5 Reasons You Should Quit The Gym

I don’t normally post fitness business content but this piece highlights a few points for gym members and “fitness consumers.”

1. If you are a member of a gym, read their website. If the landing page informs you of what equipment they have in the gym then it’s time to quit. Why? There is a saying that facilities tell while services sell. If all they are doing is informing you what is in the place then how does this help you achieve your end goal. If they are not telling you how they can help you then you are paying an expensive equipment rental.

2. As a follow on to point one if the gym has an extensive range of TV channels, monitors, games, swimming pool, spa and saunas unfortunately they are trying to distract you from the thing that you go to the gym for. Don’t get me wrong music can be incredibly motivating and create a great training environment but watching the latest reality television series is only going to dampen your intensity while exercising. You don’t go to the gym for a distraction- you go to get fit, join a spa and stop kidding yourself that you are “training.”

3. If your primary source of information is from a trainer who has been working less than two years you are probably wasting your time. Controversial as I know that everyone has to make a start in the fitness industry and you can achieve a multitude of qualifications from certificates to degrees to start you off. The truth is most certifications are not relevant to actually performing the job. As with most professions personal training is learnt on the job.. There is an 80% drop out rate of employees in the fitness industry within 2 years of qualifications with poor pay being cited as one of the major reasons. The truth is it is a competitive industry, not a glorified hobby as some people think. Anyone who has made a success of a training business that I know has worked over 60+ hours a week for at least 5 years to get where they are. If you are working with a new trainer make sure that they are in a great learning environment and surrounded with experience- that way you can guarantee that you are getting the right advice.

4. If someone tries to sell you supplements that promise you weight loss you should quit that gym. But gyms sell weight loss supplements all of the time don’t they? There is healthy weight loss using sensible nutritional strategies then there are supplement based weight loss plans. Most of these products are poor quality soy protein mixed with a range of artificial ingredients. What’s more you don’t need a qualification in nutrition to sell these products. One of these meal replacement supplement company’s Herbalife are currently being investigated by The Federal Trade Commission for Multilevel Marketing which is technically illegal. Most people who push these products care more about earning money through commission then the benefits that they will bring you. If anyone suggests a supplement that is a meal replacement (therefore not actually supplemental to your normal diet) then you may want to seek alternative opinions about how to achieve your goals in a healthy fashion.

5. There is more cardio kit and weights machines than free weights. This isn’t a “hard core” statement. Simply the reason why big commercial gyms have lots of cardio kit and resistance machines is that they are low labour items to show their members what to do. Free weights necessitate explanations and examples meaning you need better educated fitness training teams compared to a machine that you either need to take a pin out of or press a button. I could talk about why there are more benefits of free weights but it’s not my job to convince you of that. What I am suggesting is that it is cheaper for a gym to provide less expertise.

Strength is a Skill…

In any physical endeavour the ability to perform at your best is oftren desirable. In fact challenging yourself to hit new goals be it pull ups, press ups or any exercise is pretty much the driving force of all the programmes I write. Even for those with the goal of just looking better if you are performing better and getting stronger then you are likely to be looking a lot better!

As a coach I always highlight to my clients that being involved in the process is the key. What I mean is that turning up, giving your best and being accountable for your own success (and failure) is the name of the game. Often people get too tied up in the process of overly focussing upon the result- a coaches is job is to worry about the results because as a trainer if we don’t get them then we can get the sack and are eating beans out of a can for the next month.

When it comes to strength training and developing your physical prowess then turning up for each session, focussing upon the process of mastering your goals and maintaining the motivation over a period of time will drive you to acheive your goals. Just with anything in life it takes practice to get better- indeed this is mentioned  in the books Outliers and Talent is Overrated that one of the fundamental driving forces behind success is hard work and commitment beyone what other people give over a period of time.

So if you want to master pull ups, press ups or run an ultramarathon the key to success is turning up and consistancy over a period of time. Rarely are there short cuts to long term low body fats or a “secret” way to remove your back pain. So when you assess your training goals remember that beyond anything you are mastering a skill and to do that you have to invest time in the process, if you do this the results will happen (Of course a focussed, motivating environment with coaches who have a track record of success will also help the process as at Results FAST!)!

