Welcome to my personal training blog. There is so much information around regarding exercise and diets it's hard to know what is going to work for you. With over 12 years in the industry, I aim to bring my experience and knowledge to this blog so you can learn the best way's to achieve your health and fitness goals.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Is ageing inevitable?

As I turned 40 this year I contemplated the effect getting older would have on me. Previously I'd completely ignored age and treated my body as if it was 30. Through either luck or good training or a bit of both I've managed to get to 40 in reasonable shape. Having turned 40 I begin to wonder if every new ache or injury I have is a sign of age. I question whether my 30 year old body would feel the same. A part of me refuses to use age as an excuse for anything but the more scientific part of me is coming to terms with the fact that there are facts about ageing that can't be ignored. If I want to continue to life the full active and physical life that I currently live then I need to change the way I train to compensate for the inevitable changes that will occur I my body as I age.

Age has many affects on the body but the main ones I am concerned about are muscle mass, strength , endurance, aerobic capacity and flexibility .I know I don't look like Brad Pitt so a few wrinkles aren't going to affect me and I have hardly a hair on my head so it doesn't matter what colour it is or if any more falls out – although I did make one concession to age and shave of a goatee which was going grey, I might have turned 40 but there's no need to advertise the fact! Anyway enough about me and back to getting old.

I'd like to give you a few tips on how to ensure the so called inevitable effects of ageing can be reduced.

For those of you who like your articles short and sweet here's the article in a nutshell.

As we age, we lose strength, flexibility, muscle mass and aerobic capacity . The good news is that no matter what the age we can still improve on all of those. The other good news is that most of us are nowhere near our physical potential so there is a good chance you can be fitter, stronger and more flexible at 50 than you where at 25 . This will however require some hard work!

Ok those of you who prefer the longer edition read on.

Muscle Mass and Strength

As we age our muscle mass decreases by 0.5% per year. This is not set in stone. Muscle requires energy to keep alive so if it is not used the body breaks it down to reduce the body's energy costs. The key to keeping your muscle mass is to keep using your muscles. Simple.

Resistance training becomes more important as we get older not less. You may think doing weights is for the 20-30 year olds and not for the 40+ but the opposite is true. Resistance training is more important the older we get. The good news is that even if you start resistance training in your 70's you can still make large gains in strength. You might think that you are not interested in lifting heavy weights but resistance training doesn't have to be about lifting heavy. Do you want to be able to get up out of your chair by yourself at the age of 80! Do you want to be able to lift up, hold and play with your grandchildren, spend time in the garden, go for long walks in the country side? Any of these tasks involve a certain strength that can be trained for in the gym.


As we age our muscles start to reduce their ability to stretch so our potential to stretch decreases. By potential I mean that the muscles will have less natural elastic properties but this does not necessarily mean we lose flexibility. Flexibility is a bit more complicated than thinking of your muscles like an elastic band that stretches. What we are really concerned with is the range of movement each of our joints have.

This is determined by a number of factors including the natural elastic properties of the muscle but also by the innervation of the muscles around the joint and the strength of the muscles to control the range of movement. We may not be able to control the loss of elasticity of our muscles but we can have a great affect on the other two variables.

So using age as an excuse for not being able to touch your toes or squat down is not valid at all.

If you have a good range of movement already then keeping it is the aim. All you have to do is continue to move the joints through their complete range of movement every day and you will be able to move through that range for the rest of your life. Have you ever wondered why older people in places like China and India can spend hours squatting on their heels with no problems at all? Their bodies are exactly the same as ours but because they squat down to their heels every day of their lives , several times a day their body's are continually reminded of the need to preserve that range of movement.

If we dont use a particular range of movement very often we lose it!

A regular stretching program is essential if you want to move like a 40 year old when you are 60!. Whether it is doing yoga, stretching at home or performing exercises that stretch and strengthen the body at the same time, whatever you do do it regularly


The good news on endurance is that it takes a little longer to notice the effects of ageing. With regular aerobic training you can maintain high levels of endurance well into your 60's. A race I did in France a few years back involving 100miles and 9000m of ascent descent with 2500 athletes which was won buy a 59 year old! In fact many endurance records are held by athletes well over 40.

Aerobic Capacity

The news is not so good here. Aerobic capacity or VO2 max as it is commonly referred to is the maximum amount of oxygen our bodies can process during exercise. This decreases with age for a number of reasons which get a bit technical so I wont bore you with them but the good news is that you can slow the decline by performing high intensity interval training.

Like everything else in the body if you dont use it you lose it. So if you dont use your maximal aerobic capacity you will lose it. Why does that matter you ask? Well think of a car that you can comfortably drive at 60mph that has a top speed of 100mph. What would happen if for some reason it's top speed was reduced to 65mph? You can imagine that cruising at 60mph would put a lot more strain on the car.

Using running as another example , if your VO2max is say 10mph you might be able to run comfortably at 7mph for an hour. If your VO2max dropped to 7mph then your comfortable pace will drop to say 4 mph. This is now a fast walk not a run so you will no longer be able to run comfortably. Unfortunately your VO2max has a large genetic component to it but you want to at least maintain what you have for as long as possible.

I have seen people who reach their maximal aerobic capacity walking up a flight of stairs. You want to keep you maximal aerobic capacity well above the intensity of any exercise you usually perform.

So if you want to feel younger than you are make sure you add a couple of resistance training sessions a week, perform some high intensity intervals once a week and add a daily stretching routine to your schedule.

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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Why aren't I getting results – Part 2

If you've followed the advice in Part one then you'll be well on the way to achieving the results you have always wanted. Making exercise and good nutrition a habit is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle. The next area to address is what you are actually doing when you exercise. If you look around the gym you will see a number of faces that are always there doing the same things but they never look any different. I'd like to share with you a few lessons to make sure you don't end up like that.

Most people's goals fall into the lose fat, get fit and tone up category so that is what I'll base my recommendations on. There are a number of common beliefs people have that prevent them from achieving what they want.

1.Cardio training is the best for fat loss.

Unfortunately cardiovascular training is not the most efficient way to lose fat. One of the keys to losing fat is to boost your metabolism. We can only exercise for a limited number of hours per week ( usually less than ten) but if we can boost our metabolism then we can burn more fat permanently.
How can we increase our metabolism? By doing high intensity interval training and weight training.

2.Weight training will bulk me up.

The affect weight training has on your body is very dependant on the amount of sets and reps and the recovery between. By choosing the right sets, reps and recovery you can improve strength or endurance ,bulk up or tone up. Even if you are doing the sets and reps that should help bulking up the chances of it occurring are slim. Many of the “big” guys in the gym train 5 days a week and have done for years . Even then only those who are genetically predisposed to build muscle will “bulk up”. Females are even less likely to “bulk up” as the hormones necessary to promote muscle growth are a fraction of those in a males body. Weight training done at the right repetition range, and number of sets will not lead to big bulky muscles.

3.I only want to lose weight so I don't need to do any weights.

Weight training is one of the best methods of losing fat as it has a large effect on your metabolism. Your metabolism will be elevated for 24-48 hours after a weight training session whereas after a cardio session it is not likely to be elevated for more then 30 minutes.

4.There is a best exercise for a specific body part.

I am often asked “what is the best exercise for legs?” or similar. Unfortunately there is no answer to that. The best exercise for one person can have the opposite effect on another person. We are all individuals and how we respond to exercise is different. Find out which exercises your body responds well to and don't follow a generic program from a magazine or internet site.

You may think that surely a generic program is better than nothing but sometimes doing nothing is the better option. Lets say you want to work on your bum muscles and you read about these special lunges that promise buns of steel. You follow the program for a month and at the end of the month you notice your thighs are bigger and your knees are sore but your bum hasn't changed shape at all. Not exactly the result you were after. Learning specific exercises that switch on your gluteal muscles would be an infinitely better approach. (For all of you reading this that want a toned bum don't go googling gluteal exercises as once again the exercise that fires up one persons glutes may do nothing for someone else)

The only sure way of finding out which exercises will work best for you is to see someone who can assess how your body moves and design a specific program for you.

