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.

internet-bro-fist

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!

 

 

From the Gym Floor…. Episode One

As a regular feature and as an effort to make this blog more practical and applicable to training and nutrition I am starting a new series of posts which are going to be made up of an assortment of questions/ discussions we have had with our clients in the gym this week.

Obviously this could turn in to a pretty obscure mix of information but hopefully it will be informative none the less. That said I hope that episodes 1-3 are better than the Star Wars prequels, 4-6 is where it will really kick off and as for 7 onwards who knows. So back to training….

1. Don’t bounce pull ups. In my opinion pull ups are a strength exercise, not a cardio conditioning exercise. I recently watched a video of someone total 100 pull ups. The way we coach at Results FAST 6 would have counted as a full repetition the other 94 looked like a shoulder dislocation combined with a head butt.

Sometimes you have to decide what fitness parameter you are working on if it’s strength then load the pull up, if it is muscular endurance then work within a high rep range and then add loading (we don’t really go much more than 12 on our programmes).

Now I have a few colleagues who perform the “kip” during the pull up. It’s a gymnastic move repackaged for the gym sport/ Crossfit or whatever it is you want to call it. That’s fine if that’s what you “do”, these things are for a sport- practice them if you want…. but not at our gym as it’s our job at Results FAST to keep our trainees shoulders strong and stable.

Bouncing pull ups therefore are a higher risk manoeuvre. Just because you are a good athlete it doesn’t mean you need to utilize higher risk exercises just to “do” more. I compare it to the fact that boxers don’t practice being hit in the face 365 days of the year- if you don’t need to be hit in the face why would you do something that perhaps increases the risk of injury?

2. Fitness wearable’s are fun. I recently got given a Nike Fuel band and being the alpha male that I am logged in and set my daily activity goals to be that of the top 20% of the Nike Fuel wearing community. Here are my observations after a couple of days.

If you are a busy personal trainer (10 coached sessions daily) or a person who has a job where you are on your feet then you will smash you general activity targets easily- this is interesting to me primarily as you have to answer the question then is any “unnecessary” activity useful e.g. training to turnover calories if your nutrition is in check.

These trackers don’t define intensity e.g. how heavy or how vigorous a certain exercise is. It would indicate that activity is not related to if you do a squat with 5kg or 200kg.

That said I am looking forward to a low activity day when I have to hit my daily activity goals by running on the spot, doing star jumps or indeed waving the band around in the air vigorously as that seems to cheat the readings.

That said I think they are quite useful if you work in a sedentary job. Firstly, this device will encourage you to move more to hit your activity goals and secondly, it allows you to take responsibility for your activity levels and therefore can become a good form of extrinsic motivation to “do” more.

A lot of the time marketing is aimed more at the “athlete” market or those who aim want to personalise their experience. The technology isn’t really there to “personalise” your experience but if you want a cool looking activity tracker to get you motivated then this can be a useful tool.

3. Lifting heavy stuff is great abdominal work. We have been integrating a lot of trap bar deadlifts in to our clients training as they more from beginner to intermediate level. We are using this as a progression from goblet squats towards more advanced/ heavier forms of lifting. Why? Improving your strength levels is perhaps one of the best ways to enhance your work capacity in the gym and also change your physique.

Progressing towards heavier weights leads to an increase in strength levels and the best way to give a full body effect is by using multi-joint movements such as squats and deadlifts. The trap bar is an intermediate style exercise from a complexity perspective that is easy to coach and easy for clients to pick up. As you progress towards this style of training there are two main complaints. ” My hands hurt” this is usually down to either a weak grip or not gripping the bar appropriately. Chalk can help improve grip and in some cases some people prefer to use gloves. Glove use is a contentious issue for some coaches who tell there clients to man up- however not everyone needs thick calluses on their hands and if you work with your hands e.g. as a sports masseur then your clients are not going to respect being rubbed down with sand paper like hands.

The second major complaint is back ache/ tension. This comes down to coaching of the exercise and making sure the weight lifted is suitable. A common issue is for some people is to be anteriorally tilted at the pelvis (hips facing down) and finishing the lift by over extending at the back. Teaching individuals to keep their pelvis in a more neutral position during the lift as well as squeezing their glutes/ bum at the top of the movement are two of the more successful cues we use for this exercise. As always it takes a bit of time and in some cases the exercise just doesn’t work for them due to mainly previous joint damage so some form of single leg loading is more useful.

 

 

High Rep Upper Body Training, Exercise Form and Why Your Shoulder Hurts

Pull Ups are perhaps one of the best upper body strength exercises. Training predominantly your ability to lift your own body weight (plus if you invest in training hard enough a bit more) they are an exercise that deserves it’s place in most strength and conditioning coaches toolbox.

