Sunday, September 27, 2009

More about exercise intensity...

We often go on about the importance of training hard. Of course, it is also important to give yourself time to recover and recuperate for adaptations to take place, but the underlying message is that in order to stimulate change, you need to train hard enough.

However, a recent study in Finland may well suggest that how hard you exercise and in particular how active your leisure time is, can have an impact on your future health. This study looked at the relationship between intensity of leisure time activity and development of cancer in men. You can find a link to the study HERE.

In the study they found that men who exercised in their leisure time at a level above 5.2 METS (Metabolic equivalents, where 1 MET is our resting energy expenditure and therefore 5.2 MET's means using 5.2 x the amount of energy used at rest - make sense?) showed significantly lower cancer mortality than those in the lowest quartile of below 3.7 METs. This was AFTER adjusting for age, alcohol and smoking, and other risk factors.

Now, 5.2 isn't particularly hard, for example, if you were to walk at 3.0 m.p.h then you would be working at 3.3 METs, whereas if you were running at 6.0 m.p.h then you would be up at around 10 METs. But the message here is clear that being active and including some higher intensity exercise into your leisure time - be that at the gym or out playing sport - can significantly lower your chances of cancer, in particular lung and gastrointestinal cancers and this should be of great consideration for us all. Although the study was carried out on men, similar studies have been carried out looking at women and breast cancer. It is no great surprise to see this trend echoed in the ladies, where an 11 year study in the U.S found a 20% reduction in post-menopausal women for breast cancer. Interestingly, this reduction was NOT seen in overweight and obese women.

Of course, when it comes to studies on exercise and cancer, the relationship is far from simple and different types of cancer show different relationships and responses to exercise both in risk and in treatment. However, it would seem that evidence is growing to suggest that exercise - in particular more vigourous exercise - can reduce your risk of several types of cancer, including the more common forms of breast, lung, and stomach cancer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it - that's what gets results"

I am a self-confessed child of the eighties, a generation where Miami Vice was considered groundbreaking in TV cop drama and the highlight of my saturday night was watching Superstars with my dad. Oh, how things have changed, although spending a lot of my time living in Egypt as I currently am I still get to see Miami Vice and the A-Team on a regular basis, courtesy of the appropriately named 'MBC Action channel. Lucky old me.

Anyway, since well before the 80's, different methods and fads of exercise have come and gone. The latest craze in the PT world being a total abandonment of all aerobic type work and an almost evangelistic promotion of resistance training and strength work for the masses. Heck, I am mostly for it myself, and think that many people could benefit from adding resistance training to their workouts. I also believe that many people place too heavy a reliance on their jogging programme for weight loss. However, I don't believe that a total avoidance of 'aerobic' training is the way forward and don't subscribe to some of the arguments for this. Besides, if someone enjoys a jog round the park with their friend, then why not? The fact is that most people need to learn HOW to train, before they worry so much about WHAT to train. It doesn't matter whether you are running in the park, or doing the latest kettlebell routine, if the workout is done poorly, with insignificant volume or intensity to create a stimulus for change, then it simply won't be that effective. What is also true is that while aerobic training may not have been shown to be particularly effective in the research for weight loss, it has been shown to be a key factor in maintaining weight loss as well as improving several other markers of health, such as insulin sensitivity and mood. So before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, it is worth asking, is it what you are doing, or how you are doing it that needs to change?

In an effort to convey this message, I have gone back to the eighties. Where else? You see it isn't just about the type of exercise you do. Sure there are a ton of 'fat burning' workouts for sale on the internet, most of which are simply reinventing the wheel in terms of content. But, the fact is that none of them work if you don't pay attention to some underlying principles that apply no matter what you do. Indeed plenty of people do get results often with the most basic and sometimes terrible training programmes, so how do they do that?

It ain't what you do, it's how hard you do it

O.k so one of the biggest problems we see is that people often really don't train hard enough. They jog or bike at a level well below their lactate thresholds, which is no better than taking a weight you can press 20 times and only doing 10 reps with it. Whatever exercise programme you are doing, you have to train hard enough. That means training to a point close to (and sometimes beyond) fatigue with weights, and it means exercising for cardiovascular improvements at a level above that you can comfortably sustain, then using active recovery between bouts to raise fitness. In effect, we start to aerobic train a bit more like we weight train, working hard for a set, recovering, then repeating. When we look at the research it is clear, for both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise, higher intensities of work tend to bring an increased amount of benefits and improved markers of health in contrast to lower intensity work. So, remember, it ain't what you do, it is how hard you do it - that's what gets results.

It ain't what you do, it's how much you do it

O.k problem number two that we see a lot in health clubs all over the world, people simply don't do enough. Let's take for example the fat burning zone. This is sometimes called a myth and in some ways it is, although metabolic testing data will in fact tell you a heart rate and exercise intensity at which your body is primarily using fat for fuel, so it is a myth rooted in truth. However, the problem is that the actual total of fat calories expended at that level may be as low as 7 or 8 calories a minute. Now, when we take this a stage further, we can see that we would need to exercise for nearly 8 hours to burn through one pound of bodyfat. So, not exactly what you would call a particularly efficient method. Of course, we wouldn't typically do that in one go either, which means we would need to be doing essentially fasted sessions to do it that quickly. So, while it isn't so much a myth as a practical impossibility, you can probably start to see why your 5 minutes on the cross trainer, then 10 minutes on the treadmill, and 10 on the bike aren't going to make much of a dent in your fat loss efforts. Also, if you are one of those people who enjoys a sweet drink while you exercise then you will be raising insulin and preventing any of that fat burning taking place at all.

Now, of course the same in essence applies to resistance training. Insufficient volume of training will not exhaust enough muscle fibres to create improvements in muscle size and strength. Also, resistance training is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced and as such you have to spend time doing it. While the ACSM guidelines on resistance training (1 set of 8-12 repetitions) may be well-intended, they are not going to provide sufficient constant stress for adaptions to occur. Now, of course, there is a caveat here. Any training is designed to create a stimulus and is therefore reliant on sufficient recovery and adequate nutrition to allow that to happen. However, the research is clear, you need to be doing multiple sets of training to see continued improvements. So, if your own weights programme consists of one or two circuits of a few resistance machines then don't plan on seeing beach-buff pectorals any time soon. It's how much you do it, that's what gets results.

It ain't what you do, it's the way you progress it

The last section in our little homage to Banarama/Fun Boy Three, is to talk about progression. As we have already touched on, exercise creates a stimulus for change, recovery facilitates that change and consequently we become stronger and fitter. Essential to this is progression, yet we humans seem to have an affinity for repetition when it comes to workouts. I am not surprised, after all, learning HOW to exercise does not seem to be seen as a pre-requisite by anyone wanting to improve their health. However, like any other skill you need to improve your knowledge of it in order to progress and get better at it. Luckily, this is relatively simple with fitness training as in general it requires relatively little skill and therefore can be mastered by just about anyone.
The key to seeing ongoing changes is to ensure you are progressing your training. With cardiovascular work there are two main areas you can progress, you can either go harder or longer. Whereas weights offer a little more scope for progression, although altering volume and intensity are both principal methods. Adding an extra set for example would be increasing volume, whereas increasing weight for fewer reps would be increasing the intensity. Where weights allow for more progression is in the almost endless variety of exercises you can select to target a specific outcome.

Whichever it is remember, it ain't what you do, but the way you progress it, that's what gets results.

So, before you go abandoning your running or weights routine, ask yourself those three questions first. Are you training hard enough, are you doing enough of it, and are you progressing it with each workout?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A great blast from the past....

A friend of mine recently posted a couple of videos from the great Jack Lalanne on his Facebook page and at Aegis we have all tried to figure out how - if this chap knew all this great stuff all those years ago - it all went so wrong? How did the public impression of 'healthy eating' get so distorted over the years with people thinking that a bowl of high sugar cereal is a great breakfast or that eggs cause your arteries to clog up?

We will be posting a few more videos from Jack Lalanne, and you can get over to his website at to see a whole lot more.

We hope you like it and remember, just because it is black and white and it may be old, it doesn't make it wrong. Watch and learn. Simple but really true advice from a bit of a legend in the fitness industry.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Can exercise make you thin? Or maybe it can make you fat....?

Well of course, this would seem an absurd question to most of us, but not so it seems to John Cloud from Time Magazine in the US whose latest article has garnered all kinds of attention for it's rather tilted stance on the use of exercise as an adjunct to weight loss. Now, if we tried to correct every oversight or technicality on the internet we would be here all day, every day, but we couldn't let this one slide and here is why.

This reply was inspired by a friends somewhat desperate email to me about the article that appeared recently in Time magazine entitled Why Exercise won't make you thin'. My friend was horrified, all of a sudden she was counting her 'wasted hours' at the gym and spiraling into despair about what the hell she is actually meant to do to lose weight. I don't blame her, frankly the sheer volume of information on the internet is so vast it is hard to actually comprehend. Therefore, if you want to get your piece noticed then you have to have an angle, and John Cloud the author of the Time magazine piece certainly picked a good angle.