5.Sticking with a program will continue to bring me the results I want.

This is probably the biggest mistake people make in the gym. Once people have a program that works they stick to it for weeks often months and sometimes years. Boredom alone should put people off this approach and many deal with the boredom by stopping the program completely. Others with a high tolerance of boredom continue as they are used to the program and find it easy to do. Unfortunately any benefits from the program are gained in the first 2-4 sessions. After that the body has adapted to the new training load and is now comfortable with it. If your body is comfortable then there is no stimulus for it to change.

6.Simply changing the exercises randomly will force the body to change.

Your exercise program should become progressively more difficult and complex to ensure your body is always having to adapt to the increased demand on it. One approach many people take is simply to pick different exercises each week. Usually this is based on what equipment is free and what mood they are in. A truly progressive program builds on the strengths gained and increases the intensity and complexity each week.

7.A solid 20-30 minutes as hard as I can is the best form of Cardiovascular training.

Interval training has been proven to be a far superior method of training to raise your metabolic rate and increase your fitness levels than a steady 30 minute session. After a warm up complete 20 minutes with your effort ranging from very hard to very easy for periods of 15 seconds to 3 minutes. Your fitness levels will sore within sessions

8.Machines are better than free weights.

Machine based exercises are often used because they are easier to use and allow you to work harder without worrying about technique. This is a cop out and there is almost no case where machine based exercises should be used. They promote muscular imbalances and therefore increased risk of injury. They also work less muscles as most of your body is supported by the machine. Take a machine chest press vs a Dumbbell press lying on a ball. On the machine you are working your chest, shoulders and triceps. With the Dumbbells on the ball you are working you chest, shoulders ,triceps, abdominal muscles, buttock muscles, muscles in the back of your legs and your lower back. Which do you think would burn more calories and help you tone up or lose weight more?

9.If I want a flat stomach I need to do lots of sit-ups or crunches.

First of all when most people do these types of exercises they do them incorrectly and use the muscles in the front of their hips. All this does is pull the pelvis forward which makes your abdominals protrude more. Not exactly the look you are after. Secondly having a flat stomach is partly due to the abdominal muscles and partly to do with the layer of fat on top.

If you want a flat stomach then crunches and sit-ups , even if performed correctly, don't work the muscles that flatten your stomach and don't burn enough calories to burn the fat.
The key to a flat stomach is specific exercises that target the deep lower abdominal muscles and high intensity weight and interval training to raise the metabolism and burn fat. The exercises that target your deep abdominal muscles must be individually prescribed because initially you will have no way of knowing if you are doing it correctly. When these muscles are weak the brain recruits other muscles to help perform the task. If the task is too demanding it will switch off the weaker muscles and just use the strong muscles which will have the affect of making the weak muscles weaker and strong muscles stronger.

10.I need to get fit before I see a personal trainer.

By now I hope you can see the benefit of having someone who knows how your body works setting your program. Whether you have just a session or two to construct a program or a series of sessions to achieve a goal it is an investment that is essential if you want to achieve your health and fintess goals.

One comment I often hear is that a person wants to come to the gym by themselves for a month to get themselves fit enough to have a trainer. This is like saying you want to clean the house before the cleaner comes. The most important time to have a personal trainer is when your first start. Find out exactly what you should be doing from the start instead of wasting time doing a routine that at best better than doing nothing but may even be taking you further from your goal by installing bad habits.

A good trainer can take you to levels of health and fitness you didn't dare dream were possible. Investing in your health and fitness is the best investment you can possibly make. We don't think twice about investing for our financial future but seem reluctant to invest in our physical future.. We seem to fear not having enough money to live in a nice house when we got old but don't fear what kind of condition we'll be in when we get there. Doesn't make sense to me .

Most trainers I know will offer a free session so you get a chance to see what they are like and whether they can help you. If your in the North London area contact me if not find a trainer to help you achieve your health and fitness goals. You won't regret it.

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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Why aren't I seeing any results?

Almost all of us who attend a gym want to see changes in our bodies. We want to feel like we are improving our fitness, losing bodyfat, maybe even putting some muscle on. Yet so many of us don't.
The big question is why not?

There are several main reasons why people don't achieve their health and fitness goals. Most of them are very simple to overcome . For most people it is either they aren't actually doing the program regularly enough to get results or the program they are doing needs to be changed. I'd like to discuss common reasons why people don't stick to a regular exercise routine and in the next blog I'll discuss the actual program itself.

Many people tend to sabotage their efforts with these common beliefs.

“I'm too busy”

The first common belief is the I'm too busy belief. People who hold this belief find consistency a big problem as there is always something stopping them getting to the gym. They have very good intentions and will say they really want the results but something is always getting in the way. Usually work is listed as the excuse, business meetings, working late, deadlines etc etc. These types of people will easily find the motivation to get to the gym when they have an easy week but as soon as things get a bit busy, time spent at the gym is the first thing to be sacrificed. Results are never achieved as for every good week of training there is usually several bad weeks. A case of one step forward two steps back.

If you look at people who achieve their health and fitness goals whether that be losing 3 stone of body fat, finishing a marathon or qualifying for the Olympics, one thing they all have in common is they have stuck to their program. No matter what has been happening in the rest of their lives they have managed to find a way to maintain their fitness program.

Why do some people manage to follow their program yet others find it very difficult? Is it because the people who achieve their goals have not much else on in their lives so they have plenty of time to train? Or the people who aren't consistent in their training lead such busy and important lives that it is impossible to find time to train regularly?

Obviously neither of these are true. There are plenty of examples of people who lead extremely busy lives who achieve fantastic results and also of people who have all the time in the world who don't achieve results at all. The biggest difference between people who achieve and people who don't is the priority their exercise program is in their lives. If achieving your goals is a high priority then you will find time to train. A full time doctor finds enough time to train to win an Olympic gold medal, a politician finds an hour a day to exercise, very successful business men and woman find time to train for a marathon, I could go on and on but I think you get my point.

For most people to achieve their goals three to five hours of exercise a week is sufficient. So when I hear that people find this impossible because they are “too busy” I find it hard to understand. There are 168 hours in the week and all you need to do is find 3-5 of them to exercise in. Rarely is this not possible. I know people who work 12 hour days and still find time for exercise. The manage to make the time because achieving their health and fitness goals is extremely important to them.

So if you are constantly finding yourself “too busy” to exercise then you need to assess how important achieving your health and fitness goals are to you. Is it more important than watching that TV show you like at 10pm which stops you from going to bed early making it hard for you to get up in the morning to go to they gym? Is working back late at the office because you are overloaded with work more important than getting to they gym? Is your fear of telling the boss you simply have too much work not worth overcoming for the sake of your health? Is going to the pub with work colleagues for the second time that week more important than going for a run?

It is very easy to come up with excuses why we are too busy to exercise but how many of these excuses are really valid. “ My son fell sick at school and I had to take him to the hospital” is a very valid excuse, “ I was too hung over to go for a run Saturday morning” is definitely not. “I finished work too late to fit in my hour session at the gym” is also not valid. Why couldn't you do 45 minutes or 30 minutes instead. What does it matter if you get home a bit later? I admit it is not ideal to finish work at say eight , go to the gym from 8.30 till 9.30 go home, eat dinner and be in bed by 10.30 but people do it because it is important to them. There is obviously a balance to be had between work, play, family and exercise but surely 3-5 hours a week is not unreasonable for something that adds so much more quality to the other 163 hours a week.

