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, 24 October 2010

Functional Training does not exist

There has been an increasing amount of publicity and attention being drawn to the concept of functional training. Whilst the ideas behind this is well founded I feel it is promoting a concept that doesnt actually exist.

The idea is that certain exercises are functional and others are not. For example a bench press is non-functional whereas lying on a ball doing a press with dumbells is functional or doing a sit-up is non functional whereas holding onto a medicine ball and twisting your body from side to side is.

The problem with this is that there is no clarification of what functional is. What does functional mean? Some people may reply that functional means more real life movements - the type of movements we do in our day to day life but when did you last hold onto a weight and rapidly rotate from side to side in your day to day life?

Functional training does not exist, it is merely a label given to a group of exercises. Whether or not they are functional depends on what a persons function is.

Now hang on you might be thinking , isnt that how I promote myself? Well yes and I'm going to stop doing that from now on, the whole concept of functional training has been taken over by people who dont understand the true meaning behind the concept.

Functional Training is better defined as training for function. By that I mean using exercises that will improve a specific function. So for example if you are a tennis player and want to work on your backhand then some rotational type exercises would be of great benefit but if you were a golfer even though you still rotate as part of your swing, your arms move through a different plane and your feet are in a different position so your exercises would be different to that of a tennis player. If you need to get off the ground quickly after being tackled in a game of rugby then a situp might be beneficial, if you are recovering from back surgery a situp would be avoided.

The benefits of exercise are specific to the joint position, body position, speed of movement, weight, repetitions, rest between sets and several other variables. If these variable dont match closely the conditions of your action or sport then the benefits you gain from one exercise wont translate to the other.

For example if you want stronger legs for hiking then sitting on a leg extension machine will have very little benefit for you. When you hike you have one foot on the ground, you involve your feet, hips, spine as well as your knee whereas on a leg extension machine your feet, hips and spine have no role to play at all.

If you want to improve the way you perform a certain action or movement than make sure your exercises mimic the action.

Training for function involves assessing what every joint in your body does during a particular action then looking for any restrictions, weaknesses or compensations in any joints or muscles. These can then be addressed which leads to a more efficient means of performing that action. Strength, endurance, speed and power can now be developed to improve the ability of the body to perform that action under load.
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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Crunch your way to a weaker core

So you’ve been told you need to strengthen your core and someone has shown you or suggested to you, or you’ve read on the net or in a magazine that crunches are a good exercise to achieve this. They will strengthen your core and help your bad back, preventing further back pain and giving your a great set of stomach muscles.

It sounds great in theory , a simple exercise that will give you great looking abs and strengthen your back. Unfortunately it is completely wrong. I know what you are thinking, “every magazine, fitness article, fitness instructor and many Personal Trainers recommend crunches as a means of strengthening your core, how can they all be wrong?”

Unfortunately many of these experts use information that is severely outdated. Our knowledge of the human body is evolving at a rapid rate and those who don’t make the effort to keep up with the latest knowledge will be using outdated and often wrong information.

Remember when the experts said that marathon was too demanding an event for women to compete in (1984 was the first Womens marathon in the Olympics). Research has know shown that women can compete against the men in endurance events and in some ultramarathons the winner has been female.

Static stretching was a must do before exercise. Research has shown that you are more likely to become injured if you static stretch before exercise than if you did nothing at all. Despite this you still see people stretching before going for a run!

A while ago people did sit ups with their feet held by either a machine or person. We then discovered that this would use the hip flexor muscles more which create more shearing force in the lower back and increase back pain , not reduce it. They also worked the abdominal muscles less.

There’s just three examples of how knowledge has changed the way we approach exercise.

Those people recommending crunches to help strengthen your core and/or help your lower back don’t understand how the body really works and they are quite possibly weakening your core and making you more susceptible to injury.

Bear with me whilst I explain

What is the core?