However, while he picked a good angle, his piece is a prime example of how to cherry pick research with strong selection biases (while Mr Cloud references the excellent Gary Taubes, I believe he might have missed the earlier chapters of Taubes book describing these) and glaring technical errors - even the old 'turn fat into muscle ' slipped into it. Of course, as this piece isn't a literature review and rather a more direct rebuttal, I have done similar and shown how easy it is to find research strongly contradicting this article.

On the first page of Mr Clouds article he quotes Eric Ravussin, Chair of Diabetes and Metabolism at Lousiana State university who comes out with a corker stating 'in general for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless' - nice one doc, but allow me to issue a rebuttal to that rather non-academic statement. You see first of all, the interpretation of that statement for the general public is that if someone wants to lose weight or is indeed overweight, then they shouldn't bother exercising. I disagree and I think that a review of literature tends to contradict Dr (?) Ravussin's statement.

In an academic review of available literature carried out in 2005 and published in the peer reviewed International journal of Obesity, Curioni and Lurenco (2005) stated that "diet associated with exercise weight loss produced a 20% greater effect than diet alone and 20% greater sustained weight loss after 1 year". So, score one for exercise. However, there is a more disturbing trend as highlighted in research from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association who found that although dieting alone produced results comparable with diet and exercise over the course of a year, those who didn't exercise were highly likely to regain their weight. This trend seems to be so evident in the research that it is a wonder anyone could reach the astounding conclusion that exercise might actually make you fatter, as Mr Cloud ventures in his article. It would in fact be easy to write an entire book simply full of reasons why you should exercise, particularly if you are trying to lose weight. For example, research has also found that adding resistance training to a diet intervention, while it made no significant difference to weight loss (wait for it...) did make a significant impact on the amount of lean muscle lost (Bryner at al 1999, Geliebtner et al 1997). It also found that in women between 35-50 (presumably a target market for this kind of piece) that exercise and physical activity can make a significant impact on metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn to keep everything in the body ticking over nicely) and fat free mass (Gilliat-Wimberly et al 2001). It isn't just the girls either, guys too need to keep training, as if they maintain activity as they age then they also are able to maintain their metabolic rate (Van Pelt et al 2001), so in fact NOT exercising as Mr Cloud suggests would seem to be a recipe for gaining fat as you age rather than losing it.

There is no secret to this research, you can find it yourself, go to Google Scholar and type in 'exercise, weight loss, review' as a search term and most of these studies are near the top of the page. Much like weight loss itself, this isn't a complex thing to undertake, but it requires effort, time, patience, and a modicom of knowledge on where to go to get the right information.

Looking at the research I find Ravussins comments even more surprising, particularly from a chair of diabetes, given the strong ties between diabetes and insulin resistance and the overwhelming evidence to support exercise as an intervention in Type 2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes. Here is what the International Journal of Sports Medicine have to say on the matter "we conclude that physical training plays an important if not essential role in the treatment and prevention of insulin sensitivity" (emphasis added by this author) they also outline that the regulation of hepatic glucose output is improved by physical training, which is of particular benefit to NIDDM (Borqhouts & Keiser 2000). I could go on and indeed I will as i am unsure of Ravussins motivations for his comments, however, I will let the data and evidence speak for itself. Here is paraphrased (I'd love to have quoted the entire abstract but space is becoming a consideration) what the University of Texas had to say on the topic "the protective effects of physical exercise are strongest for those at highest risk of developing NIDDM, there are several important adaptations to exercise training that may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, and NIDDM" (Ivy 1997). I am not sure that the rather dismissive absolutism with which Ravussin states that exercise is 'pretty useless' does justice to his rather magniloquent title. Is this the message that he is sending his undergraduate students before they go out into the wide world of working with people with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and NIDDM? Let us hope not.

Now, this is turning into a long article, but there are a couple more points to be made. Firstly, in a literature review, such as those referenced above you provide a critique of the evidence for and against. This rarely happens in journalistic articles for two reasons namely 1) it makes for rather dry reading (as I am sure you are finding) and 2) it doesn't give the 'quick fix' hook that the public are looking for and that sells magazines. I don't want to get into a diatribe here about what you should and should not do to lose weight, but merely try and provide some balance to the original article. Secondly, as we are in rebuttal territory of some of the quoted research in the Time article, a central theme is that exercising will encourage you to eat more and indeed to choose worse food choices. Again, a look at the literature doesn't tend to support this conclusion as Bellisle (1999) states in the Journal of Public Health "there is no scientific evidence that exercise increases appetite, but very intense exercise may suppress it transitorily" in contradiction to Mr cloud who suggests that 'intense' exercise will cause you to eat more. Bellisle goes on to point out (along with several other studies on the topic) that our social, psychological, and emotional habits all play a more significant role in how we go about selecting our food after exercising and in general, a sentiment echoed recently by Booth et al (2009) in the Nutrition Review Journal.

So, what should the take home message be for those of you still a little confused about what you should and should not be doing?

Well firstly, the benefits of a structured, progressive programme of exercise - including resistance training, not simply aerobic work - are so wide ranging and obvious that everyone should be encouraged to do it. While research on the specific effects of exercise as a weight loss modality may have proved underwhelming in some of the research (generally adding aerobic training to diets) for creating a strong additional effect, it is VERY evident that exercise plays a large role in keeping weight loss permanent and in creating long-term success. Pavlou et al (1989) concluded that dietary treatment alone had no effect at 18 month or 36 month periods and that all NON-exercise groups regained weight lost, in stark contrast to the exercise intervention where those who stuck at it managed to maintain weight lost. This is strong evidence indeed of the importance of exercise as part of a weight loss programme and another pretty firm nail in the coffin for naysayers such as Mr Cloud of Time Magazine. There is also good evidence that resistance training for example can play a strong role in the maintenance of fat free mass both in relation to dieting and ageing.

Of course though, results don't come by accident, they come through effort, but unfortunately it seems that our current trend is to go in search of the next quick fix solution rather than face the hard truth about what we need to do. This would explain why the public would love to read an article telling them exercise is a waste of time, I cannot imagine an article saying "weight loss takes work" would be anywhere near as popular. However, it would be a more truthful sentiment. The notion that 'walking home with the groceries' is 'just as effective' is laughable and in fact against all the long-established truths that exercise must be progressive and overload the body if it is to be successful.

As for Mr Cloud himself who has 'never been overweight' apparently, yet by his own admission has a gut that hangs over his belt? Well according to his article, his own 'intense' regime doesn't even leave him with enough energy to shop or cook, leaving him no choice but to go to Pizza Hut and do nothing whatsoever for the rest of the day. Indeed, he states that perhaps if he didn't train so hard, he might have the energy to take the stairs more often! He must certainly train hard if that is the case, harder than anyone I know, or could it be his lack of energy is linked to something other than his exercise, such as a lack of effort or education in how to eat correctly? Einstein first said that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same exercise over and over and to expect different results, a lesson Mr Cloud has yet to learn it would seem

Sure, you can't compensate for a terrible diet through a few sessions a week in the gym - although you can lessen the effects and improve other markers of fitness aside from weight, such as improving insulin sensitivity, increasing strength, improving mobility, and alleviating the effects of depression, to name but a few. Underneath all the hyperbole, this is the message that the article is trying to convey- that weight loss begins with good nutritional practices and can be enhanced through increasing overall activity levels, although the effectiveness of different types of exercise can be widely variable depending on a huge number of factors. However, the overall benefits of a structured exercise programme far outweigh any of the possible negatives, and the evidence doesn't concur with the original authors skewed perspective on it, nor does it account for his own personal failure to achieve the physique we presume he is after. The fact is that rather like Mr Cloud, many people undermine their efforts either through a lack of education or a lack of effort, some just don't train hard enough or often enough, while others place too much stock in the effect that 20 minutes of slow jogging is going to have on their weight loss. While it is true that heavier people already burn more calories simply through their weight - this cannot be compared to expending energy in a form that will actually stimulate adaptation and change within the body. There is a fundamental difference.

It would certainly seem to be putting the cart well before the horse to try and suggest that exercise is of no use in the efforts to help obesity and may even make people eat worse and get fatter? Last time I checked the global obesity crisis was not caused by over-exercising or by an epidemic of overeating and inactivity brought on by intense physical exercise. While the notion that you shouldn't be doing any exercise apart from walking the odd flight of stairs or carrying the shopping home may appeal to modern societies quick-fix nature, everything else in our evolution and in our sports science would scream that this is nothing more than journalistic quackery and hyperbole. My advice, if you want to know the truth about getting in shape, start by listening to someone who is, rather than someone who by their own admittance isn't.


Booth et al (2009) Environmental and Societal Factors Affect Food Choice and Physical Activity: Rationale, Influences, and Leverage Points. Nutrition Reviews Volume 59 Issue 3, Pages S21 - S36

Bellisle (1999) Food choice, appetite and physical activity. Public Health Nutrition: 2(3a), 357 – 361

Blair (1993) Evidence for Success of Exercise in Weight Loss and Control. Ann Int Med. 1 October 119(7): 2, 702-706

Borqhouts & Keizer (2000) Exercise and insulin sensitivity : A review. International journal of sports medicine. 2000, vol. 21, no1, pp. 1-12 (130 ref.)

