Posts Tagged ‘muscle tone’

Cee Oliver Interview

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

In the latest in our series of articles with inspirational people, please meet Cee Oliver. Previously we’ve talked to people who had their switch on moment a little later in their life, but Cee has been on this journey since she was 15. So she has over 22 years experience, is a professional figure and fitness model and a champion in her sport, so she is certainly someone worth listening to.

Cee Oliver Fitness Pro performing a single arm row

I’m Cee Oliver age 37, I hold a BSc Exercise Sport Science, PGCE (GTP) Physical Education as well as several other Health & Fitness related qualifications that spans over 16yrs.

I’m a UKBFF British Fitness Champion & NPA British Fitness Champion. I also hold several regional titles along side international placing. Started body building 5 yrs ago and I’ve not looked back.

Have you always been in great shape – or was there a point in your life that you decided you had to change things?

I’ve competed in sports since I was 15, so 22yrs later and I still look for new ventures. I hated PE at school until I was 14-15 I then knuckled down and put my heart and soul into it to become the best I could be. In my teenage years I’ve competed / played for netball, rounders, football teams as well as a stint running for a local athletics club, whilst taking part in numerous team hand sports as a teenager.

Do you think that having a healthy body has helped improve your healthy mind?

I couldn’t Imagine not training at all, it keeps my mind focused at all times.

Stress exercise helps, run down gentle exercise helps.. For me it’s the miracle cure;)

Can you tell me your thoughts on girls being scared to use weights as they think they will bulk up?

They see the typical female physique and think that lifting weights will make them bigger. That’s not the case it will help them tone up and get in fantastic shape both physically and mentally. if they want to look like that it wouldn’t happen over night and they would have to take lots of Supplements and dedicate their lives to training, very admirable but most females want to lose the hips, thighs and bums as well as flat stomach and a few more inches small steps day by day makes a massive difference and taking the 1st step is the biggest one.

Motivating so many others can be rewarding, but who do you look to for inspiration?

For me this season it has to be the amazing Oskana Grishina  the next Miss Olympia her shape is phenomenal along side my favourite like Dana Linn Bailey & Louise Rodgers.

Can you tell us more about the kind of competing you do?

I’m a trained figure and fitness British champion.

I have to perform a routine showing a range of strength movements combing in  flexibility,high energy routines and my own style it doesn’t mean you have to be a gymnast but it does mean you need to be flexible and highly energetic. Along side that I compete in the fitness symmetry round, so for my class you need to have the body and the routine it’s hard work but fantastic.

Can you remember your first completion, what did you learn from it?

My 1st company was 2008 NPA trained figure it was in Batley in UK. Trained by Ian Duckett ( Body in design)  It was the most nerve wracking thing I had ever done and the figure class was packed if I remember correctly over 11-12 in the class. Steping on stage for the 1st time in front  a big crowd in a large building was hard, but I loved the challenge and I performed well and placed 3rd I was over the moon. 5 yrs later I’m still here 😉

Can you tell us about the workshops you run to help others compete?

I’m looking to develop online workouts and 1-1 small group workshops that will help those that are new to BB making sure they know what to expect from nutrition, training and 1st step to competing or experience posing. Giving them advise thought out their journey.

What is your absolute favourite exercise/body parts to workout?

I don’t really train abs that much I guess I’m genetically gifted they stay 24/7 😉

I like training my shoulders.

What are your personal goals for 2013?

I’m competing internationally in Spain, Ukraine & Madrid this season with a top  Strength & conditioning coach within the UK – Mark Coles (M10) who will be pushing me through tough workouts to get in my best shape ever, using a range of methods I have never tried before which is fantastic.

Cee is also branching out as an actress, in her 1st movie role, a small part in an MMA movie to be announced in July 2013, Cee will be linking up with the multi title martial arts champion and successful actress  Zara phyithian. So be sure to look out for that.

Interview by Barbara Graham through our Facebook resource – Beginners Guide to Getting Ripped – Check it out for more tips and information

You can follow and find out more from Cee on her own website 

Serene Husseini Interview

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Does lifting weights make you bulky? How do you start if you it’s all new to your? What does it take to be stage ready? Continuing in our quest to find out what makes the people who inspire others through their actions be so inspirational, we are so pleased that Serene Husseini agreed to talk to us about her journey from over weight to stage ready and help answer some of the questions that stop so many people from making the changes they desire.