People often put off starting an exercise program till they are not as busy. I don't know about you but I tend to find that life is always busy. How often have you thought to yourself “Great – I've now got five free hours this week and there's nothing I have to do so I'll start my exercise program”? It never happens , we always fill in our time with something. If you don't learn how to fit an exercise program in when your busy how are you ever going to maintain it?

Once you have established how much of a priority your health and fitness goals are start finding ways you can find the time instead of excuses why you can't. You may need to think outside the box a little and challenge some of your habits but there is almost always a way.

“ It wont work for me”

The second reason people tend to not be consistent is they don't actually believe the program will work or don't believe it will work for them. If you don't believe something is going to work why bother?. Why push yourself in the gym if you don't believe it will result in the fat loss you are after?

This belief usually stems from a previous experience(s) with exercise that didn't give you the results you were after. This may be a very valid thought process. To overcome this you need to analyse what you did before and make sure you don't repeat the same mistakes as last time. As the saying goes “ If you do what you've always done you'll get what you've always got”.

Think back to last time you tried an exercise routine and identify what you did well and what you didn't, what you liked and what you didn't. For most people the main reason for not achieving results is they don't do the things they need to do often enough. They didn't follow a healthy eating plan and didn't exercise enough. By making sure you incorporate exercise you like doing you increase your chances of sticking to the program. If you don't like certain exercises see if there is an alternative, there almost always is. The best form of exercise for you is one that you actually do. I could tell you that running is the best thing for fat loss ( not saying it is – see next blog) but if you don't run because you don't like to then running certainly isn't the best exercise for you.

The first step is make sure you know what you should be doing in terms of exercise and nutrition. I'll discuss more on this in a coming blog. Once you know what you should be doing the next step is to make sure you do it.

Once you have your program you need to stick to it. Reminding yourself on a daily basis of what you have to do that day and why is a great way to stay motivated. A great saying that inspires me is “ If you want what you've never had then you need to do what you've never done”. This is very applicable for the people who have the “It wont work for me” belief. If it didn't work last time then you need to do something different this time.

“I can't follow this diet and exercise routine forever”

People who have this limiting belief usually have some very big goal they want to achieve, so big in fact that it is hard believe they will ever get there. Many people in this category will get halfway towards their goal, be pleased with their efforts so far ( as they should be) but start to get complacent and forget the original goal. Following their strict diet and exercise routine becomes more difficult and they start to get a bit lazy, missing the occasional workout, eating the wrong foods ever now and then. They feel they deserve it, they've lost 1 stone already, that's pretty good isn't it? Before they know it not only are they not losing any weight any more they've actually started to put it back on.

The main mistake here is thinking of their diet and exercise routine as a short term activity. One that is designed to get the weight off and once they have got it off they can resume their “normal” life. A healthy diet and exercise program is never a short term thing it is a lifestyle. Only by adopting it as a lifestyle can one maintain a fit and healthy body.

If you want to look and feel fit and healthy long term then you need to live an healthy lifestyle. If you want to look good for a few weeks and don't care if you go to pot after that then a crash diet and exercise program will do that. The problem is the more crash diets you go on the harder it is to lose the weight again. Crash dieting lowers the metabolism making it harder to lose fat.

The thought of changing your lifestyle from whatever it is now to one that is healthy may be a big step. For most people the way to approach such a big change is one small step at a time. Make small but permanent changes and over time you will find you lifestyle has changed and you don't miss the old one. For example get into the habit of drinking 1.5 litres of water a day and eliminate all soft drinks ( including diet ones). After a month of focusing on this make sure you have a healthy breakfast 6 days out of 7. Next month look at making lunch from home not buying junk at the cafe. It might take a year to end up with a healthy diet and regular exercise plan but at least you've made permanent changes not temporary ones.

“I've lost motivation, I'll get back to it next week”

You start your new exercise program all fired up to finally lose that spare tire. About a month in, your initial enthusiasm wanes and before you know it your missing sessions left right and centre. This is often because you are not getting results or have reached a plateau. It is hard to remain motivated if you were initially motivated by results and now you are not getting any.

The first solution here is to change your program. If you stick to the same routine you will eventually hit a plateau. Your body has adapted to the new routine and no longer needs to change to cope with it.

The second solution is to change your mind set. Instead of thinking about the destination consider the journey as even more important. Don't be like a mountain climber whose sole focus is on reaching the top. Make sure you enjoy the views along the way.

You need to enjoy the steps necessary to achieve the results you are after. If you don't enjoy the changes in exercise and dietary habits then as soon as you reach your goal you will go back to your old ways and put all your weight back on.
Enjoy the feeling of having more energy every day, of feeling stronger, fitter, feeling healthier, notice how much more you can achieve each day. Even if your weight plateaus for a while there is so much more to health and fitness than weight alone. Make your goal to live a healthy lifestyle and the results will come. If you focus too much on just the end result then the journey becomes like catching a ryan air flight to a holiday – you cant wait till it's over.

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Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Intervals and Threshold Training - what, how and why

Interval Training – how to burn fat for free!

Intervals are without doubt the most effective cardiovascular training system to increase your fitness and lose fat. Unlike the fat burning zone it uses very few calories from fat but it does burn a large amount of calories and more importantly it increases your metabolism so after your workout you will continue to burn more calories than normal with a good percentage of those coming from your fat deposits, particularly if you eat healthily.

During interval training you want to get you heart rate above 90% for short periods of time. A typical session involves approx 20minutes of alternating between short intense burst of exercise of around 30seconds up to around 3 minutes with approximately the same amount of recovery. The recovery should be done at a VERY EASY level as the aim is to recover so you can go hard for the next effort.
Ideally each effort should be the same or harder than the last effort and you should see you heart rate reach a little higher after each one. The last one should feel almost impossible, but you manage to finish it. A good way to do these is to use distance and time as a measure so you can compare efforts. For example run a set distance and record the time it took you to run it. Next interval try and run it the same time or faster. As the weeks go by try and either decrease the time or increase the distance or even decrease the rest in between intervals. There are many way to perform interval training but the most important factor is intensity. Make sure your heart rate reaches above 85-90% for each interval and you’ll know you’ve had an effective workout.

Threshold zone
This zone is probably the least effective in terms of fat loss and increasing overall fitness but is extremely important when it comes to training for a particular race. It is around 80-90% of your hr max and is often described as the maximum intensity you can maintain for around one hours exercise. This is typically the zone at which a lot of people in the gym spend most of their time at, exercising for around 20-30 minutes. Unfortunately this has the least effect on fitness levels and fat loss compared with intervals and training in the fat zone. It is however very good training for running races from 10km up to a half marathon so if that is your goal then one session a week spent at threshold for 45-60 minutes is a good session to do.

Which zone is for me?
If you are like most people and want to lose fat and increase fitness then begin with 2-3 session per week in the fat burning zone, starting off with 15-20 minutes and gradually increasing until you can do 45 minutes comfortably. Once you reach this stage you should switch to doing 2 interval sessions per week and one fat burning session. Try and increase the duration of the fat burning session as long as possible – a long walk around the heath or a long bike ride is ideal. For variety try a tempo session once every 2-3 weeks. Perform a set distance that will take you apporx 45-60 minutes to copmplete,measure your time and watch your times come down.

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The Fat Burning Zone

If your read the previous blog you will know how to determine your maximum heart rate so now we need to put it to some use. The most common training zone is often called the fat burning zone and is around 70-75% of your hr max. This zone is where your body burns the largest amount of calories from fat. It is not the zone that burns the most calories however. Many people think that because a relatively large amount of fat is burnt this is all they have to do. Unfortunately it is a bit more complicated than that. A brief explanation is required to show what I mean.

Fat takes more time to process as an energy source than carbohydrates so can only be used at lower intensities of exercise. As the intensity increases the fat burning process cant keep up with the bodies need for energy so it obtains more and more of its energy from carbohydrates until it is almost solely carbohydrates being used. At very low intensities most of the energy being used us from fat but because it is low intensity not much energy is required. The 70-75% figure is the point where the greatest amount of calories is being derived from fat, above this level fat usage decreases and carbohydrate usage increases. This figure is not a hard and fast rule but is a good guideline to go by.

