developer for torso strength and can be utilized for both young and old.

9. Using a prowler is an awesome way of building lower body strength in individuals without them knowing. Simply said push a heavy object along the floor is the equivalent of performing barbell overhead walking lunges with a little more stability. The prowler is a great way to get people under load while making them think they are not weight training.  It’s also weird how many people enjoy this vomit inducing torture element!

grgrowler

So there you have it a round up of some of the more technical bits around how we work at Results FAST. This is my last post of the year as we head towards Christmas so I would like to thank all the supporters and regular readers of the information that we put out and look out for some exciting news of some of our new projects in the New Year. Have a good one!

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!”

images

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.

 

A Wobbly Concept

Unstable surface training has become a popular concept in fitness training. Vibration platforms and bosu boards are becoming mainstays in commercial gyms as they try to entice their customers with varied forms of training based entertainment. Is it all a waste of your time though?

Initially, it is important to look at the background of where these methods of training have emerged. Unstable surface training has progressed in to the “training” environment due to the greater role that physiotherapy and rehabilitation has played in the industry over the last 10 years. To understand further it is important to look at training fundamentals as well as how these methods apply to injured and non-injured trainees.

The body as a whole is a series of joints working through the ankle, knee, hip, back and shoulder. Each of these needs an adequate supply of mobility and stability/ strength. If we have comprimised stability at one of these areas it can cause injury- not necessarily though where there is a lack of stability but at a different point in the body. For example, poor hip stability is associated with knee pain. If mobility is lacking in a certain joint again pain may be felt in another area of the body, for example a forward rounded shoulder posture indicates poor mobility in the upper back (thoracic region) and can cause issue with mobility at the shoulder joint.

The concept of unstable surface training indicates that more muscle mass will be recruited if unbalanced. Is this the case though? Two things recruit muscle mass, speed of movement and load. Unstable surface training comprimises both of these as you cannot either move as quickly as possible or indeed safetly load maximally. Muscular recruitment is task dependant and therefore only relevant to the movement being performed.

Unstable surface training for the lower body is more relevant to a rehabilitation based environment. Indeed it has no real carryover for those looking to enhance performance if uninjured (Cressey, E.M. et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 May;21(2):561-7). When we provide an unbalanced environment for example a lunge or step up on a vibration plate or a single leg squat on a bosu a number of things will happen. Firstly, the body will aim to maintain stability, the mechanism for this is that the body will start to tighten up. Is this a good thing? It is interesting that most vibration trainers start pointing at the torso area when discussing the benefits of this type of training when really the ankle will tighten up first and shut down mobility to maintain balance. As discussed before if mobility is shut down at a joint then it can casue undesirable movements from joints further up the body to maintain balance. Usually this will be at the knee which is an area of massive stability (it is a hinge joint after all so does not like excessive rotation- which unstable surface training can encourage). If you consider how force is applied to the human body from a day to day perspective, very rarely does the ground move beneath us. Indeed we have to be able to move across varied terrain (for example, cross country running). This though is not through a full range of motion at the ankle, hip or knee. Indeed the forces are reactionary in nature, short lived and through a limited range. Most forces will act on the human body above the floor either by collision or by changes in loading or centre of gravity- consider falling over and trying to stop it happening- you tighten up from the top down rather than the bottom up.

When is this training relevant though? Well looking to improve proprioception in the lower body is vital- escpecially on return from an ankle injury. Building eccentric strength and the ability to absorb force are fundamental qualities of a rehab programme intially before returning to more advanced forms of training. After this the focus moves towards the transferance of force and power generation ultimately in a multidirectional format. Methods of unstable balance training could be argued as a valid as entry point for rehabilitation. Once the ability to control load has been assessed to be suffcient to perform more advanced training under increased training loads then unstable surfaces lose their priority in the hierarchy of needs. The evidence for these methodologies though is stil not resounding even in rehab situation indeed some studies have even shown an increase in injury risk post unstable surface training intervention (Soderman, K. et al., Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 8(6):356-63. 2000).

