Posts Tagged ‘personal trainer’

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

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.

How hate can be turned on its head

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Don’t be distracted by the title. If you clicked here thinking this might be about relationships or something similar then I’m sorry to disappoint. That said, I’m sure some of the things I’m going to mention might be applicable there as well.

When I sat down to write something it had been such a while since my last post (sorry about that if you’ve been waiting for something new – just been busy busy) that I had so many topics running through my head and so many notes and bits of information put aside for you that I didn’t know where to start. So I thought maybe a simple way to get something down was just to post a recent workout of mine that I thought worked well.

Then it hit me! In doing that I could give a very important piece of advice at the same time and a lesson I think is extremely important when it comes to training, fitness and getting to the results you are looking for.

So I’m going to do as I set out to do and give you a breakdown of one of my recent workouts that I feel worked fantastically well.

It’s a leg day workout and it involves Front Squats. However that is really neither here nor there. What I want you to know is that 3 or 4 months ago I hated front squats, so much so that the very idea of trying them made me cringe.

Now, regardless of the exercise, that probably rings true with you on some level. Am I right? At some point in your quest for health, fitness, leanness, a toned stomach or buns of steel, there has bound to have been a workout you dreaded, couldn’t be bothered with or thought was ‘too hard’. Or, at the very least, an exercise that you never put in your programme because you just don’t like it.

You may well have justified its absence to yourself (and no doubt others) in a way that makes you feel good about skipping it altogether, but in your heart of hearts you know that is the exercise, workout, class or activity you should really be doing.

You didn’t go running because “It’s bad for your knees” and you really needed to stay at home and do 10mins of abdominal exercises, when in reality it was raining and you didn’t feel like getting wet.

You don’t do squats when you are at the gym because “It’s bad for your back” when actually you’re just not adept at squatting and don’t want to embarrass yourself when the young girl in the size 6 leotard comes over and squats the same weight as you.

You don’t want to lift heavy weights because “you don’t want to get all bulky” when actually you just can’t lift anything heavier than a bag of sugar for more than 4 reps.

You can add your own in, but rest assured, at some point in your life (some more than others) you have done this.

With me it was front squats.

A few years back I had been back squatting around 160kg for 6+ Reps for a few weeks as part of my leg day and thought it was time to mix things up a little. I knew how good front squats were and that the guys that did them swore by them and I thought now was a good time to give it a try. I had read somewhere that a front squat weight would on average be around 70% of your back squat weight (which would be around 112kg) but despite the fact this was my first attempt, there were other people in the gym. I didn’t want them to see me with that on the bar. So 120kg was the weight I selected.

Needless to say I got about one decent rep out before the bar started rolling away from me.

BTW if you don’t know what a front squat is, you are essentially holding the bar across the front of your shoulders rather than behind the neck with your elbows high in order to stop the bar rolling forward. There are 2 common grips for this, the power lifting grip (which has your hands gripping under the bar at just beyond shoulder width with your elbows straight out in front as high as possible) or a bodybuilding grip (where your hands cross to hold the bar from the front, again lifting your elbows high). I tried both that day, but my grip of choice now is always the latter.

So I ‘humbly’ dropped the weight to 100kg and tried again. I think by this point I had two foam collars on the bar and a towel wrapped around it to try and take the discomfort off my shoulders.

This time I think I managed 5 very dodgy reps before re-racking and walking away to find my next exercise as if it was all planned.

It was years before I tried again.

Late Aug 2009 I decided enough was enough. This is a tool I should have in my training arsenal and I was going to master it.

I started with no weight on the bar and performed 8 reps as smoothly and as close to perfect form as I could manage. I then started adding 10kg at a time, each time aiming for 8 reps. If I made it I would go on, if not, I’d stop there and start at the previous weight next time and go from there.

I made it to a very humbling 60kg!

However, on my next leg day that 60 became 80kg and I vowed to get to 100kg before the end of the year.

I didn’t bother using pads, just steel on skin and I came out with bruises after every session. But each time the bruising was less and the pumped feeling in my quads became more.

I used a combination of straight sets and cluster sets to force the weight higher and by the end of October I was loving leg day. I looked forward to it before hand. I hated the pain during it (there is something so different about lower body workout pain to upper body) but afterwards I felt fantastic and that I had really achieved something. And then I reached my 100kg in mid November with around 6 weeks to spare.

And this is the point I want to make!