So if the 70-75% zone is the best for fat burning why don’t we do all our training there? Well there are a couple of problems. First of all it usually takes 10-20 minutes for the body to effectively get the fat burning system up and running so if you only do 15-20 minutes then you will not be getting the most out of this kind of training. The second problem is although this zone burns the greatest amount of calories from fat it doesn’t actually burn that many calories so to make it really effective you need to do it for a prolonged period of time, 2-3 hours is ideal. Not every either wants to or has the time to do this however. Having said that it is still the best training zone to get you back into exercise. Start of with 15 minutes or so and once you can do 45 minutes or more non stop you will be ready to step your training up.

The next blog will discuss the best way to improve fitness. Make sure you have a read.

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How fast does your heart beat?

One of the most important factors in cardiovascular exercise is heart rate yet very few people have any idea what theirs is during exercise or what it should be. Imagine you’re a racing car driver and you jumped in your car to discover the mechanics had removed the speedometer. You would be severely handicapped compared to other drivers and your performance would suffer. Your heart rate is like the cars speedometer, it gives you vital information on how hard your body is working.

What heart rate should you exercise to?

That depends on what you are training for. The common belief that you should exercise somewhere between 75% and 85% of your maximum is unfortunately a very simplified recommendation that doesn’t really address any of the specific training zones.

To measure your heart rate effectively whilst training you need a heart rate monitor. Is it worth buying one? If you are serious about achieving results then the answer is a resounding yes. They are so cheap these days it doesn’t make any sense to do all that training without having one.

Maximum heart rate is the highest level at which your heart rate will reach. This is different for everybody. The basic rule of 220 minus your age is a very simplified one and only works for around 50% of the population. I’ve had clients aged forty with max heart rates over 200 and clients in their late teens with max heart rates around 170. It is not related to fitness at all. What is related to fitness is how long you can maintain a certain percentage of your maximum. For example if we use the racing car analogy again if you compare one car that can reach a top speed of 100miles an hour but only briefly with a car that can cruise at 100miles an hour comfortably then obviously the latter car would be the preferred car if you want to cruise at 100 miles an hour.

Similarly, one person ( we’ll call him Norm) may be able to hold their heart rate to 85% of their heart rate maximum (max hr) for only a few minutes and another person ( let’s call him Gebreselassie ) may be able to hold it there for over an hour. Gebresalassie is obviously fitter. If we looked at actual heart rates and not percentages you might see it a little differently. Gebresalassie might have a max hr of 170 so 85% is 144 and Norm might have a max hr of 210 so 85% is 178. Norm may be able to hold a heart rate of 144 ( the same as Gebresalassie ) for well over an hour as 144 is only 68% of his max hr and thus if you compare heart rates only Norm would appear to be the fitter when in actual fact Gebresalassie is far fitter.
If you got lost in the numbers there don’t panic, I was just trying to illustrate that what your actual heart rate is doesn’t really matter , what matters is the percentage of your maximum heart rate.

So unless we know what our maximum heart rate is it is impossible to determine the percentages.

Determining Maximum heart rate.

There are a number of ways to determine your maximum heart rate some of them safe for beginners some not. If you are already accustomed to relatively intense cardiovascular exercise and have no heart conditions or any other medical conditions that affect your hearts response to exercise such as medication, high blood pressure etc ( if unsure check with your doctor) then the best way to find your maximum is take your heart rate to it’s max. This is akin to taking your car to an airfield runway, putting your foot to the gas and seeing how fast you can go!
There are a number of ways to do this but one of the simplest is as follows. Choose your cardiovascular exercise, doesn’t matter if its run, bike, cross trainer, stepper etc but be aware that heart rate maximums are dependant on exercise, typically running elicits a higher heart rate than bike riding which is higher than swimming. This is not a hard and fast rule as it depends what exercise you are accustomed to.

Ok once you have chosen what you are going to do find somewhere that you can exercise without having to think about traffic or running into other people e.g. on a machine in the gym or at a running track.(a treadmill is not advised as if you can’t keep up with the treadmill anymore you don’t want to faceplant!) After a thorough warm up of around 10-15 minutes that brings your heart rate from resting up to a point where you feel like you are puffing relatively hard, rest for a minute or two to recover and now you’re ready. Perform one 2 minute effort as hard as you can then rest for approx 2 minutes then repeat. Note your heart arte at the end of each interval. Keep repeating this until you find your heart rate at the end is lower than the previous interval. It should only take 2-4 repeats. If you did this test when you are relatively fresh then it should be within a few beats of your maximum.
If you are new to exercise then this technique is obviously not for you. Instead try this formula

Max HR = 217 - (0.85 x Age)

The next blog will discuss the fat burning zone - does it exist? What percentage heart rate should you be at? Is it beneficial?

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Monday, 11 May 2009

“If at first you don’t succeed try and try again”

All of us will set out to achieve something and for any number of reasons not succeed. Some of us will give up and decide it’s too hard, others will continue to try but never actually realise the goal and a select few will try again and eventually succeed in what they set out to do. What is the difference between the people who do and the people who don’t, and how can you make sure you are one of the people who do?

Failure is the key to success

One thought process that differs between the people who succeed and the people who don’t is how they view failure. Michael Jordan the American Basketball legend is quoted as saying “ I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

How has missing the game winning shot made him a better player? Successful people look at failure not as failure but as a learning experience, a chance to analyse what they did well and areas they can improve. So because they “failed” they have the chance to improve themselves to become even better. In this way “failure” becomes a very positive experience. Missing the game winning shot has driven Jordan to practice more and more so when the situation happens again he increases his chances of making that winning shot.

This approach works well when the reason for you not succeeding (I’m going to stop saying failure now as you only fail at something if you don’t even try) is purely down to you. Often the reason you didn’t succeed is not directly connected with anything within your control. This can be harder to deal with as there is nothing you can do that could control the situation so how can you prevent it happening again?

Never, ever give up

To illustrate the point I’d like to relate my own experience in trying to qualify for the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships. I had a two year plan to achieve this – compete in the qualifying race in year one to get a feel for the race and what is required and then qualify in year 2. I gave up full time work so I could concentrate on training, gave up alcohol completely, gave up any form of a normal social life, was in bed by 9.30pm seven nights a week and up at 5am, ate a very low fat healthy diet, trained 25-30 hours per week and did everything I could to get my body into the best condition possible.

Year one of the plan went according to script and by the time I lined up to race in year 2 I was very confident I had done all that was required to qualify. However half way through the bike leg a bolt on my bike snapped in half causing a 45 minute mechanical delay ending my chances of qualifying.Undaunted I went back in year three only to be bitten by wasps 5 times the day before the race( I’m hypersensitive to insect bites),the result of which was to have me feeling as if my face was going numb , feeling dizzy and nauseous and seeing spots in front of my eyes half way through the race, consequently ending any chance of posting a good time. Year four I was back again and had a great race but missed out on qualifying as the qualifying times had improved due to an influx of overseas competitors. The time I did would have qualified me in every single race over the last 10 years except this one. Another year of training had me back for year five and finally I finished in a time that left no doubt that I would qualify.

Why did I keep going back and not give up? The biggest factors were passion, belief and persistence. I wanted to qualify more than I’d wanted anything else in my life and had the belief that I was good enough to achieve this. If you don’t have the passion and desire to achieve your goal you will never succeed. Every time I missed out on qualifying I re-assessed how important qualifying was to me and my belief in my own abilities and each time decided that the passion was even stronger than before. I knew that I had the ability so it was only a matter of time before it happened. If I hadn’t achieved it in the fifth year then I would have kept going back until I had.