For the upper body there is an improved arguement. Due to the nature of the shoulder joints need for stability and the relevance of how forces act on our extremeties being able to react to unstable loading can be beneficial. This is not saying that one legged/ one arm vibration plate shoulder press is the way to go. More that unstable loading for the shoulder joint can be a challenge which encourages force production and torso stability without comprimising the role of the shoulder joint and it’s range of motion. This would not be a priority exercise in a programme but performing press ups (weighted vest for load) with the hands on the unstable surface may be relevant for scapular and torso control as an assistance exercise or indeed dynamic core drill.

How does this apply to the average exerciser or indeed even the elite athlete? It’s pretty much the same. Most people need enhanced strength- this is not gained by balancing as it comprimises load and speed of movement. Strength and it’s varied componenets such as power and endurance are the fundamental capability we are looking to develop as well as the ability to move and perform exercise in a posturally correct way. Enhancing the quality of movement is key and this is done by balancing mobility and strength in tandem usually against resistance which includes your body weight.

So why the prevalance of unstable surface training in the fitness industry? These concepts are relevant for some people, the injured and the completely detrained. If someone is new to training then unstable surface training may help them improve- but doing anything will help them improve from a strength perspective, escpecially if it is delivered in a structured format. If they increase participation then from a “health” perspective it is probably better then doing nothing. This form of training provides “entertainment” away from other more traditional exercises- however as you can see it is a regression in training rather than a progression as although changes in exercise complexity may make you feel like you are working harder in truth you may be comprimising your progress.

How to Pick The Ultimate Trainer…

How do you decide what fitness trainer is for you? With the varied choice of personal trainers, boot camps and classes the difference in standard of practitioner can be pretty varied. Indeed these in my mind are the questions you need to be asking…

What Qualifications Do You Have? This seems to be one of those factors which is overlooked. A certification does not necessarily mean someone is qualified to write  exercise programmes. Personal trainer courses now demand no longer teaching time than it takes to become qualified to teach a circuit training class or aerobics. Why is this important? The advice that you get from your trainer needs to be scientifically backed and they need to explain why you are doing something. When it comes to your body exercise prescription is pretty much as important as medicine and in turn if prescribed incorrectly it can have implications for your health. When it comes to how qualified a trainer is there are a raft of varied qualifications from degree level to basic short course certifications. The top-level individuals I have worked with have continuously strived to improve their qualifications through their career- no matter what their starting qualification. A degree does not necessarily prove competence however, it does prove that an individual has invested in their education beyond a weekend certificate. Buying a new piece of equipment or starting a boot camp does not mean someone is well qualified indeed it is understanding how these things affect the individual you are training. A lot of the time a businesses marketing will cover short comings in qualifications- in the long term the good rise to the top while also rans stay on a level.

What Experience Do You Have? 10,000 hours is generally set as the bench mark for excellence for expert performance. This applies to 10,000 of correct effective practice. Ten years of experience does not quantify what that persons level of professionalism is, indeed without an ongoing process of continuous development and reinforcment of poor programming then this individual may be a weaker trainer than the average new coach. Find out specifically what an individual has acheived in their career. There is such a thing as a good generalist- if an individual can talk with direct reference about people that have achieved their goals then this will help you determine their level of expertise. Ask where they have worked and how those experiences have shaped their approaches- have they worked in associated fields such as nutrition, sport or medicine. The wider a trainers field of reference then the more realistic advice you are going to get when it comes to finding out what programme of exercise is right for you.

What is their “Fitness Product”? There are a range of classes and gym based/ equipment led things to take you to your fitness and health goals. Ask the question though is what this person selling the best thing for me? With a lot of current trends you could consider a lot of current fitness products as “activity” or general “exercise” such as your average aerobics class (Zumba included) or spinning session (useful as a calorie burner if you like biking). Boxing based fitness and circuit training can be useful but most of the time I find this is trainer led- these sessions are usually the most accessible for beginners though there main job is to smash the participant in to the ground and the programme is not necessarily personalised. Here exercise form suffers and to me it is not smart exercise. Bootcamps are a current trend gaining speed in the fitness market- their problem is they suffer a pile them high mentality which means that exercise form is not always policed properly. Once sessions run to above ten it becomes pretty hard to make sure everyone is doing the right thing.