That said with the advent of higher intensity conditioning programmes which are en-vogue pull ups have transcended away from being a strength exercise in to what could be termed a high rep conditioning exercise. When programmed with high rep bench pressing, press ups or shoulder press it adds a lot of stress to a joint that craves stability.

When you perform high repetition work we create fatigue- this is great for conditioning. Not so great though if stronger and more dominant muscles start to do the work of other muscles. This is where we get muscle imbalances and ultimately injury. Almost everyone reading this probably has had a niggle or injury in the neck or shoulder so it makes sense that your training does not cause these niggles…. indeed it should act against the imbalances developed in day to day life should you be a full time athlete or indeed a full time desk athlete.

There are a number of reasons I avoid high rep upper body training in compound exercises in my programmes.

Take the example of a pull up…

1. Bad form uses momentum to mask fatigue.

2. If momentum is masking muscular fatigue then where is force being generated from?

3. At the base of the movement the shoulder joint is being forced forward (out of socket) to induce a recoil to propel you upwards.

4. All though in some “kips” the individual generates force from the legs being in front of the body and throwing them backwards. In this context the shoulder is not hyper extended at the base of the movement. That said it is still a major challenge not to hyper extend the shoulder at the base of the movement- especially if performing multiple repetitions.

To refine this point I want to go back a bit to human anatomy.

Your shoulder joint or specifically the top of your humerus is held in place by a multitude of musculature. This musculature is designed to stabilize the humeral head and control movement. I have in the past heard it described as a golf ball on a tee with the wind blowing in 5 different directions.

NB This is a great read if you are a personal trainer/ strength coach/ anatomy geek. Skip a few paragraphs if the why doesn’t interest you too much

The rotator cuff aims to internally and externally rotate the humeral head as well as playing a role in maintaining the humeral heads position during movement. If you generate force by momentum what is holding on to your humeral head to stop it’s hyperextending if it can’t keep it’s position?

Specifically from a muscular sense the dynamic stabilisers muscles such as the supraspinatus which resists superior and inferior translation of the humeral head and subscapularis which resists anteroinferior translation. During movement the rotator cuff muscles are active throughout. Infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor produce an inferior shear force to counteract movement. Supraspinatus generates a compressive force across the glenohumeral joint. The force couple resulting from these actions maintains the humeral head centred on the glenoid to within 1mm throughout the range of motion. This is known as dynamic functional stability.

Non anatomy geeks resume here…

In a “normal” shoulder (which is often hard to find in the average office worker and definitely not in the swimmers and tennis players I work with) the actions of the internal rotators (subscapularis) and external rotators (infraspinatus) are balanced but the internal rotation action is enhanced by the action of pectoralis major.

If an individual over uses the shoulder, fatigue is likely to take place in the external rotators before the internal rotators resulting in an imbalance. This will cause the control of the humeral head position to be lost (it sort of highlights that doing a load of theraband external rotations and labeling it as shoulder rehab perhaps is not the best course of action as well as it does not influence dynamic stabilistation of the humeral head).

The humeral head impinges against the coracoacromial arch with resultant compression of the subacromial bursa and pain in the epaulette region and the upper arm/front of the shoulder. Sorry slipped in to anatomy again…. in simple terms this is an instability impingement and everything gets sandwiched together causing pain.

In individuals who work with the hands overhead e.g. throwing athletes and swimmers the role of the external rotators is pertinent as it acts as a humeral head depressors keeping the humeral head in place. Repetitive activity at this level resulting in fatigue of the external rotators meaning depression is not maintained and impingement may occur. This also highlights how shoulder laxity develops in to instability when fatigue becomes an issue.

It’s not all just about the rotator cuff though. Shoulder instability can be found if the scapular stabilisers are fatigued. Specifically subscapularis and the serratus anterior which control the scapular which if fatigued means that during scapular elevation impingement may occur as a product of scapular instability.

Again in more simple terms…. Your shoulder blades stability effects how the rotator cuff works- poor shoulder blade strength and stability therefore can result in poor humeral head stability.

It has been suggested that once instability impingement occurs then stretching of the anterior capsule takes place and a tightening of the posterior capsule occurs. Often in shoulder problems the stock recommendation is to “stretch your chest”. This may result in more anterior stretching and begin to put movement in to an unstable range of movement. This so-called capsular tightening predisposes to further anterior translation (forward movement) of the humeral head thus contributes to impingement.

So in round up…. stability of the shoulder blade leads to stability of the humeral head. Humeral head position is a product of maintaining stability. Excessive strengths or weaknesses acting upon the scapular or humerus can cause a imbalance which may lead to injury.

