Friday, December 16, 2011

Our Newer Sexier Site

Folks, we have finally embraced modernity and updated our website, as a result this blog has moved to our London Personal Trainer website here , where I will continue to put out musings on all things fitness and health.

Thanks for reading! And see you on the new site.

Zack Cahill

Friday, December 09, 2011

Skinny Bitch Roundup

Just a quick one this week, here are a couple of before and after shots from the Skinny Bitch Experiment, my online fat loss program for busy women. These results were achieved with no more than 20 minutes of training a day, at home without equipment or gym membership. I've also included a few quotes from the private Skinny Bitch Facebook group.

We'll be opening up to new members again in January.

"Hey guys final results r in!! Minus 5.2kgs (11.5lbs) minus 6 inches on waist and minus 2.25 inches on hips!! Thanks so much zack for giving me the kickstart I needed to a healthier and fitter (exercisewise not hotnesswise haha) me!! I would never have been this motivated BSB (before skinny bitch) thank u so much coach bastard!! Posting the last of the fotos can't believe the difference!"

"I have weighed and measured today as we have friends coming so I'm going to have my first drink of the month! Altogether 17 pounds down now, 3 inches from waist, 2 from hips, 3 from top of leg and 2 from top of my arms. Totally delighted, I'm a different shape altogether and feel brilliant. I am going to continue as best I can until Christmas week, its work nights out etc so I will follow the rules. Thanks Zack, you did perform a miracle xx"

"right here it is: i've lost 7.3 kgs (16.09 lbs), waist 2.5 inches from the waist and 2.5 inches from the hips!! and in Shakira's words....the hips don't lie ladies!!! am so pleased I've defo exceeded pre baby weight and some ... I last weighed this 11 years ago!!!! look out boys!!!"

"Thanks Zack because I think I might look back on this as the point when i stopped being such a lazy bitch and started being a skinny one instead!"
If you want to reserve your place get in touch.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Nutrition Is Like Religion - Let The Hate Mail Commence

There will be a slew of "don't get fat at Christmas" articles doing the rounds and I suppose if I wanted to stay topical and get some google hits I should come up with one too. But to be honest I don't find it very interesting. If you've worked hard on your training and nutrition this year, eat whatever the hell you want and then get back on track when it's done.

That wouldn't make a very good article though , so maybe I'll try and come up with something half decent for next week. In the mean time though, I've opted to massively offend large sections of both my profession and the population at large.

Here goes...
I believe that "nutritionism" has more in common with religion than it does with science, and I don't believe that this is a good thing. I don't feel that this engenders reasoned and rational debate and if you give me five minutes I'll explain why, then if you still disagree you can come to Shoreditch and burn me at the stake.

"Nutritionism" here refers to the largely unregulated industry that has developed around telling us what to eat in order to lose weight, allegedly rid yourself of diseases including cancer , and achieve everything in between.

I believe there are many well meaning people in this industry who do good work and provide value, I also believe there are some dangerous charlatans. Obviously part of my job involves advising clients on nutrition (though I believe in keeping things as simple as possible and focus more on changing behaviours than arguing about how much selenium something contains or trying to diagnose endocrine dysfunctions with a callipers ). My goal is not to malign any one person but to point out some flawed thinking that seems to be very common in the nutrition world and maybe get a few people thinking.

I'm also not trying to upset religious people or argue them out of their position. I just believe there are some interesting parallels between the religious mindset and that of devotees to particular nutritional practices.
1- Reliance On Faith Over Evidence- Religious claims can not be scientifically proven,which is inconvenient if your goal is to convince the world of your point of view. So, if the evidence won't work for you, one method is to attack the need for evidence itself. Religion does this by using faith as an integral part of religious practice. The act of believing really hard in something in the face of a total lack of evidence is in itself seen as virtuous.

Many nutrition gurus employs the same tricks. Like religious ideas, many of their very specific claims have never been proven scientifically. Instead there is a reliance on testimonials over data, "well all I know is it works for me and my clients" is a common refrain. Highly emotive and personal stories of "triumph" over illness or obesity are highly persuasive, we are wired to respond to them far more than dry statistics. But they are no basis to make an informed decision wether an intervention works or not.