Does Sub-Maximal Training Lead to Submaximal Results?

Training for endurance sports is generally a question of efficiency. Efficiency of good performance though is a product of replicating competition and it’s demands. Competition in itself is performed at maximal or close to maximal intensity. This leads to a question about excessive training volume, lower intensity sessions and how a training programme is structured. “Should all training be maximal or close to competition pace?” So do swimming, cycling and running as well as gym training have to be challenged at a maximal of close to maximal level to administer improvements and can excessive amounts of training hamper their progress?

Swimming out of all of the disciplines is a sport traditionally born out of efficiency of movement. Streamlining and body position can make a difference of seconds and that can mean a matter of places at the top level. Race pace for sprint swimmers is as much a question of efficiency as physical capability, simply stated you cannot have shear power with no efficiency. That said form will breakdown for two reasons laziness (or poor coaching) and fatigue. Fatigue in nature is a product of inefficiency and broadly speaking is a result of the level of conditioning not being sufficient to maintain a suitable technique. Indeed the fatigue factor is relevant also to cycling and running where inefficiency in technique leads to further fatigue as ideal body position cannot be maintained.

Running in itself is governed by form. Poor running style though has the element of impact with the floor to be concerned about- something that swimming and cycling do not have. Structurally this is harder for the body to deal with as there is greater stress on the joints and connective tissue. This brings in to the equation the role of core stability, reactive strength and the ability to maintain form with good structural strength. Many new runners find the demands of running plays havoc with their joints- specifically the lower back and the knees. Both these areas have a limited amount of movement in them and predominantly need to be trained for stability. The ankles and the hips need stability though they also need a suitable amount of mobility. Without sufficient mobility or movement in the joint forces may not be transferred in an efficient way leading to overuse- specifically in the areas that have limited mobility. This highlights that excessive training volume in the form of too many miles or time spent on the road can have a detrimental effect on the body. Simply said if you are training for competition sub-maximal training should not be too long in volume. Favouring shorter runs more often is possibly a more efficient way of organising volume even as you build up the amount of training over a period of time. Recovery runs also should not be excessive in volume if your goal is to run quicker.

Cycling in turn is slightly different again. Cycling does not have the elastic plyometric bounce and impact that running has as you shift from leg to leg. Maximal training in this case can replicate competition at race pace or slightly above and below. While there is a need for training volume cycling and swimming are less destructive on the joints as you look to build efficiency of the energy systems.

As with most training excessive volume is what causes overuse injuries, I tend to term these “junk” miles and consider that you need to be training to gain ahead of just training. In all forms of training there is a need to cultivate efficiency of technique and energy systems efficiency. Technique breaks down under intensity and is where you also see injury. The key is being to maintain a sufficiently high intensity so you have carry over to performance, be it a tempo or interval session. Too much recovery work or also what some may call “base building” may end up blunting higher intensity sessions as cumulative fatigue holds back intensity, especially in running. Commonly, winter training is guilty of this as it sacrifices intensity for sheer volume. Cyclists commonly base build through the winter though is a phase of training that can be greatly helped by spikes of intensity at regular points. This means that race pace is being challenged and therefore you are training yourself to move faster. Swimming training volume is an area of debate- longer sessions should be technique refinement led and pace should not be ignored if faster times are sought.

With all three disciplines it highlights the point that slower sessions should be performed but they should be technique led, for beginners two sessions a week is ample but for the more advanced with good technique and structural strength then once a week is enough for energy systems eficency- train with intensity as when it comes to race day not knowing how quick is quick means that your overall result may suffer.

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….

Strength Training and Endurance Athletes…

Strength and the training of strength is still a bit of a misnomer in endurance sports. It is relevant to swiming, cycling and running? Why? Strength training build postural balance and also aims to build efficent movement in the body.