So when for reasons beyond your control you don’t achieve the results you’re after assess how much you want to achieve your goal and why you want it. If it’s important to you then try again and again and again until you achieve it.

Bit off more than you can chew?

What about if you’re not even sure you can achieve your goal? Maybe you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? Highly ambitious goals that really challenge us are a means of really living life to the fullest. The sense of purpose, direction and ultimately, fulfilment in achieving these big goals is what life is really all about. It may be to run a marathon, to lose a large amount of weight, finish a triathlon, climb Mt Everest or just trek to base camp - whatever it is you’ll never feel more alive than when you’ve realised one of these types of goals.

But how do you get the belief you can achieve these goals if they are so ambitious? If you have the passion and you know why your goal is so important to you then you need to break these big goals down to small, manageable, believable chunks. If you want to run a marathon but have never run before then you obviously will have no evidence that you can run that far to feed your belief. Break it down and ask yourself – “Could I run for 5 minutes?”, if you can believe that then that’s a great start, 5 minutes becomes 10 minutes becomes 30 minutes etc. Small believable steps are vitally important to keep you on track.

Practice makes perfect or does it?

If you train hard and consistently and you don’t get the results you want then continuing to train the same way is even more unlikely to bring about the results you want. Practice makes you good at what you are practicing, if you want to be better or create more of a change then you need to change the way you practice (or train in this case).

Typically we do the same things in our training week in week out and wonder why we are not improving much. Compare it to learning a language, when you first start learning,n counting to 10 is an achievement but very quickly this becomes easy so we progress and count to 20 then 30 etc etc. It makes sense that you can’t become better at speaking a foreign language if all we do is count to te. We may be very good at counting to ten but that is not the goal. Why then do we think that training our body is different? Why do we assume that doing the same exercises in the gym will continue to bring about change? Why do we think by running the same distance and time will somehow makes us faster of be able to run for longer? It makes no sense at all. If you want to improve then you need to make your training program progressively more difficult.

Many people think that elite athletes find their training easy – as if the more training you do the easier everything gets. The reality is one of the reasons they are elite is every time training becomes easy they change it and make it harder forcing their bodies to continually adapt to the training.

Make sure you training is increasing in difficulty and complexity to ensure you continue to achieve the results you are after.

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Thursday, 12 March 2009

To stretch or not to stretch?

Two common beliefs with regards to stretching are that we must stretch before we work out to help prevent injury and prepare us for our workout and that we should stretch after a workout to help decrease muscle soreness.

Unfortunately although the first one is true, the way most people go about doing it has the exact opposite effect to what is desired and the second belief is not true at all.

So what should you do and what shouldn't you do.

There are many different types of stretching and the two I'm going to primarily be discussing are static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching is simply holding a stretch for a period of time and dynamic stretching is where your body is moving in and out of the stretch. A simple example of a static stretch is putting your leg up on a bench and leaning forward stretching the back of your leg and a dynamic stretch would be to swing the leg forward and back.

Sretching before exercise is widely believed to be an important part of a warm up. Unfortunately static stretching does exactly the opposite.

The purpose of a warm up is to prepare the muscles and joints for the activity they are about perform. So activities that take the muscle through the range of movement it needs and that turn a muscle on, preparing it for task at hand would seem the best thing to do. Unfortunately static stretching has been shown to temporarily weaken a muscle, it takes a muscle through a greater range of movement than usual but doesn't give it the strength to control that movement.

It's kind of like increasing the power of a cars engine without increasing the power of it's brakes. Sure it can go faster but it is in real trouble when it tries to stop in a hurry.

Put simply there is no positive benefit of static stretching before exercise and many possible disadvantages.

So if we don't do static stretching , do we need to do any stretching at all or can we just go for a bit of a jog or bike ride and get straight into it?

Warming up the joints and muscles takes more than just going for a run.As mentioned before, we need to take the joints through the ranges of movement they are about to use and activate or switch on the muscles that control that movement. This applies whether you are going for a run or doing a gym workout.

If you watch professional sports teams warming up you wont see them holding static stretches but you will see them them swinging their arms and legs around, doing all kinds of movements in different directions.

Think of your body as a formula 1 car. Before the start the cars engine needs to warm up and so does the cars brakes. If they didn't warm the engine up it would not be able to take of and accelerate like it should, if they didn't warm up the brakes it wouldn't be able to control that speed when it corners.

Your warm up should consist of dynamic movements that take each joint through the range it is required to move in for the exercise it is about to perform. This dynamic movement will also activate the muscles that control this movement.

Dynamic movements that increase in range and speed as the warm up progresses are the key to getting truly warmed up for the activity you are about to do.

This can be in the shape of leg swings in different directions, skipping, hopping, jumping in different directions or any other movement relevant to the exercise about to be performed.

If you want to know how to warm up properly for your exercise or sport find a trainer that understands which way the joints and muscles move in your sport and can prescribe dynamic exercises in all three planes of movement.

The next biggest myth in the fitness industry is stretching after a workout helps prevent post exercise soreness. I'm not sure where this came from but there has been no scientific study that has ever "proved" this and many that have "proved" the opposite. (I use proved in " " because scientific studies dont often prove anything absolutely, they merely indicate a likelihood of an event occuring or not occuring in a particular sample population).

Soreness after a workout can be reduced by performing light exercise 12 to 24 hours after the session. For example going for a swim the day after a weights workout or going for a gentle walk the day after a hard run. These light activities get blood flowing to the muscles and speed up the repair time on the damaged muscles.

So if static stretching is no good for warm up, and doesn't help prevent post exercise muscular soreness is there any use for static stretching at all?

Humans are the only creature to use static stretching. Have you ever seen a cat or dog holding a stretch for 30 seconds? The expression move it or lose it comes into play here. If you move your joints and muscles through the range you want to use them on a daily basis you will remain flexible. For example if you squatted down so your bum was touching your heel every day of your life then you would always be able to do this. Do you think little old women in china or india perform stretches every day to make sure they can use a squat toilet? Of course not , merely by using a squat toilet every day of their life they have maintained the ability to squat that low. You do not need to lose flexibility as you get older, although your muscles, ligaments and fascia do lose some of their elasticity as we age if we keep our joints mobile they will maintain the range of movement.

So ideally if we take our joints through all the ranges of movement we want to use every day ( just like a cat or dog does) then there is no need for static stretching. However as we spend years sitting in chairs and slumping over desks often we need to take some more drastic action to get some flexibility back.

This is where a combination of dynamic stretching, exercise and static stretching can help. Static stretching does have some benefits , it is great for helping re-allign scar tissue after minor muscle strains and it does help with overall flexibility (although how much of this increased flexibility is carried over into actual movement is debateable).

Static stretching should preferably be done when warm as the muscles will relax into the stretch more so a great time to do this is in the evening.

So ditch the static stretching before a workout, perform some dynamic movements, do some light exercise the day after hard workouts and static stretch in the evenings when you are warm and you will increase your flexibility and reduce your risk of injury.

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Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Is your fitness program a version of Groundhog Day?

All of us have started an exercise or nutrition plan and a few weeks later found ourselves straying from path. This is usually followed by completely giving up the plan till the start of the following week or month (because we couldn't possibly start a new plan half way through the week or month). When we recommence the plan we promise ourselves that we'll try harder next time as if the only reason we didn't succeed last time was we didn't try hard enough. The result being that in a few weeks time we find ourselves back in exactly the same position, making the same mistakes and again promising to try harder next time.

Next time this happens to you try a different approach. First of all don't give up completely. The amount of people I hear say that because they had one small bit of chocolate they've decided since they've eaten something unhealthy they may as well have the whole block and start trying to be healthy again tomorrow. When you think about it that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Imagine making a speech in public and you mispronounce a few words; you can A: pause, gather yourself, go back to the sentence you were trying to say, repeat it correctly and continue or B: give up completely and tell you audience to come back next monday when you'll promise to try harder.