Serene Hussein Squatting with Big Weights

Health and fitness is my true passion and I am finally on the path I believe I was supposed to take. This is surprising to me, even now, as I was once the chubby girl who hated exercise, loved fast food and didn’t give a thought to the impact it had on my health. I began weight-training around three years ago when I met my current partner in my local gym, and with his encouragement, I began to lift weights. Now, at the age of 24, I still love weight-training like I loved the first ever session – I crave that rush of satisfaction after a workout and how energised it makes you feel. What’s even more exciting, I now own that local gym! When once my journey was uncertain and blurred, the path has become crystal clear – I know exactly what I want in life and I won’t stop until I get there. Goals will be met and aspirations will be fulfilled.

Firstly Serene, Thankyou for speaking with us. Can you tell us if you have always being interested in being in great shape, or was there a moment that felt you wanted to change/improve your health?

No, I haven’t always been in shape. I started exercising after returning home from university and realising I had gained nearly 2 stone! I had begun to dislike what I had become but even then, I wasn’t hugely motivated to exercise – I had to be pushed through classes at the gym and hated the thought of battling the treadmill. But I knew I wanted to lose weight and improve my health so stuck at it for a couple of years. The real turning point was when I started weight-training – I became an addict from the off-set and I haven’t looked back since! I loved the way it made me feel and the way my body changed as a result.

How do you keep yourself motivated when you have to deal with work, life and everything else we deal with on a daily basis?

Well I am fortunate enough to own a gym where I work full time so I rarely need to ‘find’ motivation. It’s just there, both right in front of me and within me, and working out to me is like any other daily activity like eating, drinking, sleeping. I know it’s going to happen whatever my mood so I don’t need to stress about it too much. I have no excuses!  Plus, the members are fantastic, hugely supportive and always interested in how my prep is going.

Is there anyone that you look to for inspiration, someone who offers great advice, or just has an amazing body that you aspire to be somewhat like?

Wow, that’s a difficult one. I admire lots of bikini and figure competitors including Ava Cowan, Nicole Wilkins, Ashley Horner and Felicia Romero to name a few. I feel I can identify best with Felicia in terms of physique but also because she seems to be a true girly girl like me.  However, I also love Andrea Brazier’s look! In terms of advice, I turn to my coach, IFBB pro and former Mr Olympia competitor, Eddie Abbew, IFBB pro Dennis Francis who trains at my gym, as well as a huge array of people who I communicate with through Twitter. I love my fellow tweeters!

You are a Personal trainer, can you tell me how it makes you feel when women say to you they don’t want to get bulky?

The proof is in the pudding – all I have to do is ask them if they think (as a size 8), I look masculine or too ‘bulky’ and when they reply ‘No’, I tell them that I train intensely 5 days a week, I consume my bodyweight and a half in protein daily and use extra supplements like creatine, amino acids and HMB to build as much muscle as I possibly can so their few sessions a week will not make them become big or bulky. They will only become tighter and more toned.

What would you say to someone, to try and re-educate them that this isn’t the case?

Firstly I would explain that whilst cardiovascular exercise is great for health purposes and burns a few pounds, it won’t change the shape of their body. If they want a smaller waist, pert bum, shapely legs and defined arms and shoulders then weight-training is the answer. Most women want to look feminine and curvaceous and this is where weights can help. Not only that, resistance training keeps the metabolism higher for longer and muscle burns calories at a speedy rate. Additionally, muscle is denser and takes up a smaller surface area so looks tighter and smaller on the body. Therefore, the more muscle a person has, the quicker fat is burned and the tighter and more toned they appear!

What advice would you have for someone that wants to start lifting weights but has no idea what to do?

I would advise them to find a good Personal Trainer to ensure that they learn good form and technique from the beginning as poor technique can result in serious injury. I would suggest they start out using light weights and higher repetitions practising isolation moves for each body part so that they learn to engage each muscle properly. When they feel more confident, they can then attack the bigger compound moves and increase the weight.