But how does this relate to high repetition training? There is always going to be an adaption to training but the key is to maintain suitable joint integrity. In high rep circuits the prime mover big muscles will overpower the stability based muscles. Typically we will say the exercise is in poor form as the exercise is performed in poor posture.

The one question you need to ask when training the upper body (as pretty much every movement from pull ups to bicep curls and the Olympic lifts will effect shoulder joint positioning) is what is the effect on scapular stability or numeral head stability, does the movement look good enough to broad cast or has fatigue masked form. Form should always be maintained when you consider the risk and reward of the exercise choice, intensity and volume.

How To Stop Your Scapula Winging

Winged scapular is something that is common that I find when I asses a lot of my personal training and gym members. The best example of this is if you place the back of your palm in the small of your back the bottom of your scapular lifts away from the back and “wings” up. In extreme cases it may even wing up when your arms are in front of you. This is synonymous with shoulder pain and poor muscular balance around the shoulder joint.


winging

 

Understanding this condition though is vital for resolving this issue. The anatomy is very relevant in why there is an issue at the shoulder. Now commonly in this situation I have seen people who have been told to strengthen their back or have been giving a theraband and told to strengthen their  rotator cuff. In the first line of advice this may be the actual problem and as for strengthening the rotator cuff… well it is probably a waste of time. Hence a lot of shoulder issues become chronic over a period of time.

If you look at the following picture of the shoulder blade you will notice the rhomboids and the serratus anterior muscle are separated by your shoulder blade. In fact you could consider that that shoulder blade is in a constant tug of war between these two muscles. Tightness or over strong rhomboids can pull the scapular away from the rib cage causing an anteriorly tilted scapular which may cause shoulder pain. If the serratus anterior is not strong enough it will not be able to keep the shoulder blade pinned to the rib cage.

 

scpular rhomboid and serratus anterior

 

If the serratus anterior isn’t fully effective at producing an upward rotation force (keeping the scapular close to the rib cage) and the rhomboid (a downward rotator as it pull the bottom of the scapular downwards towards the spine) is getting trained with both pushes and pulls then you can end up making the condition worse while maintaining a traditional training pattern. Often this leads to tighter rhomboids and tight muscles at the chest. Twining this with peoples habitual posture while driving, at the office and at home and it shows you why some shoulder issues take an age to clear up.

So in this situation what is the answer? Typically we start with waking up the serratus anterior. One exercise we use is 4 point back rocking where we encourage the shoulder blade to move laterally and upwards while not letting the scapular wing away from the rib cage. Please see below- it’s a simple exercise but phenomenally effective.

 

Poor scapular position also leads to poor rotator cuff strength and excessive challenge to the stability muscles in and around the shoulder such as the rotator cuff. But what exercises can help resolve this? Well the mighty press up- if done properly can be an amazing exercise but is often performed incorrectly. I will cover these in my next post.

The Three E’s Most Gyms Are Missing

At my gym we pride ourselves on a number of things that define us as being different from the competitors. While there are a range of different training styles, equipment and programmes when it comes to defining if a gym sinks or swims it can come down to three objective factors

1. Environment. Creating a “feel” is quite an objective thing to measure but one of the things at Results FAST that we are pleased with is the culture that has been defined by our membership. In the New Year 95% of our training membership trained more than once a week. This statistic would close most commercial facilities. Creating a culture and environment of commitment focused around achieving great things is not just for those who believe they are the nations next great Olympian. It can be something as simply as a pain free shoulder or maintaining a sensible nutrition plan for a week. All of these things feed in to what defines a great culture that our staff and members sign up to.

2. Expertise. The barrier to entrance in the fitness industry around the world is quite low compared to other trades. It means that it can be quite easy to “get certified” and call yourself a personal trainer.  80% of newly qualified trainers leave the industry inside 1 year but of the remaining 20% most will remain on a similar wage to the person who cleans the gym. With most gyms they will hire at the cheapest level to do the job (I mean what business wants to over pay their employees!). This is not going to attract expertise- give me one great, hard working trainer over three cheap trainers and i’ll show you the difference in expertise and the value it will provide. The definition of expertise in practice though may not necessarily mean book taught. Expertise can be through experience and time training people however your own education is a fluid process and if it stops so does your development. Never has there been more information available to people but still people don’t know what is a healthy diet.

3. Excellence. This supports the previous points. If you have a great gym culture environment of commitment to success and accountability for your own actions in line with focused training programmes which work you have made a dedication to the process of excellence.

All summed up- if you are going to do something, do it well and and at the best of your abilities.

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…

Fat Loss- It’s Not Just About Cutting Carbs…

In continuation from my previous posts on hormonal influences on fat loss it is important to state that keeping carbohydrates in your diet can still invoke fat burning.