Personal training and small group personal training in my mind are the stand out product. The reason being is that exercise can be prescribed in a sensible format in a measured fashion. As well as this it is possible for the client to be coached at a suitably high level, for more information check out what we do at Results Fast.

Price? Probably the most contentious issue in any type of business, what should you pay for training. Well trainers products and prices vary. Is one trainer worth 10K a week or £160 an hour? Does more expensive mean better? Sometimes yes, but looking from a realistic standpoint it depends on your needs. The question is how confident do you feel in the person to take you towards your fitness goals. Looking at their qualifications, experience and product does it limit you in anyway? Sometimes the trainers availability is an issue. I tend to think you need to buy in to a programme that is progressive and gives you the opportunity to acheive what you want.

Do you want to lose weight? Well do you get a full nutrition plan plus at least 3 sessions of training a week- if you don’t your results will be limited.

Do you want to get stronger? Are you lifting progressively heavier weight on a periodized programme for 3-4 sessions a week? If you don’t your programme will be limited.

Do you want to run a marathon? Has your running form been screened for your specific structural tightnesses and weaknesses, are you running 3-4 times a week? If you don’t your progress will be limited.

Are you trying to rehab an injury? Have you had a full structual screening with a person who has worked with your condition and has access to specialists that can be refered to if need be? If you don’t your progress will be limited.

Of course this paints a picture of an ideal traning programme- the truth is though you can get great results with the right programme being realistic though this depnds on how much time you a willing to make available. If 90% of gym members turned up at their training centre then they would have to close. The “box” gym’s service is as a venue for gym equipment rental, even though they pretend their product is training, it is collecting memberships which pay their bills.

Training led businesses are the future of the fitness industry and those trainers that are investing in improving their service and programming will excel. So when it comes to choosing what works for you consider what you want to acheive and how you want to do it. Going for a stroll on a stepper or cross trainer may be what you are doing now but ask the question- has this really helped me towards my fitness goals. The likely thing is that there are things you want to acheive but your time, money and organization limits what you can do. Find the product that can combine the flexibility you need for the right price with a realistic approach in mind for your fitness goals. If you are frustrated and feel you need to do more then decide if fitness is your priority. If it is find out how to acheive what you want and see if it can fit in to your life.

You are probably kidding yourself if you think one personal training session a week and a spinning class is good enough for any fitness goals. Indeed we believe at Results that anything below 3 hours of activity a week is not really taking you fitness forward. Bear that in mind when you approach your trainer/ fitness professional and ask them what you need to do to acheive your goals- whatever they are and whatever your fitness levels….

Hamstrung- Effective Hamstring Training for Performance

Both runners and cyclists in the past have considered the quads to be the primary muscles to develop for performance commonly leading to overbuilt, dominant anterior leg muscles.  

The hamstrings are among the muscles responsible for running and cycling fast as they are involved in both knee flexion (bending and hip extension (torso straightening at the hip)). The hamstrings are also key decelerators- indeed the faster you can stop the quicker you can move again.

The Anatomy of Movement of Running and Cycling.

Understanding the hamstring almost needs a full anatomy lesson in what happens during movement and specifically how energy is transferred. More specifically the elastic power transferred from between one leg to the other leg during normal gait. Running in this case is different to cycling; running is a movement which relies upon elastic power being converted to kinetic power before being converted back to elastic power (think as you move from leg to leg).