You recently stood on stage for the first time, can you tell me about that experience?
Yes I did my first show with only 6 months of preparation – the UKBFF qualifier and placed 2nd with an invite to the British in October 2012! I was pretty nervous backstage but as soon as I got on the stage the nerves fell away and the feeling was incredible. I just told myself this is it, I’ve worked my butt off for it so show off and I did! When I received an invite to the Championships, I couldn’t believe it and dived straight into preparation for the next show without a second thought.

What made you take on the challenge of competing?

I had been weight-training intensely for a year and a half and trialling various methods of dieting. Other gym members would ask me what sport I was training for and I also replied ‘nothing, I just like to train’. Then I started to become more familiar with female fitness competitors in magazines like Flex and mentioned in passing to Dennis Francis that maybe I could compete one day but secretly never thought I’d be ready anytime soon. In that instant, he was on the phone to Eddie Abbew and a few weeks later I was sitting with Eddie discussing preparations for competition! It all happened so quickly, I barely had time to reconsider and I’m glad I didn’t!

People will assume that because you are a PT, you would know everything to get yourself in competition shape, so can you tell us why you would choose a coach, and the importance of having that experience when you want to take your body to the next level?

While I know a lot about preparing my physique for show (you quickly get used to your body and the way it works), I cannot stress how important it is to have a coach. Firstly, Eddie knows a million times more than I do, he has worked with thousands of bodies and has probably been in every possible situation.  Secondly, towards the end of dieting, you become more tired and weak from a lack of carbohydrates and what you see in the mirror is often not a true reflection of yourself. Having an extra pair of eyes there is great as he can direct me all the way in accordance with how my physique changes. Most importantly, you need someone who is honest – as family members and loved ones can be soft for fear of hurting your feelings – and Eddie is just that! He will tell me his thoughts exactly and for that, I cannot thank him enough.  The few weeks before stage are crucial and everything must be done exactly right to bring your best to the stage.

You are in the middle of preparing for another competition this year. Can you tell me what you enjoy, or find hard about the preparation stages?

To be honest, I enjoy the dieting and prep for stage. I am sort of in prep all year round but the diet is tightened 14 weeks out. Within this time, I do have my down days when I just wish I could sit on the sofa and eat chocolate but I just keep reminding myself of how I want to look on stage and I am instantly back on track. With dieting, it’s a game of you’re in or you’re out and I choose to be 100% in – if I don’t look as good as I should up on stage, I want to be able to say ‘at least I tried my best’ – I don’t want to give myself reasons for why I wasn’t as conditioned as I could have been or as defined, so I stick to the plan exactly.

As your diet and preparation becomes more strict in the last 12 weeks leading up to an event, how do you juggle social events, eating out. Do you need to just say no?

Socialising is very difficult during the final 12 weeks. Alcohol is most certainly a no-no however I do generally have a weekly cheat meal until the final weeks so can often base any social events around these. Often I will go to events with my own tupperwares but if it is in the last 4-6 weeks, I often just avoid socialising altogether because it’s just easier.

Are your friends/family supportive at this time, or do you find yourself constantly saying no to people trying to feed you lol?

Yes and yes. I am fortunate to have an amazing family and friends who are hugely supportive of what I do and my aspirations in life. My partner is my rock – he keeps me grounded and helps me throughout contest prep and he is the one that has to deal with my mood swings close to competition! Yes I do find people constantly want to feed me, especially when I am dieting which can make it more difficult but after you have said no over and over, they understand and stop offering. Haha! I fly abroad to see my grandma post-competition so she can enjoy feeding me up!

Finally, can you tell us what your favourite exercise is, what your favourite cheat meal is, and who your favourite inspiration is?

Oooh tough question! My favourite exercise would have to be Romanian Deadlifts (Note from Mark – these are often mis-titled Stiff Leg Deadlifts, they are quite similar, but there are important differences. Have a read at THIS if you haven’t already for more on this) –  nothing hits the spot quite like it and hamstring training is brutal! My favourite cheat meal – if I want a real cheat I’d choose a burger and chips (preferably a gourmet burger place with organic beef!) but if I fancy something a little cleaner, I’d opt for peri-peri chicken or sushi. Finally, my fave inspiration would probably be Felicia Romero! I just love her whole image and I can identify with her body shape and tone. She also seems grounded, level-headed, girly and dedicated which I like!