When we talk about strengthening the core we need to understand that the core is not simply a group of abdominal muscles that work together to support your back. It is made up of all the muscles that attach to the pelvis; the abdominals, spinal muscles, pelvic floor muscles, deep hip muscles, scapula and shoulder girdle muscles. These muscles are not one big group of muscles that all activate as “the core”. They act interdependently depending on the load placed on them.

Core strength – for what?

If we want to strengthen the core the first question we need to ask is, for what? The strength gained from an exercise is specific to the movement, load and speed of the exercise.

If we struggle to sit ourselves up when we get out of bed in the morning then crunches may be a very useful exercise. But when was the last time you went to get up in the morning and found you couldn’t lift your upper body up, you tried to but could barely lift your upper body off the bed?

Typical daily activities that we could benefit from a stronger core would be walking, bending down to pick up a child or shopping bags, gardening, sweeping, walking up and down stairs, playing with children or pets and playing sport.

How many of those activities involve lying on your back and raising yourself half way up using your stomach muscles? I know what you are thinking – “ Ok you may have a point but when I do crunches I feel my abs work and I want to have good looking abs so they cant hurt can they?”

The short answer is yes doing crunches can make your core worse and if you want good looking abs there are far better ways than doing crunches.

How can crunches possibly weaken your core?

Crunches teach the rectus abdominus ( the 6-pack muscle) to work together with the external oblique’s (and to a lesser degree the internal oblique’s) to perform a partial sit up. During this exercise relatively few other muscles such as your hip muscles are involved since you are lying on your back. The more you do of them the more the brain becomes adept at contracting these muscles without any other muscles working.

Now when we actually go to perform a useful activity such as playing with our kids or playing sport where we need our abdominal muscles to co-ordinate with our hips, lower back, middle back and shoulder blade muscles the brain doesn’t know how to perform this as it is used to activating the abdominals with no other muscles working.
It would be like a musician in an orchestra who has never practised with anybody else suddenly asked to play at the Royal Albert Hall with an entire orchestra. The musician would lack the skills to co-ordinate their playing along with the other members of the orchestra. No amount of practising by themselves will ever prepare them to play in an orchestra. In fact the more they practice by themselves the more bad habits they will fall into making it harder to become adept at playing with an orchestra.

Now think of the orchestra as the human body with all its muscles, tendons and ligaments all working together to produce effective movement. If we train just a few of these muscles in a way that doesn’t teach them to integrate with the rest of the body then we are making our core WORSE.

Can crunches improve my posture?

The more you perform an exercise the more the muscles adapt. Have you ever noticed some of the big guys in the gym who walk around with their arms half bent because they have dome so much bicep work their biceps wont allow them to extend their arms fully? The same can happen with your stomach muscles. If you perform lots of crunches without balancing it up with lots of middle back extension work your posture will become more rounded , I’m guessing the hunchback look is probably not the one you are after!

What about just getting great looking abs?

Lets ignore everything I’ve just said and pretend you don’t care that doing crunches will make you more susceptible to injury , will increase the chances of back injury, worsen your posture and make you less able to integrate your core with the rest of your body. Lets say the only thing you care about is getting a six pack. Surely crunches must help that?

As you can probably guess, no. I have never met a client or person who wouldn’t have a six pack if it wasn’t covered with a layer of fat. Almost everybody could have a six pack if they managed to lower their body fat to under 10% for males and 20% for females ( approx). So if lowering body fat is the key to getting a six pack how much effect do you think lying on the ground ( or ball) performing crunches will have compared to another set of squats or push ups?

Big compound exercises that get your heart rate up and high intensity interval training is the key to a six pack.

Just an interesting aside – did you know you core works more during a squat than it does crunching?

Crunches – are they any good at all?

For most people they will weaken your core leading to more chance of back pain. If you play a sport or do an activity that involves sitting up from the ground (I cant think of any but there may be some) then crunches may be a good exercise.
SO if you want to weaken your core , waste your time, increase the chance of injury , worsen your posture then crunch away. If however you want to improve your core strength, improve your posture, become better able to handle your daily activities and have great looking abs then have a look at this Yes its targeted to runners but it will give you a much better understanding of what you should do to work your core now that you know what you shouldn’t do.