Bryner at al (1999) Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate. J Am Coll Nutr. 1999 Apr;18(2):115-21.

Curioni & Lourenco (2005) Long-term weight loss after diet and exercise: a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity 29, 1168–1174.

Garrow & Summerbell (1995) Meta-analysis: effect of exercise, with or without dieting, on the body composition of overweight subjects. Eur-J-Clin-Nutr. 1995 Jan; 49(1): 1-10

Geliebtner et al (1997) Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Sep;66(3):557-63.

Ivy (1997) Role of exercise training in the prevention and treatment of insulin resistance and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Sports Med. 1997 Nov;24(5):321-36.

Pavlou et al (1989) Exercise as an adjunct to weight loss and maintenance in moderately obese subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 49(5): 1115

Skender at al (1996) Comparison of 2-Year Weight Loss Trends in Behavioral Treatments of Obesity: Diet, Exercise, and Combination Interventions. J Am Diet Assoc. 1996; 96:342-346.

Van Pelt et al (2001) Age-related decline in RMR in physically active men: relation to exercise volume and energy intake. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Sep;281(3):E633-9

Wallberg-Henriksson et al (1998) Exercise in the management of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Sports Med. 1998 Jan;25(1):25-35.

Monday, August 17, 2009


This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday:

It seems orthorexia, defined as an obsession with eating healthily and "righteously", is on the increase. More and more people are planning meals in advance, becoming concerned with the types of food they put in their bodies and how it is produced, and deriving satisfaction from the act of eating better food. Oh, and this is a bad thing. In all seriousness, the article is reasonably balanced and I can certainly see how overly obsessive behaviour around food to the point that it causes you severe psychological stress if you miss a serving of chicken breast could be seen as unusual. Also, if you follow a stupid diet in the mistaken belief that it is a better way, you can become malnourished. But where is the line between healthy habits and an eating disorder? Well you can self test here to find out!

Well, if you read that and answered yes to 2 or 3 questions, meaning you have "a touch of orthorexia", don't feel too bad. I did too, along with pretty much anyone else who has ever been in better than average shape. Along with every athlete. Brace yourself; getting in great shape requires some level of focus and planning around what you eat.

When I first began to take in interest in nutrition for the purposes of gaining muscle and getting stronger I experienced some resistance from friends and family; the usual unfounded worries about about excess protein and a general feeling that creatine and steroids are one and the same. But more than this, there was just a certain amount of plain hostility about the fact that I wanted to eat better food. Some people were threatened or perhaps offended by it. It happens.

I wouldn't go so far as to say it "socially isolated me", but it definitely caused some friction and caused me some stress. Until I realised it wasn't really my problem. I think that's the point really, restricting your food intake to the point of malnourishment and ceasing all socialising to focus on your diet is a form of disorder, and that's your problem. But if people don't like me eating better than them, or feel threatened or guilty because they know their diet is crap, then that's their problem.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Aegis makes it back into Time Out

Well we still don't know how they found out about us, but we are delighted nonetheless to have made it back into the Time Out list of London's best gyms and fitness centres. We are especially pleased as this year it is a slimline list with only eight venues selected from central London. You can check out the page on London's best fitness centres here.

It is really pleasing for us to see our name alongside such large established venues like The Third Space and Gymbox, and refreshing to know that we are able to continue offering something that can compete with them. Of course, we always have and continue to believe that we offer something unique within London. A private gym with tons of space, natural light, plenty of equipment, a passionate and enthusiastic team, no contracts or joining fees, a great location, and high quality personal training starting from as low as £25 per session. So, we very much hope we can continue to reflect that in our clients and our results.

As readers of our newsletter will know, we are also only weeks away from finally getting the new website online, along with new pictures of the gym and a simple, easy to follow guide to our services and products. Our 30 minute training sessions continue to be popular and we still have a few slots available in off-peak times for those of you who find it hard to fit one hour training sessions into your busy days.

We even keep trying to get hold of the Time Out team to invite them to come and train with us one day here at the gym, but so far we haven't heard back (could it be that the tyre flipping and sledgehammers are scaring them off!!!???), so if they are reading please email London personal trainers and we will get your team down for some training.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Madonna's Veiny Arms

Oh here we go again. You spend your working life explaining to women that weight training is massively beneficial to their health and effective for fat loss, then the Metro print a picture of Madonna looking like an anatomy chart with veiny *ahem*.. "bulging" biceps, complete with comments from a "celebrity personal trainer" admonishing her to cut out weight training and just do Yoga and Pilates (not wanting to put another trainer down I'll assume he was taken out of context to fit the tone of the article.) Excuse me while I stab myself in the eyes.
How many women are now going to be put off weight training by this picture and accompanying article?

Perhaps I've missed something but wasn't Madonna basically the poster girl for yoga, claiming at one point to practice it for hours every day? And didn't she train with that other "celebrity trainer" Tracy Anderson, the person who once brilliantly decreed that women should never lift more than 3lbs ? (careful never to buy more than two bags of sugar at once there ladies, you'll get bulging biceps just from carrying them home!) I have no idea what kind of exercise Madonna actually does (neither does the journalist writing the article or the trainer commenting on it) but the premise that she is performing too much heavy weight training and needs to do MORE yoga is, I feel, basically crap.

The fact is Madonna is not even particularly muscular, she simply has very low body fat , probably due to her alleged macrobiotic eating habits and a very active lifestyle given that she is dancing round on a stage for hours every night. A woman with the same amount of muscle mass and a normal body fat percentage would look the toned, athletic picture of health.

The blanket recommendation of Yoga and Pilates over weight training is moronic, and is symptomatic of the general demonisation of weight training that has existed for years amongst people who are ignorant of exercise physiology (again, I have no idea what the trainer actually said and don't wish to attack him personally, only the message of the article.) Perpetuating this rubbish helps nobody.

Madonna's physique and training regime has precisely zero relevance to anybody actually reading the article, the vast majority of whom don't even perform enough physical activity to preserve the muscle mass they have, let alone build massive biceps. Just because some celebrity looks a bit freakish doesn't mean you need to avoid weight training altogether for fear of turning into Mr Universe overnight. Trust me folks; it's not that easy! (if it was my biceps would be 26 inches instead of just 25.)

Weight training as part of a properly devised exercise program is one of the most positive steps you can take toward staying lean and healthy for life. Don't let any media boneheads or "Celebrity Personal Trainers" tell you other wise. Rant over.

Fat Loss Mistakes Part 3

4. Not being honest with yourself.

Okay, if I had a fiver for every time someone has asked me how they should be eating to lose their spare tyre and then followed it with the caveat “I have a good diet, I only eat fish and vegetables” then I’d have at least £500, probably more. Please, don’t tell me one thing, when your body tells me a different story. You’re not just lying to me, you are lying to yourself and until you start being honest with yourself then you are not going to shift that weight. If you don’t play by the rules then you won’t get the results. Once you pick a programme or a diet that ticks your boxes you MUST stick to it. Doing something 70% will not give you 100% of the results. So, it means you must be disciplined and honest with yourself about what you can achieve.
For example, I am a known fan of ‘low-carbohydrate diets’ but this can mean a lot of different things, there is a world of difference between the ketogenic diet and the protein power diet for example, even though both are ‘low-carb’. Here is a little rule for you, the more extreme the diet approach, the harder it is to follow and the easier it is to get completely wrong. An interesting study carried out at Stanford in the USA found that when put on a low-carb diet or a low-fat diet over the course of a year those who were ‘low-carb’ (following Atkins) tended to increase their carb intake, while those who were ‘low-fat/high carb’ (following the Ornish diet) tended to reduce their carbs. Interesting, how both groups found long-term reduction of an entire food group to be a challenge. As an aside, during that study, the Atkins group however maintained a higher healthy fat intake and were yet the only group (the study also compared Zone and LEARN national recommended diet) to see reductions in triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, with improvements in HDL levels and favourable changes in blood pressure. A stinging blow for all those dieticians out there who STILL insist on vilifying anyone who attempts to suggest that we should focus our efforts on reducing the refined carbohydrate intake of the population.
However, I digress from the original motto of this little story and in true Ronnie Corbett fashion will adjust my glasses, sit back, and continue. The real fact is that people often don’t want to hear that losing fat is hard work, a lot harder than gaining it was actually. When they are new to exercise they often are reluctant to push themselves out of their comfort zone, instead opting for dumbbells the weight of toothpicks (wouldn’t want to bulk up after all!!!) and fifteen minutes in the fat-burning zone (see more below). Listen folks, it is simple, if you want to get strong then you have to pick up something heavy, if you want to get fitter then you have to get that heart rate up well above it’s normal daily level, and if you want to lose bodyfat you have to put some serious effort into how you eat and how you train. Anyone who tells you any different is either a liar or a salesperson, or both.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Five Fat Loss Mistakes Part 2

Skipping meals

After that diatribe, the next mistake is pretty straightforward but all too common. Missing meals (more often than not breakfast is the common culprit) is a quick way to fail on any campaign to change your body. Those who miss breakfast tend to consume more calories throughout the rest of the day, and are also far more prone to reach for the sugary snacks to rapidly boost blood sugar levels. This is a fat loss disaster as it sends insulin levels sky high encouraging our body to keep the energy while it is available and keeping our fat cells in storage mode rather than usage. If you want to avoid this mistake, ensure you have protein at each meal, take small regular snacks through the day rather than large meals (which also cause chaos with our blood sugar levels) and make sure to eat something for breakfast. This is such a simple mistake, yet so common, we had to include it on our list.