If you really want to make a difference! If you have a goal you genuinely want to achieve! Then that thing that you don’t want to do because you ‘don’t like it’ or ‘it’s just too hard’ or whatever other excuse you have given out for avoiding it, is probably the very thing you need to be doing. And if you can just be determined and stick with it for a few weeks (That’s right, doing it once is not an excuse to say “I tried it and I didn’t like it) make sure you are doing it the way it should be done; make sure you are giving it your complete attention; see the results it is going to bring you.

If you can do that, you might just find that the ‘hate’ you had in your mind for that one thing turns to love. Something you really look forward to. Something you can FEEL working for you.

And at that point, it’s probably time to change your routine and find something else to do!

Because if you are loving it, it’s probably too easy and you’ve adapted to it and you have to find a new way to challenge your body. But you will always be able to come back to it after a while and you now have another tool in your arsenal to use for the rest of your days.

So with that said, here is a note of my leg day workouts from that period taken from mid October.

I would point out that when I started in late August I was doing almost the same workout every 4 or 5 days and it was twice as long as this. After a few weeks I decided to split the workout in two. So I would do this session format, then a Back & Triceps day, followed by a rest day, then a shoulders, calves & abs day, then the other half of my original leg workout (tweaked a little), then Chest & Biceps, another rest day, before returning to this workout.

After following that path for a few weeks I realized my results were much better and my sessions much more focused.

(A1) High Box Squats – Worked up to 4RM (at 175kg)

(B1) Front Squats (Clusters) – (100kg) 5/5/5/5/5 Reps

(C1) Stiff Leg Deadlift – (90kg) 5/5/5 Reps

(D1) Lying Hamstring Curls – (32.5kg) 6/5/4 Reps


I used the High Box Squats primarily as a primer for my quads. I set the box up just above knee level and started with just the bar. Squatting with my feet in a much narrower position that normal for a box squat (just inside shoulder width) to put the focus fully on my quads, I would then squat back to the box under control, pause for a couple of seconds focusing on relaxing my hip flexors, whilst keeping my core tight. Then driving up hard with my quads and repeating.

After around 10 reps, I took the weight to 60kg and did the same again. I then moved to 80kg and performed 5 reps and re-racked the bar. I was nowhere near failure and didn’t want to be. Remember, this is only really a warm up / primer. I repeated this process adding 5kg to the bar each time, taking just as much time as necessary to be fully recovered for the next set. (which was around the time it took to change the plates until the last few sets). At 175 I felt the 4th rep was a bit of a grind and so I re-racked the bar and got ready for the next exercise.

I should point out that I foam rolled before this and between sets for the first 3 sets just to be sure my muscles were loose and warm but not weakened through over stretching.

For the front squats, this was the first week I tried 100kg on the bar. I had gotten stuck at 92kg for 6 reps 2 weeks running and so switched to clusters to get used to the bigger weight. Last session I used 97.5kg.

The cluster sets I followed were 10 sec rests between reps. After 5 reps I would take time to fully recover (no more than 2mins) before repeating and managed 5 clean reps on all 5 sets.

I reduced the bar to 90kg for stiff leg deadlifts. My target was anywhere between 4 and 6 reps and it so happens I managed 5 on each set. Again taking as long as needed (under 2mins) to recover for each set.

With my hamstrings burning I moved on to Hamstring curls. I wanted to keep this heavy as I do slightly higher rep work on my 2nd leg day, so I loaded 32.5kg worth of plates on to the bench and focused on fully contracting each rep with as much force as possible (with good form) and then lowering under total control. On each set, as soon as that perfect form started to go and I was no longer in full control of the weight, I stopped and rested for the next set.

After some stretching it was time to head home with a feeling of a job well done. If I had to continue the session my focus would possibly have lapsed and I wouldn’t have had such a good feeling afterwards. So I’d suggest, when planning your programmes, sometimes it is necessary to push your limits, but it is easy to write out a huge programme that is going to hit every muscle fibre available, but that doesn’t make it the ideal choice.

Sometimes less is more.

Remember you don’t build muscle in the gym, you build it when you are recovering and if you can’t recover in time for the next session all you are doing is damage.

So now that I’ve been through all of this, have a think, is there something you know you should be doing as part of your routine? Maybe it’s something as simple as getting off the sofa and doing SOMETHING. Or maybe it’s a little more advanced than that. Either way, put the excuses behind you; leave your ego at the door and just resolve to get it done.