I will endeavour to write an article on some core exercises for every day activities soon.

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Sunday, 14 March 2010

Too busy to fit exercise into your lifestlye?

One of the most common excuses I hear for missing exercise sessions is lack of time.
In my ten plus years of training clients I have met only one person who genuinely didn't have time in her day to exercise.

There are two issues here , first of all how much time do you actually have to set aside for exercise and secondly finding that time.

There is good news on the first issue, studies have shown that 20-30 minutes of high intensity interval training performed 3 times per week can be as effective and sometimes more effective than one hour of exercise performed five times per week. So the excuse that you need to spend hours and hours exercising to see any results doesnt hold water.

The bad news is you still have to find time to do it.

So what is high intensity interval training?

Simply put it is a combination of short intense efforts of activity followed by periods of recovery. The key words here and INTENSE activity. The more intense the more the benefits.

A good example is 10 repeats of 1 minute hard followed by 1 min easy recovery. This could be performed on any type of cardiovascular equipment, running, running up stairs, stepping up and down a step to name a few.

This is obviously targeting your cardiovascular system. If you want to work on muscle conditioning the same principle can be applied. Simply select a number of full body exercises and do as many repetitions as you can in the allotted time period. For example you could do lunges,push ups,squats and dips. There are thousands of different full body exercises you could do and if you arent sure see a fitness professional and get them to show you.

A common way to do this is to do 20 seconds of an exercise then have 10 seconds rest and then perform another exercise for 20 seconds and then repeat this four times through. Making a total of 4 minutes.

Just this four minute period of work done at high intensity will boost your metabolism significantly for a few hours.

If you have more time choose another two exercises and repeat.

A combination of the cardiovascular intervals and the conditioning intervals will have a big impact of fitness,fat loss and toning.

How often?

How often you perform these sessions depends on what kind of results you want but as a minimum you should aim for two cardiovascular interval sessions and around 20 four minute conditioning intervals . Did I say twenty - surely he's made a typo you are thinking. Well lets look at what I've asked - two cardiovascular conditioning sessions at 20-30 minutes each and twenty four minute intervals totalling 80 minutes. Sum total of 160-180 minutes or around 3 hours per week. Thats 25 minutes per day.

Finding the time

No how many of you can honestly say that you cant find 25 minutes a day to exercise?

Surely finding time to exercise is a high priority on your day. Isn't it? No?

Isn't having a fit and healthy body that gives you the energy and capability to cope with all the things you want to do in your day important to you?

Adding five, ten fifteen good quality years to your life would be a good thing wouldn't it?

Saving thousands of pounds on your own health care would help the bank balance wouldn't it?

Being fit and active would make sure retirement so much more enjoyable wouldnt it?

Looking in the mirror and seeing a body you are happy with would do wonders for your confidence and self esteem wouldn't it?

Being fit and healthy would set a good example to your kids and help them towards a fit an healthy lifestyle wouldn't it?

Maybe not.

Maybe sleeping in an extra 20 minutes is more important.

Maybe it is better to keep eating junk and being lazy and die at 60. Old age is overrated anyway.

Maybe you aren't worried if your kids follow your inactive lifestlye and end up overweight before they even leave school

Maybe the thought of a triple bypass surgery and the horrible scar on your chest doesnt phase you much.

Maybe running out of breath after playing with your grandkids for 5 minutes is considered the norm.

Maybe having self confidence is overated, if you wear baggy clothing no-one will notice anyway ( except you of course)

Maybe you are too busy now to fit in exercise but you are getting things sorted and soon you'll have time to fit it in. Except wasnt that what you said last year?

Maybe being sick regularly isn't such a big deal. Being on tablets to control your blood pressure or blood sugar for the rest of your life is no big deal really.

Maybe I'm being blunt but you see my point.

Exercising regularly should be considered the norm not the exception.

As human beings our bodies are designed to exercise. There have been some articles and programs in the media saying we have naturally evolved to eat fatty foods and this is true. The reason for this is that it taught the body to seek food that it could store easily so when food was scarce it had reserves to fall back on. There is no scarcity of food these days. There is however a complete lack of exercise.