Not doing enough, and what you do, not doing hard enough.

The third of our fat loss no-no’s is a symptom of our ‘more for less’ culture. In an effort to satiate this we are often surprised at some of the claims we see for workouts, supplements, and diets. However, through it all there is one truth – you have to do enough and what you do, you have to do hard enough. There are 168 hours in the week in which to mess up your efforts to improve your body composition so some of those hours have to be dedicated to getting results. Simply turning up at the gym isn’t enough.
We have a saying at Aegis that was a favourite quote of Vince Lombardi – “the only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary”. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to fat loss. Like any other skill, you only get out what you put in and it isn’t enough to just do an hour here and there a week and hope that the rest will look after itself, because it won’t. To get good at learning a language you need to speak it outside of the lessons, and to get good at fat loss that means you have to live it outside of training sessions. The studies back it up too, clearly showing that the strongest indicator of success in long-term weight loss is not what type, mode, or intensity of exercise you do (though of course these can make a difference to how much you lose and how fast) but actually how much activity you manage over the course of a week. Chances are if you can only find 30 minutes a week in your life to put your own health first then you might not see such great results. Getting leaner and healthier means taking time to learn how to shop and cook healthier and it also means taking time to increase your activity levels in your day to day life.
When it comes to time for training, you need to work hard. That doesn’t mean reading a magazine on the recumbent bike at the gym either – for the calories this burns you’d be better off dancing or playing some sport and not boring yourself to tears pedalling a bike that isn’t going anywhere. Fat loss training means sweating, pushing yourself, and trying to improve on your previous workout – one more set, more reps, more weight, faster sprints, shorter recovery intervals, less rest periods, whatever it takes to make improvements and keep the training a challenge. While the notion of getting more for less might sound appealing, it is not going to get you the results you want.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Five Fat Loss Mistakes…

Most of what we know about losing weight and improving body composition is intuitive rather than learned. For example, we all know that broccoli is better than pizza for weight loss and that too much beer gives you a belly (amusingly an actual study has proven that alcohol will cause specific fat deposits around the abdomen, so it really is a beer belly). We also know that the basics like getting enough water and adequate sleep are essential for our health and well being, both physically and psychologically – Abraham Maslow identified this back in the 1940’s. These fundamentals are often missing as a result of priorities rather than ignorance – sometimes life just isn’t geared around losing weight. In fact, modern life seems to be far better suited to gaining weight and one look at the expanding waistline of our population is ample evidence of that fact. However, we can also see that not just our waistline, but the rest of our health suffers when our basic needs aren’t fulfilled – despite modern attempts to quell these needs.
When it comes to getting started with exercising and trying to improve body composition it is easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information out there on the topic. There are a multitude of training programmes and often some pretty dogmatic opinions, even though we know from the research that a fat loss programme is only any good if you actually stick to it. Indeed, the best fat loss programme is the one that you actually follow.

However, some of the mistakes we make can let us down without us realising where we have gone wrong, so to get the most from your efforts to improve your health make sure you avoid the following common errors…

1. Picking a programme you won’t stick to:

One thing that looking at fat loss studies tells you is that drop out rates are typically high, a fact that often seems to get left behind while fat loss ‘experts’ build their latest miracle fat blasting workouts based on the findings, often without asking why the study had a 30% or often higher drop out rate.

What this tells us is that the optimal fat loss protocol, may not be ‘optimal’ for you. Sure, intensive interval training is great for fat loss but how often are the psychological demands of this kind of training actually considered? These types of programmes work well for the highly motivated, those with a trainer, or those who exercise as part of a group – but are not so well suited to the person who teeters between trying and giving up and exercises on their own. Similarly, while high density metabolic resistance circuits can also be effective, they work best with those with the requisite strength to train them hard enough. For those who are de-conditioned, local muscular fatigue becomes a challenge long before systemic metabolic fatigue. Those without any resistance training experience would be better served combining lots of walking with a basic resistance training protocol aimed at improving lean mass, increasing strength and building local muscle endurance, prior to attempting high-density metabolic circuits.

So, to avoid making this mistake, first pick a programme that can work for you and be realistic about what you expect from it. Training three times a week is great, but it won’t put you on the cover of Mens Health in 3 months – despite what those selling the programmes might have you think.

Despite the vitriol directed at ‘cardio’ work recently, the fact is that very few individuals (with the exception of the genetically gifted and nutritionally virtuous) can lose weight without it. What type of cardio work you select should be dependent on your current level of fitness, body type, time challenges, and training experience. Beginners, particularly those overweight are well-served in the first instance by trying to accumulate as much exercise as possible such as uphill walking combined with basic resistance work. More experienced exercisers can incorporate interval training combined with some lower intensity work and of course resistance training. The more advanced will be able to choose from a wider range of methods, often using more athletic conditioning circuits, high-intensity intervals, and high-intensity weight training to build improved strength.

Those with a more rounded natural shape tend to benefit from a little more cardiovascular work, while those who are naturally taller and thin (and maybe have more localised fat stores in the abdomen for example) would do better with a bit less cardio and instead to concentrate on adding muscle mass with resistance training. Those lucky mesomorphs in the middle tend to get lean whatever activity they pick – much to the chagrin of the rest of us who aren’t blessed as such – but do well with resistance training and simply increasing activity through anything from walking to recreational sport. However, whatever your build you should avoid an excessive reliance on aerobic work such as running, which over time may not bring results but might well lead to a loss of lean muscle and be counter-productive. However the standard line that sprinters are lean and marathon runners are not so you should train like a sprinter is an oversimplification of the entire story, the research would disagree - finding that sports where bodyweight are supported (such as kayak or swimming) tend to have higher bodyfat levels and that sprinters and marathoners actually have very similar levels of bodyfat, check out the study here. Marathoners tend to have very low levels of body fat too, but sprinters have far greater amounts of muscles mass, in particular the fast-twitch muscle that give us explosive speed and power. You could well ask whether they got to be like that from sprinting, or alternatively if they got to sprinting from having that make up in the first place. My money would be on the latter.

Check in for fat loss mistake number two coming soon.....

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kettlebell Complexes

Here's a quick and simple kettlebell complex which can be added to the end of any workout for the purposes of fat loss and conditioning. We're fond of adding these type of "finishers" at the end of training sessions after the strength training component.
A complex is simply a series of two or more exercises performed back to back, generally with the same implement. They are a good way to get power-endurance and fat loss benefits while also strengthening the grip and posterior chain. Here's a simple example. More to come.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Walking the Walk II

Continuing our series in which we let you in on how our trainers actually train themselves, today it's the turn of company director Graeme Marsh . Currently swanning about in Egypt and calling it "work", Graeme has had to adapt his training program for suitability at an ordinary health club. Here's what he had to say.......

what are your current training goals?

Right now, with a history of shoulder problems and a lot of time spent at the laptop my aim is to stay lean, strong, and healthy....

What does your training program look like at the moment?

it's a bit of an irregular programme, but is designed to improve strength, avoid problem exercises, and strengthen weaknesses. As I am overseas it means training in a health club so I tend to work a lot more straight set training to avoid losing equipment or cables between sets.....however, this is the nuts and bolts of the programme. To keep it short i've not included warm up drills or all the relevant tempos and rest periods....

Day 1. Lower Body (Quad dominant)

A Front Squats in the Power Rack 4-6 sets of 3 (aim to work up to 6 x 3 before putting up weight). Stretch hip flexors between sets.

B. Split Squats with Front foot Slightly raised. 3-4 sets of 6 - 8 reps. 301 tempo. Stretch out hip rotators between sets.

C1. Decline Step Up 3 x 10-12

C2. Calf Raises 3 x 10-12 - slow ex and pause at bottom.

D1. Cable Side Bends 3 x 10-12 slow speed on ecc and con.

Day 2. Upper body 1.

A1. Cable Pronated Grip Row 4 x 10-12 - focus on lots of scap retraction and humeral head retraction.

A2. Rotating Rear Delt Fly 4 x 10-12 - on incline bench, rotating thumbs to ceiling.

B1. Cable Face Pulls 3 x 10-12

B2. Rolling Triceps Extensions 3 x 8-10

C1. Lower Trap Dips 3 x 20-25

C2. Band External Rotations 3 x 12-15

D. Wrist Curls 3 x 12-15

Day 3. Lower Body (Hip Dominant)

A. Rack Deadlifts 4-6 sets of 3 (aim to work up to 6 x 3 before putting up weight). Stretch hip flexors between sets

B. Kneeling Leg Curls 4 x 6-8

C1. Hyperextensions 3 x 10-12

C2. Calf Raises Bent knee 3 x 10-12

D. Dragon Flags 3 x AMRAP

Day 4. Upper Body 2.

