Archive for the ‘General’ Category

How to Manage Your Training when you have an Injury

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Hopefully over the past few articles I’ve dispelled a few myths about what is acceptable as an excuse for letting your physical improvements suffer. However, you may have read through them feeling smug in the knowledge that none of them apply to you. Today’s topic, on the other hand, may surprise you that I am considering it as an excuse as it involves how you manage your training when you have an injury.

As with the [intlink id=”979″ type=”post”]Too Tired Excuse[/intlink], this is not one to be taken lightly and again should be treated with care.

In fact, it is all too common to simply ‘push through’ an injury as the desire for results is so strong and a bit of pain is not going to get in the way of your new physique.

I am as guilty of this as anyone.

I’m probably better these days, but I still have times where I just push through regardless of the feedback I’m getting from my body.

However, as common as that may be amongst the dedicated trainers amongst us, for every yin there is a yang and so, for every person that wants to just push through, there will be another who uses every niggle and pain as an excuse to do nothing.

A bit of elbow pain and suddenly they can’t squat, lunge or run. A knee injury and now a seated row or bench press is out of the question.

Don’t get me wrong, this can sometimes be the case. If you are benching properly, you should be generating the force of the press through your whole body and a severe knee injury could well inhibit this. But, as I said when discussing the ‘too tired’ excuse, doing something is better than doing nothing. Maybe you look to do some floor presses, some rows or presses where you are secured by equipment or a bench. The variety of exercises is virtually limitless and most injuries can be worked around.

If your whole upper body is in traction, get some calf raises done. Spinal problems, then work on that weak grip strength.

Just do something!

You should always look to be sensible. Be safe. Injuries are best avoided.

There is a theory that, if you don’t get injured now and then, you are not working hard enough.

There is a certain element of truth in that. You should be looking to work close to your limits and the only way you are truly going to know what your limits are is by occasionally crossing them.

Remember, all forms of training carry some kind of risk. It is the weight of that risk compared to the potential reward that should determine your training choices though. And in this case you are looking for the reward of keeping some kind of progress versus the risk of further injury.

If you are sensible and methodical about your training choices, there is always a way of doing something whilst limiting any danger of further injury. Don’t be the person that has major shoulder pain and heads to the gym for some behind the neck presses followed by upright rows. In fact, on the risk v reward scale, just don’t be the person doing behind the neck presses or upright rows period! That is just looking for an injury whether you have one or not. But, if you have a shoulder injury, then you may want to work on some light mobility work for your rotator cuff and some heavy leg sessions.

Use the time you would have used on the injured area to bring up any weaknesses. Work on your flexibility, zone in on your glutes, your calves, your forearms, anything that has been causing your issues or holding you back.

Injuries are feedback to be cautious – they are not an excuse to skive!

If you are not moving forwards, you are moving back. Keep your progress moving in the right direction. Remember what you want from your training. As I have continued to say from the [intlink id=”844″ type=”post”]First Article[/intlink] of this series, always go back to your emotional motivation and go do something to move you towards that goal.

If you have missed any of the previous articles in this series you can read them here – [intlink id=”844″ type=”post”]Part 1[/intlink] –  [intlink id=”901″ type=”post”]Part 2 – The Too Much Work Excuse[/intlink] – [intlink id=”943″ type=”post”]Part 3 – The Don’t Like It Excuse [/intlink] – [intlink id=”979″ type=”post”]Part 4 – The Too Tired Excuse[/intlink]

These articles have one thing in common with the excuses – there will be another one along very shortly, so look out for it.

Until then, go make some progress and achieve something spectacular.

[intlink id=”1047″ type=”post”]Part 6… Are You Really Giving Your All?[/intlink]

Too Tired to Workout?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Over the last few articles I’ve covered some of the often quoted excuses for not fulfilling your potential in your search for a new physique.

We’ve covered using your [intlink id=”901″ type=”post”]work as an excuse[/intlink]  and we’ve looked at reasons why not doing thing because you [intlink id=”943″ type=”post”]don’t like it[/intlink] could be hindering your progress.

Today I want to explore the scenario of being “too tired to workout”

This isn’t an ‘excuse’ per say. This is something to be very mindful of. If you haven’t slept well or stress of the day has gotten the better of you and you are lethargic when you hit the gym, often pushing through regardless is the worst thing you can do.

I’m not saying you should do nothing, but just because you did 5 sets of 8 with 100kg on the bar last time, doesn’t mean you should be looking to match or beat that this time.

As a Personal Trainer, it is generally accepted that one of my responsibilities would be to push clients to their limit each time. However, that is not the case and trainers who follow that mantra for every session could be forcing their clients beyond their means.

Remember, your body reacts, grows or develops when you recover not when working out. So you are always looking to do the most work that you can optimally recover from. If you are in a depleted or fatigued state, your ability to recover is compromised, so you cannot put as much stress on your system and expect to develop. Not only that, but your form is likely to suffer making you more susceptible to injuries.

So if I’m training a client, often times my role is to rein them in and protect them from their own enthusiasm.

If their fatigue levels are particularly bad, I’ll look to change the workout entirely and do more of an activation workout to try and stimulate their CNS. Often this is enough to spark their intensity to a level allowing a phenomenal training session. Other times it will energize them enough to get through the rest of the day and promote a good night’s sleep. This, in turn, generates a much better intensity for the next session.

However, being too tired is never an excuse to do nothing. You can always do some kind of workout and as I said above, it can often lead to a great training session or, at the very least, stimulate a better workout next time.

You should remember that improvement is not about individual workouts. As I stated in the article [intlink id=”627″ type=”post”]playing the long game [/intlink] you should be looking for the cumulative effect of everything you do. So even if a day is not optimal, it is still a point on your development and should be considered as part of your overall progress rather than a day off.

So next time you think you are too tired to train, just remember, you made a commitment, you made an appointment with yourself (you should have this appointment in your diary, it is as important as any other meeting). Remember that goal you set yourself, remember why you set it, re-connect with the emotion then go get started.

Listen to your body as you go. Use your emotional connection with your result to push you to work as hard as you can, but if your focus is poor or you form is suffering, change up what you are doing. Look to use some plyometric training, some explosive work or, at the very least, go for a jog and get some oxygen flowing through your lungs. Then re-assess.

Do you feel more focused now?

If so, ramp up the level again. If not, then you can go home, prep something healthy and nutritious to eat and ensure a good night’s sleep ready to give your all the next day.

If, however, you have the same issue several days in a row, then you have a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.

Start keeping a training log along with your food diary. See if there is any correlation between eating habits and fatigue. Make a note of how much sleep you are getting each night. Make a note of how often you are working late (this goes back to the [intlink id=”901″ type=”post”]too much work excuse[/intlink] and in particular, note each time you have a ‘too tired’ day.

Remember, your health is everything. Without it, your work will suffer, your home life will suffer, your mental health will deteriorate, your relationships will suffer and you increase your risk of permanent issues.

I’ll say it again, you cannot buy your health back. Your health and wellbeing should be your priority not a luxury.

So if you need to put a stop to overtime for a few weeks, stop agreeing to nights out or maybe even stop yourself sitting up too late with the TV, Xbox or Online Poker, make a concerted effort to do so. Spend your time ensuring you are preparing healthy meals, training well and winding down for a good night’s sleep.