In running the hamstring is stretched as the opposite leg swings forward, the pelvis maintains position as the hamstring stretches away from the torso trying to stabilize against rotational forces (this highlights the role of suitable core strength for runners who have symptoms of hamstring pulls or sore lower backs). As the foot transfers through the gait cycle there is a changing of emphasis of the muscles that are recruited. As the toe pushes of there is a transference in muscular recruitment from the hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae (back) to the abdominals, iliopsoas and the quadriceps muscle group. Broadly speaking this is a transfer between the muscles at the back of the body to the muscles at the front of the body. If the pelvis is in an incorrect position away from neutral it can make the transference of muscular recruitment difficult. Why? The torso has to stabilize against rotation and forward leaning. This can be seen in runners who lose control as they run, simply elastic energy transference is affected and the individual finds it hard to bring the swing leg through in front of the body. If as they push off on their toe there is too extreme a level of backwards movement (or the back hyper extends) it will result in the forward movement of the pelvis (often termed anterior tilt), this highlights that the knee does not need to travel backwards far past the hips in order to maintain pelvic stability. Great sprinters show this knee and hip position, if efficiency is leaked over 100 metres it can mean a difference of seconds. While in distance running efficiency is vital for quick times it is also vital for injury protection. Running in an uneconomical way can lead to poor joint position that loads the muscles and connective tissues and can ultimately lead to injury. If the hamstrings are tight it can pull the pelvis downwards posteriorally, tightness in this case limits the range of movement of the leg and limits stride length. If not strong enough anterior pelvic tilt occurs causing hyperextension at the lower back and possible back pain. Both may be related to hamstring pulls but for different reasons.

Cycling is different, when seated the pelvis is affectively fixed in a different position. As you do not have the elastic challenge to stability and transference from leg to leg, efficiency and leg power have to be built within relative few changes in environment as the movement is essentially closed chain. There is a need though to maintain pelvic stability and resist rotation (as in running). A stable pelvis leads to economical movement of the legs and therefore efficiency on the bike can be maintained. It highlights why leg power or strength is only task specific- most great sprinters would not come close to setting the world of time trialling on fire and vice versa.

The Myth of Sports Specific Training for the Hamstring.

So does this mean hamstring strength is trained differently? Well no, technique for runners and setup and technique are vital for both runners and cyclists. Beyond that though training the hamstring in itself is about training not just that muscle but the muscular balance between all the muscle groups that act around the hip and knee.

Most movements that operate through the hamstring tend to be ballistic- this highlights the necessity of the hamstrings to be able to control rapid lengthening. Hamstring training should initially be eccentric in nature; this means that during training there is an emphasis on controlling the lengthening of the muscle. This should also be multi-joint so that the muscles are recruited as a unit, not independent of each other- this is often where injury or overuse occurs. In regard to injury occurrence poor warm up procedures are blamed for hamstring pulls and strains. Type of warm up matters but specifically stretching the hamstrings effectively turns the muscle off, this increases the chance of injury as the muscle cannot lengthen under control.

Initially exercise selection to develop strength should consist of exercises such as stiff leg deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, step ups, and reverse lunges. These can progress towards walking lunges, cable hip extensions, glute ham lowers/ negatives and forward lunges. Beyond this technique training for both cycling and running can be reinforced. Bike work needs to be on the bike, variation of resistance can be used.

Dynamic hip mobility exercises for both cyclists and runners is important. Lack of hip mobility is a major cause of many hamstring problems. Without proper hip mobility the leg will not be able to work through the full range of motion. This limitation will eventually lead to flawed mechanics especially in a fatigued state as more limited ranges of movement will be worked through. These drills should be incorporated daily as part of warm-up or cool down and initially may be performed for posture correction reasons.

On a single leg the abductors and adductors play a major role in the stabilization of the hips. Resisted hip abduction helps strengthen the glute medius (vital for knee tracking). If they are weak or not coordinated with the hamstrings more strain will be placed on the hamstrings. Lateral resisted side steps with a rubber band placed above the ankles or  the hips can be utilized as a warm up and cool down drill. This is quite effective for cyclists who can develop dominance in certain muscles leading to faulty knee tracking.