Interviewed by Barbara Graham for our Beginners Guide to Getting Ripped page – Check it out for more information and post your own questions for Serene and she just might pop in to answer them.

You can follow Serene on Twitter as she prepares for the next UKBFF qualifier: @Serene_Husseini

Why Count Reps? – Every Rep Counts!

Monday, September 19th, 2011

If you have ever spent any time in a gym, lifted weights or even if you have only read the odd magazine or internet article, you will invariably have seen some kind of rep prescription. 3 sets of 10 reps; 5 sets of 5 reps; 2 sets of 12 reps…

But what does it mean? Why would you want to stick to those reps? Why do you need to count reps at all?

There are a couple of reasons why a set number of reps are commonly used in the creation of training programmes.

The first is to develop progression and give a target.

If you were able to lift a set weight for 10 reps last time round, perhaps you want to force out 12 this time. That’s progression, you have lifted more, so you have improved and you will force your muscles to develop. By having the number in your head you know what you have to achieve. There is a finish line in sight. So when you get to 8 reps and it starts to burn, you can tell yourself you haven’t made your target yet and force through to find the additional 4 reps.

The other reason has a more academic foundation.

There have been a number of studies carried out on the effects of different rep ranges on muscular development. Although each study used differing parameters, the general conclusions were that, lifting in the lower rep ranges (below 6 reps) is optimal for strength increase and mid range reps (8-12) were best for hypertrophy.

The higher rep ranges (12+) resulted in differing conclusions depending on the study. Strengthening of tendons; lengthening the muscle fibres; endurance within the movement etc. All these have been shown as optimal reasons for using this rep range.

So when someone is devising a programme they will generally use these rep ranges as a guide depending on their primary focus.

Both reasons are perfectly valid and can happily be used as a tool within your training regime. The problem comes when these reasons become gospel. They are the rules and there is no deviating from them.

There is no doubt that progression is important for development when training and that utilizing reps as a method of tracking your progression is a useful tool. Having that target in mind is certainly a way of ensuring you push far enough to promote progression.

What you should remember though is development is never linear. You can’t force a one or two rep progression with every workout. You may be able to for a few weeks, but eventually that progression will stop. That doesn’t mean, as is often claimed, that you have hit a plateau. More likely you have just spent the first few weeks becoming anatomically adapted to the movement, which made it look more like muscular progression. But it is often at this point that the real development starts.

In other words, constantly changing your routine whenever you appear to plateau is not as good an idea as it may appear.

Also, just because you can’t do more or even as much as you did previously, doesn’t necessarily mean you have gotten weaker. You could be just as strong, or perhaps stronger, but if you’ve had a long, stressful day or a poor night’s sleep, you can’t expect your body to perform optimally.

See this article for more on this.

Not only that, but what if you are particularly invigorated on a particular day? Setting yourself a target could be very limiting.

Say you managed 10 reps last time, so today you are going to push out 12. What if you actually had enough in the tank for 15 or 16? You start to struggle at 11 so stop at 12, after all you made your target, you have just lost the opportunity for an additional 3 or 4 reps.

So, you can see, using reps as a target is generally not the optimal way to train.

Not all reps are equal.

How you lift is crucial to the return you get. As I covered in This Article you should be looking to give your all in every rep. Either you should be lifting explosively with full contraction and constant tension on the muscle or carrying out controlled negatives enforcing your mind muscle connection etc.

Regardless of the technique you are employing, every rep requires you to give it your full, undivided attention.

If you are busy counting reps, that is just another distraction you don’t need and most likely you will start to think about how many you have left rather than making the most of the rep you are on.

It is for that reason that I generally prefer to work in the lower rep ranges.

Which brings us to reason number 2 – Different rep ranges should be used for different results.

It is issues like this that show the difference between pure science and real world application.

In a like for like situation it may well be mildly optimal for each result to be in the rep range described earlier. But regardless of your target, all rep ranges will show some kind of improvement. Low reps will cause hypertrophy and high reps will increase strength (assuming you are nutritionally set).  However, working in the low rep range will allow you to maintain focus on each and every rep.

Generally I have found that, above 6 reps, most people lose their intensity and focus and start looking to get through to the end.

You should always aim to do is as much work as you can.

