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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quality counts as it’s about efficiency right!

Where though is HIIT useful?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Overhead Carries and the Overhead Athlete

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

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

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

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

Quick Tips to Assess Your Squat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A bala

 

position of joint

muscular action

pressure/ breathing

 

 

 

 

 

A New Direction…. Among Other Things…

It’s been about three quarters of a year since I updated this blog. Reason being is simply I decided to take a bit of a rest from fitness and nutrition writing (put it this way- I have probably written 2 to 3 articles a week over the last ten years, not an issue if your main job is a writer or journalist- mine is not, it’s training people). The other reason I cut back on updates is that I wanted to have a bit of a rethink in the type of content I was sharing.

In the past I have written and ghost written some good articles/ books that I thought were legitimately strong in the sense that they were good solid content that people would use to enhance their fitness, training, performance, nutrition etc.

Other articles are what I term “click bait” or what you may recognise as another “7 reasons why you are fat/ not skinny/ are avoiding carbs.” This type of article is great from the point of view of attracting clicks but they are quite hollow in content. What I mean is they never really tell you the whole story or give any frame of reference of why this information is applicable to you.

One of my clients highlighted this the other day by asking me “Is dried mango good for me?” Now you could rephrase this in to 7 reasons why dried mango is good for you, indeed you could find 7 reasons that dried mango is “bad” for you. Now dried mango is not good or bad- what is important is the context that it can be good or bad in e.g. It depends upon what you eat every day and how much you train, exercise, move. Indeed writing an article on why mango is a “superfood” is a lot easier than explaining 7 reasons why mango consumption is context relevant. People generally want bite sized chunks of information backed up with a scientific reference- it could be a bad study, but it doesn’t matter because it’s all science right….. well no.

So that leads me to what this blog is changing in to. I am intending to make it more practical and application driven with more of a day to day view point of how we work with our clients at our gym Results FAST. What’s our average client? We don’t have one, we have no “niche” apart from sensible results driven programming backed by what we see as good science. We have a range of adult clients from 11 to 72 years old with the main aim of being strong, fit and healthy. Some manage joint injuries- chronic and acute, others are just trying to manage their lifestyles. We have a number of young athletes from swimming, tennis, football and rugby including county, regional, national and international level. We have clients who struggle with suitable nutrition, we have clients who are curious about any new diet or fad exercise (who we have to “try” and put straight). We generally train a better level of client who respect the training process as opposed to individuals who just chase “fatigue.” We have older athletes looking for smart programming to lengthen their careers. We have newbies and experienced lifters. What can I say everyone is on the training continuum in some way.

This blog aims to explain the programmes, the exercises, the processes and the work that we do with our Results FAST members. So quite simply any questions that you want us to field then ask and we will explain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Pulp Fiction: 5 Fitness Myths Never Explained Properly

Welcome to a number of themed articles based on popular media comments and preconceptions that continually are circulated in the popular press. The fitness and nutrition industry is a wacky world where science and opinion are blurred.

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This means that opinion often leads fact when there is no relevant science or data. What I am going to do here is highlight where the rumor came from, how it has gained traction and then attempt to smash it with the hammer of fact.

1. Cardiovascular exercise makes you fat….

Where it came from? This myth has been proliferated in the last few years. The concept espoused by a number of American gurus is that cardiovascular exercise causes a fat storing environment. Indeed if you are not interval training you may be gaining body fat this very second. Knowing that you can wrap everything in science the idea is that cardiovascular exercise causes a catabolic, muscle wasting environment resulting in a lower amount of lean tissue meaning a lower metabolic rate and a crushed metabolism from circulating anti-muscle hormones.

The truth? Excessive activity may cause this to happen indeed holding on to lean muscle mass is a prerequisite in all our fat loss plans. However, a couple of hours a week of cardio though won’t cause your metabolism to fall of a cliff.

Does everything need to be an interval? Hell no. In fact steady state cardio can be a good recovery tool for other forms of intense training. What the above statement did is it sent out a negative message that goes against the grain of common sense. With a lot of trainers trying to stand out and be different it meant that the anti-cardio weight loss programme has prevailed even though if you look in to tapping in to different methods of burning energy the best method is always going to be a combined approach. The above approach was highlighted by comments like how many fat people do you see doing aerobics/ Zumba or how many fat joggers do you see? That does not necessarily dictate cause and effect and correlation rarely proves cause, if anything it highlight other aspects such as an individual’s approach to nutrition.

