From the Gym Floor: Part 4… Batman, Wall Balls, Speed Strength and Ambient Temperature.

This could be classified as the “super hero” edition. Why? Read on.

1. We were featured in Men’s Health in an article “How to be Batman” the premise was how to disrupt your childhood to leave you with a deep seated personality order meaning your role in life is defined by trying to imprison bad people while dressed up as a flying squirrel. Well not quite- it’s more of an article of what would Batman do in the gym- click above and enjoy.

2. Wall/ Slam Balls are awesome and fun at the same time. At the moment we are incorporating a lot of med ball slams/ wall ball work. In our more advanced clients they are great way to work on hip drives roll in rotational sports. We cue the movement by encouraging a hip turn first. Often you find that people when they fatigue start only using their arms especially on rotation or side to side based work. From the point of view they are a great tool for conditioning and varying movement load and speed. Most importantly they are fun. Too often I see coaches get caught up in the pursuit of “heavy” without working on varying repetition speed. Which leads to my next point…

3. Strength has a component of speed and endurance, to get the best returns you have to train speed and endurance to see a return in maximal strength. That means that quick work as described above is vital when you are looking to get stronger. It also means that endurance work or slightly higher repetition work can be good as well (typically we perform this on single leg work). Performing training in the same rep ranges all the time is an ineffectual way of training. 3 x 10 works for 6 weeks for beginners but to progress more variation is key.

4. Ambient temperature plays a roll in warm ups. We have come off the back of a pretty good summer and a warm Autumn but as the clocks change and the temperature drops it’s vital to take up the duration of your warm ups. When it’s warmer circulation is better and we find that our clients have less joint pain. If you suffer from poor circulation it can help to include a few more rounds of dynamic mobility- your joints may thank you for it. We have a few people who suffer from joint pain and adding additional work for the calves and wrists can help greatly in getting ready for your training sessions.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Training Programmes- Critical Non-Essentials and Finding 5% Extra

Training by it’s general nature is the repetition of something to get better at a given task. This often can lead to a lot of repetion of certain exercises or types of training which can lead to staleness, boredom and sometimes a loss of motivation. In our training centres we pride ourselves on having an innovative approach to training.

Often changing or tweaking the way you train with subtle changes can provide a whole new training stimulus, indeed trying something different although not a wholesale change can give a good training effect. That is why I term some methods critical non-essentials. If anyone has read Sir. Clive Woodward’s autobiography on how England won the world cup then you will understand that sometimes little things can be the difference between a good and a great result- he discussed this with it’s merits towards winning a rugby match but the same thing can be applied to your training..

1. Go Barefoot… Dropping your footwear or buying a minimal shoe such as a Vibram Fivefinger or a New Balance Minimus can have a profound effect on your training. Though not necessarily for everyone and not necessary for those who run large distances the effect of trying a change in footwear can have a great carryover to balance, proprioception and strength. The concept revolves around training the foot to do it’s proper job helping strengthen your arches naturally- something that modern supportive shoes do not necessarily do very well. By performing your gym based workouts barefoot it can help develop foot strength and ankle stability with exercises such as walking lunges before moving on to low level running for those with suitable strength and good posture.

2. Intensity Ahead of Volume… The efficency of what you do has a direct corelation with the results that you want to acheive. As you become fitter you develop the ability to do more- in effect you acumulate training volume. The key to really taking your fitness levels up to the next level is working on developing your training intensity- not just how much you do. The benefits of interval training are pretty well documented so rather than using steady state cardiovascular exercise mixing periods of high intensity work with active recovery is a more efficent way of working. We have found (escpecially in women) that aiming to improves someone’s top levels of strength translates well to helping improve their conditioning gains once their general conditioning levels have plateaued. Dropping your repetitions per exercise to 5 for bigger exercises such as squats, deadlifts, press ups and pull ups will help lift maximal strength levels and can give you training the kick it needs to take you on to the next level.

3. Turn the Session Upside Down… From time to time we get stuck in a training rut. Turning things on it’s head from what you normally do can have a great effect. For example, do you normally stretch at the end of your session? If you do it may mean that you have not been prioritizing flexibility as part of your training. Moving it to the start of the session may help give this facet of fitness a push as well as give a slightly different emphasis to your training. Do you normally train your abs at the end of a session? If you do place them at the start, it will switch your abs on and mean that you core muscles are ready for the session ahead instead of justing throwing a bit of ab work together at the end of the session.

So why not try this three methods and let me know what you think!!!!