Your muscle fibres will always fire in order (smallest to largest) and the way to get to the larger fibres is to apply as much force from the muscle as possible.

The most common route for doing that is to add weight. But if you remember your high school physics, weight (or mass) is only part of the equation.

Force = Mass x Acceleration

So the other factor is acceleration. If you accelerate a lighter weight faster than you would a heavy weight, you are potentially generating the same amount of force. To that end, the optimal movement would obviously be to accelerate a heavy weight fast.

If your target is hypertrophy, the convention might be to do 3 sets of 10, but what if you did 10 sets of 3? What if you just kept the rest periods short and gave your full focus to every one of the 3 reps? You would be able to use a heavier weight, but you’d still do the same number of reps. The volume would be greater and you would have lifted with greater intensity. And if you are lifting at that low rep range, you don’t need to count. 3 is easy to track. And if you only do 2 or you do 4, so what?

Just keep your focus on the individual reps, not the number.

If, on the other hand, your training requires you to be working in the higher rep ranges (8-12), you still don’t need to count. If you end up doing 15 or more, you will be very aware that the set has gone on too long and you need a heavier weight. If you only managed 5, you will know it wasn’t enough without counting the reps out and that your weight is too heavy.

Just focus on each individual rep, make every rep count and continue to push until you have truly failed (assuming maximum reps were the purpose of the exercise).

That way, you are more likely to be focused on your form, your technique, your contractions, your range of motion and you will be getting much more in return from your workout. If you have given up time out of your day to go and make improvements, then why waste reps?

Stop getting hung up on numbers. Yes it’s good to see progression, but if you are giving your all at all times, the progression will come. Feel free to test yourself every few months, but don’t get caught up on bean counting.

Numbers are meaningless for most people. You want your body to look good, you want to feel good, you want to improve, so make the most of every element and don’t get distracted by reps, weight or time. They are simply distractions and you have enough to focus on.

Make the most of your workouts. Stop counting reps and make EVERY rep count!

Are you really giving your all?

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Until now I’ve mainly been looking at excuses that are likely to be holding many people back in their pursuit of an improved physicality and fitness levels. Obviously as a reader of this blog, you are probably not someone who is greatly hampered by such things, but it never hurts to instil the odd reminder now and again.

Today I want to discuss something else that has probably affected all of us at some point.

It’s not so much an excuse, but it is something that is limiting more people in their progress than you might think. In fact it is something I see hour after hour, day in day out. If there is a group of people training, chances are this is affecting at least one of them.

The question is – Are you giving your All at All times?

Just turning up to the gym and going through the motions is not enough to make progress.

If you are one of those people that head for the recumbent bike with a book, have a read while you spin the pedals around, then step off without a hair out of place and think that was a worthwhile 30mins or whatever, then I can assure you, your results are a long way off.

In fact, if that is you, then either make a decision to change right now, or stop reading right here and don’t come back to this site until you are willing to put in some kind of effort.

Similarly, when you hit the weights room, regardless of what you are lifting for, whether it be hypertrophy, strength, fat loss or toning, how you lift is as important, if not more important, than what you lift.

The people that make real progress are the ones who put their all into every rep of every set. If the target of the set is failure, then push to failure, not just until it gets uncomfortable. If the aim is to recruit as many muscle fibres as possible, then you are looking to lift, not just heavy, but with acceleration. Accelerating a heavy weight is the optimal route to accessing your deep threshold motor units, ensuring the largest stimulus for your muscles. If the target is speed, then push to the end, push through the wall and force your body to adapt.

In other words, just making the movement pattern is not enough.

Yes, it is important to learn correct form. It is necessary to spend some time developing your mind muscle connection. It is a good idea to work on bringing up weaknesses. But, regardless of the type of workout you are doing, it is of critical importance that you make the most of it.

Why waste reps?

Now I’m not a big advocate of HIT training, but there is one thing that you can learn from that method. Make every lift, every movement and every set as important as it would be if you only had one chance to make it work. With HIT training you perform one set for each muscle group. One set and one set alone.

Let’s assume you are looking for some major chest development. Imagine each week you only had one set of 5 reps of bench pressing in which to achieve that. 5 reps and that’s it until next week. You would be much more focused, you’d ensure you kept your chest muscles activated throughout the movement on every rep, you’d accelerate the bar with everything you had, you’d squeeze every rep for all it was worth, you’d ensure a full range of motion and you’d do it all with the heaviest weight you could manage.