Make YOU your priority for a while.

Two or Three weeks should be all you need.

You may think you can’t afford the time, but really, you can’t afford not to give yourself the time.

Remember, training is a stress on the body that, through recovery, you respond and improve from. But if you fill your life with other stresses, you never recover and you are simply annihilating your nervous system. So you can train all you like, but your physique will never improve and you will not be able to undo the stresses of the day.

Stop living for other people and take some time for yourself. The world won’t stop just because you have taken a step back and long term, every aspect of your life will benefit.

So with another common excuse out of the window, hopefully you are running out and have taken the time to reflect on how they are affecting your progress. But there are many more extremely common restrictions to cover and we’ll get to a very big one next time around.

In the meantime, find a way to increase your vitality and energy levels, to increase your training focus, which will improve your recovery, health and vitality, which will increase your energy levels. And the spiral continues. Re-affirm that commitment to change and go make some improvements starting today.

And as ever, I encourage you to leave your thoughts or associated problems or excuses below. Or perhaps your own views on how to deal with them.

The more excuses we can leave behind the more we all benefit and I very much appreciate the feedback.

[intlink id=”1018″ type=”post”]Part 5…  The Injury Excuse[/intlink] 

 

 

 

Exercises and Nutrition you Simply Don’t Like.

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Last time we looked at the problem of having [intlink id=”901″ type=”post”]too much work[/intlink] and how it really is a choice and an excuse not to achieve the results you are looking for.

And although that is an extremely common excuse these days, the self sabotaging doesn’t end there. So the excuse I want to explore with today’s article is the “I just don’t like it” excuse.

If you read my previous article [intlink id=”402″ type=”post”]How Hate Can Be Turned on its Head[/intlink] you’ll already know that working with an exercise you don’t like is often one of the most beneficial things you can do. If all you ever do is workouts you enjoy or you ‘like’ then you are almost certainly hindering your progress.

Generally people don’t like doing workouts because they are not very good at them or they feel uncomfortable while doing them. The reason for this is you will be using muscles that are lagging or your range of motion is not good enough. Therefore, by not improving these areas, you are drastically limiting your potential and likely making yourself more prone to injuries through muscular imbalances.

Training can be enjoyable at times and the sense of satisfaction at the end of a tough session is hard to beat, but if workouts were easy or comfortable, everyone would do them. But if they were comfortable then they wouldn’t be challenging for your body and so you are not giving your system any reason to respond and develop.

Similarly, when it comes to diet, if something is good for you and is really going to make a difference, then just suck it up and get it down.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “I don’t like vegetables” or when you hear the veg intake it consists of only carrots or the occasional salad.

Occasionally I will recommend some kind of peri-workout nutrition in the form of a shake, or some kind of supplement if their lifestyle is making nutritional intake a problem. To then refuse to drink it due to not liking the taste is a poor excuse indeed.

Remember what you are training for. Remember how important that result is to you. Is it really such an issue to eat or drink the odd thing that doesn’t 100% agree with your pallet?

If you are not nutritionally fuelled, your workouts will suffer; your energy levels will suffer; your recovery will suffer. In short, your results will suffer.

I’m not saying all your meals have to be boring or bland. There’s no need to be forcing down chicken and broccoli for every meal. There is a world of variety available without eating garbage and if you have a bit of time, you can really make some exceptionally tasty options (I’ll be adding a few recipes in future articles). But if you are already using the ‘time is short’ excuse, don’t add another one if you have to use some kind of supplement. You can try out different flavours as you go, but if it is your only option, just get it down you. Saying you don’t like something and then chomping on a bar of chocolate, heading to McDonalds or starving yourself.

It may only feel like a ‘just this once’ moment, but these small moments can have huge effects on your results.

So always return to the emotional reason for making the change in the first place. Remember what you want to achieve and why. Think of how you will feel and what it will mean to you to achieve your new physique, to feel healthier, stronger or more vibrant. Remember those changes are for a lifetime and the thing you ‘don’t like’ will only last a few moments. Now ask yourself, which is of greater value to you? Feeling good about yourself or avoiding that one thing?

And just like your exercise choices, you may well find that, by trying foods you didn’t previously like, you may develop a taste for them long term. Then you get the results as well as a healthier pallet to go with it, so further improvements will come much easier in the future.

“I don’t like it” is a child’s response – be better than that! Be the best you can possibly be. So, until next time, when we will be covering another highly common excuse, go prep some greens to go with your next meal.

[intlink id=”979″ type=”post”]Part 4 – The Too Tired Excuse[/intlink]

Work Getting in the way of Training and Results

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

In my last article I touched on the idea that excuses and motivational issues could be the limiting factor in achieving your physique and fitness goals.

If you missed it you can read it [intlink id=”844″ type=”post”]Here…[/intlink]

Let’s have a look at one of these excuses in detail and see if we can’t find a new way of looking at the problem.

“I’ve had too much on at work” – This is probably the most commonly used excuse when it comes to non compliance with a training or eating programme. Now I don’t want to belittle work requirements. Trust me, I’ve been there, where deadlines are just piling up and the work just has to be done. Given the current economic situation, it is understandable that you may want to give your job a little extra priority, if for no other reason than to ensure you remain employed.

But if that additional effort culminates in taking so much of your time that all you are doing is working, it may be time to take a step back and re-assess your priorities.

Ask yourself – what is it you are working for?

If you are in the employ of someone else or a large company the answer is likely a little different than if you are self employed. But as most people fall into the former category, then it may be worth remembering what a job actually is. Your job will have come about as there was a task or role that is required but could not be fulfilled by the current staffing levels. However, it will only be offered if the output that employing you produces is of greater value than your agreed salary.

In other words, your output is generating additional profit for the company you work for. The harder and more efficiently you work, the more it will benefit your employer (not you). Yes you may win favour, a pay rise or a promotion by going the extra mile, but only if you are also increasing the benefits for your employer in the process.

When you are employed it will be for agreed terms – A set number of hours per day or week, within which you will be obliged to carry out specific tasks. Now if you are the type of person who spends all day procrastinating, updating your Facebook Status, Tweeting, watching YouTube videos or any other unproductive activity (obviously reading this blog excepted) and you get to the end of the day having not carried out the work load you should have been able to during the day, then any additional work hours required to catch up are your own doing and that is something you should maybe look at. But if you are working diligently day in, day out, and yet are still find yourself staying behind every night for an extra 3 or 4 hours to ensure the work gets done. That is not your problem – it’s your employer’s. They have failed to staff the workload properly and it is not your job to bail them out. In fact, by doing so, you are potentially preventing someone else being employed and the only person that really benefits is your employer.
So I repeat the question, what is it you are working for?

Most people work at least partially out of necessity.

You work to live, you do not live to work.

If, however, your workload is such that you have no time left to live your life to its fullest, then what is the point?

If you run yourself into the ground, aren’t getting enough sleep  and ruin your health, who is that going to benefit?

In the end if the result is you can’t do your job properly, your employer will just find someone to replace you. And no matter how much extra income you generated, you won’t be able to just buy back your health.

Without your health you have nothing.

And going back to your initial motivation to change – if you don’t achieve your goals or targets, that emotional kick could end up being more encompassing than motivating. You may just end up downbeat and depressed at your lack of progress and end up feeling worse.

