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.

From the Gym Floor… Episode 2: calories, deloads, British Titles and a thank you.

In keeping with the running theme of training anecdotes from the gym floor at Results FAST here is part 2 of an ongoing series of what we see every week while training/ working with our clients nutrition at our gym.

1. Calorific deficit does not mean starvation and constant hunger, it also doesn’t mean just eating vegetables and boiled chicken. The take home point here is that most people are confused over what a portion size is in relation to total calories consumed. I read a post by a well meaning online personal trainer who indicated that getting people to make the right choices is more important than amount. Well, guess what organic food still has calories and whatever you say calories count when it comes to fat loss or fuelling performance. In turn balance your meals (if you want 2,3,4,5 or whatever number) from a calorific standpoint and you will be successful if your average calorific intake over a period of time is lower than you need. What you eat does matter but organic peanut butter, coconut oil and avocados have a high net yield of dietary fat and can be consumed in turn with good dietary variation and sensible portion control across your weekly diet. These are not bad foods but they are high calorific yield foods so you still need to be conscious of the amounts consumed.

In turn with other nutrition sillies this week apples will not get you addicted to diet coke… yes, I know it was a stupid comment- that is more than enough shaming for you, you know who you are!

2. Deload weeks are pretty useful e.g. a reduced week of training volume after a period of high intensity to back of from training. This month with a number of our strength training clients we have been running some new loading protocols which have been quite brutal. One of last weeks programmed sessions was Back Squat 8 sets x 3 repetitions and Speed Deadlift 10 x 3 with a finisher of Walking Lunges left most of the guys craving an upper body day. This weeks back off week was well received, in-line with that we have seen some great returns from a strength perspective and even in a deload week with reduced volume some of the guys are looking strong going in to next week and a change of programme direction. As a side point- you don’t earn a deload from two sessions a week and three sessions a week is not overtraining 😉images

3. One of our clients took her second adult British Tennis title last week. I play down a lot of our successes at Results FAST but this has come from a period of good training both from a strength and conditioning perspective as well as a technical viewpoint so it deserves to be celebrated. If you see Mollie in the gym I suggest a well done/ bro fist or a celebratory salute…. and then tell her to get back to work.

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4. Bizarrely this has been the busiest month on the blog. After taking a few months off writing I did actually wonder if anyone would bother reading these posts but the readership is up massively on this time last year. I hope you are enjoying the more informal/ applied side of writing about fitness/ training/ nutrition and performance and please feel free to let us know if there are any topics you would like us to cover!

 

 

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.

 

5 Ways to Break a Training Plateau

The following post is specific to those who have got to a point in their training and are looking to progress that little bit more. Progress in training is rarely a straight line of success, especially as you become fitter and stronger. As I say to a lot of our clients at Results FAST “You will never be more efficient than when you start a new training regime!” This is fundamentally due to the law of diminishing returns where as you become more expert extra gains are tougher and require more effort to achieve greater results from your training.

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1.Decrease high repetition training and specifically work on your maximal strength levels. This is where we often find that a lot of people stay in bodybuilding/ toning (hate the word) rep ranges and cannot work out why they are not improving. Lift heavier, drop to between 3 to 5 reps and find out what strong feels like.

2. Drop your number of sets and try to get a few extra repetitions out. This is where we commonly find the “strength athlete” who is strong but struggles with anything over 3 repetitions as they have poor conditioning levels. Cycling in moderate loads of 5 to 8 repetitions when you have been training maximal levels at 3 repetitions and below is useful for de-loading joints and connective tissue which will take the brunt of a maximal phase of training.

 

3. Change the order of your training. Although 95% of the time we recommend that you partition strength work closer to the start of your workout than at the end it can be a good thing to mix things up in order to change the training stimulus and avoid staleness. Sometimes we do this with movement drills which can be misinterpreted as a extra conditioning but it works quite well to fix this at the start of a session. It also works well with our fat loss clients who always appreciate that little bit more pulse raising work.

4. Look for small improvements. It has been said to me before that a great gym will have more small plates than large ones. Why? As you become more advanced with your training it becomes harder to illicit improvements. Therefore every small improvement is a step forward. For example adding 5 pounds to a 100 pound bench press is a whole lot different to adding 5 pounds to a 200 pound bench press. Don’t force improvements just find small ways of adding load or advancing the complexity of the exercise.

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5. Use ballistic methods of training. To often people get caught in the weight room without developing their athletic potential. Jumping, kettlebell drills and medicine ball work are accelerative in nature. Two things recruit muscle mass- load and speed. So rather than just trying to add more weight try adding more acceleration and impetus to your exercises by decreasing the load and moving quickly or by using more acceleration dominant exercises. Don’t get carried away though if it goes well (as seen below).

roof-jumping

Does Exercise Order Matter?

This is a common theme that I wanted to briefly discuss as a new study has emerged that hormonal markers of post exercise recovery which need to be elevated to get stronger and build muscle (IGF-1, growth hormone and testosterone) are elevated regardless of exercise order. This is interesting because it means that for muscle growth and maintenance that picking your exercise order may not matter. In contrast though the following review highlights this in a common-sensical type of way that exercise order depends upon your goals.