After all, you’ve only got one shot at this and that has to be enough to make your chest grow.

HIT or no HIT, this is the sort of focus you should be applying to every rep of every set, regardless of the number of sets.

2 people can do the same workout and get massively different results. You could put that down to genetic makeup. But the fact is the person who puts their all into every rep will always outshine the person who just goes through the motions.

Always be in control.

When you are lifting weights, you control the bar, don’t let the bar control you. You lower it and you ‘command’ it back up. That is a very different process than letting it drop under gravity and then trying to grind it back up (before resting at the lockout position for 5 seconds).

If you are doing something a bit more cardiovascular, be in control of your breathing and your form. Remain focused and keep your posture. Then, even though your breaths may shorten and your heart rate quicken, you can control it back down again at a comfortable pace. Don’t bend over double gasping for air. It’s your body, you control it.

“What about overtraining?”

In my experience the attempt to avoid overtraining is, in itself, the most overdone thing in a gym. I am so sick of hearing the ‘overtraining’ excuse.

It is incredibly hard to reach a level of overtraining. I’m not talking about a bit of fatigue because you pushed heavy on a few workouts despite not having enough sleep I’ve already covered how to deal with that or getting ill from training heavy and hard on a poor diet. That’s a nutritional issue. True overtraining takes weeks to recover from and would require a level of training that most regular people could never find the time to achieve.

I’ve actually seen people stop their workout because the clock told them they had been training for an hour and they didn’t want to go one minute over. I’ve heard others talk of the mythical 45min maximum session time.

It’s all garbage and nothing more than an excuse to stop or simply a lack of proper information.

Think about it – When does the 45mins start? When you hit the gym floor? When you enter the gym? When you lift your first weight? What if you lifted something heavy just before you came to the gym (maybe you had to move a couch) does that mean you better get to the gym quick as your 45mins have started? Of course not!

Train to the maximum level that you can optimally recover from.

Some days that could be 20mins other days it could be 5hrs. There are no set rules and relying on a clock is just finding another constraint to hold you back.

If someone is there to spot you, that doesn’t give you licence to give up.

If you are doing an exercise and you get to a rep that is a real push. It’s probably going to be your final rep, you know you have nothing more to give – in fact you’re not sure you are even going to make this one. Just because you’ve got someone standing over you is not a reason to just relax every muscle safe in the knowledge there is someone there to help you up with the bar.

Your spotter is not there to lift the bar for you, their purpose is to give you as little assistance as possible whilst keeping you safe. Don’t make them have to upright row the bar back onto its hooks because you didn’t have the determination to push out that final rep.

If you are doing 50 meter sprints, don’t just stop and walk at 40 meters because it’s your 6th set, your lungs are heaving & your legs feel like jelly. You lift your chin and you push as hard as you can, it might be slower than a sprint, you may be barely moving, but you set yourself a distance of 50 meters, so that is what you push for. Giving your all right to the line.

I have to return again to the reason you are training at all. The result you are looking to achieve. The physique you so desperately crave. Remind yourself of the reason you are doing this, see it in your head, reconnect with the emotion and use it to push you in every aspect of your training.

The same goes for your diet. Use the emotion to help you decide what to eat or drink. Are your cravings stronger than that emotion? Or are you simply ‘giving in’ because it’s easier at that moment?

You want a result, you have made a commitment to do something about it, you have set aside time to train for that result, so why would you then give sub-optimal effort levels?

If you are already using the excuse that you don’t have time, then why, when you give yourself some time, would you waste a second of it? Why would you want to take 5min rest periods just because the exercise it tough and you are putting off your next set? Why would you do sub optimal reps? Why would you eat ‘convenience foods’ when it is going to put you back several days? (not very convenient if you ask me).

Change is difficult. Your body is comfortable as it is (even if that comfort is safe in the knowledge that your health is in danger) it doesn’t want to change. If you force it, it will resist and suddenly all excuses seem logical. At that point, your willpower will lose, logic will go out the window until it becomes hindsight and then it becomes clear.

But it’s too late by then!