Fat Loss Optimization Introduction

From the number of clients who I have trained and advised it always bugged me that there currently is not one way of training or diet that is better than the other when considering fat loss. It is funny that I admit this now in the opening days of the New Year but consider the number of diet and exercise books, guides and DVD’s available for this topic.

What is displayedon thiks blog is what I believe current science supports as good advice and most importantly what has worked well for the people that I train. That is not to say this is a cutting edge approach or the newest sensation but this is a collection of science, practice and common sense applied in a useable format. The posts are to be read all the way through for a full understanding of the points.

Why you may ask? I feel as my primary role as a coach is to give you advice and guidance on your exercise and nutrition plan while helping you understand why you do something and the implications this will have upon your results. This topic is vast and I have added detail where necessary as fat metabolism and energy utilization is still a rapidly expanding area of research. If you are an experienced or motivated exerciser this provides a resource to design your own nutrition programmes. For all new readers and beginners to trying toi acheive the physique they want this will set out an approach to fat loss underpinned by the science.

An adage that someone said to me about giving training and nutrition advice which I feel will always hold true is that if you lose someone body fat, make them stronger or take their pain away they will train with you for life. As a trainer these are fundamentals to be adhered to as no one wants to always train fat, weak and injured clients (as it means your clients are not acheiving their goals) and in turn no trainee wants to be overweight, weak or suffering from injuries. This to a point explains my motivation for developing this text as a “go to” resource.

American trends commonly are repeated in the westernised world as you can see from talk of an “obesity epidemic.” In 2007 it was been estimated that Americans spent over $40 billion on diet and weight loss related supplements and products. The supplement industry generated $16.1billion in sales with over 20,000 different products consumed by up to 100 million people. There are now more obese people in the world than starving people. With an aging population and therefore a higher mortality rate the well documented effects of the slowing of metabolism with age highlights that strategies to promote healthy levels of body fat are important in obesity prevention. Twinned with a decrease in activity levels at school and with sedentary occupations elevating the chances of gaining weight it is clear that fat loss is a growing market.

Fat loss is an unregulated industry both in advice for exercise and nutrition filled with what could be considered bad science- just because a compound, food supplement or exercise intervention is involved in the metabolism of fat, supplementing with it massively or doing just one mode of exercise does not necessarily bring about long term sustainable results. This could be considered bad science as of thesed processes/ supplements are unproven- we may not understand the potential problems that may arise by their usage.

So why do we want to lose body fat? Usually it is for three reasons:

Aesthetics        

Simply to look good and show muscle definition. Society norms currently indicate that a low level of body fat is considered attractive in the westernised world so this is an evolutionary mechanism.

Performance     

Body fat is excess weight. More body fat equals a lower strength/ power to weight ratio which is undesirable for most sports persons unless weight plays an integral part of their sport- in this case it needs to be balanced.

Health              

The evidence is now overwhelming that obesity (defined as excessive storage of energy in the form of adipose tissue/ fat) has adverse effects on health. Obesity is associated with hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), excess of certain cancers and a host of other medical problems. Thirty-four million adult Americans have a body mass index greater than 27.8 (men) or 27.3 (women) which is very close to a weight increase of 20 percent above desirable. When diabetes, hypertension, or a family history for these diseases is present, treatment will lead to benefits even when lesser degrees of obesity are present.

With a society gaining in body fat and the health implications related to this the fitness industry and its professionals are at the front line of this epidemic. By the time doctors pick up the problem often the damage has all ready been done and the health services are not equipped currently to deal with this issue. Doctors treat the problem but currently have their hands tied to deal with prevention- by the time someone gets to the doctors surgery the damage is already done. 

Science has been simplified in our consumer society by the media and other authorities in order to provide information to the masses. It can be a complex thing for a lot of people- it is not as simple as calories in and out.  

A health professional’s role in fat loss is to be outcome or result focussed for their clients goals. The achievements of the client should be behaviour and processed focussed- fat loss is as much a lifestyle goal as a training goal as this will promote long term adherence to dietary and exercise interventions which is at the core of the principles I believe in.

4 Overated Exercises (And How To Make Them Better)!

What goes in an exercise programme is usually a mixture of opinion, fact and experience of the person writing that programme. Now that does not mean the more experienced you are the more relevant your exercise choices are. In turn qualifications mean nothing without practical experience. What follows are 4 exercises that you may commonly see on training programmes. In this post I will quantify why we programme them rarely or not at all and most importantly options to perform instead.