Option B doesn't make any sense does it yet why do we all do it when it comes to health and fitness?

There is a saying that goes "if you keep doing what you've always done you'll keep getting what you've always got". There is a lot of truth to this when applied to making changes to your body. If you keep following the same plan with the same mental strategies you will continue to get the same results.

The saying "if at first you don't succeed try and try again" doesn't mean if at first you dont succeed try exactly the same thing again and hope for a better result.

The key is to analyse your plan and determine was it something in the plan that wasn't correct or something in the application of the plan.

What's the difference?

If it's the plans fault you will have followed the plan but not got the results you wanted , if you haven't followed the plan properly then it's the application.

Once you have that figured out you either need a new plan,or you need to work on some strategies to follow the plan.

If you need a new plan see a professional, don't copy a program from a magazine or a friends program, all bodies are different and what works for one may not work for another. Your body is the most complicated thing you'll ever have anything to do with and the most important thing in your life so seek advice from an expert.

If you are not sticking to the plan then you need to decide if the plan is realistic and if it is then figure out some strategies that will help you stick it.

Usually we fail because we let a situation dictate to us what to do rather than the other way around. When you go out socially for example , no-one is forcing you to drink, no-one is forcing you to eat the chocolate cake yet we feel compelled to drink or eat when we know we shouldn't. Why? Often because of peer pressure or we feel like we are missing out.

Peer pressure doesn't just happen when you're a teenager. When your office colleagues encourage you to have a chocolate muffin saying " one muffin won't hurt you" you DO have a choice. If they get offended by you saying no then that is their problem not yours. Often they will feel offended because it makes them guilty as they know they shouldn't be having it. You never know but in saying a polite no you may even inspire them to have the courage to say no.

When you feel like your missing out on something by saying no, try looking at it in a different way. For example , instead of thinking "I don't want to say no because this chocolate muffin will taste really nice" try " I don't want this muffin now because it is not going to help me to lose weight/get fit/tone up. Feeling good about myself and being healthy is far more important than the short term pleasure of having a chocolate muffin" This may be hard intially but the more often you do it the easier it gets.

That doesn't mean you can never have a chocolate muffin but make sure you decide when you want it not the situation. Have it on Sunday arvo after you've been really good all week and deserve a small treat.

The same philosophy can be applied to going to the gym vs going to the pub and watching TV.

Another common reason we fall of the wagon is we don't plan ahead identifying possible problems and coming up with solutions in advance. For example if you look at your diary on Monday morning and realise there is a meeting on thursday evening that will probably run late and force you to miss out on your gym session then plan for it. Work out another day or time to get to the gym. Like wise when you have to go out for a meal decide beforehand what you are going to allow yourself to have. If you decide beforehand that you can have 1 glass of wine then it is much easier to stop after one than if you give yourself no boundries and take it as it comes

If your losing your motivation then go back to your goals, think through why they are important and how you will feel if you have achieved them. This should inspire you enough to make it through at least the next few days.

Whatever you do make sure you identify where you are going wrong and come up with a strategy to combat it otherwise you will find yourself another year older,still no change, still saying to yourself " this time I'm going to try harder".

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Monday, 2 March 2009

How many sit ups does it take to get a flat stomach?

Almost all of us have at some stage desired a flatter or more defined set of stomach muscles. Companies have developed hundreds of machines promising just 5 minutes a day will give you the stomach you've always wanted and we have performed hundreds of situps or crunches in our quest for the perfect stomach. Has this worked? As most of you can testify to, the answer is a resounding no.

So what is going wrong? We want a flat stomach so we do lots of exercises that work the stomach muscles and yet nothing happens. Why not?. A better understanding of how the body works will explain why this theory doesn't work in practice and what does work.

What we actually want to do is reduce the amount of body fat that covers our abdominal muscles and train our abdominal muscles to give us the shape we want in our abdominal area. All of us have a "six pack" , most of us have a layer of fat that covers it hiding it from view.

First of all lets look at reducing body fat. We know that spot reduction doesn't work i.e if we exercise one part of the body that will not influence where our body burns fat from. Our body burns fat from wherever it is genetically programmed to burn fat from. It differs for everybody and cannot be influenced by exercise. What we can influence is how many calories are burned during and after exercise. If we combine this with a good diet it will effect how much fat is burned.

How do we do this? It is very simple - the bigger the muscle group the more calories you burn. So using this knowledge you can easily see that doing a few extra sets of squats in your gym program and skipping the 100's of situps at the end is much more likely to give you a better looking set of abdominals.

Just so there's no confusion let me repeat that - if you want better looking abdominals doing squats will have a much greater effect than doing situps.

"How is doing a leg exercise possibly going to give me better abs - I dont even feel my abs when I do squats?" I hear you ask. Feeling your abs and burning calories are two very different things. When you do squats you use your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abdominals, back muscles and the biggest muscle of your body - your glutes. Every one of these muscles is much larger than your abdominals and will burn a lot more calories. Remember what you want to do is burn fat and the more calories you use the more fat you can burn.

What burns the most calories? The bigger muscles you use the more calories you burn. So exercises like squats, lunges, push ups, chin ups will use a lot more calories than crunches.

Now once we've started reducing our bodyfat levels we can give some thought to the shape of our abdominals. Many people don't realise your stomach muscles are made up of 4 different muscles and between them they bend you forwards, bend you sideways, rotate your spine and stabilise your spine. Most stomach exercises focus on the bending forwards aspect and ignore everything else. Often when doing these exercises people use their hip flexors instead of the abdominals. The net result of this is tight hip flexors, increased curve in your lower back and weaker stomach muscles giving the appearance of someone whose belly is sticking out. Not exactly what you are after I'm guessing.

I often see people doing crunches on a ball in the mistaken believe that doing them on a ball is better than doing them on the ground. Poor technique is poor technique whether you do them on the floor or on a ball. Even if you do them correctly you are still only working one small muscle to the detriment of the other abdominal muscles and burning very few calories.

So if situps or crunches aren't any good in burning body fat and aren't any good for working your abdominals should you bother doing them at all if you want a great set of abdominals?

In a word NO. They are among the most poorly performed exercise in the gym and even when done correctly give you very little benefit. There are hundreds of other exercises that will work your stomach muscles more effectively and burn more calories.

Exercises such as Prone ball rolls , standing medicine ball rotations, cable wood chops are a good start. If you dont know how to do them see an instructor who knows how to exercise all four muscles of the abdominals effectively. How will you know if they do or not? First step is ask them to name the four muscles of the stomach - if they dont say rectus abdominus, external obliques, internal obliques and transverse abdominus ask someone else. You can be fairly sure if a trainer can't name the four muscles they are going to have even less idea how to train them!

SO if you want great looking abs do lots of compound exercises that use lots of muscles, incorporate exercises that work all four abdominal muscles and eat a healthy diet. Dont do a thousand sit ups!

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Monday, 9 February 2009

How to lose fat by burning more calories in your sleep

Losing fat is without doubt the most common goal I hear as a personal trainer and although you may here about some amazing new weight loss training program keep in mind that what most people want is FAT loss not weight loss. What's the difference and why does it matter as long as you are lighter on the scales? There is a very big difference and if you want to keep the fat off it is very important to make sure you understand what the difference is.
Weight loss can come from three main sources ; fat, muscle and water. Unfortunately losing water and muscle is relatively easy. Simply dont drink or eat and hey presto you weigh less. The problem with this you cant go around in a permanent state of dehydration and expect your body to function properly and if you lose muscle you lower your metabolic rate ( your metabolism is closely related to the amount of muscle you have). If you lower your metabolic rate then you reduce the amount of calories you need each day.