There are different facets of strength. Strength endurance is the one most commonly associated with endurance sports however it is greatly misunderstood. Doing 50 squats and 100 lunges is not really relevant in theis case. The need to feel the burn seems to be a pre-requisite for most endurance trainers however this is not an efficent way of training and may be harming your progress.

Strength endurance is the ability to hold and move to correct body position. A lot of your postural muscles need strength endurance to continue to hold correct position allowing your other larger muscles to generate force. A lot of endurance athletes will fundamentally have great endurance capabilities in their major muscle groups- however posturally they wil not necessarily have strength in the right areas. What is the product of this? Poor posture equals poor form and limits good technique. Maximal Strength is the ability of the muscles to move a maximal weight. Commonly this area of training is not utilised because of the perception that it is not relative to the sport trained for. However you could not be more wrong. Maximal strength trains the nervous system and the bodys ability to recruit as much muscle mass as possible. While not feeling the burn of a hill climb training in this way reminds the body where it’s leverages need to be. Weight training in itself is often corrective in nature- the goal is to build muscular balance facilitating better technique. Individual’s can have great strength endurance but poor maximal strength. As strength endurance is often a product of maximal strength then developing strength levels should be a primary method of training.

What you do in the gym sucks… Do this instead!

As a follow up to my last post I received a few queries on what I was actually talking about! Well keeping in line with the practical nature of this blog I thought I would give some samples. A couple of people have asked how this translates to performance in respect to strength levels and if it is relevant for those in regular competition. Fat loss can also be a product of this type of training; fundamentally this is due to the expenditure of a lot of energy.

The point I was making before previously is that conditioning needs to be varied for those seeking body fat reductions. From a performance perspective gym based conditioning does not need to be too heavy- perhaps only one to two sessions a week for those who have team or game based training time as well (commonly due to time commitments I find most gym time is best developing strength, power and correcting the postural issues that game time and general amount of training brings). If necessary then those training for a sport need to perform higher end intense work as they will get a general turnover of low level conditioning from their “skills” training.

For those training for reducing body fat the higher intensity stuff still applies. Two sessions of interval based training is usually the best choice. What type of exercises used can vary; my point on efficiency in the blog post before highlights that mastery of an exercise can limit its effectiveness. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be used, it just means that to end up with a washboard stomach variation is the key.

Interval training and high rep circuits though are not the be all and end all if you want to turn your body in to a fat burning furnace. Resistance training 2-3 times a week helps build and preserve muscle mass. For a lot of clients I tend to have a preference for strength based work (sub 6 repetition). Here we get a good return in strength- a lot of people don’t want their scale weight to go up so working with lower repetitions does not necessarily cause as much muscle damage and therefore less size gains. This is not to say I do this exclusively with clients- some may lift with higher reps as they want to install a hypertrophy response- most of the time though for fat loss a dietary modification has been made that will limit muscle growth meaning it’s just not that smart to chase fat loss and muscle gain at the same time.

Everyone though has a different preference and their programme should reflect this. I generally think that you should have one main preference in your programme of which your training and nutrition should be reflective. 3 times a week of lifting weights is the ideal either with 3 full body sessions or one upper, one lower and one full body training session. So the ideal training week may look like the below.

Monday Lower Body Resistance
Tuesday Intervals/ High Intensity
Wednesday Upper Body Resistance
Thursday Low Level Intensity Exercise
Friday Full Body Resistance
Saturday Intervals/ High Intensity
Sunday Rest

 Additional training can be done after each resistance session though this may be general activity or steady state. Also there is a low level intensity “recovery” day this may involve some general activity, posture correction work and generally a flexibility/ mobility circuit.