And if you just don’t know what to do, then the best thing you can do is hire a personal trainer. (erm – you’ll find my contact details at the bottom ;-p)

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


If you want to contact Mark about Personal Training, Coaching, Nutrition, Classes or anything else, please email –


Mark Tiffney is a fully qualified professional fitness instructor & personal trainer currently based in Glasgow. He also has qualifications in Circuit Training, Indoor Cycling (spin), Nutrition & Weight Management, Body Composition Analysis & even has a module in Golf.
This is along with his full qualification and experience in architecture as well as a background in football, ice hockey & squash (to name but a few).

Mark offers a professional service to those who are serious about achieving their fitness goals and promises to treat each client with the utmost respect and confidentiality.

“Your results are my command”

Why are we here?

Monday, June 29th, 2009

I was 11 years old, but even then I had an ego. I wanted to do things bigger and better than anyone else. I wanted to be known for something. I wanted to make an impact. What did I enjoy the most? I really liked drawing. I liked creating. But, I also enjoyed puzzles and I was good at them. Perhaps I could be an artist and have my artwork hanging in the most famous galleries around the world? People would come and look at my work and it would have an influence (hopefully a positive one) on how they were feeling. Yes, I’ll be an artist!

But wait! That’s not big enough!

I can vaguely remember thinking this as I walked up a busy high street with my parents. It was a bright summers day and as I looked up at the historic buildings around me I thought, “Wow! Some of these buildings really are amazing.” A few minutes later, we walked passed a small art gallery and I thought about one of my pieces hanging on the wall. That’s when it struck me. Why not create the wall and the room and the building the pieces are laid out in? Why not create the galleries and the museums and homes that the pieces were to be displayed in? That would be big! That would make an impact! How do I do that?

It was from that point on my future was set. I’d be an Architect!

It was a job I’d love. I’d be drawing, designing, creating and I’d be influencing the world. I would have a chance to have a positive impact on every person who either used the buildings I designed or even entered their vicinity.

For the next six years I pushed my studies in exactly that direction. I played a lot of sports, football, ice hockey, golf etc. and I loved it. Occasionally I dreamed of being a professional footballer or hockey player. But it always came back to Architecture. At the age of 17 I enrolled at University and signed away the next 7 years of my life. I was designing potentially iconic buildings. One of my earliest designs at university was for a Sculpture studio and gallery. It was only a project, but in a few years, this would be real!

After 7 years of study I was set upon the real world. I had no illusions. I wouldn’t be going out to immediately design galleries and museums. I’d have to start small. And so, with my first full scale project I set about designing a scheme for a housing association. I worked with the community council and really felt that I was helping improve the lives of the local residents. When it completed, they all seemed extremely happy with the results and so I felt happy. But, it hadn’t been exactly as I’d thought. Part of the process was design, but much was a balance of politics and finance. How to control costs as the contractor sought to increase their profits. And everyone had to have their input, whether it made sense or not

But, it was a start. I had made a mark.

Over the following 6 years I worked on more housing schemes, designer flats, special needs units, a golf course clubhouse, hotels, a £14,000,000 community school complete with sports complex, gymnastics club, a library, high level outdoor all weather sports facilities and public art, as well as small and large scale office blocks. I hadn’t been anywhere near a gallery or a museum, but I had been making an impact. Hadn’t I?

Well the thing is that over all of those projects the same issues had occurred each time. Number one was always money. Now companies have to survive and profits are necessary, therefore budgets have to be adhered to. But these budgets are set at the start and there is a design team in place with experts in each field of the design to ensure that budget is achieved. But in every case the contractor then looked to use cheaper alternatives to those designed in order to increase their profits, the developer will look for savings on the design to maximise their returns, the Structural Engineer will over specify to protect his insurance as with the Mechanical and Electrical Engineers and everyone will be looking to push the blame or workload elsewhere even before it happens.

As lead designer, it would therefore be my job to juggle these issues, deal with the faxes and emails trying to resolve them. Go to meetings where everyone would argue their case and little would be resolved as no one was there to change their mind. All of which cost time and therefore money, which lead to more costs to the contract and more savings required.

What no one seemed overly concerned about was that these buildings had a purpose. Their very presence would have an impact on everyone and everything in the area. Shouldn’t we be creating the best environment we possibly could? Shouldn’t we be maximising the experience for the end user? Wasn’t there more to this than cost per square meter rates? It didn’t seem so.

I came into this to make a difference. To enhance the world and lives of those around me and to an extent I was. I was enhancing the bank balance of already wealthy companies whose number one concern was the size of their profits.

There were degrees of this and some were better than others, but it was always a factor somewhere along the lines. And every morning I would have to get out of bed and go to work knowing this was my lot in life. This was the path I had chosen and morally it felt extremely uncomfortable.