Another hormone Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is moderated by insulin levels. Increases in insulin (due to carbohydrate consumption) increase LPL and elevated levels of this hormone are seen in line with elevated blood triglycerides. This is because LPL’s role is to break down triglycerides in the chylomicrons releasing free fatty acids which are then available for energy metabolism or indeed to be restored by the body as fat. If it was all about high insulin equals no fat burning and low insulin levels equalling fat burning it would be a simplification.

This highlights that even during carbohydrate consumption and elevated insulin we will still metabolize fat- a good reason not to exclude carbohydrate from consumption as standard in the long term as a lot of “dietrary extremists” suggest.

There has been tentative research in to the importance of Acylation Stimulating Protein (ASP) which plays a role in the breakdown of triglycerides as well as the transport of glucose. This enzyme which is stimulated by insulin is also stimulated by high numbers of chylomicrons in the blood stream indicating again that high insulin is not the sole mechanism for fat storage.

So what does the science behind fat burning tell us? Well there are a range of factors that influence the rate of fat breakdown and storage.

It is clear to see that focussing upon one part of this process would be ineffective as a mechanism for fat loss. This also highlights why if you over eat on carbohydrate or indeed fat you will convert excess fuel to be stored as fat regardless of food combinations, timings or amounts.

Taking one supplement may help one part of this process but it may also limit another process in the body over a period of time.

Current obesity research highlights this point in that eating excessive calories from one food source or indeed all the major macronutrients may not be the sole cause of obesity and fat gain:

“…Obesity can arise in the absence of calorie over consumption. In addition, opposite models can show how obesity can be prevented by increasing expenditure to waste energy and stabilize body weight when challenged by hyperphagia (over consumption).”

(Rampone, AJ, Reynolds, PJ. Life Sci. 1988; 43(2):93-110).

“The regulatory systems (of the body) control both energy input and output so that for a given steady state, compensatory changes on the input side are made if expenditure is challenged, or on the output side (expenditure or efficiency) if intake is challenged…Realizing human obesity is caused by the interaction of an obesigenic environment with a large number of susceptibility genes, successful treatment will require uncoupling of these compensatory mechanisms”

(Jequier et al 2002).

“The critical issue in addressing the problem of alterations in body weight
regulation is not intake or expenditure taken separately, but the adjustment of one to the other under ad libitum food intake conditions”

(Buchholz et al 2004).

In the end, as these papers suggest, understanding the relationship between “energy in” and “energy out” requires a more complex energy balance model than currently espoused by the media and health authorities, again this is an example of where there has been an oversimplification (and where a calorie may not necessarily be a calorie) of the science behind not weight loss but fat loss.

The Science Behind a Short Term Lower Carb Diet

 The creation of energy involves a complex series of chemical reactions- in simple terms the macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) can all be broken down to make energy. It is important to note that both protein and fat are essential for energy production, growth and mainatainance of the body’s structures.

Why something happens in the body as a result of training and nutrition has always been the key factor when I look to access the best way that I work with people to reduce body fat. One such popular way is low carbohydrate dieting. Now lots of diets work for different reasons but in this post I wanted to examine why reduced carbohydrate intake is an effective dieting strategy as well as the science behind this approach.

Carbohydrate is the only macronutrient not essential for life though its role in the upkeep of a healthy metabolism means that severe restriction over a prolonged period is unadvisable. Carbohydrate is utilized through a process called glycolysis where after dietary carbohydrate is broken down to glucose it is available to be used for energy. Protein can also be utilized for energy from dietary sources as well by catabolism (breaking down) of lean muscle tissue in to amino acids that can be utilized as energy. This is not the body’s primary mechanism of energy as it involves a high amount of energy to breakdown protein; therefore carbohydrate and fat are the predominant sources of energy for the body.

When energy supplies become sparse in your bloodstream, the body detects this and fat reserves are utilized. The burning of body fat is traditionally termed oxidation as the body produces energy when fuel is reacted with oxygen to create energy. At rest and very low intensity exercise approximately 70% of the energy produced is derived from fats. Most tissues in the body can use triglycerides as an energy supply apart from the brain (though it can use ketones manufactured in the liver from triglycerides).

Under periods of sever calorie restriction (especially carbohydrates) production of ketones to use as fuel increases. When high amounts of fat is being broken down (usually due to severe calorie depravation) there may be no immediate use of these (this can be associated with an acidic smell or bad breath). This is important, as fat cannot be converted into glucose, but it can provide fuel for the muscle and brain in the form of these ketones- it shows that energy can be produced by the body when limited carbohydrate is unavailable. It also highlights that in the short term this can be an effective mechanism to invoke an increased rate of fat breakdown in the body.