A. Chest Supported DB Row 4 x 8-10

B1. Single Arm kneeling Cable Row 3 x 10-12

B2. Dumbbell Screw Curls 3 x 8-10

C1. Trap 3 Lifts 3 x 8-12

C2. Lower Trap Dips 3 x 20-25

D. Side Crunch on Roman Chair. 3 x 12-15

Two days a week i do energy system day is recovery walking and stretching and the other day is interval training and an early shower.....

What's your favourite exercise?

Strangely, never thought I would say it, but......probably front squats....a really challenging but rewarding exercise.

What aspect of training do you find most difficult?

Having to work around an injury and avoid exercises like Cleans that I really enjoy......

What does your diet look like?

Living here in Egypt has meant making some changes in my normal UK diet. Breakfasts I tend to alternate between a very high protein, low carb one such as a cheese omelette with something a bit lighter such as some watermelon and natural yoghurt the next day.. ...after training I'll have a protein shake normally with a few grammes of Glutamine thrown in. For veg it is mostly broccoli and green beans along with lots of peppers teamed with chicken, beef, and fish. I keep to one coffee a day, drink a heck of a lot of water, and eat fruit such as watermelon, apples, and avocado. As for supplements, I take Betaine HCL with main meals, Zinc and GI Microb X (an anti GI infection supplement that has kept me diarrhea free since arriving). Post-training is a serving of Whey Cool (no carbs pretty much) with a teaspoon of glutamine. My diet probably resembles that of the Michael Eades style Protein Power type diet most closely, but is not really designed for weight loss, more just to keep energy up through the day and keep blood sugar levels under control. I eat if I am hungry and am not adverse to the odd treat if i fancy it. Alcohol is virtually non-existent.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Walking the Walk

Those of you who regularly read our blog and have checked out our youtube channel will have seen plenty of footage of us training and demonstrating exercises, but we have never delved into how we actually train when the cameras aren't around. Over the next few blog posts we'll be detailing what each of our trainers current training program looks like. First up is Senior Trainer Zack Cahill.

What are your current training goals?

As ever, get stronger on the big three exercises; squat, deadlift and bench press. I feel that if you focus on performance on those movements then muscle growth and body composition changes happen as a result.

What does your training program look like at the moment?

I'm adding in a bit of strongman training at the moment, mainly for the sake of variety and to keep things interesting. I'm also training twice a day, keeping sessions short. I do conventional strength training in the morning and strongman training later on.
What works for me is lots of sets of low reps with the big exercises, I get little additional benefit from doing lots of assistance exercises so I keep those relatively low, mostly just upper back work, external rotations and lower trap work to keep the shoulders healthy. And curls of course. My current weekly schedule looks something like this.

Monday -
AM session - Rack Deadlifts. As many sets of 1-3 reps as possible in 30 minutes. I might do a bit of single leg work after this such as Siff Split-Squats, for 2 or 3 sets.
PM session - Trap Bar Farmers walk to death.

Wednesday -
Am session - Bottom- up Bench Press in the power rack. Again as many sets of 1-3 as possible in 20 minutes, supersetted with weighted chin ups in the same format. I will usually do some sort of rotator cuff or lower trap work then and usually some bicep curls and tricep work like close grip bench presses to the neck, california presses etc.

PM session- Sled drags. To death again.

Friday -
AM session - Squats- As many sets of 1-3 as possible in 30 minutes.
PM session - Tyre flips. As many as possible in 20 minutes.

Probably not the most balanced or orthopedically sound program in the world and not one I plan to do for weeks on end, but it works and it's fun.

What is your favourite exercise?
The squat, because I am not a naturally good squatter and have had to work very hard to take my squat from totally pathetic to marginally less pathetic.

What aspect of training do you find most difficult?
I don't do cardio. Anything over 5 reps is cardio anyway isn't it? (joking...sort of)

What does your diet look like?

Generally lower carb. Eat every 2-3 hours. Protein every meal. Plenty of green stuff, nuts, meat and eggs. If it has an ingredients list don't eat it. If it swims in the sea, frolics in the forrest or grows in the ground, eat it. The basics. And a couple of corona at the weekend.

In our next post we'll question Zahid on his bizarre training protocols (10 sets of snatches as a finisher anybody?) and just how he keeps his beard so glossy.

Friday, June 26, 2009

10 sets of 10, with a tyre....

As you know we have a tradition of coming up with a non-sensical, random, no-rules workouts every friday. This week it was our very own Master of Volume Zahid, the man with the largest adrenal glands in East London to come up with a workout and he has done us proud. Zahid has developed a reputation for the longest workouts on the team and is the only person we know who calls ten sets of snatches "a finisher".....!

As those of you who train with us know, we like to take elements from the many different schools of thought out there and for this workout we were inspired by the high volume, mentally demanding but brutally effective german volume training - popularised by Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin and with earlier similar versions from the likes of Vince "ouch my shoulders hurt dips" Gironda. This was then combined with the sometimes rather insane methods of high rep explosive routines favoured by the Crossfit crowd.

Now, far from us to weigh in on the various pro's and con's of these often diametrically opposed approaches. We'll leave that to you to decide what works best for your own body and routine.

However, this weeks friday challenge was to perform 100 Tire Flips with 'Ernie' the tyre, in as fast a time as possible.

Currently the record is with the low-volume, low-rep, Zack "I don't do cardio or sets longer than 20 seconds -ATP dominant" Cahill, who posted a time of 27 minutes and 36 seconds and is now complaining of severe forearm soreness and walking like John Wayne.

Of course, the wisdom of this workout may be slightly's just one heavy, hard, dynamic, full-body exercise done for a lot of reps, with not a lot of rest and it is physically and psychologically challenging....but why not give it a try? Alternatively come down to our gym any time during opening hours and give it a try yourself, we will be posting the best times on the blog.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Five ways to Get Fat

Yes, you did read the title correctly. Today's post is nothing more than a poorly veiled attempt at a bit of reverse psychology. Here we look instead at some dietary strategies that are guaranteed to help you stack on unwanted bodyfat in double-quick time.

So, if these sound familiar then you should probably consider giving the opposite approach a try....

1. Eat large portions of energy dense food - Studies find that when told to eat only until full, people will overeat when confronted with larger portions of energy dense food. One study showed a remarkable 800 calorie difference in a day when the participants were confronted with the option of lower energy/smaller portions. Portion control is often the first stop in figuring out why your eating plan may not be working.

2. Skip Breakfast - Guaranteed to lead to both poor food choices and more of it than if you had eaten a good breakfast, including some protein. N.B: Cornflakes and Orange Juice is NOT an example of a good breakfast.

3. Drinking beers and lagers - Unfortunately beer intake can be a direct contributor to the infamous beer belly and the research does support this with studies showing a clear link between alcohol intake and increased abdominal fat deposits in men (

Of all the various forms of alcohol, beer is in fact probably the worst one when it comes to weight gain and there are several key reasons for this. The combination of simple sugars and alcohol in beer send our hormonal system off the wall causing increases in both insulin resistance and cortisol. If our body grows less sensitive to insulin then we progressively release more and more, which encourages the body to store more fat. Cortisol, which is an adrenal hormone (the alcohol causes large releases of this) causes abdominal fat storage (there is plenty of research now showing the link between high cortisol levels and abdominal fat storage), while also telling the body to keep ignoring the insulin it is producing. As if that wasn't bad enough it also affects other areas of the body - breaking down muscle for energy, which slows our metabolism, affecting thyroid hormone production and lowering testosterone levels.

It gets worse, because as we age our testosterone levels start to naturally drop, which means that the effect of drinking is more magnified in older men. Increased fat storage at the waist then causes men to start to produce estrogen - the female sex hormone - and before long you have man boobs! This is caused by an enzyme in our body called Aromatase which converts testosterone into estrogen. Surprise, surprise, alcohol increases the activity of Aromatase.

Alcohol has a few other interactions that can harm fat loss efforts, for instance it can block absorption of essential nutrients such as Zinc, Magnesium, and the B-Vitamins. It can also affect how we metabolise essential fatty acids and it can create further stress responses through its diuretic actions (dehydrating the body).

Of course it is simplifying things a bit too just blame beer for this, stress can make this situation even worse by increasing cortisol levels in the body, preventing good sleep patterns, and leading to poor food choices (refined carbohydrates in particular) - all of which can lead to a 'beer belly'. Of course you can still get the 'beer belly' look without the beer, by consuming large quantities of any alcohol (some of which have more pronounced effects than others), along with eating a diet high in sugars and having poor sleep patterns you can recreate the metabolic circumstances that lead to increased abdominal fat storage.

4. Eat high sugar/high fat combination foods Foods high in sugar and fat, while tasting pretty good, are a surefire recipe for stacking on weight at the middle. A good diet should have an appreciable amount of quality fat in as it is essential to health, but pairing up crappy fats with sugars (in particular hydrogenated fats with artificial sugars like high-fructose corn syrup - HFCS) is a nutritional disaster zone. Sugar sends our insulin levels sky-high telling us to store away all those calories packed in to the food itself. So, to gain fat - keep insulin levels high, and to lose fat, get them under control (though not always low - as insulin is also anabolic and at times is needed for growth!).