There is also a trend toward portraying science and statistics as incapable of testing certain alternative approaches, and to claim that "anything can be proven". Evidence that contradicts your claims is dismissed as propaganda from evil pharmaceutical companies. Its not that these companies never use dirty tricks, but this phrase is usually used to shut down debate rather than engage in it, and comes from a position of intellectual laziness.

In the fundamentalist Christian worldview, evolution is portrayed as "merely a theory" (the use of the word "merely" in this instance demonstrating a misunderstanding of the word "theory") and creationism as a "competing theory", when it lacks a single shred of evidence to support it.

So this anti-scientific trend is prevalent in both the religious and nutrition worlds, at least when the evidence is not in their favour.

The approach in a nutshell; "science does not support my worldview, so rather than seeking to prove my theory or accepting the evidence and changing my mind, I will seek to undermine science itself"

The need for evidence for the existence of a higher power is possibly another philosophical debate altogether, I realise there is an argument that this question lies beyond the remit of science (I don't actually agree with that argument, but anyway). But if you are going to make scientific claims, wether they be "the universe is 3000 years old" or "protein will destroy your kidneys" you must back them up with scientific evidence, not blind faith.

2- Overly Defensive Response To Criticism. Science is about coming up with an idea and then trying to disprove it.

Then, if you haven't been able to disprove it yourself you throw it out there for your peers to rip apart and see if they can disprove it. If they can't prove you wrong, you may just have something.

Religion and the wackier areas of nutrition and alternative medicine use the exact opposite technique. It is about coming up with an idea, looking for (or making up) evidence to support it, ignoring evidence that contradicts it and reacting defensively to any who challenge your idea.

Religion has been very successful about portraying itself as somehow above debate. We can have a spirited argument about anything from our favourite food or football team to politics but once religion enters the frame its "this is my faith so you're not allowed to criticise it". The mantra "everyones entitled to their opinion" is chanted and the subject changed. Why? Are these ideas so fragile that they can't be questioned?

This attitude exists in the nutrition world also. It is incredible how often I've witnessed proponents of one particular school of nutritional dogma become angry to the point of throwing insults simply because I don't hold with their beliefs. Ive said this before but if you're getting angry because I disagree with you rather than engaging in a reasoned and rational debate, perhaps you're simply not that confident in your own beliefs.

An even more common technique is to attempt to label the critic as "closed minded" for not agreeing with the alternative view. I always thought being open minded meant looking at the available evidence and making an informed decision. It seems in the alternative nutrition and religious worlds, closed minded simply means "having views that differ from ours"

Anger, slurs and ad hominem attacks are all indicators that the person arguing has run out of facts.

Is any of this important?

I don't care if people want believe in God. I don't even really care if they want to waste their money on supplements that don't work (which isn't all of them) or with nutritionists who talk crap (which isn't all of them). Im happy to see these things as a self selecting tax on people who don't understand statistics.

But I do care about the systematic undermining of science within our little health and fitness bubble and to the general public. Because as it turns out , at the extreme what starts with some wasted money on supplements can end with the death of thousands

I care about holding the personal training and nutrition world to a higher standard of critical thinking.

If you still want to burn me at the stake I can be found at B@1 Spitalfields most Saturdays. Alternatively if you enjoyed this ramble, mines an espresso martini.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Merry ChristMASS

I recently ran an online body transformation program for women, which I'll do an update on in next weeks blog post. Its been a great success with members losing up to 10lbs in the first 13 days.

It was also really fun to run and a great learning experience for me in delivering a program in a different medium. All of the participants said they benefitted massively from being told exactly how to eat and train , leaving no need for guess work, and having access to me on a day to day basis to ask questions.

So, as I've been getting a lot of questions about running one for guys I thought I'd give that a go.

Here's the deal-

The program is called Merry ChristMASS

(like what I did there don't you?)

It's a 24 day challenge starting december 1st that will take you right up to Christmas.

You need to be a member of a gym that has a decent set up, i.e. a squat rack, barbells, dumbbells that arent made of pink plastic. Beyond that, you won't need access to any specialised equipment.

Just a pair of balls, preferably your own.

You will be pushed significantly beyond what you currently find comfortable , and not just in terms of training. There is a general self-development aspect of this program also.