Studies have shown that most people can only really dedicate a huge focus to one or two things at a time. That may have to be work on occasion and that is OK. Perhaps your fitness and training have to go on the back burner for a few weeks. But if you can’t find 4 or 5 hrs from a 168hr week to put towards your fitness and wellbeing, then I’d suggest there is something very wrong with your priorities.

If you are working 12hrs+ every day, I’d suggest there is no way you are giving your work 100% focus and dedication 100% of the time anyway and giving yourself and hour or so to hit the gym, go play football or head out for a run may increase your productivity far more than slogging it out for that extra hour possibly could.

Unfortunately the people who really need to be reading this will most likely be the people who have decided to ‘read it later’ and never get around to it as they have ‘too much work on’.

However, if you are currently in this trap, I’d encourage you to take a step back and re-assess your situation. Or perhaps you know someone who needs to take a step back, then please pass this article or its message on to them and do all you can to encourage them to evaluate their priorities.

As I said, I’ve been there, caught up in the work spiral. It took several years of late nights, poor diet and constant exhaustion before I was able to make the decision to change.

And do you know what happened when I did?

Nothing!

The world kept turning and the work still got done. I made a decision that I would never work late more than 1 day in a row and if the deadlines weren’t going to be achieved as a result, I would put the emphasis back on my employer to ensure additional resources were put on the job. Occasionally they wouldn’t appear at first, but I would hold my ground and leave at (or close to) my contracted time and as the deadline approached, suddenly the resources would become available.

So long as you are upfront and ensure that the situation is clear early on and you do all you can within your agreed hours, then a good employer will accommodate you.

Think of it this way – are there people in your place of work who have to leave to collect their kids from school? Would they be expected to stay behind and leave their children stranded to put a few extra hours in on a project? If you had tickets to a concert that you had booked and paid for a year in advance, would you stay behind and miss the concert? Then why should your gym appointment be any different?

Yes it might be ‘just this once’ and if that’s true, then so be it. But all too often, ‘just this once’ becomes, ‘just this week’ which then becomes a couple of weeks, then a month and before you know it all the effort you had previously put in with training and eating well has been completely undone.

Remember, you work to live, you do not live to work. Recall what you wanted to change and more importantly, why. Re-connect with that emotion. Make it stronger. Make it bigger. Make it more important than anything else. If it is really that important to you, then give it the priority it deserves.

Your health and fitness are not a luxury.

Your wellbeing is not of lesser importance than your job.

It may feel like it sometimes, but take a step back and really think about it. What are you working for? Don’t let your job control your life. Don’t let your fear of losing your job or your desire for promotion destroy your personal life, your health or your self-image.

I’m not belittling your work, it may be very important to you, but always remember, you will not be able to carry out any activity, work related or otherwise, if your body doesn’t function properly.

So not eating properly, not getting any form of exercise, lack of sleep or any combination of these things as a result of your job are simply excuses. And they are excuses borne out of fear, stress or implied obligation.

Don’t be weak, don’t be a drone, be what you need to be. Be what you want to be. Be stronger, be better, be your best self and you will reap the benefits.

In the end, the improved energy, vitality and vigour will transfer into all aspects of your life, including your work. That way, everyone benefits.

I’ll leave you with that for now and next time we’ll take a look at some more excuses that could be stopping you making the progress with your fitness and physique transformation.

Until then I encourage you to have a real think about whether you have used the ‘too much work excuse’ or are currently using it and take some time to really assess your priorities.

Hopefully you will begin to put yourself a little higher in the pecking order and you’ll feel better as a result. Stop making excuses and start being the person you want to be, not the one you feel you have to be.

[intlink id=”943″ type=”post”]Part 3…The I Don’t Like It Excuse[/intlink]

Priorities, Motivation and Excuses – Why do you Work Out and Why do you Work?

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

If you are the type of person who is looking to be Healthier, Fitter or Improve your Physique (the fact that you are on this site means I would hope that you are) then you are likely either working towards it through training – in the gym, at home or outside – or you are, at the very least, watching what you eat and trying to be a little more active. Even if you haven’t started yet, you are likely planning to make some kind of commitment to change.

If you are looking to make a difference, there was likely something that sparked that desire to change.

Change is not something that comes naturally to any of us and any forced change is usually resisted by your internal psyche, which is where the excuses are generated from that give most people licence to fail.

Your body is comfortable as it is. It likes the known, the familiar. Change is considered dangerous and is to be avoided at all costs (regardless of whether it is good for you or not). Willpower alone will never overcome this long term. You can’t just push through indefinitely. Hence why so many people join gyms with great intentions and after 3 or 4 weeks suddenly have something more important to do.

So if you have made the decision to make a change, tone up, get rid of the beer belly, build a huge chest, improve your speed or lung capacity or get a phenomenal six pack, there was likely some kind of emotional reaction that sparked that desire for change. Maybe you just saw yourself in the mirror one morning and the visual made you feel sick and the determination suddenly hit you. Perhaps you had a few people comment on the size of your gut, or some of your clothes no longer fitted. Maybe it was something more severe like a heart attack, either your own or someone close to you, which brought home how important your health actually is.

Whatever the reason – that emotional response is key to your attaining your goal.

If you are a subscriber to my newsletter you will have received 3 articles not available on this blog. One of them goes into this issue of goal setting in great detail, so I’d suggest giving it another read through. And if you haven’t signed up to the newsletter already, it would be worth your while doing so.

Keeping that motivation fresh is critical.

There is a reason why gyms are full of people who train consistently yet look no different week after week. There is also a reason why one of the most common things you’ll hear in the changing rooms of any gym is “I’ve not been in for a few weeks (or months)…” and it is a phrase that you will doubtless hear from those same people several times throughout the year.

Either something else becomes a priority, their training intensity isn’t high enough or their focus is not where it should be.

Over the next few articles I’m going to have a look at some of the most common problems, to make you both aware that they are happening as well as to suggest solutions that will hopefully help you dismiss your tired old excuses and start making some real progress.

And so you don’t reel out the excuse of not having time to read them, I’m going to divide them up into bite sized chunks and post them over the next few weeks rather than all at once. So again, if you are not signed up to my newsletter, do so now to keep informed as to their arrival dates and give yourself 10mins to have a read through.

Regardless of what you have on, if you really want to make progress, you simply don’t have the time not to read them.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this.

Have a think about what you actually want to achieve. What do you want to change about yourself and more importantly, why?

You may think you have already thought about this, but if it has been a while, take the time to review. Are your goals still the same? Is the motivation that got you started just as strong? Are there any new motivational factors you can grab on to?

Really think about this. Get right to the heart of it. Then keep a hold of that thought.

And for now, just look to keep the excuses to a minimum. Stay focused, make the most of your training time and of the nutritional input you do give yourself.

Remember, it’s OK to be yourself, just be your BEST self.

[intlink id=”901″ type=”post”]Part 2…  The Too Much Work Excuse[/intlink]
[intlink id=”943″ type=”post”]Part 3…  The I don’t Like It Excuse[/intlink]
[intlink id=”979″ type=”post”]Part 4…  The Too Tired Excuse[/intlink]
[intlink id=”1018″ type=”post”]Part 5…  The Injury Excuse[/intlink]
[intlink id=”1047″ type=”post”]Part 6…  Are You Giving Your All?[/intlink]

Gym Etiquette (or Common Sense)

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Gyms can be busy places and there are generally hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people passing through the doors every day. So whilst it might be nice to feel that you are paying to be there so you can treat the facility however you like, it’s a bit selfish not to pay respect to the other people training around you.