 

Tabata’s- Based on a protocol from a Japanese Sports Scientist, Tabata training seems now to include any form of short maximal intensity workload with short 10 second rest. When you look at the original paper that this type of training was coined from the workload has to be supramaximal (up to 170% of yourVO2 Max). It’s tough working that hard and a bit nasty- you can not last a long time working at these intensities. My issues are the fact that performing work for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds has all been coined “Tabata.” Simply you can not swing a kettlebell, perform bodyweight squats or burpee your way to this type of intensity. As well as this when being performed on the Treadmill, Rower or Bike you will see technical fatigue very quickly. If used at all the benefits of Tabata style training plateau after 3 weeks. The good side if used is that it can enhance VO2 Max and anaerobic capacity but should only be used as ashort term measure and most certainly is not the only form of cardiovasculkar training you should utilize.

Upright Rows- The old school body building classic to build up those shoulders. Now when you perform the upright row the shoulder joint internally rotates as well as flexes (turns inwards as the arm raises upwards). What happens here as you bring the arms up is that it closes the space in between your humerus and your acromium process (shoulder joint). In this area there is a large amount of musculature and connective tissue fitting in to the joint space. If this space is compromised and this tissue gets caught in that joint we may have an issue- shoulder impingement. It does have implications for those performing the Olympic Lifts though. Scapular position is vital and strong scapular retractors and depressors are vital for good performance. It also explains why they may be a step too far and too advanced for some individuals- especially if they are not using their lower body to generate enough force relying on the pull of the shoulders to elevate the bar. So what are the options for shoulder development and if necessary the Olympic Lifts? Well we are looking to work the shoulders so variations of dumbbell horizontal and vertical pressing (in those with stable shoulders) may be of use. With the Olympic Lifts if the shoulders need work postutrally then addressing mobility and stability with a suitable focussed programme may be the answer. This doent stop you looking at loaded jump based movements as an alternative as well as lower loading for squats and deadlifts and working on acceleration before returning to the O-lifts when structual balance is a lot more suitable around the shoulder.

Leg Extensions- Again, non-functional and unrelated to developing movement. The forces placed around the knee cap on a leg extension cause an increase in sheer force across the knee. As muscles develop in proportion to one another in a chain any form of dominance in one muscle group can cause postural imbalance and poor movement quality if performed over time. Single leg works multi-dimensional stability of the lower body- vital to move effectively and maintain good posture. Most people dodge it as it is tough- often we only do the things we are good at and leg extensions are an easy option for lower body training. Examples for other exercises include weighted lunges, step ups, single leg squats, heavy sled pushes/ pulls and single leg deadlift variations.

Ab Crunches- Ab crunches to end range flexion and extension are pretty much pointless for most individual’s that I work with. The reason being is that posturally most people do not need a shortened abdominal wall. If tight the rib cage is pulled down (towards the pelvis) it can affect breathing, round the upper back and in some cases be related to increased back pain as it will affect pelvic tilt. As an alternative we use a lot of side bridging drills, ab rollouts and sit to stand movements. This way we can challenge the dynamic nature of the abdominal musculature to resist against excessive force. As a point crunches do not give you a toned ab region. That is roughly about 80% diet related you won’t crunch your way to a six pack if your nutrition plan is not perfect. That also goes for any other “core” contraption.

Throw any others out there…. and feel free to disagree below!

The New Rules of Circuit Training…

Circuit training has been a mainstay in fitness training for decades, some may even say centuries. With the rise of smarter methods being developed to burn body fat, raise our fitness levels and lift performance to new heights it is important to recognise circuit training for the benefits it can deliver. Most people will recognise a circuit as a mix of a variety of different exercises in a random order. You move from one exercise to the next with an elevated level of fatigue and a heart rate that is rapidly accelerating out of your chest. Now this is where the difference comes between a circuit that has been designed in a smart way compared to a circuit that is designed to knock both legs from underneath you and leave you hoping that you will see the sun rise for one final time. It is important to define at this point the reason why you would perform a conditioning based circuit. Circuits are designed to build your “work capacity” meaning the amount of work you can perform in good form. It is no good lolling from one exercise to the next performing half decent repetitions where your form goes to pot placing unnecessary strain on the joints of the body. Think of it in this way- it should almost be You Tube quality; no one wants to see someone doing something badly. The mistake most people make is that they will fly straight in to a circuit class without any basis of strength. The mistake most personal trainers make is that education comes first before a workout that will leave someone in need of replacement organs.

It is important to develop form and function before invoking any type of fatigue which is why basic strengthening exercises such as squats, lunges, press ups and pull ups should be mastered ahead of going all out on a “death circuit.” Your conditioning level will be directly related to your strength levels- the weaker you are often the poorer your conditioning or the greater the time it will take to bring your conditioning to a great level. Improve your strength levels and the benefits you will gain are twofold.