5. Eat fast and late. Fast food, perhaps is best named for the speed at which most people tend to devour it. Chewing food aids digestion and hence helps with absorption of key nutrients. Poor digestion is particularly likely to lead to poor health and often weight gain. Combine this with taking in a whole heap of food late at night and you have the final nail in the coffin for a healthy lean lifestyle.

Armed with these top tips you should now be able to gain weight - mostly bodyfat - with the greatest of ease. Of course, if that isn't your desire then simple reversal of these practices should give you an idea of how simple dietary changes can make a huge impact on your weight and health!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The effects of a terrible budget...

Today, I am going to drift off our usual fitness related topic a little......I recently was having a conversation with a friend of mine about the recent budget and increases in income tax that were brought in by our embattled chancellor and it was interesting to hear how our opinions differed. He was impassive about the tax raises and feels that those who earn more should pay a lot more...I don't disagree entirely, but I don't believe further increases in income tax are the way forward.

While to many it may seem that raising the income tax of those high earners - many of whom reside in London - is a popular move, I am not so sure it is a good idea, particularly where small businesses are concerned. Many people may feel that this raise won't affect them as it is targeted as those high-end earners, however I do not believe that this tax raise truly benefits the wider economy or does anything to increase spending confidence.

Higher earners create wealth, that is the fact. They spend money in businesses all over the capital and in doing so create jobs for others. Taxing them at source with an income tax rate higher than the U.S, France, and Germany, does nothing for businesses - although it does add a few extra quid to the government pool to spend - perhaps a new moat or flatscreen tv for an MP instead?

Removing money from peoples pockets before they have a chance to actually spend it will do nothing to stimulate growth, in fact it just reduces spending confidence and frustrates the efforts of small businesses who are working their hardest on trying to gain new business. So, what do we do instead to raise revenue? Well, why not tax higher earners at the point where they spend their money rather than before they have spent it? That way people can CHOOSE where to spend their cash, increasing their disposable income, which in turn gets spent in businesses, thereby stimulating growth and employment.

So, we are effectively talking about a form of graduated sales taxation. For example, if you spend £150,000 on a new Ferrari then you would pay a higher rate of 'luxury' tax than if you were spending £6000 on a small eco-friendly car (where you could also benefit from a small cashback and low-cost road fund licence). Would a few thousand extra really bother someone who is prepared to spend that kind of money on a car anyway?

Now, I must supply the large caveat here that I am no economist or expert, and although I might have read Vince Cable's latest book on the topic, I am not saying this is the ideal solution. However, I am already seeing the effect of higher income taxation, in higher earners cutting back on their expenditure, the knock-on effect of which is reduced income to business and cuts in jobs.

I was reading an interview in the Times this weekend with the property entrepreneur Nick Leslau and it was interesting to read his opinions, which you won't be surprised to learn echo my own (perhaps he overheard me chatting to someone....?). His thoughts are that removing wealth creators from the business climate does nothing to stimulate growth - very true if you ask me, and particularly so here in London.

Today, I have been on Radio 5 talking about the tube strike. Personally, I think the Stones said it best "you can't always get what you want" and maybe the tube drivers would do well to look at the many private businesses and individuals who pay the extortionate travel prices here in London - Europe's most expensive city to travel in - and count themselves lucky they still have a job. Many, many people face reductions in hours, pay freezes, and long-term job insecurity - it is hardly likely that any of them will empathise with the RMT's decision. It still seems unclear as to what happened as according to the union leader, deals over pay and redundancies had been successfully brokered, only to be pulled at the last minute by, well we aren't very sure who! The RMT seem to be blaming the mayor in some kind of conspiracy theory, perhaps suggesting he deliberately scuppered the deal. Let's hope that this mess gets sorted and we can all get back to trying to pull us out of this recession.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Five of the Best...

Sometimes I am asked about recommended books for trainers or for interested folks who just would like to learn more about training or a self-confessed bibllioholic I buy at least one or two a week, not always about fitness, but also about business and personal development. Recently I have even lapsed into buying fiction!

So, for those of you who are interested in widening the scope of your library, I have listed below some top 5's of books that are certainly worth thinking about investing in if you are interested in widening your knowledge and learning some new stuff!

My Top 5 Training Books...

O.k, this isn't an easy category to pick, but my top 5 are based on a desert island philosophy (assuming that island also had a gym of sorts). So, they all offer the maximum of useful and usable information with the minimum of fluff or filler.

1. Science and Practice of Strength Training - Zatsiorsky

2. Optimal Muscle Training - Kinakin (if you could only buy one, this would be an excellent choice).

3. Poliquin Principles - Poliquin

4. SuperTraining - Siff (I couldn't in all honesty bring myself to leave this one out, despite its complexity)

5. Stretch to Win - Fredericks (there are a couple of books on flexibility I really like, but this is probably my favourite).

Nearly rans included Low Back Disorders by McGill and Fleck and Kraemer's original text (not their latest one which was a real disappointment).

My Top 5 Nutrition Books

1. Staying Healthy Through Nutrition - Haas (This book has so much information in, it is always a great initial reference)

2. Diet Delusion - Taubes (brilliantly researched and evocative book)

3. Digestive Wellness - Lipski (a fantastic guide to the first part of the digestive chain)

4. 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth - Bowden (I recommend this for all my clients, it is a brilliant reference. Those of you who like it would do well to check out his book on 'Living the Low Carb Life'. He is a superb author and writes better than most I have read.)

5. The Cortisol Connection - Talbot

There are umpteen more books I own and think are great for learning about nutrition. I make no secret that I am a fan of both the Atkins approach and that of Michael Eades too, although I haven't included any specific 'diet' books in this list. 'Why Zebra's don't have ulcers' is a fantastic book as well and another that I highly recommend along with Dr James Wilson's book on Adrenal Fatigue.

Lastly, my Top 5 for Business and Personal Development

1. Good to Great - Collins (BUY THIS BOOK!!!)

2. The E-Myth Revisited - Gerber

3. What Clients Love - Beckwith

4. The Four Hour Work Week - Ferriss

5. Blue Ocean Strategy - Chan Kim

Now, what are you waiting for? Get yourself onto Amazon and away you go!!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Take The Stairs, Get Leaner

I won't bother starting this post with the obligatory rant about why most modern cardio machines are no substitute for old fashioned hard work like skipping, dragging and sprinting. If you read this blog I'll take it as read that you're already aware of the benefits of this more "old-school" approach to improving body composition. For the purposes of burning fat and getting stronger and fitter, we know that hard work will always trump clever gimmicks and fancy equipment. So with this in mind, to the subject of today's post;

Stairs Training for fitness and fat loss.
A flight of stairs might just be the best piece of cardio equipment you could ever ask for (luckily at Aegis Training we have two). Stairs sprints impose a large metabolic demand while building strength and endurance in the lower body. There are many drills which can be performed (check out the video below for some ideas) but the most basic is the sprint. Here's what to do to get started.
Find a stairs! Chances are you have access to one either at home, in a local park or near work. Ideally you want at least 15 steps, enough so that it takes about 10 seconds to sprint to the top and come back down (we don't advise sprinting back down, but coming back down briskly with your hands on the rails).
Warm up for about 5 minutes or so jogging to the top and back down or performing some light mobility drills (see our previous post on lower body warm-ups for ideas).
Now you're ready to go. Sprint as fast as possible from the bottom of the stairs to the top, then come back down keeping your hands on the rails for safety. Rest about as long as it took you to get to perform your sprint, then go again. Repeat for 5-10 reps.

Obviously sets and rest intervals can be adjusted to suit your needs, if you find this impossible simply double or triple you rest periods, then shorten them gradually over a few weeks. On the other hand, if you want more of a challenge, try the Stair Ladder.
Perform one sprint, then rest as long as that sprint took ( for the sake of simplicity we'll say it takes ten seconds). Then perform two sprints and rest 20 seconds, and continue in this fashion;
3 sprints, 30 seconds rest
4 sprints, 40 seconds rest
5 sprints, 40 seconds rest,
4 sprints, 30 seconds rest
3 sprints, 20 seconds rest
2 sprints, 10 seconds rest
1 sprint, collapse, hyperventilate, vow never to attempt this again.

Give it a try.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Most Horrible Leg Exercise Ever?