Try to keep some blood for the brain! – When you are pushing hard it is likely that you are not thinking straight, but consider your set only finished when the weights are back on the rack or the bar stripped and the plates put away. And put them back where you got them (assuming they were in the right place to start with).

I must spend at least an hour each day just putting the plates on the plate tree back in a usable order. It’s not a difficult thing to do. Just group the 5kg plates on the same peg, the 10kg plates together, the 15kg plates back to back, you get the idea!

It seems that every day I walk into the gym and find the plates mixed up in the most bizarre order with one peg having a 1.25kg plate, with a 10kg plate in front of it, then two 15kg plates and 3 20kgs on the outside. So if you need that 1.25kg plate, you have to remove 100kg worth to get to it. If I’m honest I’d rather the plates were just left lying on the floor somewhere as, at least I could get to the one I’m looking for quickly.

Plus, the next person in might struggle to lift 20kg and will end up injured just trying to get to that small plate at the back.

The gym I use even has signage telling you which plates go where on the side of the Smith Machine and yet every day there will be 20kg plates put on the 10kg peg.

Just 2 seconds of thought for the next person and everyone’s experience and training flow would be so much better.

If you can’t put it down, don’t pick it up

I’ll keep this simple, dropping the 50kg dumbbells on the floor at the end of your set doesn’t make you the man, it makes you a prat!

No one is impressed! All it makes people round you think is, either you are a complete moron and you are annoying them or you are not as strong as you make out to be as you can’t even control those weights back to the floor.

If you drop one now and then because you are at complete failure and have given your all, then ok. But, if you are doing it every set, you are obviously not at complete failure or you wouldn’t be lifting the same weight again for another set. So if you are dropping the weights every set then go get a lighter set and learn to finish your set by putting the weights down under control and then lifting them back to the rack where they belong.

Remember, development in the gym is about doing the maximum work that you can fully recover from. So if you are training every set to a level where you are no longer in control, you have long passed your body’s training capacity and whilst you might feel ‘pumped’ at the time, your capacity to continue to work at your maximum level will be gone and your ability to recover and grow will be greatly diminished.

Stay in control and make gains not noise!

You are not at the Olympics!

If you are using chalk to improve your grip, so long as the weight justifies it, by all means go ahead (assuming your facility allows it) but don’t splat it all over the floor and every piece of equipment you use and then fail to wipe it down when you are finished. Other people have to use this stuff after you, so leave it in the condition you found it.

Be aware of your surroundings!

When you are about to start your set, check where you are setting up. If you are moving to the middle of the floor to deadlift, make sure you are not setting up right in the line of someone who is already doing waking lunges right through that area. Watch you are not about to clean & press right in the eye-line of the person behind you who is using the mirror to check their posture and form on a new movement.

If you are resting you are not using equipment!

So often I see people come in to do ‘Strength Training’ and despite the fact they are benching an almighty 70kg!!! They do their set of 3 and then take 5 or even 10mins rest between sets. But if someone comes and asks how long they will be or if they are still using the bench etc. The answer is “yeah, I’ve got 6 more sets to go”. If you are resting for that long there is plenty of time for you to strip the bar and let someone set in with you.

Also, if you are talking on your mobile, you are not using the equipment.

On a similar note, if the gym is full, it is not the time to come in and set up a 10 station weights circuit. If your gym only has one set of each weight, your circuit with all dumbbells from 10kg to 20kg and 3 barbells with various weights is not only taking up space that could probably be used by 5 people, but it is possibly stopping several people from training altogether as you have taken every weight in their training range.

If you must do a circuit either try to use bodyweight exercises, build it to incorporate one or two pieces of equipment in a variety of ways, or do it on a day when the gym isn’t so busy.

Just because that is what you programmed for that day is no reason to mess up the training of half your fellow members.

Very recently I was training myself and 3 lads came in to use the gym. For their first ‘circuit’ they were using 16 sets of dumbbells, 4 benches, a dipping belt 3 plates and the dipping bars. Fortunately the gym wasn’t too busy at that time, but it meant the only set of dumbbells available between 7kg and 25kg were the 20kg set. Meaning that there were no options for anyone training in the 10-20kg range.

Think before you act

How you use equipment can be pretty obvious for the most part, but often times a bit of improvisation is necessary to hit the right muscle groups.

A common one for this is to do a low row using a low pulley whilst sitting on the floor and using something to wedge your feet against either a step or a set of dumbbells to give leverage and distance from the stack. However, the Reebok Step in our gym has been carved to pieces from it being put the right way up (which is wrong for this movement) and then dragging the cable across it like a saw.

I even brought in my own step with a sign on it saying it was not for general members use and came in the next day to find 2 score marks had already been added (suffice to say I now keep it at home until needed). I’ve also had a member punch the core out of my foam roller because he ‘didn’t know what it was for’.

Just because you pay a membership fee, doesn’t give you the right to destroy the equipment at will.

A little thought goes a long way.

None of these points are revolutionary and none of them should seem new or strange. It is just common courtesy. If you decided to rent out your spare room, would you expect your tenant to rearrange all your CDs & books to make them difficult to access? Would you be happy if they threw talcum powder all over your furniture and carpet and just left it for you to clean?

I do realise that if you have read this far you are probably not responsible for any of these things. But perhaps you are just as frustrated with some of them and it least it is good to know that others share your pain.

If you have any of your own pet peeves, feel free to add them below and maybe, through increased awareness, we can start to limit the number of instances that occur and make our training environments a little more pleasant, focused and efficient.

Either that or we can dig out the pitch forks and start a mob!

Playing the long game

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

It is interesting in looking at some of the search terms used when someone wants to know how to lose the pounds. One of the ones that comes up quite frequently is ‘lose weight fast’, which got me to thinking how astonishing it is that a three word search can be so wrong!

There are only three words yet every one of them is wrong.

Many of you will now be thinking, how can I know if it’s wrong or not? How can I know what the person was thinking? And the fact is, I can’t for sure, but that still doesn’t make the phrasing of that term any more right. In the end it probably is correct in that it will help find the site being looked for, but in respect of what they are looking to achieve it is wrong in every other way.

Let’s break it down:

Working from the end, we have the word ‘Fast’. This is a big deal for most people. They want results and they want them yesterday. No one wants to put in a long period of effort. They just want a magic solution that will get an instant result with little change on their part.

The problem is there is no such thing as magic and you cannot defy physics. Your body is composed the way it is and can only be changed at its pre-determined, optimal rate.

You may have heard the guideline of targeting 2 pounds of fat loss per week and there is a reason that is such a commonly quoted guide. For most people, that is the optimal rate. If you lose more than that you are likely sacrificing muscle tissue and in return you are jeopardizing  your long term success.

In very basic terms, the more muscle tissue you have (lean muscle mass) the higher your metabolism. That is a very crude way of looking at it, but the principle still stands. The higher your metabolism, the more you can eat and still lose weight. The more you can eat, the higher your metabolism (thermic effect), plus the more you can eat the more fuel there is for you, allowing you to train harder, giving you a higher calorie burn, which allows you to eat more and add more lean muscle mass. It’s an ever increasing cycle that ensures as you ‘lose the pounds’, fat is the thing that gets burned and leaves you looking toned or ‘ripped’.