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These pieces of research show two things. You can prove anything with science in fitness, reading a scientific paper highlights that in theory you could do things in a random order and still see a hormonal response. Secondly, this is all fine in new exercisers who seem to be the sounding ground for  most modern research. If the sole gain is deemed to be a hormonal response then indeed as how the human body works most adaptive changes occur very quickly- be it strength, hormones or flexibility. Ultimately the stimulus needs to change in order for adaptations to progress.

Also understanding a “workout” based study does not define a programme- short term hormonal responses may be shown in this study but is this the same every workout over a three month period. A lot of research seems to deal with this more snapshot approach highlighting a pretty interesting title but understanding how to read the research is key to it’s applicability to training.

 

Energy Drinks… What The Science Says…

Energy drinks are a relatively new phenomena in modern diets. While standard carbohydrate based “sport” drinks have been available for a long time “energy” drinks are perhaps another example of “functional” foods which promise to achieve the purpose of giving you more energy.

green-energy

Energy drinks in general are misleading. They don’t give you energy, well unless they contain a large amount of sugar. What is often reported on their advertising is a host of herbs, vitamins and other creations that will unlock your physical ability and give you more physical capacity or indeed simply stimulants. Now this is one of those things which I consider mis-selling to the consumer. In fact it is quite similar to the reasoning behind why yoghurt priobiotics cannot be advertised as good for gut health. Quite simply if evidence is not definite should a product be able to be sold with ridiculous claims?

 

An analysis of energy drinks was carried out by Nutrition Reviews, Often these products contain caffeine, taurine, guaraná, ginseng, glucuronolactone, B-vitamins, and other compounds. Some of these are “involved” in the energy creation/ breakdown process but by their involvement it does not necessarily mean that they stimulate energy production. Indeed with the exception of some weak evidence for glucose and guaraná extract, there is an overwhelming lack of evidence to substantiate these claims.

 

Caffeine is the only component of these products which contributes to the improvement of physical and mental performance. While this area needs to be investigated further it highlights that these wide claims are related to one active compound. Often these products are targeted at younger markets as well as time busy people. Commonly the variety of caffeine and other compounds are combined with vaste amounts of sugar. Simply said in active individuals who feel like they need a boost pre- training or in just general you need to ask these questions.

1. Do you need the extra sugar- if your diet is healthy enough you won’t, if it isn’t healthy enough a sugary drink will only make things worse. 2 hours later you will be more tired once the energy stimulating caffeine has run out and your blood sugar drops in response to a it being too high.

2. If you are using this as a stimulant to give you a push then why do you need this lift? For time busy stressed out individuals caffeine is not the answer, it is a short term boost. If chronically overused it can lead to adrenal stress which can lead to a host of illnesses, poor metabolic function and generally poor recovery from exercise.

3. Caffeine is safe as a pre-workout supplement, it has been tested, but in turn it can be abused. If you need it pre-race/ training/ everyday to perform then go back to question 2.

What are my recommendations?  Knowing where you caffeine comes from is important. Coffee is as simple as it comes. It is simply not necessary to purchase an energy drink loaded with sugar and other random stimulants with the hope that it will pick you up. Again used in moderation on occasions but never as the part of an “energy drink.”

Below is a graphic on how caffeine works- it doesn’t just make energy;)

 

caffeine-box1

 

4 Key Determinants of Fat Loss at Results FAST

There are plenty of diet books out there telling you how to lose weight but 90% of the time you can draw together common themes of each programme as to why they work. Now this is not to say every approach is healthy. Weight loss diets that focus upon weight reduction as opposed to fat reduction are two different things. One could be considered down sizing your fat burning potential while the other could be described as maintaining or at least improving your ability to resist fat storage. The following 4 points are part of the protocol we use with our clients.

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1. A prolonged reduction in energy intake. Now this is contentious but intake has to drop for fat burning to occur. This can be lower fat or low carbohydrate or both but fundamentally something has to give. The other way of achieving this is increasing activity levels which overall is a healthier more productive method of creating a calorific deficit.

2. 2g/kg of bodyweight of protein consumption has efficacy with steady consistent fat loss. This is considerably more than your RDI’s of around 0.8g/kg of body weight. Most plans don’t go this high and commonly on any exlusion based diet where food groups are removed you see bounce backs in weight. This has been well reported in standard calorific reduction plans as favoured by most diet clubs.

3. Carbohydrate intake in and around activity. We tend to put carbohydrates in to peoples diets when they need them. With a large proportion of our clients training in the evening we need them to consume carbohydrates for recovery and to rebuild. Obviously if you are inactive then your necessity for carbohydrates as an energy source is reduced. It sort of blows apart the myth of no carbs after 6pm.

4. Shoot for health and cover your nutritional bases before looking to lose weight. If you don’t eat enough nutrient rich food you are unlikely to lose weight as the body will be under constant stress. We aim to clear up people’s health first. That means ticking the box on hydration first of all. Including a varied array of fruit and vegetables. Noticing if there are any negative effects associated with dairy or gluten consumption. Focusing on quality of food sources is the primary aim. After this we look at amounts and if necessary any supplementation.