Structurally you will be stronger meaning better exercise efficiency meaning you can do more. This means in turn that your conditioning levels can grow faster in line with your enhanced strength levels. A circuit should be designed with balance challenging the major movements in the body. The upper body can be paired with the lower body meaning the cardiovascular system can be challenged without causing exercise form to depreciate through fatigue. It also does not need to be high repetition as most circuits tend to be. Remember we are trying to build “work capacity” so repetions can be as low as 4, this is phenomenally useful for strength based athletes such as rugby players. These lifts are not maximal though but exercise form should always be maintained. So for instance you could pair bench press with back squats performing 5 repetions on each with a suitably heavy weight for 10 minutes, lunges with seated rows for 6 repetions each for 10 minutes followed by 10 minutes of a variety of different boxing combinations on a punch bag.

Welcome to smart circuit training….

How to Pick a Minimal Gym Trainer: Part Two

As discussed barefoot training can be a good method of strengthening up the musculature around the ankle though it does not mean that you just have to train in one pair of shoes what follows is a review of the main contenders for minimal support based footwear…

Converse….

The main stay of the lifting community, now perhaps more of a fashionable shoe than a training shoe. The value of converse with a stable base with a flexible mid-foot shows its use for lifting weights as a flat shoe. In more dynamic work the coarser upper material is less than ideal for movement, specifically with the high top version. For those with wide feet it can also be an issue.

Neutral Running Shoes…

Can be useful for those who may need a bit more support. The main issue with any type of running shoe is the issue of an elevated heel lift, as discussed before this can cause increased heel contact time which may not be desirable when looking to encourage a more natural forefoot running pattern with less ground contact time. For those in the gym it can provide a suitable amount of support if your arches/ ankles are weak and is a good transition shoe if you have been training a more heavily supported shoe. Often our clients have orthotics which may be necessary for some individuals especially if they are not going to invest the time in some barefoot training drills. Therefore, I would tend to favour a neutral running shoe with a customized orthotic opposed to a heavily supported running shoe as it will be more personal to the individual’s needs as this will also help preserve knee alignment and give support where necessary. The orthotic can also be adjusted over time if barefoot training drills are undertaken to improve lower body strength. This is often what I recommend for runners- with a more minimal shoe for gym work and occasional runs.

Nike Free…

I have a couple of pairs of Nike Free’s myself and think they are great as any everyday shoe. There are a number of models with varied heel lifts a higher heel lift in the 5.0, 7.0 and “Run” versions so their benefits as a minimal shoe now are not as great in comparison to the 3.0 which has a lower heel lift. I also find the added heel lift with minimal medial support not in line with the ideals of barefoot training in the sense of developing and allowing full range of motion at the ankle. The light weight nature of the show though makes them suitable for gym work especially if you can find some of the earlier models though they make a decent everyday shoe even if they can get beat up pretty quickly.

Vibram…

Perhaps the weirdest looking of the shoes as the illustration suggests these shoes are akin to wearing a more durable glove for your foot. Fundamentally they are very comfortable though their base is pretty thin meaning if you have sensitive feet you may have to build up to using them outside. The Vibrams is a great shoe if you really want to get the feel of being barefoot. The feeling on your feet is akin to grabbing hold of the floor with your feet and therefore when working on a single leg you really feel everything working from the foot upwards. I generally use these every other day for work (indoors) and training. Anecdotally, I have tried a light amount of running in them but believe that there may be better options especially if looking to elevate the amount of training you do. That said as part of your footwear for training they are a really useful addition.

Merrell…

Introduced to me by one of my clients the Merrell barefoot shoe combines the feel of the sole of the Vibram with the appearance of a normal shoe. One of my training clients told me that this was the evolution of shoes and that my Vibrams where now where irrelevant as at least you could wear these outside with “normal” people- the Merell incidentally has a Vibram sole which I didn’t mention to him. The Merrell shoe is a great option for a minimally constructed shoe for those who want a more normal looking covered shoe; it was going to be my favoured selection until….

New Balance Minimus…

I had a preview of this from Eric Cressey’s blog, realizing they were not available in this country… until one of my colleagues managed to get me a pair through a contact in the States! The New Balance shoe has a sole made by Vibram with a full upper like the Merell. It’s very comfortable to wear and has the appearance of a climbing shoe. Some of the other models almost look like more durable versions of the early Nike Free. It just edges the Merell in looks with the upper feeling a bit more flexible on the upper foot and is great for dynamic work in the gym, short distance speed work and occasional short distance running.