If, however, you go the other route and ‘lose weight fast’ then you will drop muscle tissue, lowering your metabolic rate (again over simplification to avoid the technicalities) meaning you have to eat less to be in a calorie deficit, which lowers the thermic effect (further reduction in metabolism) and gives you less energy for exercise and daily activities, lowering your calorie expenditure. So you then have to eat even less to continue losing weight. And the cycle continues.

The problem with the latter route is, it is in no way infinite.

Eventually you would run out of calories to eat.

So in other words, a more measured approach would be optimal for burning fat, improved body composition and keeping the fat of long term.

Not only that, but there is the issue of skin. Your skin is amazingly elastic, but it can only cope with change at a fairly slow rate. If you put on weight too quickly, your skin can’t keep up and you tear the skin (stretch marks) so similarly, if you lose the pounds too quickly, your skin won’t keep up and you end up with loose skin, which is far from attractive and a long way from looking toned or ripped.

Just remind yourself how long it took you to put those pounds on in the first place and realize that it will take a good percentage of that time to take it off if you want it to stay off and to ensure it is fat you are losing, leaving you looking trim and toned, rather than ‘skinny fat’.

Looking at the second word in the phrase ‘Weight’ – Is it really weight you want to lose?

Let’s imagine we have a female who is a size 20 dress size. Regardless of the weight, if it was possible to instantly change her shape to a more toned (zero flab) shape, suddenly slimming her down to a size 8 dress, yet the weight on the scale stayed exactly the same, do you think she would be complaining that she still weighed too much?

From the feedback I’ve had from some women, the answer might still be yes. But that is more because there is something ingrained in a lot of girls as they grow up that the scale is king. The fact is, scales tell you very little due to the fact they weigh everything – Bone, water, muscle, fat etc. And it doesn’t account for how in proportion these things are.

And because muscle weighs more than fat, then a loss of muscle tone would look better on your weighed result than a loss of fat. Similarly, improving your muscle tone and losing fat could end up with you weighing the same or even more, but looking so much better.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Use it or lose it”?

As you get older your body will adapt to whatever stress and strains you give it. If that is simply the odd walk, run or sports activity, but you spend a large amount of your time sitting at a desk or in front of the TV, then your body will do what it can to make life easier for itself and as muscle tissue is quite a heavy thing to carry around, it’ll drop the muscle as fast as possible. So what can often happen is you stay the same weight as you get older, but you look worse and worse as time goes on.

Why? Because the composition making up that weight is changing. You may have dropped a few pounds of muscle but added a bunch of fat and water to make up the weight.

So if someone in their 40s turns round and says smugly “I weigh the same as I did when I was 20” so what? Do they look the same? And if not, who cares?

So for most people, when it comes to losing weight, what they actually want to do is lose fat. Weight has little to do with it.

Just one last way to think of it – If you could lose 10 pounds in 5mins would you want to?

If you answered yes, then go get a saw and chop your arm off, that’s at least 10 pounds right there. Is that really what you meant when you thought about losing 10 pounds?

So finally, let’s look at the first word in our phrase – “Lose”.

Whilst this might be the true intention (to lose weight, lose fat, lose the pounds, lose water retention etc.) it is a poor choice of words and puts the focus in entirely the wrong place. It puts your mind in a place where it is focusing on the problem. You are now thinking of, in this case, the fat and what you think about most is ultimately what you’ll go towards. A better way of looking at it is to think of what you want. You want to [intlink id=”487″ type=”post”]tone up[/intlink], you want to get ripped, you want to get lean, you want a flat stomach etc etc.

If you can focus on what you want to achieve rather than what you don’t want, the chances of you getting there is so much higher.

So as you make your plans for a new, improved, physique, think of where you want to be long term. What you actually want to achieve. And take as long as is optimal to get there. Even if you have a short term goal, like a wedding, a party or a holiday, you should never be dieting or training at the expense of your long term results. There will be another event along soon enough that will then be your focus. But if you’ve gone about things the wrong way this time, chances are you will have added even more fat than you have now and slowed your metabolism in the process, making it much harder to lose the pounds of fat you have added all over again.

Your results should be forever not just for next month. Play the long game and never have to panic about how you are going to lose the pounds you want in time for the next event ever again.

Personal Training Coaching Nutrition and Fitness Glasgow

About the Author:

[intlink id=”11″ type=”page”]Mark Tiffney[/intlink] is a certified Personal Trainer, Nutritionist, Fitness Instructor & Life Coach. (REPS Registered) with over 8 years experience in the sports, health,  fitness and exercise field.

If you are interested in having your diet evaluated or having a meal plan prepared for your body type, fat loss or muscle building goal or are looking for general help with your training of fitness goals, please contact Mark by emailing:

info@designsonyouself.com

Mark is also currently offering one to one [intlink id=”8″ type=”page”]Personal Training[/intlink] & Coaching sessions in Glasgow.

To arrange a free consultation, please call 0141 41 60 348 or email info@designsonyourself.com
(c) Dynamic Core Solutions Ltd

Merry Fitmas

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Have a fantastic Chrsitmas, hoping you get all that you wish for now and in 2011

Merry Christmas from Dynamic Core Solutions.

We hope you have a fantastic Christmas a Wonderful New Year and are relaxed and prepared for a hugely successful, life changing 2011.

Have a great one,

Mark.

What to look for when choosing a Personal Trainer

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Choosing a Personal Trainer might seem like a simple process, but make the wrong decision and you could end up spending a fortune in order to flatten that stomach, lose weight & improve your physique and the only size you drop is that of your bank balance.

Here are some tips to help you find the ideal Personal Trainer to help you achieve your specific goals:

Do you need a Personal Trainer?The simple answer is Yes.

No matter who you are, you can always improve. Whether it be your health, your physique, your stamina or your sporting ability, you can always be better. Working with the right Personal Trainer will always achieve better results than working on your own (scientifically proven). Even the world’s top athletes work with coaches. If you have something you wish to achieve, whether it be a high level sports dream or if you simply want to flatten that stomach, working with a professional will always be of benefit in getting you there.

What do you want from your Personal Trainer? – This is perhaps the most important question. Yet it is often the least explored. Most people will start by asking about fees. Whilst money is an important factor, as everyone has their own budget, there is no point in getting the wrong service for the right price. If you are hiring a Personal Trainer or Coach to work with, then you are most certainly looking for a result of some kind. Therefore you should be looking for the best coach that you can within your budget.

The national average fee for Personal Training in the UK is around £55 per session (I’ll come to the issues with that shortly) so if you find a Personal Trainer charging £20-£25 per session, you could see that as a bargin. After all a Personal Trainer is a Personal Trainer right? But what kind of a service are you likely to receive from such a trainer? Either you will be looking at someone who will be training you outdoors with little to no equipment which, despite what they will tell you, is far from optimal for 99% of the population as far as results are concerned (plus, if you are based in the UK or anywhere with a similar climate, it can be dangerous to train outdoors in the winter months – and it doesn’t make you hard to train that way, it’s just plain stupid!). Alternatively they are desperate for clients and there is probably a reason for that – they are not good enough to survive on reputation alone.