Every day you'll receive your instructions for the day in your inbox . These will tell you set for set, rep for rep, exactly what to do in the gym, right down to how much weight to put on the bar based on your one rep max.

In addition to this you will have a series of self improvement missions to complete that will push your comfort zone gradually on a daily basis, while opening up new avenues of self improvement for you to explore. The end result after 24 days will not only be a leaner, stronger more jacked you, you'll also have developed increased confidence and some cool new skills. A bit like Liam Neeson in Taken, except with less strangling of Albanians.

Sound good?

I'm pretty excited about it. When I launch this as a monthly program in january it will cost somewhere around that magic 97 quid mark, but I'm doing a deal on this as I'm just testing it out. For all I know I could be full of it and been talking out my arse for the last ten years.

So for December only it's £47.

I'm also conscious that I've been selling a couple of things on here over the last month as I've hit a bit of a purple patch in terms of creating new stuff. So if you bought my total rebuild ebook that I released recently I'll knock the cost of that off the cost of this program.

So, if 24 days of guided, step-by-step training and self development rather than a gradual slide into booze and mince pie induced lazy fatness sounds like a good idea, then mail me at and say "I want a merry ChristMASS"

One last thing, due to my inability to grow a decent moustache, all proceeds from this little experiment will be donated to Movember to support prostate cancer research. So not only will you be getting stronger, leaner and better, you'll be giving cancer a swift kick in the balls too.

This Christmas, give yourself the greatest gift of all. The gift of jackedness.

To join the program mail

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Neill Strauss Can Teach Us About Fat Loss - an incredibly tenuous blog post by Zack Cahill

Gentle readers, some of you may well be sane, normal human beings with fully functional and committed relationships. As such, you may be unaware of the literary oeuvre of Neill Strauss, author of The Game, and of his fellow pick up artists (or PUAs) . Thats ok, let me give you a brief introduction to this strange world, before explaining what it can teach us about health and fat loss.

The PUA community is an entire subculture of people (largely men, to be honest) who believe they have figured out the rules of seduction. They claim that by following certain principles of "social dynamics", even the most unattractive, loser-ish guy can attract the girl of his dreams. To PUAs, social interaction with the opposite sex is a game. And if you understand the rules, including everything from language patterns, body language and how you dress, you can win every time.

Why am I talking about this on a fitness blog? First of all because this stuff does actually transcend just chatting people up. I've long felt that The Game is one of the greatest marketing books every written, as the principles of marketing and the principles of pick up are basically the same.

Relating all this to health and fitness is more of a stretch, but lets give it a go with my top fat loss lessons from the world of pick up artistry. (Honestly I just happen to be reading another book by Neill Strauss this week and needed to write a blog post, lets see if I can drag something good out of it though eh?)

1- Let go of the outcome

This may seem counterintuitive given the array of "goal setting" articles that get written by us fat loss types, but bear with me. Lots of guys will feel intimidated about starting a conversation with a woman at a bar due to fear of failure. This is because they are holding onto the outcome, getting the woman's number or whatever it may be, and then catastrophising and imagining their own failure to achieve this.

If, however, you consider the conversation itself to be the goal, now your focus is just on enjoying an interesting conversation, a far less intimidating task. Crucially though, the act of speaking to this person is a behaviour that will bring you toward your original goal anyway. You're not going to get anywhere if never go and talk to them in the first place are you? Or as some probably-very-famous basketball dude apparently said "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take"

So lets say you want to lose 10kgs. Thats your goal. That too can be pretty intimidating. So intimidating that many people quit before they've even started, subconsciously tell themselves its impossible, or see it as so far-off and huge a task that there is no urgency to change their behaviour now.

But what if we let go of the outcome, and have a short term, behaviour based goal instead. Your goal is now to eat a healthy breakfast every day this week. Thats it. This is one behaviour you can immediately change, meaning you have no need to fear failure, just do it for the week and you've succeeded. But again, its a behaviour that brings you toward your original, big scary goal by default.

2- There is no failure, only feedback. So building on our fear of failure theme, what happens if our imaginary (and I must stress imaginary , as in NOT ME) wannabe lothario works up the courage to go and talk to this poor woman who's minding her own business in a bar, having a quiet espresso martini, possibly pondering who deserves to get kicked off x-factor.

