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.

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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