So, if you have fallen into any of the traps I’ve described, now you can be mindful of them. Realize what you are doing, take a step back, think about what you want to achieve and more importantly, why? Reconnect with that emotion and use that to overcome your excuses.

Never again should you be making Work, Not Liking Something, Fatigue, Injuries or Lack Of Intensity a reason for not progressing.

Stop making plans to fail and start planning a route to success.

Your results, your goals, your physique, your health and wellbeing are all in your hands. Take hold of your destiny and leave the excuses behind you. Now go and make the greatest improvements you’ve ever made – No excuses!

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 work as an excuse  and we’ve looked at reasons why not doing thing because you don’t like it 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 playing the long game 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 too much work excuse 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.

Part 5…  The Injury Excuse 




Exercises and Nutrition you Simply Don’t Like.

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Last time we looked at the problem of having too much work 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 How Hate Can Be Turned on its Head 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.

Part 4 – The Too Tired Excuse

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 tone up, 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:

Mark Tiffney 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:

Mark is also currently offering one to one Personal Training & Coaching sessions in Glasgow.

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

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.

So what is a ‘Fat Burning Zone’?

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

I was recently presented with a question on the ‘Fat Burning Zone’ as part of a forum discussion and my response ended up being an article in itself, so I thought I’d post it here in case someone else finds it useful.

The tone is a little rambling and it may not be all that structured, but I was just letting go, because it’s one of those ‘trueisms’ that just keep appearing again and again and one I thought there was more common knowledge about these days.

The original post read:

“I have been fat burning for 2 months now and seem to be wondering sometimes if I am wasting alot of time for nothing. I have lost about 1 st in this time from 18.7 down to 17.7stone, and need to get to 15 stone. I was in a bad accident 1 yr ago and when I came out of hospital with my shoulder and leg in casts I continued on my normal diet of pasta ect and not taking into account the amount of cal’s I am not using compared to what I did before my accident and this made me put on at least 2 1/2 stone over the year. I knew I shouldnt be eating as much but it was so hard not to due to the bordem .

The problem I have is 2 of my friends have gave me conflicting info and both of them are fitness instructors. I am 28 and 1 of my friends says I should be doing 60% of my max H/R for 1 hr a day which is about 115-116 beats per min…… well i now do 1hr 45 a day at this rate and I do feel the difference….. AND…

My other friend says i should be working at around 135-140 for 1hr for the best fat burning


I know how the fat burn process works ect, like you only burn sugar for the 1st 20 mins then u burn fat but I dont know what H/R’s to stick to”

My Response read:

“I’m going to try to answer this, but talk of a ‘Fat Burning Zone’ really drives me crazy because it adds confusion where there should be none (as you have clearly found out).

First of all, there is no magical heart rate where you suddenly start burning fat. You are always burning fat and carbohydrates (or glycogen) in every activity. What shifts is the balance between the two (or the focus). The slower and more laid back the pace, the more your body uses fat as its primary fuel source. As the intensity of your activity increases your energy source switches from Aerobic to Anaerobic and the fuel source becomes primarily carbohydrates (I’ll stick with that term as it is the macronutrient you consume and so will recognize it more freely – I don’t want to over confuse with the actual internal process).

However, even when carbs become the primary fuel source, your body will still be burning fat, just a much higher percentage of carbs.

The so called ‘fat burning zone’ is the zone that you work at where you are burning the most calories before reaching the point where this change in emphasis occurs (and it’s usually – though not always – around 60-70% of your Max HR).

There are several problems with that though:

1) The max HR calculation of 220-age is a huge generalization. Even the person who came up with it has since been quoted as saying it was just a theory and he didn’t expect people to take it so literally. That calculation can be vastly off. First off, women can usually get the heart rate higher than men during exercise (if at the same level of fitness).

Also, someone who is physically fit can raise their heart rate much higher during exercise (safely) than someone who is new to physical fitness. Therefore, if you are going to aim for this magical zone it would probably be best to use PRE (Perceived Rate of Exertion) as your guide [on a scale of 1-10 (10 being flat out) how hard are you working?] and you would aim for around 6-7/10 which is slightly out of breath but still able to hold a conversation without the sentences getting broken up.