So he initiates a conversation... and lets say the worst case scenario happens. She is not interested in having a conversation, perhaps she is dismissive or just ignores him. Its a complete crash and burn.

Is this failure? Worse, is this rejection? PUAs would tell you to re-frame this as feedback. Rather than simply getting discouraged, you would take this as valuable information about your behaviour. Perhaps you were too forward, or you mumbled. You can then use this feedback to refine your approach. You also mustn't try and spare your ego by dismissing the girl as "just being a bitch", because ultimately the success or failure of the interaction is down to your behaviour.

Likewise, if you do begin to have a healthy breakfast every morning and the weight doesn't come off as fast as you'd like, have you failed? No, you've achieved your goal of having a healthy breakfast every morning. But clearly some aspect of the plan needs tweaking. Maybe you need to reconsider what a healthy breakfast is (i.e. not cereal, even if the lady in the red dress in the ad eats it) Rather than being discouraged by your failure, be encouraged by your success at sticking to a plan, just seek to make it a better plan.

We also should avoid simply dismissing a particular approach to training or nutrition when it doesn't produce the results we want straight away, rather than taking it as feedback.

Ever heard someone say "tried that, doesn't work"...?

Well if we're talking about a nutrition or fitness plan that was based on sound principles (of which there are only a few really) then chances are it has actually worked many times for many people. Perhaps its better to ask if you truly adhered to the program. Its always more empowering to take responsibility for the result, and change behaviours accordingly, than to blame external forces.

Saying "tried it, didn't work" is like saying "she was just a bitch". It gets you nowhere.

Okay, I'm struggling now, can I think of a third tenuous link between the international subculture of pickup and the world of fitness and weight loss?

Go on then...

3-Inner game is all important. This refers to mindset, and how you see and talk to yourself. There are far smarter people than me who can speak on this subject but the point is that what goes on in your head is manifested in your behaviours and ultimately your body.

Even if you've read the books and you know the techniques, if you don't believe you're good enough to be having a conversation in a bar with our notional, espresso-martini-swilling
X-Factor fan then it is going to bleed through and you will ultimately sabotage yourself.

In The Rules OF The Game, Strauss says "the world is what you think it is". If you think that people are out to humiliate you for example, then you'll find plenty of examples of this that confirm your expectation. Like wise if you think that you don't deserve to be in shape then you won't be.

"Fixing" these mindset issues is not my area of expertise, all I can do is provide support, a road map and an inspiring environment for clients. Again, they must take responsibility for the body and the world they live in.

That last one was a bit rubbish wasn't it? but honestly, this is about the most tenuous link I've made on this blog, and I've made a few. But hopefully its given you slightly more than just an insight into my odd obsessions.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The LIMP Method- Intro to my ebook for personal trainers

I'm aware quite a few trainers read this blog so this post is for them or any readers who already have a decent bit of strength training knowledge and experience-

I have written an ebook for personal trainers. Its ugly. There are no pictures. I don't cover mobility, or supplementation or nutrition. I don't invent new muscles or science things up to make them sexier. I don't make claims like you'll get great results in a week with just a few minutes of training a day. All of the programs are , on some level, horrible.

What you get is 9 months worth of the programs I have devdeloped over many years of turning fat, stressed out lawyers into athletic badasses.

What you will also get, I hope, is some entertainment. Here's the intro for free. If you want the book its 19.99.

Mail me at because I am too computer illiterate to be bothered making a sales page.

Total Rebuild Introduction
I was going to kick this manual off with a bit of a rant against functional training and the rampant bullshitification of the personal training industry. But you know what? at this stage I no longer feel the need to defend myself or really make much of a case.

If you haven't woken up to the fact that proper, intelligent, hard and heavy weight training is the best possible way to transform your clients bodies then I'm not going to try and argue sense into you.

So I thought I'd flip the idea on it's head and give you my guide to making any exercise instantly more "functional"

All you need to remember is the acronym "LIMP"

This will allow you to instantly modify such time-tested exercises as the deadlift or power snatch so that you can avoid pesky things like results, strength or muscle.