The solution

Performing the cardiovascular and conditioning intervals I have described above requires little equipment and can be done at home , in the park , in a gym almost anywhere.

You can even do just one four minute conditioning interval at a time, so if you only have 5 minutes to exercise you cant make excuses!

Make a promise to yourself that you'll make time to exercise and you'll stick with it forever. Yes forever. Exercise is not a short term solution , it is a long term lifestyle.

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Saturday, 6 February 2010

Is Aerobic Exercise a waste of time?

A recent report published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reports that the health benefits of aerobic exercise are determined by our genes. They found that 20% of the people in their study improved their aerobic fitness by less than 5% and that in 30% of people it had no difference on their insulin sensitivity.

The press obviously jumped on this and ran all kinds of headlines saying Aerobic exercise is a waste of time. I thought I'd do a bit of research to find out exactly what this all means.

With any study you need to look at exactly what was studied and what was measured, in this case the aerobic exercise the participants undertook was vigorous exercise for 30 minutes five times per week. Now after the study was finished 80% of people showed a significant increase in their aerobic fitness but 20% showed an improvement of less than 5%

Two things to consider here. First of all 30 minutes of vigorous exercise is one of the least effective ways to increase your fitness. Any fitness professional will tell you that doing 30 minutes as hard as you can is a particularly ineffective way to increase your fitness. Interval training has be shown to be a far more effective training method.

The other factor is how did the scientists determine if the participants had improved their fitness? In this case they measured the VO2max of each person before and after the study. It is well known that VO2max (the maximum amount of oxygen a persons body can process)has a large genetic component. It is estimated ( depending on what study you read) that you can improve your VO2max by around 10-20%. People who are already fit will find it much harder to improve as they have already used up some of their possible 10-20% improvement. Also consider that even the 20% of people who improved by less than 5% in the study they still improved and remember that VO2max can only be improved by 10-20% anyway so a 5% improvement is not to be ignored

I was unable to find the exact details of the participants in the study but one hopes that the people used had not been exercising regular before the study started otherwise they may have already improved their VO2max making more difficult to make any further improvements.

VO2max is not the be all and end all of aerobic fitness, it is still possible to increase your fitness without an increase in your VO2max by increasing the efficiency of your body when it performs that exercise.

So from a fitness point of view if you have an exercise program that in more than 80% of participants ( the other 20% improved but less than 5%) you see an improvement in aerobic fitness then I would say that actually proves aerobic exercise is not a waste of time.

To say that 20% do not receive any health benefit's at all is extremely misleading in a time when we should be encouraged to exercise , not given reason not to.

They also found that aerobic exercise did not increase insulin sensitivity in 30% of people. This is also very misleading. What they actually mean's is that if you perform 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise 30% of people will not see an increase in their insulin sensitivity.

This doesn't mean that a long walk wont improve insulin sensitivity in those people or interval training wont improve it. They only tested one method of aerobic exercise.

What it does mean is that exercise professional's should give their clients a variety of different aerobic training regimes to maximise the chances of improving aerobic fitness and insulin sensitivity. What we shouldn't be doing is promoting the idea that some people wont have any benefit from aerobic exercise and should look to medication instead!

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Saturday, 9 January 2010

Another year passes, will this year be any different?

So 2009 has finished and we set out on another year. Another year of new years resolutions that we forget about by February. Another year, which at the end of, looks very similar to the one just gone. If you had the perfect year then another year like that would be fantastic. Most of us however didn’t have a perfect year and given the chance would change a few things about it. Many of us would like to have been fitter, healthier, leaner, stronger and injury free.

The funny thing is at the start of last year thats exactly what we said we were going to do. 2009 was going to be the year we lost that weight, exercised more, stretched regularly, ate healthily and generally got ourselves to a point where we could look in the mirror and be happy with what we saw and be happy with how we felt. What happened? Why didn’t we get to that point in 2009. Actually didn’t we say that in 2008 and 2007 .... and 2006 .... !