Too often in training we tend to gravitate towards the things we are already good at. Unfortunately, if we always stick to well mastered, familiar exercises that we enjoy, it inevitably results in less challenging workouts and less reason for your body to change. I feel that any program should always have at least one exercise that you're not fond of. The reason being; if you hate something it's a pretty sure sign you need to do more of it!
The Bulgarian Split Squat fits the bill perfectly as pretty much everybody hates it. Particularly the second variation shown on this video with the extra quarter rep in the bottom position. This is one we throw into a program when we're feeling particularly sadistic. Aside from replacing your quads with red hot coals, the exercise has the following the benefits;
Single leg exercises help balance strength between the limbs.
Promotes stability and strengthens the muscles of the foot and ankle.
Increases flexibility in the hips as the exercise involves a deep, loaded stretch of the hip flexor.
Hits the adductors and stabilising muscles of the hip in a way that double leg exercises do not.
So if your feeling brave, try dropping squats for a few weeks and give the Bulgarian Split Squat an honest try. 4 sets of 6-8 reps is good place to start. When you return to squatting you should be both stronger and more flexible.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Get To Grips With Kettlebells

Question - What is the limiting factor on practically all effective strength exercises ?
Answer - Your grip. Your hands are what attach you to the dumbbell, barbell or kettlebell. Your grip strength is what transfers the force generated by the rest of your body to your implement of choice. Therefore if your grip is weak and is giving up before your legs or upper body, then you are not getting all you can from your training.
Unfortunately most people have pretty poor grip strength, in fact most new clients complain about pain in their forearms when performing pulling exercises rather than in their lats. This is a pretty good sign that the targeted muscles are being shortchanged. So how do we fix this weak point? By training it until it's a strong point. Thickening the grip on a barbell or dumbbell will always challenge the grip further. However thick grip barbells are pretty thin on the ground in most gyms, so we came up with a cheap and effective alternative - rope training.
The rope provides a thick, uneven handle which effectively targets the gripping muscles of the forearms and is extremely versatile. You can adapt most exercises for use with the rope and are limited only by your imagination. In the video below we show some variations using a kettlebell.
Stick to one or two exercises per workout using the rope and perform them at the end of your workout, otherwise you will fatigue your grip before your other exercises.
Here are some ideas to get you started, more to come soon!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Dietician does it again...

Now, I am not wanting to sound like I have an issue with dieticians, but this morning on BBC Breakfast they (well more specifically one of them - Dr Clare Leonard) over stepped the line.

Always, we are told how how a few of those with a dietetic degree think most of us nutritionist types to be quacks who peddle unnecessary supplements, bad science, and holistic nonsense. They will point to the lack of a dietetic degree (despite the fact that many of us possess science based degrees, masters or PhD's and are more current with the research than they are) as an indictment of the fact that we are not to be trusted. We could go on, but let's get back to the story in hand...

This morning's story was centred around the amount of sugar in breakfast cereals (us quack nutritionists have of course known this a long time) revealing the frankly astonishing amounts in some of the popular brands of cereal (in particular those aimed specifically at children tended to be the worst offenders).

In true BBC form they invited an expert in to talk about it (she must be an expert as she calls herself Doctor) - but we should of course mention that far from being impartial - Dr Leonard is the nutritional 'expert' for Nestle under the more official sounding moniker of 'Cereal Partners Worldwide' and clearly a strong advocate of us all eating a wheat/sugar refined cereal for breakfast.

Amongst some of the other unbelievable statements our good doctor has to offer was the fact (according to her) that "there is no research linking sugar consumption to obesity"

Yes, you read it correct, but in case you are finding it hard to comprehend that anyone with more than GCSE Physiology would say that I am going to write it again....

"there is no research linking sugar consumption to obesity"

Oh really??? I am sure that I need not go into the absolute dearth of research from some brilliant individuals, such as John Yudkin, Gerald Reaven, David Jenkins, or the pioneering concepts and findings from someone like T.L Cleave who realised many years ago the damage refined sugars and flour were causing. In fact, two things we can be pretty sure of are that sugar makes you fat and rots your teeth, while (by it's effects on insulin and links to insulin resistance) we can be pretty confident of its role in a whole range of maladies, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, parkinsons, gastrointestinal ills, and the list goes on (sometimes called diseases of civilisation or western illnesses due to the relative absence of them in indigenous populations until the arrival of 'civilisation' and the importing of sugar in its various forms).

Another of her pearls was that it is "fat in the diet that causes you to get fat" and at this point I nearly spat my eggs out all over the television in sheer incredulity at that statement. Clearly she has no knowledge whatsoever of triglyceride formation...some fructose anyone?

Why the BBC decided to interview such a one-eyed so-called 'expert' to do nothing but try and deflect questions and peddle false truths is beyond me. What is worse is that by calling her a Doctor they give the public the impression that this person is a medical expert and should be listened too.

Let me state this clearly. It is very rare, as someone who has studied and researched also, that I can state anything as equivocally as I am about to, but there is no place in your child's diet (or your own) for refined carbohydrates and sugar-filled cereals. There simply is no real basis on which you can argue for their inclusion. These foods are so devoid in nutrition that they actually have to try and add something back in during the processing. You could leave a bowl of cereals outside your door overnight and it would be left untouched by all the wild animals in the neighbourhood, which should tell you something!

What concerns me most is the effect these cereals are having on our kids from a young age, developing insulin resistance and hyperglycemia in our youngsters that is creating a dangerous public health issue, damaging organs, increasing their fat cells, promoting obesity and affecting behaviour. Kids are taught that food is super sweet, comes in a packaged box, and doesn't actually resemble any kind of actual food itself (scary how many kids now can't even recognise common fruit and vegetables....).

Any nutrition expert who doesn't think this is the case is either deluding themselves or has 'sold out' to a commercial interest. Simple as that. Those of us who work with regular people trying to lose weight clearly have a different perspective (sure, take a 24 stone teen who is eating 30 pop tarts for breakfast and replace with a small bowl of All-Bran and you might see a difference, but that is hardly evidence of the benefits of sugar laden cereals) on this topic.

If you'd like to read more then I highly recommend the excellent book, 'Diet Delusion' by Gary Taubes (sold in the USA as 'Good Calorie, Bad Calorie') although any good textbook on nutritional biochemistry will shed some light on the links between sugar and insulin...

Let's hope that next time the BBC covers this topic they do so in a better way than they did today, which quite honestly was RUBBISH!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Feel Better In 5 Minutes

We're on a bit of a roll with the whole injury prevention theme, so here's the final piece of the puzzle for putting together an effective warm-up; self myofascial release through foam rolling.
Foam rolling is essentially a form of poor man's massage. It works via something called autogenic inhibition. This involves increasing the level of tension on a muscle until it perceives it as potentially injurious. As a protective mechanism the muscle will then relax. The end result is decreased levels of resting tension in the muscle and improved mobility. The video shows the techniques for the quads, add/abductors and lats but it can be done all over the body. Just find where you are tender and gently roll your body over the foam roller on that area. Spend about 30-60 seconds on each area on a regular basis to get the benefits. For best results buy your own foam roller and use it at home for few minutes every day, it's cheaper than a massage.
On training days, foam rolling would come before the specific warm-up (see the previous posts for examples). Don't wait till after your injured to start warming up properly folks!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lower Body Warm Up

Following on from our last post, here is a lower body warm up focusing on glute activation and hip mobility. Just as everyone can benefit from increased thoracic mobility in the upper body, it is very important to learn to move from the hips rather than the lower back. This "spares the spine" according to Dr Stuart McGill, a world renowned expert in low back disorder. Essentially, the more mobile the hips and the better your gluteal muscles are at doing their job, the better your lower back will be.
When you sit at a desk for most of the day the glutes can tend to shut down and the hips can become stiff and immobile. This results in more stress being passed onto the lumbar spine and eventually to pain and disorder. These exercises are designed to counteract the effects of sitting at a desk all day. It can be done before any training session, or even on rest days as a form of active recovery. The more often the better.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sort Your Desk Posture Out

As much as every client is different and will have their own unique training needs, there are some things that just about every client can benefit from. I would count thoracic mobility and scapula stability among those things.

If you spend most of your day in a seated position then it is likely that you have poor thoracic mobility. This results in a slouched posture which in turn prevents the scapula (shoulder blades) from tilting back when you lift your arms. When the scapula is not tilting properly, it reduces the space in the shoulder through which the muscles of the rotator cuff travel and over time cause impingement (this is painful and bad!).
So, if you want to prevent shoulder injury you need to ensure that the thoracic spine has adequate range of motion and the muscles that control the shoulder blades, such as the serratus anterior and lower trapezius, are strong enough to move the scapula into the correct position.
Long story short; good thoracic mobility plus good scapula stability equals healthy, pain free shoulders.

Check out the video for a sample upper body warm up which focuses on the spine and scapula. Do this each exercise for about 45 seconds in a circuit fashion before training to start fixing that desk posture.

Team Aegis

Friday, April 03, 2009

'Healthy Appetite?' or maybe not....

I was very kindly bought a book for Christmas by the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay (obviously he didn't actually buy it for me), although most the recipes seem to have been created by Gordon's Head Chef at Claridges - Mark Sargeant. I have to confess, it has sat on a shelf in my kitchen for a few weeks, having been so busy and suffering from a very poor social calendar has meant little need for culinary guidance lately. The book is called 'Healthy Appetite' and is meant to include healthy recipes, however, on first impression I am not so sure how healthy they actually are...

Anyway, I thought I would have a little look at one of the 'healthy' recipes and have to say I was a little shocked. Now, I must supply the caveat that this isn't a thorough book review, that will follow soon. However, the first recipe that I arrived at was a so-called healthy breakfast smoothie and I have to tell you I was a little surprised at the ingredients.....