The bottom line is, to a large extent, you get what you pay for and someone charging at the bottom end of the scale will either be racking up clients back to back (at 9 or 10 per day) to cover their costs and still making a living or they are just not good enough to warrant a higher rate. Either way, your results will suffer.

So your biggest question should always be, “what do I want to achieve?” and then find the best person to help you do that. One session, one week or even just one chat with the right person will be far more beneficial than any amount of sessions with someone who is throwing generic programmes at you.

So how much should you pay for Personal Training? – It may not seem so right now, but this is the least important question. The real issue is – how much are the results worth to you? What are you willing to pay to achieve them? And I don’t mean cash here.

To obtain something new there is always a price. In this case the price is commitment. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who can’t afford to get the help they need. Though almost everyone would tell you they can’t. But if you really, genuinely want to make a change then what are you willing to sacrifice? The Friday or Saturday nights out? Your satellite TV subscription? This year’s holiday? Your crisps, biscuits, chocolates, ready meals? The weekly Domino’s Pizza order? The monthly clothes shopping spree? This list could go on but the fact is, if you really look at the money you waste each month on things that are destroying your health and figure, you probably have more money than you think.

Not only that, but, as much as you might have the motivation at the start of the process, it is all too easy to lose the momentum when the going gets tough, when work comes calling, when ‘everyone’ is going out and you have a gym session planned. If the investment was minimal, it wouldn’t mean much to miss ‘just this once’. (Most commercial gyms rely on such apathy). However, if the investment is tough on you, there is no way you will just throw it away for the sake of a moment of weakness.

Work out in advance what you can GENUINELY afford to pay, find the best person for your purposes and then work out the best way to put those things together.

Who is the right Personal Trainer for you? – Only you are going to know the answer to that and the answer is almost never ‘the first link you click on in Google’. You are going to be working with this person for a while and you will be spending a lot of time with them, so you MUST find out if you feel comfortable with them.

The first port of call is usually the web site. This can give you a strong clue. If someone can’t be bothered spending the time to create a presentable website (their image to the world) then how much of an effort do you think they put into your results? A fancy, slick website proves nothing, but a poor one can tell you everything. Also, is that website just a page asking you to contact them or is it a source of information? If the site is little more than a digital business card, then unless that person is just starting out, there is no way to know if you can feel confident with this person. Do they have any idea what they are talking about? Are the passionate about their profession? Or do they simply want you to call them and hand over your hard earned cash?

Next thing to check is, do they offer a free consultation? If not, move on! If someone is not confident enough in themselves to give up an hour or so of their time to chat to you in case you decide not to sign up with them, then they are not good enough, it’s as simple as that. Personal Training should be a passion not a job and the industry is here to help people who are passionate about making a change.

Once you get to the consultation stage, make sure you use it to ensure you are talking to the right person for your needs. You should be in a position, at the end of the conversation, to definitively say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to continuing. If it’s a no, that is entirely your prerogative. This is a big investment and you want a return on it, so you are fully entitled to walk away if this doesn’t feel like the right person for you and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to do so. On the flip side, you should be armed with sufficient queries to know at the end of the consultation if you can go ahead.

If you end the conversation with ‘I’ll think about it’ or ‘I’ll have to talk to my partner’ etc. Then you haven’t come prepared. You are procrastinating. And that is not the way to make a decision to change. Your mind will always create doubt and fear because change is unknown and the unknown could be dangerous. But if you go with the right queries and get the answers you are looking for, plus you feel comfortable with the person you are talking to, there is no reason you should feel sceptical and you should be ready to push on.

What do you ask at the consultation? – Treat it like an interview. Make sure you know what you are getting for your investment. You are investing your time and money in the hope of getting a result, what is this person going to invest in return? This shouldn’t be about time in the gym. In fact, the time in the gym, whilst important, is only one of many elements important to your success. Remember there are 168hrs in a week, unless you intend to spend most of that at the gym then you need to know that you are using the rest of your time wisely. What kind of nutritional advice will you get? Will you receive a diet analysis? Will you get meal plans tailored to your needs? Will you have contact out-with the gym to check if you are doing the right thing or for coaching if you feel you are going off the rails?

How will your progress be tracked? The only way to track body composition improvements is by measuring body fat. This should be done through the use of skinfold callipers (assuming MRI or underwater weighing is out of the question, which it most probably is) NOT – I repeat NOT through the use of an electronic body fat tester or scales. These are far from accurate and will fluctuate from hour to hour depending on your hydration levels. I’ve seen these things measure around 30% one day and the next day show 20% for the same person. That is useless when tracking progress.

How often will this be tracked. Ideally you are looking for weekly feedback (bi weekly at the most). If you are getting feedback once every 3 months (or less) that is potentially 3 months of doing the wrong thing and therefore 3 months of your time and money wasted.

Remember, weight means nothing. You can lose weight and add fat and you can gain weight and lose fat. You can weigh the same and look worse. The only way to check progress correctly is by measuring your body fat.

How will your workouts be created? Too many PTs treat every client like the next on the conveyor belt. If you are female, short and looking to lose 10lbs and tone up for your holidays, you should not be doing the same workout as a 6ft male who is 80lbs over weight and trying to stay out of hospital. These are extreme examples, but if you find you are turning up and doing the same workout as the person that just left, I’d be questioning the effort and thought that is being applied to your training.

Workouts should be generated to your specific needs. It is a common agreement in the industry that the squat is a highly effective exercise. From that, though, it is common to see PTs making every client that comes through the doors perform this complex movement, regardless of their ability to perform it. Postural issues and general mobility are critical in selecting exercises. It is all very well programming an exercise because it is ‘good’, but if it cannot be performed with good technique, you are heading towards an appointment with a chiropractor or a surgeon in the near future.

What is your guarantee? Remember that big important question of “what do you want from a personal trainer?” Well if you are going to hire someone on this basis, then that ‘something’ should be delivered. If the something you are looking for is time, then go and hire the cheapest person you can find and forget about results. Better yet, just go and find some friends. If you want a result, however, why should you pay for time alone? If you paid someone to decorate your house would you expect them to charge you by the hour or for doing the job? Why should it be different for a Personal Trainer? Remember, the time you spend in the gym with them means nothing if you don’t get a result, so don’t get hung up on 1hr sessions etc.

I have no idea where this notion that a session should last an hour (or 45mins in some cases) came from. I can only assume it is because diaries are generally divided into 15min increments. However, if a PT has every client working out for exactly an hour, then at least half of those people are not getting the correct workout. Some people will respond better to shorter workouts, others longer workouts. If you are someone who responds better to short sessions (say 35mins) would you really want to train for an extra 25mins just because that’s what other trainers do? Similarly, if you need your session to be longer (say 75mins) to get the best out of it, is it ok to cut it off at 1hr?

Let me put it another way, if you had the choice of 2 dentists to do a root canal for you. One could do the job in 3mins and the other would keep you there drilling away for an hour and a half and they both charged the same, would you book the 2nd one because you were getting better value for money? If so, the word masochist springs to mind.

The bottom line is, you are paying for a result and so long as you are following the instruction you are given, you should get that result. If not, what are you paying for? If the trainer is not willing to guarantee a full refund if you do not get into that dress, add that muscle or flatten that stomach under those conditions, then they have no confidence in their ability to achieve them, so why should you?

