Posts Tagged ‘physique’

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 a load of Metabolics

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

It feels like there is a new workout technique, diet, piece of ‘revolutionary’ equipment or quick fix being released or promoted every day.

And with each new idea or theory comes a new catchy name or sound-bite.

OK things need names and if it truly is new and revolutionary, it stands to reason you want the name to be memorable. That’s just marketing. Problem is, marketing is coming at the expense of content.

There’s little new or revolutionary. It might be new, but useless (I refer you to the shake weight, ‘shape up’ shoes, slendertone etc) or it’s just a well marketed version of the same old garbage – See my post on Zumba, Body Pump and Vibroplates.

Back in the day exercises might get associated with the person that invented or popularized them, as in the Arnold Press, the Zeicher Squat. Nowadays it seems the label is the important part.

How many Thor or Captain America workouts have we had this year? In the past few years 300 & Spartan workouts were all the rage along with the more recent Spartacus workouts. Thing is, they mostly end up just being big circuits with no real difference to any other circuit training or drill based workouts. Why? Because then they can be performed for groups which can bring in more money than training an individual.

Does anyone honestly think Spartacus trained, not only with little dumbbells and in a circuit format but, to the dance music that invariably comes with these classes? Did anyone really believe that the 300 workouts were the one key secret to getting the cast to their 6 pack physique ready for that film? And do we honestly think Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth had one secret workout that no one else has ever tried that was key to their physiques in Captain America & Thor?

Are people really that gullible?

Unfortunately the answer has to be, in part anyway, a resounding yes. Otherwise, why would these things keep popping up, getting quoted and being used?

It’s only a matter of time before we get the Tom Hardy ‘Warrior’ workout (or perhaps they will wait to ‘Bane Train’).

Then there are ‘descriptive’ titles. Now, forgive me for being Mr Picky, but surely a descriptive title should tell you what the workout, technique or theory does that others don’t? The one I have heard a lot over the past couple of years is ‘Metabolic Training’ – What the heck does that mean? Is it suggesting that if you use this training you will raise your metabolism? Is there any form of training that does’t raise your metabolism? Getting out of a chair or going for a walk will raise your metabolism! If we are talking raising it and keeping it raised beyond the scope of the workout, then any anaerobic training, HIIT or heavy resistance training will do that (a lot more than these faddy workouts ever will). What it is really referring to is EPOC (Excess Post exercise Oxygen Consumption) and the creation of an Oxygen Debt. But, there is no one ‘magic’ workout that makes that happen above all others.

Another is ‘Endurance Training’! Could you be a bit more specific? Mostly this is used to describe high reps. But sitting in a freezer to prep for a trip to the Arctic would be endurance training, or hill walking could be endurance training. In fact almost anything that will last (or endure) could be considered endurance training. Endurance for what?

Then there is ‘slim-a-size’, ‘yummy bummy’, ‘slimfast diets’… and on and on…

In the end it is just sticking fancy labels on things to hide the fact that there truly is no substance to it. It just sounds good.

Training is not done just for the sake of it, it is done to achieve something. So there should be some thought behind why you are doing things.

Just realize, there is very little that is actually new and things that work are the things that last, not fads or gimmicks. If it has been done for decades there is likely a reason. If it is shiny and new, it is likely either a re-hash of something old or is untested garbage with a well marketed visual image.

Even the tried and tested stuff can get irritating when people walk around the gym talking about their latest 5/3/1 routine, 5×5, German Volume Training or Russian Strength Sets as if they are something new that they just invented.

All the workouts I have mentioned are reasonably good workouts with solid benefits, but to treat them like they are the latest ‘miracle’ and the fast track to a ripped physique, huge growth or a shredded six pack, that’s just bull crap and cause me switch off.

So here’s a shiny new technique for you. It’s called Metacolonic Training. It is where you take your metabolic training, your Superhero Workouts,  faddy diets, gimmicks and your quick fix solutions and you shove them up your…

And relax!

That’s my view anyway – perhaps you like these gimmicks, or you have actually seen some staggering results from them.

Or are you as frustrated as I am with hearing this nonsense day in and day out?

I’m sure, regardless, you will have heard of at least a few of them.

So what do you think? Is there anything here of validity or is it simply more layers to convince people that there are ‘easy’ fixes available and that hard work, effort and dedication can simply be bypassed?

Comment below and let me know.

You’ve worked hard all week, you deserve a night off.

Friday, October 28th, 2011

When you spend enough time with people who have similar goals, you start to see patterns emerging. One that I have become more and more aware of is the idea of the ‘night off’.