It starts off o.k with a couple of portions of berries, but goes rapidly downhill with the addition of milk and then 3 - 4 TABLESPOONS of sugar. Yes, you have read correctly, that is about 40 - 45 grams of sugar in one smoothie, plus the sugar in the milk and obviously that contained in the berries. In short, this recipe is about the last thing you would want to give someone with any degree of insulin resistance or blood sugar imbalance issues. There is little need to sweeten berries, but even if you REALLY need to then you can add in some Xylitol (however, this is in my opinion completely unnecessary). However, as recipes for a healthy breakfast go, this one is a long-way off and would benefit greatly from the addition of some essential fats, some whey protein, nuts, and the removal of the unnecessary added sugar........

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

More Anti-Atkins B@llocks!

O.k - it is a harsh title for a blog post. I accept that, but every once in a while someone shows me an article written somebody who clearly doesn't know what they are talking about. This particular little tirade against the Atkins diet that was recently forwarded to me is exactly the kind of uninformed rubbish that is pedalled by people who (despite putting a picture of the book on the article) haven't actually read the book, or any of the recent research, otherwise you feel they would be a lot less vilifying in what they wrote.

I am often criticised or challenged for trying to get people to eat more fat, reduce their sugar and grain intake. The usual accusation levelled at me in perjorative fashion is that I promote 'pseudo-Atkins' approaches, and it is usually uninformed comments like we see in the media or on peoples websites that provide the fuel for these. Mostly these comments are simply regurgitated verbatim et litteratim without a true understanding of what they are saying.

Try as I might, I cannot let this go unchallenged. So, in answer to recent comments in an article I thought I might try and right a few wrongs. So, here are a few of the comments from the article that are often cited by many dieticians and the public alike. I have bolded them with my viewpoints underneath?

The Atkins diet is a diet where you limit your carbohydrate intake and rely more on protein

O.k well it doesn't start on a good footing from square one does it? In a recent study over 12 months in the U.S comparing four different diet approaches (I'm going to come back to this excellent study) they showed that protein intake on Atkins was relatively comparable with both Zone diets and the national recommendations. What characterises Atkins over most common approaches is the greater fat intake. Has this guy read the book????

The problem with the Atkins diet and why many people think the Atkins diet is bad is that it is a great short term weight loss diet but very unhealthy for long term.

Hmmm, o.k well I'd love to see some references, but sadly they seem to have not been included here. In fact the article in case carries NO referencing at all. Well, this study at Stanford in the US would disagree with the above point. Check the abstract HERE .
You might be interested that contrary to the quote from the 'anti-atkins' article, the above study found that not only was Atkins more effective for weight loss, it was also the only diet in the study that showed FAVOURABLE changes in triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, and Blood Pressure.
Long-Term concerns that are often voiced about this type of diet tend to centre around the possible effects of a raised protein intake on kidney health in those with sub-par kidney function. However, there is NO data to support this hypothesis and it remains nothing more than a caveat given by those who are now having to admit that it may not be quite the nutritional heresy it once was.

Carbs are very important for the body and are what give you energy when these are cut down as a short term fix this will make you feel lethargic and can trigger other emotional problems.

O.k I must of missed the section on 'essential carbohydrates' in my MSc lectures and nutritional study. This is clearly someone who has never tried this or used this approach. I could go into quite a deep lecture on this but lets keep this brief. Actually most peoples terrible issues with energy are due to their inability to regulate their blood glucose levels, which is caused (in most cases) by excessive intake of refined carbs, grains, flour, and sugar. We see consistent improvements in energy, mood, and many other measures by simply replacing many of these carb calories with fats. Controlling insulin is central to dealing with lethargy and energy issues, not to mention successful weight loss and to do this effectively you must look at carb intake.

We aren't saying that you shouldn't eat carbs. In fact the research show's that those with a high degree of carb sensitivity often lose weight better when they have a more moderate than low carb intake. However, the notion that carbohydrates are what 'gives you energy' is completely misleading, as is the portrayal of this as a 'short-term fix' - we view it as a long-term fix. We keep our carbs in most cases to a large unrestricted intake of vegetables, full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and many other goodies.

Now, I could be here all day pulling out references to support my criticism, but I am not the one completely slating the lowered carbohydrate, higher-fat approach. However, a recent study out in February completely contradicts the 'emotional problems' that this article talks about. The study by Yancy et al found improved quality of life scores on mental health with the low-carb group only! . This follows a similar study from 2006 in the Journal of Obesity where the authors concluded "that weight loss can result in significant improvement in a broad range of self-report symptoms and that, compared with an LFD, an LCKD results in specific improvements in mood".

I think that is that covered. Let's move on.

The other problem with the Atkins is once you come off it you will put on allot (sic) more weight as your body will have gone into a starvation phase storing fat not knowing when you will be given food next.

Oh please. Let's not pretend this is an Atkins phenomenon, in fact you are far more likely to experience this with a true fad diet such as the 'Special K Diet' or the 'Flat Belly Diet' or some such similar rubbish. The Atkins is not a fad diet, in fact in keeping with the word 'Diet' which actually means 'way of life' the Atkins is designed to help people find a way to live long-term that prevents weight regain (READ THE BOOK!!!!). Anecdotally a search of the many online forums shows how much success there is, while empirically the Stanford study that is cited above showed that compared to Zone, Ornish, and national recommendations, those who followed Atkins had a higher rate of success at keeping their weight loss off.

"The main danger with the Atkins diet is how you actually lose weight from it. The Atkins diet triggers a short term weight loss situation called ketosis.This can also be life threatening for individuals who have diabetes."

Oh good grief. It just gets worse, not this old chestnut! Please go and learn the difference between ketosis and diabetic ketoacidosis. I won't go into that here, but the low level of ketosis seen on the first two weeks of Atkins cannot be compared to the extraordinary levels of ketones that are seen along with dangerously high levels of blood sugar seen in diabetics. Ketogenic diets were often the treatment of choice for epilepsy in children - hardly something that would be used if it was so desperately bad for the kidneys. While there is slightly higher rates of kidney stones (3-7%) seen in children after 18 months, the chances of any side effects from the two-week induction phase of Atkins are almost always overstated and I've yet to meet anyone who had kidney failure from two-weeks of low-carb eating. I've eaten low-carb for several years now and am pleased to report my kidney's are still intact and functioning perfectly well.

You do lose weight in this way but mainly water weight, the carbs in your muscles and as you move along the process some fat but also muscle mass something you really don’t want to be losing and is certainly not healthy to lose.

I am going to overlook the grammar and get to the point. Bodybuilders have been dieting like this since most of us can recall. Actually Dr Mauro Di Pasquale, Author of the Anabolic Diet, bases it around the ketogenic approach. In fact, just about every expert out there who really knows what they are talking about would say this is the basis on which bodybuilders, fitness models and others are actually able to get lean for shows, ever met a bodybuilder who leans out with pasta, rice, and bread? Shifting to a higher fat and reduced carb intake can help shift the body's metabolism to prefer fat burning over carb oxidation, which is why ketogenic cyclic diets tend to be so successful.

I have never understood this criticism of lowered carb/higher fat approaches. Yes, you do lose some stored water, what exactly is the problem with that? Many people struggle with fluid retention so the reduction in bloating and oedema that can come through reducing carbs (refined carbs and grain raise insulin, which leads to kidneys retaining sodium and the body retaining water) is often welcomed. Not to mention the benefits of a reduced vascular load, as evidenced by the reductions in blood pressure seen on an Atkins diet.

Personally I would advise no one to use the Atkins diet but instead go for a healthy lifestyle change where you could lose weight fast and keep it off for good

Please share this with us? Let me guess? Low-fat? Special K? Muller Light? I think by refusing to admit that approaches similar to Atkins (let us not forget that the notion that sugar and refined grain products may be deleterious to health was being mooted by many others, such as Jerry Reaven, and the brilliant John Yudkin before Atkins) may have some merit - and indeed recent research is confirming this- you are in danger of not only misleading and confusing clients, you are missing out on possible tools to help clients, particularly those with insulin resistance and Syndrome X/metabolic syndrome.

Our above comments are not intended to be a direct criticism of the authors of the article in question, I am sure they are well-intended. However, it comes across like a piece that just echoes dogma and myths that have been leveled at anything other than the USDA Food Pyramid approach for years now. For us, if you are going to write such a strongly worded piece full of such absolute criticism and vitriol then you really should back it up with some solid science and evidence. As educators to the public we have a responsibility to report objectively on issues that are often misunderstood by them, instead articles like this cloud the waters rather than clear them.

Finally, we emphasis that here at Aegis we don't talk about stuff unless we do it ourselves. That's why we don't write articles on bodybuilding or high-end athletic conditioning, we write about diet and exercise for the everyday client and person in the street who we help and see results with EVERY week, often using approaches and methods influenced by such people as Atkins.
Part of our rule is not to advise clients on diets and training unless we have tried them ourselves, or at least researched them thoroughly, which is where, for us, this article falls down. It doesn't seem to us like the author has even read the book, which may be a good place for them to start......

The fact of the matter is that modern research is now showing strong evidence for the efficacy of low-carbohydrate and higher fat approaches for weight loss and the treatment of insulin resistance and syndrome X/metabolic syndrome. Like it or not, the results cannot continually be swept under the 'Atkins carpet' that dieticians in particular are so fond of using in such perjorative fashion.