It’s not a magic wand Remember, no matter how good a Personal Trainer or Coach is, they can only give you the tools, you still have to commit to them. You have to have faith in what you are being asked to do at all times. If you don’t, then you should be discussing this with them to get clarification and confidence. If you don’t trust them fully, you are working with the wrong person. If you seek clarification and you don’t get it, you are with the wrong person. But it is up to you to make sure you have all the information you are looking for and then to follow it. If you skip sessions, don’t follow nutritional or lifestyle advice, lie about your diet or don’t give your full effort when training, then there is little anyone can do. A good coach will encourage you and give you confidence if you need it, but you still have to commit to the result.

If you have a target in mind, follow these guidelines and commit to the right trainer, you will be rewarded with a more positive self image, a feeling of well being as well as a feeling of elation as everyone around you starts to compliment you on how much better you look. The investment is worth it and who better to invest in than yourself? Just make sure you invest wisely.

A few final pointers:

How a Personal Trainer looks Never judge a book by its cover. Some of the best coaches in the world don’t live up to the physiques of the athletes they train. Having said that, if they don’t look like they train and aren’t willing to practice what they preach, then they are not ones to be giving out advice. That doesn’t mean if they are overweight, walk away. Again, question them. Ask why they are where they are. You might find that the 150lb guy you are talking to was 250lbs less than a year ago and is well into the journey you are looking to take. Maybe he’s had a fatal injury that has stopped him training for a year, but has been ultra toned in the past. You want someone who knows how to get YOU there. So in an industry built on physiques, you should be able to judge a coach or trainer on theirs, but only once you have all the facts.

Qualifications aren’t everything Are the people that do the best at University the best at their jobs? Sometimes, but not always. As an example, Norman Foster (the renowned, world famous Architect) got a 3rd at University. Does that make him bad at his job? I think his ‘results’ would say otherwise. The fitness industry is no exception. There are people out there who have no qualifications what so ever, and they could be the best coach for you. Qualifications are a good sign of basic competence. It means that person knows how to train you safely and with a certain amount of knowledge and understanding. But, as with getting your driver’s licence, after you have the certificate, how you act is in your hands. It is more important that the trainer is passionate about their industry and is continually seeking to improve their service, knowledge and techniques. In the end, the results do the talking.

Don’t trust everything you read When you are searching for a PT you may be impressed by the testimonials. I couldn’t believe this myself at first, but a huge number of those client testimonials are complete works of fiction. Thankfully that is not always the case, but if that is what you are basing your assessment on and all you have to go on is the trainers self generated website or flyer, you may want to investigate further. Testimonials are great to get a feel of the feedback a Personal Trainer is receiving (and it’s better to see that at least they have some than none at all) but if the feeling you get is that they were all written by the same person, you may want to proceed with caution.

Watch out for bean counters If you do sign up with a trainer, check that you are getting helpful feedback during your sessions. There are many trainers who seem to think that their job is to count the reps for you. If your motivation or feedback sounds anything along the lines of “ONE, TWO, that’s good, THREE, FOUR, lovely, keep going, FIVE, SIX…” You may want to re-assess what you are paying them for. By all means they should push you to do that ‘extra rep’ or encourage you when you get it right, but if you are being told to ‘keep going’ all the time, then either they are not correcting your form, they don’t realize your form needs correcting or you are so good you don’t need them to be there anyway (unless you have trouble counting yourself of course).

Just because it’s written down, doesn’t mean you have to do it. – It is a commonly misconception that every time you enter the gym you should be doing more than you did last time. An extra rep, heavier weights etc. And yes progress is all part of the process. But human development isn’t linear and most people do have a life outside the gym. So if you do 10 reps one day and your trainer forces you to perform 12 reps the next time you do that exercise (despite the fact you are struggling at rep 6) then they are not paying attention and are going to cause you to injure yourself at some point. There has to be accountancy for how you feel that day. Maybe you didn’t sleep too well, perhaps you had a stressful day at work or maybe you didn’t get the ideal nutritional input. Whatever the reason, positive development comes when you train your body to the highest level you can fully recover from. If you push beyond that level, you will either strain a muscle or you will not recover and either regress in your progress, or worse, get sick or even injured. You train to the maximum level you are at that day and if your trainer is pushing you beyond that, they are not doing the job you seek from them. Personal Trainers need to be adaptable and not religiously stick to their notes. Sometimes ‘winging it’ is the best way forward.

Keep these points in mind and hopefully they will help you get the most out of your investment with a Personal Trainer.

Hopefully they are of use. If you have any comments you wish to make or any pieces of advice you’d like to add, post them below. I’d be happy to hear them.

In the meantime, I wish you luck in finding that perfect Personal Trainer for your needs and I guarantee, if you find the right person you will tone those thighs, flatten that stomach, find that six pack, build those biceps, or whatever goal you have set your heart on, in no time.

What is the best way to ‘Tone Up’?

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Whether you are looking for that Toned Female Body, Athletic Male Physique, Beach Body or any other kind of shapely figure involving improved muscle tone, there are a number of cliches that often get tied to them. And some are so common they should really get their own T-shirt.

The one that I hear constantly (especially from female trainers) is

‘I don’t want to get muscular, I just want to tone up’.

It’s a phrase that get’s used so frequently yet it is one that is so badly understood. So I really wanted to write something to try and clarify the issue once and for all.

Not only that, but rather than explain this another thousand times over the coming year, I can now just point people here and save the oxygen for more productive outputs.

The first thing about the phrase above is that it is almost an Oxymoron. To define toning and try to exclude muscle is just plain wrong. The word tone generally refers to colouring or shaping something to give it a different texture or feel. In this case that something is muscle tissue and therefore must, by its very definition, refer to doing some kind of muscular alteration work (i.e. resistance training).

But I think I should back up a little.

The big first question needs to be, ‘what do people mean when they say they want to tone up?’

I think the big problem is that toning means different things to different people, as it probably should. If you were talking about adding some tone to a photo, for example, one person might think that means adding definition and sharpness, another might think that is adding deeper shadows, brightness or colouring. And in essence they would both be right.

With muscle toning though, I feel the most common image is that of sleek, slender, firm and shapely figures.

No bulk, no flab and certainly not an almost skeletal, anorexic look.

The problem is that there is a common misconception that, to achieve that look, the type of training required is low weight, high rep work and it is one that just refuses to go away.

One reason for this might be that the sensation achieved is one where the muscle being worked burns in a way that it feels like it is getting a great workout, the muscle is getting stretched and ‘toned’ but without the bulk generated by heavy lifting.

Now don’t get me wrong, lifting with any weight to a point of lactic build up and muscular fatigue is going to cause some kind of muscle strengthening. But lifting in this way is far from the most efficient or effective way to do it.

I get the feeling that what most people think they are doing here is ‘hardening’ up that area. For example, I will often see girls bicep curling with 2-3kg dumbbells (or less!!!) thinking that it is going to firm up and ‘tone’ their upper arms.

Well I’ve got news for you girls. That wobble in your upper arms is FAT, pure and simple and no amount of bicep curling or tricep extensions are going to burn that fat off. Yes, you might strengthen the muscle behind the flab a little, but until you burn off the fat, through a negative calorie balance, you are never going to see it.