As for running, stair and gradient running is an efficient way of emphasising a high knee lift and powerful drive on toe off. Hill sprinting at a 15-degree grade provides an excellent means to develop good top speed mechanics. It is virtually impossible to overstride sprinting up hill and helps develop an efficient leg pick up from the hip flexors. Low hops and jumps serve to facilitate muscle stiffness which is more important for running than cycling. Stiffness does not mean necessarily mean tightness it means stability and quick transfer of movement, the opposite of stiffness would be the leg collapsing at ground contact. The emphasis here should be on the knee being slightly flexed with quick movements and low ground contact times. The key is in the ability to absorb force efficiently and transfer quickly.

This article has highlighted that subtle differences exist in the conditioning of cyclists and runners though there are more similarities especially in the gym that leads to optimum transfer to better performance.

Train to be Better- Not Just Tired…

 When exercising we all want to be pushed. Indeed fatigue is a good thing. Fatigue effectively shows that we are working at our physical limits for a given attribute. However, the issue I have with higher repetition work is that often form is compromised. When form is compromised the body places undue stress on its joint structures. For example, press ups- the lower back often drops under fatigue putting strain through the lumbar spine as well as flared elbows putting excessive strain on the AC joint at the shoulder.

It happens on lower body exercises as well- excessive flexion of the lumbar spine when performing exercises such as Burpees as well as more fundamental exercises such as squats and lunges for high repetition.

Now some people may say this is reflective of “fitness” (which in itself is a highly general term and can mean a lot of things). Ultimately though fatigue will mask function if too extreme- indeed fitness for a given parameter is the ability to resist fatigue compared to it being the factor that ultimately ends the given exercise.

Training emphasis should always be on correct form ahead of fatigue. Endless repetitions of poor fatigue can cause poor movement patterns and ultimately injury- don’t compromise what you do to just feel “the burn.” Training is about making yourself better be it strength or cardiovascular- endless repetition in an incorrect way does not emphasise good training. Remember you are looking for the best possible result with the least possible effort- once you have achieved what you need to in a session then excessive work will generally fatigue you unnecessarily.

The Overtraining Myth…

Someone who I train on occasion recently said to me was that he thought he was “overtraining.” Now this is not the first time I have had this mentioned to me and I am sure many coach or trainer has had this said to them before. The fact is when someone says they are “overtraining” to me it is them saying they are either (a) tired or (b) bored.

Wikipedia- the font of all human knowledge gives the definition….

Overtraining is a physical, behavioral, and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Overtraining is a common problem in weight training, but it can also be experienced by runners and other athletes.

In laymens terms you are training too much for your body to recover so in effect your results go backwards. To this individual who mentioned overtraining to me my first question was “Why do you think that?” His answer “I just feel a bit tired.”

While not immediatly throwing a Snickers Bar at him and shouting “Grrr… Get Some Nuts!!!” we had a look at his programme and compared to the general recomendations for “health” he exceeded these recomendations by about 5 hours a week. However, this does not mean he was overtraining- yes, he was training a lot but 8 scheduled hours of training is not overtraining, especially if you are an amateur athlete. 

We reviewed his sleep patterns and his nutrition. Well, this is where we got our breakthrough. “Has your regular trainer looked at your diet?” I asked “Not really, I tend to avoid most carbohydrates though…” was the answer. On further review this guy in general was filling up on protein shakes, tins of tuna, fish oil capsuels and lettuce. He was tired not because he was overtraining- he was tired because he was not fueling his body to train or recover.

This is all too common-  a lot of people now are so conscious of body fat gains that they effectively can not train hard because they do not eat enough- usually in part due to ineffective dietry recommendations or a “system” of dieting which does not give flexibility to activity.

Adding in to the mix a lack of sleep and the recommendation is pretty much eat and sleep more and a lot of your “tired” symptoms will clear up. Focus on pre-exercise nutrition to give you intensity in training, put good healthy foods in to your body post session to help recovery.

Granted if you are overtraining you will have tired symptoms but don’t confuse this with poor nutrition and recovery- generally we will always review nutritional needs in line with the desired goals as a primary component of keeping exercise effective.