Random Training Thoughts From This Week.

This is more of a thought board of random statements that I saw on the gym floor this week.

  1. Tempo is a useful tool on the eccentric or “lifting” section of a movement if the goals are rehab, muscular endurance or hypertrophy. If the goals are strength and speed slow work is redundant. You can not lift a maximal or close to maximal weight slowly without compromising performance.
  2. High intensity work is great if you can maintain form. If you have a poor aerobic base your form will break down on repetition based cardio. This is a problem with HIIT work- it mainly becomes poor form aerobic work after a while. HIIT is popular in the mainstream at the moment and obviously it is partly client led because it feels rewarding. Initially use methods which mean that form break down can be coached properly before progressing exercise complexity e.g. a bike is a lot easier to maintain form on than hill runs or kettlebell swings.
  3. Loaded hip thrusts are popular at the moment… but I like to use them more as a finishing exercise and a warm up drill than rather than a “main exercise”, this is just personal preference as I think after a certain amount of weight the weight needed to lift for overload becomes uncomfortable.
  4. Overhead hangs (unless you come from a gymnastic population so you are training for a sport) are not a great position for your shoulder joint to be in. It feels good to hang as it decompresses the joint and stretching generally always feels good but it creates laxity in the joint which your retirement will not thank you for. Kipping pull ups fall into this category as you get an anterior translation of the humeral head at the base of the movement. What does this mean? Your arm bone gets pushed forward into the soft tissue at the front of your shoulder.
  5. Over the last couple of months I have been supplementing my diet with additional fish oils and curcumin. Two of their major benefits are anti-inflammation. Anecdotally, I think they have helped me balance out a heavy work period (I am now teaching at Hertford Regional College on their Personal Training programme) and maintained at least decent recovery from exercise. I also feel this has been a factor in maintaining good energy levels…. and getting more stuff done. Granted I did buy a new coffee machine but my intake of caffeine has been relativly the same as before!

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.

 

 

 

Fixing the Flaws: Part 1

It doesn’t really matter if you are an elite level athlete or a beginner. There are always going to be areas in your fitness that you need to work on. You are not Mr or Mrs Perfect….. Sorry….

Be it whole body strength, the transfer of your physicality in the weight room to your sport or small fiddly, subtle drills that you need to work on while the guy next to you totally dominates the exercise with 5 times as much weight.

It’s hard to break it to people that their 200kg deadlift, extreme yoga position or their 3 hour marathon is actually the limiting factor on why their back hurts or their knees are giving in.

Don’t get me wrong- strengths are there to be trained, great performance is impressive. No one is great without “strengths”.

Getting large numbers or quick times are a product of training. They are there to be celebrated as achievements. In turn though they can also lead to becoming your limiting factor when it comes to enhancing your health and overall fitness.

If you want to become a champion deadlifter or marathon runner then you may need to lift heavy things and run long distances. However, managing your recovery is also key. Looking after your mobility, muscular and joint health are tantamount to keeping you performing at high level, at times this needs to be prioritized.

But what about other “specialists” such as the desk jockey. The guys who specialize at being seated for unusually large amounts of time. You see their body adapts chronic overuse patterns reflective of their overall lifestyle be it running, sitting or cycling. In essence the changes in muscular balance mean less joint stability and or muscular tightness.

Weight room weights are vanity. “How much do you bench?” should be reserved to people who bench regularly. In fact the only guy who asks how much you bench is the guy who bench presses every session.  My answer is how much do you deadlift/ single leg squat/ run 1km in. At the end of the day he rates himself as a “specialist” bench presser and with that he will see all the chronic overuse issues that people without a well rounded programme of development will see.

In strength and conditioning for sport a lot of the time we perform training to counter balance the excessive strains and demands of overuse, just as we do for everyday people looking to keep their posture tip top. We do this as well with the detrained- we want to put enough strength and stability in the right areas to allow good balanced movement. We want to put enough mobility and flexibility in the areas that need to be moved.

The take home point is this.

Strength is overemphasised as a facet of fitness as we always lean towards our strengths. We perform more of what we are good at or have to do. What matters more in overall development of “fitness” and long term performance are the balance of strength and mobility.