2) Is burning fat during exercise the best solution? – Have a think about this. Your body will react to the demands you place on it. So, for example, if you lift weights, what you are actually doing is breaking down muscle. Your body then reacts by building that muscle back stronger than before in order to cope with that demand.

If you burn fat, therefore, what does your body do?

It tries to cover that demand for the future by trying to store more fat. Now if you keep pushing for longer each time and continue to train, that may not be a problem. But you can’t increase your output indefinitely. There are only so many hours in the day. And when you stop increasing your output level your body’s improved fat storing ability will catch up with you. And if you were to stop altogether, you would probably end up putting on more fat than you had to begin with. Therefore, if fat burning is your goal (as apposed to endurance running) then wouldn’t you be better teaching your body to store the nutrients you want it to and to let it realize the one thing it can do without is fat?

As a comparison – Imagine the physiques of an Olympic 100m sprinter and compare to that of a marathon runner. Which would you prefer to achieve?

Most people go for the sprinter, because they look more ‘toned’. That is because, whilst long distance runners are ‘skinny’ they still generally have quite a high body fat content and what they have lost is actually muscle tissue. The reason is that is what makes them more efficient long distance runners. (muscle weighs more than fat, fat is easier to carry around and is an acceptable fuel source, so that’s what is sticks with).

3) Calorie Balance – When it comes down to it, the only thing that matters when burning fat is the calorie balance. If you are burning more calories than you are consuming you will lose weight (and fat) if you are consuming more than you burn you will not (and may add weight). Therefore, the more calories you burn the better. Now, if you were to go out and go for a nice gentle stroll for half an hour the percentage of fat burned over carbs would be huge. The ratio is greatly in favor of fat burning at that level. If, however, you were to go and bust a gut sprinting for half an hour you would be burning more carbs than fat.

Does that mean you are more likely to burn more fat walking than sprinting for the same period? Absolutely not! In fact, even though you are burning more carbs than fat whilst sprinting, you are still burning more fat than you would be walking, you are just burning WAY more carbs. But over all, what you are doing is burning vastly more calories and that is what will help you achieve that deficit.

My last point is going to be about weight though – you say that you have lost 1stone and NEED to get to 15stone. Why? What is so magical about 15st?

Are you competing in a boxing competition?
Are you a jockey?
Are you doing some kind of activity that has a weight restriction?

If yes, then your comment is perfectly valid. However, if it is because you were 15st in the past when you looked good, that is not a valid reason. If you stuck your arm in a tractor’s wheel and ripped it off you would probably lose the weight you wanted to, but I’m guessing that’s not the look you are going for (But then maybe I’m just out of touch with the ‘in look’ these days).

However, if you were to add a little muscle (say 5lbs) and drop another 15lbs of pure fat, I think you’d find you’d look a lot better than you wanted to. But you will only have lost 10lbs more. The thing is, weight is not the issue – the amount of fat on your body is (remember, muscle weighs more than fat). I refer you back to the 100m sprinter and the marathon runner physiques. The marathon runner will weigh much less than the sprinter, but which physique looks healthier and more ‘toned’?

So in summing this up, my suggestion is to forget about fat burning zones.

When you go to train, with whatever you are doing, do it with an intensity befitting the results you want. If you are looking to burn fat and you have 40mins available, then work at an intensity that is befitting 40mins of HARD WORK. Push yourself and don’t leave anything in the gym (or on the track). If you have 20mins work even harder to squeeze the most out of your session. If, on the other hand, your goal is to run the London marathon, then train for endurance, forget the scales and just work on your technique and progression.

If you train hard and your diet is right you will get the results. At the end of it all, results are all that matters. Find what works for YOU and do that, even if it goes entirely against what the ‘science’ says ‘should’ work.

I hope that is of some use to you.

Rant ends.”

Hopefully that clears up a few issues and maybe clarifies some of the confusion regarding the subject and will allow for a more informed choice when it comes to your training regime.

Thanks, as always, for taking the time out to read my ramblings and I truly hope you are finding them useful.


Mark Tiffney is a certified Personal Trainer, Nutritionist, Fitness Instructor & Life Coach. (REPS Registered)

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:


Mark is also currently offering one to one Personal Training & Coaching sessions in Glasgow.
To arrange a free consultation, please call
0141 41 60 348 or email
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