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 work.....one 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.