“Specialists” occur as a product of their own training/ physical build. Balance in their programme is key to optimum performance over a period of time. Ask yourself the question what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Do your weaknesses hold you up from achieving your ultimate fitness goals? Do they limit your strengths? Does your back hurt when you deadlift too heavy? Does running hurt your knees? Are your shoulders sore after press ups? In the next post we will look at some specific examples….

Back to the Future… The Last 10 Years of the Fitness Industry

In this post I thought I would review the fitness industry’s evolution. Now from a historical standpoint I have been immersed in  fitness and nutrition for over a decade. With a background in both commercial fitness and small start ups and have a unique insight in to both ends of the market. As tradition dictates we tend to follow American trends in the UK- London first and the rest of the country a couple of years later.

Personal training was a lot smaller 10 years ago. In fact most gyms had one or two guys who pretty much had the run of the place. No competition ment a steady stream of clients. These are a lot of the guys who we see as industry leaders now. Make no mistake- these guys may not be the best technically, they got lucky and were on the boat first. The one’s still working are probably as smarter businessmen as they are trainers and they have had to adapt to a changing more educated customer as well as competition.

Around the year 2000 there was a big influence of rehab based training and the start of what is considered “functional” training. This led to a more cerebral product being sold to the consumer. Trainers no longer did bodybuilding programmes, they wanted to explore the inner workings of your torso, cardiovascular exercise became potentially fatal for your lower back and all of a sudden lying on your back became the new standing up as you try to activate your “inner unit.” This was a result of the synergy of physiotherapists becoming more involved in the training process post injury. Now, not to discredit the therapy fields, these approaches where designed for injured people by people who work with injured people. The kid glove approach would suit firstly those who needed it and secondly, those who didnt want to work that hard.

Pilates started to rise in popularity, this was great for the functional rehab guys. Clinical pilates remained true to it’s ideals- posture correction and the development of a strong mobile body. Pilates though started to morph in to what some will consider an expensive “abs” class. These group session promise all the ideals of pilates but cannot deliver the personalisation. As posture is a personal thing it leaves pilates as a contentious form of training between purists and commercial forces and a pack them high class mentality.

Also from a class perspective ten years ago salsa, yoga and step aerobics ruled the roost. In the present day Zumba get’s more press than anything else- these is effectively latin dance and is basically dance aerobics. Spinning, yoga, circuit training and combat based training such as boxercise are still popular- reason being that if done well they work for enhancing “conditioning.” It shows that if done well classes that get people the results that they want will be successful. It also shows that creating a social friendly and fun class builds adherence- regardless of the results (work out which one I am alluding to there- if you know me then you won’t need to guess).

The rise in Bootcamps is effectively the revival of circuit training. The reasons for this rise are also commercial- more for the trainer than anything else. With zero facility costs they are easy to setup and get going. Again these services can not be personalised for the individual and are a group exercise class. It will not make me popular in the fitness industry for saying this but this is fast food fitness to maximize profit for the trainer- most fitness “marketeers” even suggest rebranding these classes as “fitness camps.” A smart move perhaps… but if you put lipstick on a pig it’s still a pig. That said great trainers are great trainers and if the groups are small enough and inclusive for a range of fitness levels then they will continue to grow.

As personal training became more popular “functional” training became popular. Functional was a term used to represent training that translated to every day use. Vanity went out the window (perhaps for the first time) and training to help what you do every day became popular. I always think this is a bizarre concept it suggested that any other training was non-functional. Even to a point that cycling was non-functional unless you where a cyclist, running was non-functional, unless of course you where running a marathon and having big shoulders was non-functional… looked good but definetly non-functional.

This was aslo around the rise of sport specific training and the influence of training athletes. As a lot of training filters through from elite sport, if performance is hindered then people get sacked. Functional training in this sense now had to translate to direct improvements. Balancing, bosu boards and vibration plates grew in popularity, commercial health and fitness followed the craze. High end strength and conditioning though realised pretty quickly that this approach didn’t cut it. Old school methods individualized to the athlete worked, the smart guys assessed and took what they needed but barbells and dumbbells didn’t go away, commercial fitness though still has not caught up.

Athlete based training has started to shape commercial health and fitness. Why? It gets results simply, the customer is more demanding because they are more educated about methods of training and can demand perfection. Fitness professionals have become more widely read and in some cases better educated than they where 10 years ago- they two are not necessarily inclusive.

In the next post I will review where I think the next 10 years will take us…