In fact any time you drastically reduce your calorie content your body says to itself " we haven't got many calories coming in so lets keep our fat stores because they are a good source of energy and lets burn up our muscles to make up for the lack of calories coming in". Clearly this isn't a good option.

It gets worse though. If you stay on a very strict calorie controlled diet for a while your body keeps buring muscle until the amount of calories you need match the amount of calories you are consuming ( as you lose muscle your metabolic rate drops and youn eed less calories). As no-one can survive or maintain such a diet long term eventually you start eating more. Now you are eating more than your body requires so you weight goes back up faster than it went off in the first place. Obviously this is not a good long term fat loss plan.

The other factor to consider is we lose muscle at the rate of around 0.5% per year over the age of 30. So our metabolism is slowing anyway.

Fortunately there is a way to combat this. What you need to do is some form of exercise that stops muscle loss from age and increases your metabolic rate so your body burns more calories even when your asleep.

Many people think that cardiovascular training is the best form of exercise for fat loss. Unfortunately this is not true. Whilst it does burn calories and will help to lose weight it's not the most effective and is very time consuming.

Every good fat loss training program should include weight training and interval training. Both these forms of training will boost your metabolism from 12 to up to 48 hours after your workout as your body repairs the damage you did during your workout.Yes I did say damage. Training causes small micro tears in the muscle which the body spends energy to repair and make stronger than before.

Don't panic, weight training will not necessarily make you bigger. There are many ways to perform weight training and the body will react differently depending on the weights ,repetitions and recovery time between sets. Choosing the right repetition range and recovery period will ensure that the body doesn't bulk up. Contrary to popular opinion it is quite difficult to "bulk" up. If it was easy there wouldn't be any demand for steriods.

Females have even less of a worry about putting on muscle as a womans testosterone level is significantly lower than a males.

Weight training is also very good for maintaining bone density and decreasing your risk of lifestly diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Interval training is cardiovascular training but done at very high intesnity for short bursts. The benefit of this type of training is that because of the intensity it causes chemical changes in the muscles which takes energy to restore to normal levels so once again your metabolism is raised after the workout.

So how do you lose fat and burn more calories in your sleep? Interval training and weight training will cause damage in the muscles that needs to be repaired. Our body goes into repair mode when we sleep!

So if your not already doing some weight training and interval training and you want to lose fat then the sooner you start the sooner you will be on your way to the body you've always wanted.

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Saturday, 24 January 2009

Is a new weight loss pill the cure for obesity?

Recently in the media there has been much acclaim regarding how a new weight loss pill will solve the UK obseity epidemic. This pill works by reducing the amount of fat the body absorbs. The undigested fat is expelled from the body through bowel movements. Now I don't know about you but that sounds like a bandaid solution if ever there was one. Amazingly it is supported by the National Obesity Forum. Essentially what they are saying is forget about trying to educate the population on the benefits of healthy nutrition and exercise lets tell them they can eat whatever they want as long as they take this pill.

No mention is made of changing behaviour at all. It may reduce the body fat levels of some people but without changing their nutrition and exercise habits they will still have increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and many other associated lifetsyle diseases.

Why is it they we keep looking a a magic pill? Fifty years ago there was no obesity epidemic and there was no magic pill.Why do doctors prescribe these medications and why has the government allowed this new pill to be available without a prescription?

Much has been made of genetics, and it's effect on how much we eat and how much weight we put on. It is a fact that some people can eat whatever they want and some people look at food and they put on weight. But, genetically we have changed for thousands of years so why are we more obese now then fifty years ago? Fifty years ago health clubs weren't even around. The range of food available was far less yet obesity was uncommon. What has changed?

Fifty years ago we didn't have the range of cheap ,highly processed, fatty, sugary food that is available now and the amount of incidental exercise we do now is almost none. So if the major difference is the fact that fifty years ago we ate natural foods, meat, vegetables, fruit, bread and did a lot more incedental exercise why is so much money being spent on coming up with a miracle drug. Why isn't it being spent on nutrition education and making it easy for everyone to exercise. Yes there are some people that have been dealt a harsh hand with their genes but for the great majority if they cut out refined foods and exercised regularly you wouldn't find many people obese.

If we started taking responsibility for ourselves instead of hoping someone will come up with the easy answer to our problems that involves no effort on our behalf we wouldn't have the obesity problem we have today. A lot of this should come about from education. After all if kids aren't taught anything about health, nutrition and exercise it makes it so much more difficult for them in later years.

So, educate yourselves on what healthy nutrition is - ignore all the diet books, it has been long since proven that diets don't work and dont result in long term sustainable weight loss. Learn what healthy food is for your body, find some form of exercise you enjoy and make both of these an integral part of your lifestyle and reap the benefits.


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Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Thinking your way to a fitter, healthier you

Have you worked hard to lose weight only to find that several months later you're back to where you started from? Have you gone on a fitness kick but a year later realised you haven't done anything for 6 months and have lost any fitness gains you made?

It is a familiar scenario that replays itself year after year. Why do people try and lose weight and get fit but find it very hard to maintain it? Often people start to see some small improvements then all of a sudden they are back to where they started from. It is very frustrating and demoralising and can put people of exercise forever.
There is a way to avoid this trap. There is a way that you can not only reach your health and fitness goals but you can maintain them for the rest of your life with little effort. Sound too good to be true - read on.

To understand the concept I'm about to discuss I'd like you to consider two different people. One we'll call, Norm and the other Lance. Now Norm is your typical overweight out of shape 40 year old. He makes an effort to go to the gym twice a week each January, by march it's down to once a fortnight and by June not at all. He often skips breakfast, eats sandwiches or meat pies for lunch, choclolate bars or muffins for snack, has take out 3-4 times a week and drinks on 5-6 nights of the week usually a bottle of wine or 2-3 pints.

Lance on the other hand is also 40 but very fit and healthy. He goes to the gym 4-5 times per week most weeks, has porridge for breakfast, brings healthy lunches to work, snacks on nuts and fruit, eats out 3-4 times per week but almost allways chooses the healthiest option and stays away from takeaway places. He drinks but only 2-3 times per week and at most 2 glasses of wine.

When you compare Norm and Lance it is easy to see that they lead two very different lifestyles. Now if Norm wants to look like Lance then he is going to need to change his lifestyle to one similar to Lance's.

The biggest mistake people make is to think that they can go on a diet for 3 months exercise 3-4 time per week for three months and feel like Lance for the rest of their lives. Typically once people have lived like Lance for a while and see some results they start acting more like Norm.

The trick to avoiding this problem is simple. All you have to do is think like Lance. Let me explain.

When Lance looks at food he thinks about how healthy it is, how it will make him feel after he's eaten it, does it contain some protein, essential fats, low glycaemic carbohydrate, plenty of vegetables, does it look like it will give his body the energy it needs, will it leave a lovely fresh healthy taste on his taste buds afterwards, how much food does he need, should he eat everything on the plate or leave some etc.

Norm however thinks about food in a very different way. He thinks about what is the most convenient thing to eat and will it taste good. He ignores the bloated full feeling he gets after he's eaten, the sudden drop in energy levels that will occur in an hour or two's time and wont even consider if the meal contains the basic buidling blocks the body needs for proper function.

Now unless Norm starts thinking like Lance he is NEVER going to maintian a healthy weight. He can force himself to eat healthy food in the short term but he will be thinking about what he is "missing out on" and how hard it is to eat healthy and if he keeps on thinking like that then he will never be able to change his habits.

A good anolgy is if you want to learn a language fluently you have to start thinking in the new language, if you always translate everything back to your original language you are never going to become fluent. This is the critical difference. Lance finds it easy to eat healthy, he doesnt feel like he is missing out on anything, in fact he feels he gains an enermous amount by eating healthy compared with eating junk whereas Norm feels like he is missing out on all the fun when he is eating healthy.