Over my time studying at university and the early years of working, sport had become much less a part of my existence and junk food a greater one. As I spent my nights fighting the fatigue in order to work through the night, fizzy drinks, pizza and sweets became my allies.

Then in January of 2004, my then girlfriend decided she wanted to join a gym. I had started to feel I was getting a bit too much out of shape and had taken to wearing black at all times and sizes that were just that little bit too big so my shape wasn’t clearly visible. So I signed up too and booked in for an evaluation. When I got the results I couldn’t believe it. My body fat percentage was 27% (for my age anything above 22% was dangerously obese!). So I got handed my programme and I stuck to it. After a few weeks I realized it wasn’t getting me anywhere. I asked someone else to review it and was told what I had been given was awful and wasn’t nearly hard enough (I had been given a leg press weight of 40kg for example – My review put me on 90kg which was still comfortably manageable) so I got a new programme and I stuck to that.

To me, this was a new puzzle. If I didn’t know any better I would trust the experts to guide me and do exactly what they told me. But, I don’t like doing things blindly. I wanted to know why I was doing what I was doing and I began to study. I researched everything; took nothing at face value; I listened openly to every theory and opinion and weighed up its merits. If it didn’t make any sense, I discarded it. If it had any merit, I would research it some more or try it out on myself to see the results.

Over the past 3 or 4 years I have absorbed as much information as I could, spending several hours every day reading, researching or querying anything health and fitness related. Anything I didn’t understand I’d delve deeper. It was fascinating. The rules were generally simple, but the intricacies so very complex and debatable.

Over my first 6 weeks training my body fat fell to 21.5% after 6 months I was down to 12% (considered very lean) and by the end of the year I was down to 10%. This was all while still working full time as an Architectect.

After a while I started training with others, answering queries on training and diet, helping out friends and family and through a bit of an accident I started doing a bit of online life coaching and social coaching. I had started out trying to sort myself out and improve my self image, but I had ended up helping others.

This is what I’d been looking for all along. An improved self image helped me feel happier and being in the company of others who were feeling good about themselves was a much nicer place to be. So the more people I could help, the happier the world around me and that happiness would be infectious spreading further and further. This is how I could make an impact. This could be my reason for being and the more people I could help the better.

I had already started courses in fitness and nutrition for my own benefit & knowledge, so why not use that as a vehicle to start me off?

So for the past 4 years I have been coaching people part time. I have worked with people all over the world, from America, Africa, Europe and around the UK. This is where my passion now lies and if I am to help as many people as possible I had to spend more time doing it. So towards the end of 2008 I made a decision to save for a few months and then dive into full time coaching and training and so, with much trepidation, I did.

My goal is to reach as many people as possible and to help everyone I can whenever I can. I’ve spent the past 5 years researching and will continue to do so, in order that you don’t have to. If I can help everyone reading this improve even one small part of their lives in a way that makes them feel better about themselves, then this will have been worthwhile.

Everyone is unique. Everyone’s targets, goals & dreams are a puzzle and as I said, I’m good at puzzles. I’ve been studying the research and solutions, the marketing and the lies behind them for 5 years now and I have seen with my own eyes what works and what doesn’t. What is true for some, what is true for all and what is merely marketing hype to increase sales and make rich companies richer. I am a designer, a problem solver, a coach and a student. I am here to help you realize your full potential in any way possible. I am looking to help you design and shape your future the way you want it. Your health and wellbeing is something you must hold on to. Medical science is improving all the time, but the analogy that “if you don’t lose it, you lose it” is so very true and one that can never be overcome.

All those hours overtime you are putting in to save for a better future. What use are they if you don’t have the energy or vitality to enjoy it? I do understand the pressures – trust me, I’ve been there! But it is possible to deal with both and I’m here to help whenever possible.

Health and fitness is the key to a happy, prosperous life and is something genuinely worth investing in.

If you have any questions or queries about anything I post here or indeed anything health and fitness related, or if you are interested in arranging a consultation regarding one to one coaching (Currently in Glasgow – this is also free or charge) please get in touch by emailing:

or calling 0141 41 60 348

Or if there are any topics you would like to see covered in future articles, please put them on an email and I’ll try to include them in future posts.

Also, if you know of anyone who might benefit from these articles, please let them know where to come.

I’m going to kick off with a very simple little debate, but one it took me a while to get to grips with. The benefits/ evils of Butter and Margarine. I think you might be surprised by what you read. I hope it is of interest.

In the meantime, be strong, stay healthy and be your very best self.