Most people work hard all week and when the weekend comes, they naturally feel deserving of a break from being strict, healthy or sensible. And if that is what keeps you going through the week, then you should be free to make that choice.

However, I am reminded of something Anthony Robbins once said, that ‘people spend their entire week wishing it away in order to get to a 2 day period, during which they do things to their body that stops them from remembering it’.

And I’m sure, if that doesn’t apply to you, you know of people who it does.

Chances are (being on this site) you have a goal, be it fat loss, muscle building or toning, and you want to achieve. And hopefully, if you have read my other posts, you have an emotional attachment to that goal.

But often even the most driven people continue with the idea that, if they push hard all week and eat healthy, they earn the right to splurge. Maybe it’s just one night per week or a couple per month.

However, what I would like people to understand is that one night per week isn’t simply the sum total of that night.

A few drinks and junk food on a Friday usually leads to poor sleep, dehydration (which puts a strain on the activity of your liver – compromising its ability to mobilize stored fats)  and a long lie.

Activity levels on Saturday are then, like it or not, at a lower level. Your system is still working hard to reset (so digestion and fat burning remain compromised).

Then there is the craving for fried food or more savory junk food. That, in turn, leaves you feeling poor for most of the day with the idea of eating something nutritious or healthy being the furthest thing from your mind.

You may try hitting the gym, but your level is not at its usual standard. You might laugh it off gaining lots of sympathy from those who have been there before, but that isn’t getting the work done and is simply a sub-standard session.

You probably haven’t consumed enough water to fully re-hydrate.

Later you may prepare a higher quality meal, but either over eat (mistaking thirst for hunger) or not eat enough, as you still feel a touch fragile.

At night you may consider a ‘hair of the dog’ remedy to carry you through, when actually an early night would be preferable.

Come Sunday, you may feel better, but given your sub-optimal Saturday, chances are you are still not firing on all levels.

That whole process could go on to affect a further 2 or 3 days. I’ve seen people destroy and entire week from with one night.

If that is what you choose to do, great. Just do it in the knowledge that one night is not just the sum of its intake. Its effects on your progress can be exponentially higher. Only by accepting that can you truly determine if the benefits outweigh any losses to your progress..

So next time you reach for that ‘one’ glass of wine, that ‘one’ beer, that ‘one’ pizza slice. Just remember it is not just the calories you are consuming that count, it is the total effect on your system over the subsequent hours and days.

A malteser may only be ’11 calories of naughyness’, but the hormonal effects are so much more and that should be considered before you justify its consumption.

Make informed choices not those justified through emotional logic or advertising.

If you truly want to change or progress, then make your choice and don’t compromise.

But what do you think?

Too strict?

Do you find you can overcome the ‘hangover’ effects and get straight back on track?

Or is this something that has been holding you back and you have just been kidding yourself?

Comment below and let me know.

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

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
(c) Dynamic Core Solutions Ltd

How do you run?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

It’s simple isn’t it? One foot in front of the other at a brisk pace!

But that’s not really the issue here.

Every commercial gym in the land is lined from wall to wall with treadmills. Running is the most calorie intense of the CV stations, so if you want to burn lots of calories, get on that treadmill, you are told.

But there is a road outside the gym, couldn’t you just run on that? It’s free and at least you feel like you are getting somewhere rather than putting in all that effort and not actually moving.

So why then are there so many treadmills in these gyms? And why are they always full? Even on the occasional bright summers day we are garnished with in the UK it is still common for people to be taking their summer stroll or jog on the mechanical device, under the air conditioning in front of a big screen TV.

Surely it’s just a question of taste? After all, it’s the same thing and you get the same results, so whatever feels more comfortable should be fine.

For many the advice would be that is not the case. Fitness advisors will often sing the praises of the treadmill over road running.

Road running is a heavy impact activity which can cause long term damage to your knees. Treadmills are cushioned to absorb the impact so it is a much safer option. You don’t have to deal with the weather, running in the wind & rain (despite the fact the forecast said bright sunshine for the next 3 days). The surface is even and true. And you don’t have to be mindful of your own safety from muggers after your ipod or inattentive drivers when you cross the road.

Yes, treadmills are the way to go – technology over antiquated methods are clearly the more sensible option.

Well lets look at this a little deeper.

What happens when we run?

Firstly we extend one leg out in front of us using our quadriceps (thigh muscles). We then bring the foot down and make contact with the ground. At this point the posterior (rear) muscles take over pulling and flexing the leg in order to propel us forward as the other leg extends out to repeat the sequence.