The same thought process applies to exercise, Lance loves it, looks forward to it, likes the way it makes him feel, makes time for it every week, see's it as a high priority in his life, feels sluggish and lethargic when he can't exercise for a week, whereas Norm dislikes exercise, finds any excuse he can to avoid it, doesn't notice feeling sluggish if he doesnt do it becasue he feels sluggish all the time and would rather be doing anything else. You can only overide all those negative thoughts for so long before you finally cave in and start skipping the gym and eating chocolate bars again.

You need to start thinking like Lance if you want to look and feel healthy. You need to permanently change the way you think about diet and exercise to achieve long lasting results.

Once you've done this everything becomes easy, you dont feel like you are giving up things so you can be healthy. Instead you feel that because you eat healthy and exercise you gain so much. You have more energy, feel better about yourself, have higher self-esteem, reduced stress levels, feel fitter, can enjoy many physical activities like walking or kicking a football with the kids, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, decreased risk of heart disease, oesteoporsis etc etc.

So when you find yourself thinking like Norm try and turn your thoughts around to think more like Lance. It might be difficult at first because you feel yourself saying no to many things, no I can't have that bit of chocolate, no I can't have another drink, no I can't come to the pub early as I have to go to the gym. This kind of thought pattern is never productive.

Don't think about what you saying no to, instead turn your thoughts around to what your saying yes to. Yes I want to eat healthy because that makes me feel better, yes I'd like a drink of water instead of a beer now because I know I'll feel ok in the morning if I do and I'll be able to enjoy a walk with the kids and dogs. Yes I am going to the gym before I go to the pub because being fit is way more important to me than getting to the pub in time for happy hour and I always feel really good after going to the gym which is not something you can say happens every time you go the pub.

This doesn't mean you have to be angelic, but if you have a positive outlook on the healthy side of life you'll find you dont want to stray to often from what you know is healthy.

So next time you are finding it hard to say no to something you shouldn't have turn it into a yes. Think about all the benefits you'll gain by having something healthy instead. It may not be easy doing this at first but the more you do it the easier it becomes. Eventually you'll be looking at food and exercise with an entirely knew thought process and finding it easy to eat healthy and exercise.

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Sunday, 11 January 2009

Staying motivated

If you've been following the previous blogs on New Years Resolutions you will now have, not only clearly defined goals, you'll know exactly why you want them and how you'll feel when you achieve them, you also have a plan on how to achieve them. The last part is sticking to the plan. Sticking to the plan comes down to motivation. In january most of us are very motivated but that moitvation wanes as the year progresses and we start missing some of the steps we are meant to take to reach our goal. Eventually we have missed so many of the steps we decide to start again later when things aren't as busy.

Unfortunately life is always busy, something will always come up and get in the way and if we continue to buy into these excuses then we will NEVER reach our goals. If we could only maintain that inital motivation we had when we first made our goals we might have some chance of realising them.

Many people think that motivation is something you either have or don't have. People are either a motivated person or they aren't as if it's a trait that you are born with. The good news is that it is not at all like that. People who are motivated are motivated due to a number of actions they either subconsciously or consciously do. Anybody can become highly motivated and stay highly motivated by following these ten easy steps.

1. Make your goals public. Tell your friends, peers and family what it is you are trying to achieve. Write them in your diary, post them on a blog, write them down and stick them to your fridge. The more people know about it the more likely it is that you will stick to your program.

2. Place reminders of your goal in as many places that you see on a regular basis as possible. Put pictures of people running the marathon on your screen saver, or pictures of when you were 2 stone lighter. This helps keep the goal firmly embedded in the forefront of your mind and stops the day to day worries of normal life taking over and distracting you from what you really want.

3. Maintain a training diary. Record all the actions you have taken each day that will help you achieve your goal. This serves as a daily reminder of all the work you have put in so far. Sometimes it's only when you lock back to where you've come from you realise how far it is that you've come.

4. Every week write down what you need to do over the next week to achieve your goals. Review this on a daily basis so you know exactly what you need to do tomorrow.
THe end result may be weeks or months away and can seem almost insurmountable but if you focus on only what you have to do for the next week and specifically tomorrow then it doesn't seem so hard. For example a 20 mile run may seem like an impossibility as you only did five last week. But next week you only have to do 6 miles and surely if you can do five then six can't be that hard. Step by step, mile by mile, pound by pound you will make it.

5. Visualise or mentally prepare for tomorrows workouts. I never set of for a run without having a good idea how far I'm running for, how fast and where I'm going to run. Don't just write in your diary - "Go to Gym" - be specific - what are you going to do in the gym.

6. Tell people on a daily basis what you plan to do. This doesn't mean you go around bragging that you are going for a ten mile run tomorrow. Tell the people who are close to you what you intentions are - eg. I wont be home from work tomorrow till late as I'm going to they gym. By saying this outloud drastically increases the chances of it occuring because verbally it has already happened.

7. Remind yourself of why you are doing this on a daily basis.Sometimes we lose track of our inital reasons and then lose the desire to get to the gym or go for a run. Every day remind yourself why this is important to you, how are you going to feel when you achieve your goal and how will you feel if you don't. This could take the form of some visualisation or reading your diary, going over your inital goal setting stages, it doesn't matter just as long as you never lose sight of the reasons why.

8. Enjoy the process as much as the end result. A saying goes "When we are climbing a mountain don't forget to enjoy the views on the way up as they may be better than the view at the top". Don't become so focussed on the end result that you dont enjoy the little victories along the way. Things like the feeling you get when you run for a whole hour non stop for the first time, how good you feel when you someone comments on your weight loss, the feeling of working out and actually enjoying it as a workout and not as a necessary but unpleasant step to losing weight. I'm not saying we should forget about the main goal but life's too short to only focus on the end result. Enjoy every step along the way because you never know what is around the corner. For example competitors at the recent Luton marathon had their hopes dashed when a car slid and crashed on black ice on a narrow part of the marathon course. The race had to be called off. If you sole focus was the marathon you would be devestated - a whole 6-12 months wasted, may as well have gone to the pub instead of out running in freezing wet conditions every sunday morning week after week .....
Alternatively you could think about how your fitter now than you have ever been before, you have more energy than ever before, you feel a lot more self confident, had some fantastic runs through beautiful frost covered parks that normally you would never see, made some great friends from the running club, ok you didn;t run the marathon but you've proved to yourself than you can at least train for one so no reason why you can't run a marathon next year instead.

9. Take responsibility for your own actions. People who don't achieve their goals tend to blame everything and everyone but themselves as to why they didn't. Compare these two thought patterns

"I'm injured again, why do I always get injured, maybe I'm just not cut out for this"

"I'm injured again, maybe my body is trying to tell me something, I should get some profesional advice and find out why this is happening so I can continue with my training"


"I've just had to many social functions on recently, getting to the gym has been almost impossible, things will quieten down at the end of the month so I'll wait till then and then get back into it"

"I've got a really busy social calender this month so I'm going to have to say no to a few occasions and also get to the gym more on the weekend when I have more time."


"I've been going to a lot of business dinners lately so I've been drinking more than I should and not eating very well as they are all three course dinners."

"I've been going to a lot of business dinners lately so I've decided to limit myself to one glass of wine only and not to eat everything on my plate."

If you make the excuses external then there isn't anything you can do about that, if you take responsibilty for yourself then you do have control over what you do.

10. Surround yourself with people who have either already achieved the same goal as you or are currently trying to achieve it. By associating with people who have achieved success in the same field as you it gives you confidence that it can be done. If you train with people that have never done a marathon and think that only crazy people run marathons then they are not helping your state of mind. If however you join a running club in which many people have done a marathon including people who run slower than you then your belief in yourself increases substantially.

If you can follow each of these steps then the only question is when you will achieve your goal not if. Good luck. Wait I take that back because you wont need any luck following these steps, success is assured.

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