So what are is the best intensity based exercises to perform? Well there are some broad categories of which I use a variety of combinations in a session. Firstly, there is your standard ratio based sessions for instance 1 minute hard followed by one minute easy, 45 hard/ 20 easy, 30 hard/ 30 easy. A lot of press time has been given to “Tabata” style work outs- the original protocol of 20 seconds of high intensity followed by 10 seconds rest is just another timed interval. Simply if you do the same interval all the time your body will adapt and adjust. These sessions could be performed on c.v. equipment, running on a track or outside or with low level weights. My though process is changing a lot on this recently as I have had a larger base of clients to work with. Weight training works pretty well if this is the only time you are going to touch weights- full body complexes such as squat to press, squat to curl, kettlebell variations and modified bodyweight drills. I often use single leg exercises such as walking lunges and dynamic movement based drills such as weighted get ups and rolling sprints. These are metabolically demanding as they use the whole body as a unit.

Secondly, random drills can be quite fun as well, loaded sled dragging and pushing is perhaps my favourite at the moment- although most trainees won’t always have access to this I find that the movement is so alien to most people that for the first 3 weeks of training they forget how hard it actually is as they just try to keep breathing! Again this may be repetition based or time based though this type of training can be good for individuals who compete in strength based sports as you can add additional load (this brings down the work interval time but in turn heightens the intensity- I like this for the Rugby players I work with).

Thirdly, I love sprint based drills and hill running. On this type of stuff varied distances and work intervals can be used but find a steep enough hill and that will effectively tell you when to start and end the session. Track based sprinting is also good fun 100m, 200m and 400m are among my favourites. If you only have access to a commercial gym and treadmill perform 5 x 400m sprints at full pace (recover for as long as you want) it will definitely blow the cob webs out if you are not used to it.

 As you can see most of these methods of training involve full body movements and doing what are bodies are supposed to do- moving. Going for a 30 minute steady pace burn is okay after a resistance training session (if creating a calorie deficit is the idea) or as recovery but if you are serious about changing your fitness then simply this will not cut it when it comes to taking it on to the next level.

Bashing the Bootcamp…

Getting the form of an exercise to look right is a lot of the time the primary role when coaching. Indeed there are some great personal trainers, strength coaches and programme designers who in principal write good training regimes; a good programme though can be made great by informed coaching.

This is part of the job in my mind that is starting to be missed out on. With the advent of boot camp style fitness, the rise of methodologies such as cross- fit, fitness pilates and other mass forms of exercise the time for fine tuning and making sure things look right seems to be getting even smaller. Indeed if personal training and small group fitness coaching are the equivalent of fine dining then boot camp fitness is the equivalent of fast food- easy, cheap and although it cures hunger  there will be complications down the line if you do too much.

This does not mean I am anti-boot camps (or indeed fast food), I think that when you do this type of training it can be done in a more considered fashion. Take for instance most park based bootcamp workouts, they include excessive amounts of press ups, sit ups and dips. All these exercises can help aggravate shoulders susceptible to impingement or instability related issues. Twinned in with shed loads of running jogging you have some of the most aggravating methods of exercise for beginners.

Most beginners (male and female) are not functionally strong enough to handle excessive training volume, indeed after 20minutes good form may go out the window as another 200 press ups have to be performed.

The key is education: while I believe you can train a large group of exercisers I don’t think you can train a large group of beginners well. Coaching good form in large groups becomes more like a forest fire- once you put one fire out another three have started behind you.

My recommendations are quite simple if you are a beginner don’t join a bootcamp; invest in a fitness professional who makes sure you are doing things properly (this doesn’t mean sitting on a bike for an hour). The teaching of foundational moves such as squats, lunges and press ups are a start. Master 3 sets of ten, add some weight and then progress. Focus on developing basic strength levels before adding in higher repetition based workouts at least if you have a good foundational strength level then you know you will not be doing any structural damage to your body. Most over use injuries are related to poor movement dynamics and incorrect form, for example, your knee is a hinge joint- if it is not stable enough in time you may suffer from injury, time and time again we also see this with amateur joggers.

For intermediate exercisers and indeed the guys who consider themselves “expert” get some advice from someone who has been training more people than you. Indeed if your own training programme is built purely from your own experiences then you need to look elsewhere for advice.

Ask yourself what you goal is and get fit in a smart way! Don’t smash yourself in to oblivion- it’s progress you can’t maintain… and down the line you may find yourself suffering from a few injuries.