You can see a pattern emerging can’t you.Dont let 2010 be another year that passes by to find yourself in the same condition as you were at the end of 2009.

Of course if you are fit and healthy and happy with the way your body looks and feels then congratulations. You’ve achieved something that many haven’t. You will have realised it actually wasn’t that hard once you got into the swing of it. Eating healthy and exercising regularly is something you look forward to and you find it easy to motivate yourself because you not only enjoy the benefits but you also enjoy the process.

If you are one of those people no need for you to read on. Keep up the good work and may you be an inspiration to your friends and family.

Ok so all of you still reading aren’t happy with certain aspects of your health and fitness and want to make this year the time that something actually changes, permanently, not one of those short term weight loss things where you end up putting it all back on again.

Be a Different Person

So how is this year going to be any different to last year? Well the usual approach is to tell yourself to try harder. Whilst thats admirable it is not very effective.
The secret to making big changes to your health and fitness (or any aspect of your life for that matter) is to start thinking differently. To start being a different person.

There is a saying in sport that if you want to be an elite athlete you have to think like an elite athlete and train like an elite athlete. If you want to be fit and healthy then you need to think like a fit and healthy fit person and train like a fit and healthy person.

Start thinking your way to a fitter healthier you

A fit and healthy person doesn’t think “I wish I could have that bit of chocolate cake”. They don’t make excuses why they cant get to the gym they make excuses so they can get to the gym. They don’t look at a menu and think “I really want the fish and chips but I suppose I should have the salmon” They choose the salmon because it tastes better and they feel good after they’ve eaten it instead of bloated and fat.
They place a high priority on exercise, eating healthily and getting 8 hours sleep. They aren’t afraid of saying no to people every now and then. “No I cant go out drinking on a Monday night- thats my gym night “, “No I’m sorry I cant take on that extra job as I am already very busy and if I take on anything else I’ll have to give up my exercise for this week”.

I think you get the idea. They place a very high priority eating well and exercising.
Changing the way you think is not as hard as it sounds. To start thinking like a fit and healthy person you simply have to ask yourself what a fit and healthy person would do in a particular situation? So there you are at the coffee shop and the cake selection looks very tempting, what do you do? Well ask yourself what would a fit and healthy person do in this situation? Would they pick out the best looking piece of cake and have a cappuccino with two sugars or would they skip the cake altogether, have a herbal tea and buy some nuts and seeds to snack on? Maybe they might have a skinny late and a low fat muffin every now and then but you get the idea.

The more you do this the easier it becomes until one day the thought process becomes automatic.If you want to be a new person then you have to change the way you think to that of the new person.

Make it Permanent

People who are fit and healthy see healthy eating and exercise as a permanent way of life and not a short term thing.The only way it can become a permanent way of life is if you can enjoy the process of getting fit and healthy. To many of us are so focussed on the goal we lose sight of the journey.

There’s another saying that goes something like “When you are climbing a mountain don’t forget to stop and enjoy the views on the way”. If you look at food for example, a chef enjoys the process of preparing food just as much as eating the finished product. If you talk to any elite marathoners the one thing they have in common is they all love to run. Sure it’s great to compete and win medals etc but essentially they all just love to run. How else could you motivate yourself to run over 120miles per week if you only liked racing and didn’t actually enjoy running in training.

If you hate running for example but have taken up running to lose some weight I would recommend that if after a month or two you still hate running then you should give it up and find some other way to lose weight as it is very difficult to motivate yourself to do something you hate doing for the rest of your life.

Enjoy your Exercise

Finding an exercise routine that you enjoy is the key to making permanent changes to the way you look and feel. Obviously there are some days where you are going to struggle to motivate yourself. We all have those days but if you have created a habit then it creates a momentum which is hard to resist. Even though you feel really tired you find yourself walking through the doors at the gym out of habit.

So this year teach yourself to think like someone who is already fit and healthy and find food and exercise that you enjoy and see what a difference it makes.

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