2. Weight training makes women bulky…

Where it came from? Fear, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal trainer Tracey Anderson and in general women’s magazines.

With the Times now leading a campaign that strong is sexy and effectively now the new lean it confuses everyone. Some women don’t particularly care about being strong, they just want to look awesome. If strong is a side product of this then great!

Enter the celebrity trainers highlighting that weight training make your legs bulky. Tracey Anderson gets published in leading news papers highlighting that if you lift anything over 3kg you will be a female hulk- the journalists who write this should be ashamed of themselves and be made to live with Gwyneth Paltrow only eating from her cookbook. A side point this is from Amazon about Gwyneth’s book…

Last spring, after a particularly grueling schedule and lapse of overindulgence, Gwyneth Paltrow was feeling fatigued and faint. A visit to her doctor revealed that she was anemic, vitamin D deficient, and that her stress levels were sky high. He prescribed an elimination diet to clear out her system and help her body heal. But this meant no coffee, no alcohol, no dairy, no eggs, no sugar, no shellfish, no deep-water fish, no wheat, no meat, no soy, nothing processed at all!

Are you kidding me- no wonder she had such a small part in Iron Man- how did she even get to lunchtime. Anyone would look skinny avoiding that much food.

The truth? Weight training will build muscle and shape. If you have a layer of fat covering it you will look bulky. This is not weight training- this is your body fat. Females are in a position that their hormonal status does not promote muscle building as much as it does in males. Therefore you will not get big and bulky. In fact a kg of muscle is considerably smaller than a kg of fat in appearance (consider a tennis ball versus a football).

3. Protein shakes build muscle…. Right?

Where it came from? Look at the front of most sports nutrition products. They usually have a man who looks like a Greek god flexing as if his life depended upon it. It says eat this, look like me. Well done… you got fooled.

The truth? Weight training builds muscle drinking a shake doesn’t. It will give you the building blocks to build muscle as you adapt to training but so do a lot of other foods. It usually depends upon the nutrient breakdown of the shake and whether it is a pure protein shake or a mass builder containing carbs and protein. The take home point is that chugging three of these a day is a great way of getting fat if you are not training. But hey at least you can fill out those tight T-shirts now.

4. Eating fat makes you fat….

Where it came from? The low fat revolution pretty much demonized fat to the level where people preferentially avoid consuming it. Indeed making fat the bad guy meant that you could remove a massive amount of calories from your diet. That’s good isn’t it? Oh and pretty much eating low fat means my cholesterol levels will drop so it’s healthy as well. Saturated fat is bad for me etc. No it isn’t.

The truth? Fat is used to make hormones, hormones tell your body what to do and when to work and when to slow down. Fat plays a role in the maintenance of a number of the body’s systems therefore cutting large amounts of fat out of your diet then can have a negative effect on your health.  It also helps absorb and store vitamins which are vital. As a side note eating any macro-nutrient excessively will cause fat gain but it depends upon your whole nutrition make up over a period of time.

5. Eating carbs makes you fat….

Where it came from? In short carbs produce insulin. Insulin causes fat storage. Therefore, carbs = fat gain. This has been popularized recently in varying diets from the Paleo diet, high fat/ low carb as well as Gary Taubes author of the Diet Delusion highlighting that carbohydrates are the root cause of fat storage.

The truth? It’s a compelling case however fat storage is not a singular event, there is an ebb and flow dictated by a number of other things including hormonal activity as well as energy demands from movement. There are a decent amount of studies on low carb diets versus lower fat diets. The issue with a lot of the studies is that protein intake is rarely matched meaning that it is hard to compare. This quote from Alan Aragon highlights a recent study…

Another recent trial compared two 1500 calorie diets, a non-ketogenic diet and a ketogenic one [Johnstone CS, et al. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 May;83(5):1055-61.]. Insulin sensitivity was equally improved between the groups. No inhibition of fat loss was seen in the non-ketogenic diet (carb based) despite the fact that it was moderate in both fat (30%) and carbs (40%). In fact, the non-keto group lost more bodyweight and bodyfat than the keto group, although neither of these effects was statistically significant. It appears that any threat of fat/carb combining slowing fat loss is imagination-based.

It appears that carbohydrate restriction can cause fat loss but eating carbs appears to help fat loss. Pretty much highlights a few misconceptions there!

In my next article i’ll answer why “I have a bad back because it is weak” and why your metabolism probably isn’t slow.

 

 

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