It’s a bit like the quest for a 6 pack. Many people will do constant crunches, sit ups, reverse crunches, oblique crunches etc. in the hope of ‘flattening’ their tummy. Yet it is the layer of fat over the top that is stopping that 6 pack from showing and by doing all those sit ups, at best you are building up a little muscle there, which in turn pushes the fat out further, making you look worse. At worst, you are screwing up your posture by causing an imbalance in your core muscles leading to back pain and even severe injury.

But I digress.

The fact is that to tone, you need to do two things. You have to burn off any fat covering the muscle belly and you have to have a muscle there to show. How you ‘shape’ that muscle is another matter, but the fact is that being ‘toned’ is having defined muscles. Big or small they have to be visible.

In searching for a definition of toning I found this one:

“Tightening or Firming of the muscles”

And I think that is an acceptable definition for most people. But unless you can see that muscle, then it doesn’t matter how tight or firm it is, it will make very little difference.

So what is the right answer?

Well there is no ‘right’ answer. There are simply methods that have been proven to work and then differing opinions on how to apply them. Fortunately, however, there are some key elements that are generally agreed upon.

First there is the use of compound movements.

Any multi joint movement is going to utilize more energy than a single joint movement – therefore it will burn more calories.

It will allow you to move more weight – therefore it will cause a greater stimulus to your muscles.

It will utilize more muscles – therefore you can work various muscles at once, saving time in the gym and getting a greater return.

The list goes on. But the thing to take away from that is that the core part of your workouts should involve multi joint (compound) movements, such as squats, deadlifts, pressing movements (Bench Press etc) and rows. That doesn’t mean go running to your gym and start doing these next time you are there, as there are down sides.

The fact that these movements are multi-joint means there is a greater degree of complexity to the movement and as a result, risk! So before you go loading up the squat bar, make sure you know what you are doing. Speak to someone who REALLY knows what they are talking about (not someone who THINKS they do) and get these movements right.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these movements are very taxing on your nervous system and as such, require more recovery than single joint movements. As such, training with these movements every day should be avoided and even one full day of recovery may not be enough (sometimes 3 or 4 can be required or in extreme cases a full week).

But the fact remains that these are the type of exercises you want to be including in your routine as soon as possible to get the best results.

As for weights and rep ranges, these will vary wildly from person to person. Remember, we are not all designed the same, there are short people, tall people, people with short limbs, long limbs, people who are naturally strong, naturally flexible, can easily burn fat, can easily build muscle, those that struggle to burn fat, people with limitations in their range of movement, people with poor posture or muscular imbalances and then there are other genetic factors that you could be blessed or cursed by.

However, as a general rule, I would consider 15 reps to be extremely high and would advise most people to be working at 12 reps or less for the majority of their training. Personally I prefer keeping below 6 reps for most exercises of this nature as I feel it is easier to stay focused on each rep at that range, whereas going for 8 reps and above can cause a lack of concentration, especially in the middle of the set, which leads to sub-optimal performance and a higher risk of injury.

I can already hear the screams of resistance!

“Below 6 reps is strength training!”

“Lifting that heavy (as would be required for a 6 rep or less maximum lift) will cause bulking!”

Etc. Etc.

Well let me just address this quickly. For the girls worried about adding mass by lifting heavy – get over it! It is simply not going to happen. 90% of women do not have nearly enough testosterone in their system (or put another way, they have too much Estrogen) to cause bulking no matter what weight you are lifting and even if you do have a the rare tendency to bulk, it is not going to happen overnight. If adding muscle size was that easy, body builders (and most male trainers) would be taking things much easier. Adding muscle is extremely hard and happens over a period of months & years, so if things start to go a way you don’t like, then just back off a little and alter what you are doing.

Secondly, big gains will generally only occur if your diet allows it. So if you have your diet in check (which I’ll come to in a minute) there should be no question of huge muscle mass occurring as the focus of your diet should generally be to lose fat.

Lastly, this notion that below 6 reps is for strength, 6-8 is for hypertrophy and 8+ is for either endurance or toning is really getting old and far too over used. Yes there are studies showing that the rep ranges described are ‘optimal’ for the results described, but that does not mean there is something magical that happens at those levels to create that change. Again, a lot is down to diet, much is down to genetics and it also matters how those weights are lifted.

If 6-8 is the ONLY way to achieve muscle hypertrophy, then have a look at Olympic lifters. They generally train with only compound movements in the 1-3 rep range. So they should be strong, but not big right? Well show me a small power lifter!

The bottom line is, for most people, lift big and lift powerfully for the most bang for your buck and if you are still set in your ways about lifting in only the ranges described above for each associated result, then off you pop and get on with it and don’t bother me with your short range, limited view of training.

Besides there are also studies showing lifting in the higher rep ranges cause almost as much strength gains as lifting in the lower rep ranges (especially in recreational lifters).

There is much more to it that that and there is a lot of tailoring that should be looked at from person to person, but covering all the bases is far too great a topic to cover in one article. If you need help on this, then I strongly suggest you find a fitness professional, coach, personal trainer, to help you optimize your workouts. It is an investment you will get huge returns from (and if that ‘professional’ starts going on about how you ‘must’ lift in the high rep ranges for toning, find yourself a better coach).

Though, I will be covering more specifics on this topic in future posts, so just keep checking back for more information.

As for the diet – again specifics are beyond the scope of an article like this, but there are two elements that are key for most people.

To burn fat you MUST be in a calorie deficit. How that is best achieved will vary wildly from individual to individual, but this Physics and cannot be worked around. If you are not in a calorie deficit, you are not going to achieve the losses you are looking for to uncover those toned muscles.

Secondly, you must have enough fuel to achieve the workouts. You can’t run your car without petrol and you can’t run your body without fuel. So severe calorie restrictions are out, as you will end up burning more muscle tissue than fat and your workouts will suffer. Also, that restriction in calories requires you to ensure you get the correct nutrients to keep functioning properly. So lots of fibrous veggies, no low carb dieting (so Atkins is a no no) as you need carbs to give you energy. Also, no points based diets. Your diets have to be balanced. So if you are on any kind of points based diet, get off it fast!They don’t work – Period! Yes you might see short term results, but in almost 100% of cases, the weight will come back with interest and while you may get smaller, you will not be getting ‘toned’.

Again there is much more to it than this and I will go into the elements of diet in greater detail in future articles.

But what I really want you to take away from this are the following points:

  • Ladies, don’t be scared to lift heavy – you are NOT going to turn into the hulk as a result and it will help you tone.
  • Get your diet in check – your diet determines the effect that your training will have and your results depend on getting this right for YOU and your body type.
  • Use compound exercises – this doesn’t mean never use isolation exercise, but the foundation of your workouts should always involve multi joint movements.
  • Get informed advice – If you want the most out of any workout, exercise or diet you should be carrying it out correctly and in a way that suits your genetic make-up, body type, hormonal reactions and lifestyle. You can achieve that in one of two ways. Trial and error or get the information from someone who has done the research for you. Either way, make sure you work on what works for you and not what works for someone else. You are an individual, treat yourself as one.
  • And above all, take action. You now have many of the tools to go and get started, so don’t continue to procrastinate. Every day you are not moving forward is a another day you are away from achieving your targets, so go and get started!

I hope this has been of use and has clarified many of the misconceptions on toning. If you have gained anything from it or have any comments or queries on this topic, please post them below.