So very simplistically, when we run we are constantly performing leg extensions followed by leg curls, working the muscles on both sides of the leg while at the same time expending energy and working our heart and lungs.

However, on a treadmill this is not the case. On a treadmill, we extend our leg as we would normally, but upon connecting with the belt of the treadmill, it takes over and rather than propelling our bodies forward with the posterior leg muscles, the belt does this work for us by pulling the foot backwards. Essentially, as far as our leg muscles are concerned, we are doing half the work we usually would and we are only using the anterior (front) muscles to do it.

Since the uptake of pedometers over recent years, 10,000 steps per day has been a much hyped goal for improved health in most people. So imagine if you were to take those 10,000 steps on a treadmill. That would equate to 5,000 leg extensions on each leg with little effort being exerted by the posterior chain to balance that out. This means, firstly, less calories burned due to fewer recruited muscles and secondly, the imbalance is likely to cause stress, particularly to the knee.

This goes somewhat against the argument that treadmill running is safer than outdoor running as far as your joints are concerned.

But there’s more to consider:

According to a study by the University of East London (1998) the hip flexion angle increases significantly (particularly in women) when running on a treadmill. Hip and knee flexion angles have to increase to bring the hip through the stride causing a tightening and fatigue of the hip flexor muscles. As a result technique alters automatically to counter this weakness causing poor form. This fatigue and substitution pattern can also cause knee pain, compounding the issue of the imbalanced muscle development.

Further, if your goal is to become a better runner (perhaps you have decided to run a charity race or even a marathon) then specificity is extremely important. Simply put, when training for any specific event, your training should match your goal as closely as possible. The physical differences already mentioned (surface type & elements such as the wind) mean that training on a treadmill does not in fact mirror the road running involved of these events.

Not only that, but the simple elimination of elements such as the wind makes for a significant decrease in your workload (as much as 10%) meaning the workload is less efficient and in turn will burn fewer calories.

The uneven surfaces are also a contributing factor in this and can further be of benefit to your balance and neuromuscular conditioning, which is critical to your development as a runner as well as increasing that all important calorie burn.

Another inequality shows up in stride length. There are varying opinions on whether stride length is generally different when running on a treadmill as apposed to outside. One of the few detailed studies on this came up with some very interesting results. It would appear that, whilst experienced runners increase their stride lengths when running on a treadmill, inexperienced runners do the exact opposite and shorten their stride length when compared with running on the road.

It does make sense that experienced runners will utilize the additional energy they have available from the belt taking some of the workload, where inexperienced runners will shorten their stride as a result of apprehension due to the moving parts of the machine.

Whatever the reason though, it is clear that the techniques employed to run on a treadmill do not equate to those utilized when running on the road.

To add more fuel to the fire, researchers have also found that when the foot lands on the belt of a treadmill, the foot, ankle and shin, become temporarily part of the belt and move backwards from the centre mass of the body at the same speed (which makes sense). However, this means the shinbone is not as upright as with normal running and is forced into a greater range of motion, which in turn can lead to stress of both the bone and it’s supporting muscles (causing a tight feeling often referred to as shin splints or worse)

All the above is not to say running on a treadmill should be avoided entirely. As a means of warming up or an occasional CV workout it is as good as any other you might find in your gym. Also, for rehabilitation or corrective training, running in front of a mirror can be most useful in ensuring good foot placement and action.

Also, during the winter months in particular, the risks involved with running outside may well outweigh the benefits, in which case using a treadmill would be a good alternative to avoid losing ground on your training.

However, if you are training specifically for running I would suggest a good set of running shoes appropriate to your feet & running style (advice can be obtained from your local running shop) and head outside.

If your concern is burning calories and you would rather stay indoors, I’d suggest you would get more benefit from circuit style training where a good balance of muscle groups can be catered for. You can get your heart rate up just the same and ensure opposing muscle groups are equally worked, which will not only burn more calories in the long run, but will help prevent injury and make you functionally fitter.

Yes, impact is a concern for road running, but if you gave a good pair of running shoes, that should be limited. I would still advise varying your routine and like all things exercise related, keeping a healthy balance to your training.

In short though, treadmills have their place, but the next time you go to get on one, stop and have a look outside. There’s a whole world out there to explore, places you miss in your every day commutes. Why not get out there, get some fresh air in your lungs, some vitamin D and all the additional benefits associated with road running? At least you’ll feel like you’re getting somewhere