The LIMP method

L is for Lighten- remember, in functional training we need to avoid overload at all costs. Overload leads to adaptation, this leads to your clients improving and if you're serious about being a functional trainer you need to forget about silly ideas like that!

I is for instability - along the same lines as the "lighten" principle, introducing an element of instability further reduces the clients ability to produce force and overload muscle groups. Great news! Remember, it's not about getting stronger, bigger, leaner or better, it's about getting functiony! Grab those Bosus boys!

MP is for multi planar- so you've lightened the weight so its roughly equivalent to two wet socks, and you've made the client so unstable they can barely perform the movement properly. Now, in the words of Nigel Tufnel "where you gonna go?"
I'll tell you where! Now it's time to go multi planar!
making a movement so complex that the client is literally doing a different exercise with each repetition is a great way to avoid nasty old mister hypertrophy. Also, mastery of particular movements takes thousands of correct repetitions. Adding multi planar, overly complex movements to an already unstable client will ensure the only thing they'll master is how to handle disappointment when they look in the mirror.

So, now that you're all graduates of the Zack Cahill school of functional training you can stop reading if you like. Unless of course, you're interested in results . In which case read on...
(hmmm, I guess that turned into a rant after all)

Beginner Programs-
The Aegis Training 3 Month Strength Training Progression

Intermediate Programs-
The Arnold Programs - Bennett 2.0, Blaine 2.0

Advanced Programs-
Thor 2.0 (12 week program)

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Latest From Our Skinny Bitches

Last week we launched the trial month of our "skinny bitch" program, an online diet and training program aimed at busy women who want to lose weight but can't spend hours in the gym.

The response actually surprised me. we had set the limit at 20 participants , and we hit that limit within 48 hours. I have participants from the uk, Ireland, Australia and America now trialling the program.

The idea was to try it on a smaller scale at a lower cost so as to work out any kinks or problems along the way. When it comes to new aspects of our business I'm a big fan of just starting something and failing upward , rather than planning everything to the nth degree and consequently never starting (a common problem with weight loss programs as much as business ideas but that's another blog post)

So anyway, here's what I've learned from one week of helping 20 women around the world be the skinny bitch at the office party this Christmas.

Make it Achievable- this is not news to me but this experience so far has confirmed it all over again- it doesn't matter what the best program is, it's the best program that can fit into your clients lifestyle that is most important.
I could have written the fanciest, most high tech metabolic resistance training program ever, and used advanced nutrition strategies and I'm sure it would have impressed all of my trainer friends. But for the type of client I'm looking to help it would have been a disaster. This program is aimed at people for whom exercise and nutrition is not the most important thing in life, they may not even like exercise. Free time is also a major concern. So rather than thinking about what is the newest hottest training method, I made a list of the typical barriers busy women have to getting in shape and then focussed on providing the simplest solution to those problems.
Can't get to the gym? Ok we'll use 20 minute bodyweight circuits that you can do at home.
Client drinks or a birthday party coming up? I've got a protocol for that.
As a trainer I don't just parrot information. It's my job to fit the principles of health and fat loss into my clients lifestyle , not the other way round.

Of course you can't go too far with this line of thinking. If you want to change your body , changes to your lifestyle are inevitable.

Realise And Accept That Change Is Hard- Another thing I've noticed is that when making dietary changes people often want to stay with the familiar and just make minimal adjustments. For example, I've asked the group to cut out gluten. I then got a barrage of questions about what type of cereal is ok, or what can be substituted for cereal to fit in the plan. There is no real answer to that, because cutting out gluten involves cutting out cereal . Usually in favour of a protein based breakfast like eggs, and that can be quite a hurdle to jump for many people.

The truth is we would all love it if we could start a weight loss program and be told we're doing everything right already, and then lose weight. The guys on my program are all awesome, receptive and working hard. But I know I've had clients in years past who came to me convinced that they already knew everything there is to know about nutrition and what I was telling them couldn't be right. Of course if this were true they wouldn't be sitting in front of me in the first place. Change is always hard, no way around it.

Get Some Support- I created a private Facebook group for members of the Skinny Bitch Experiment and it has proved to be a far more useful resource than I imagined. Its clear that having a group of people pulling toward the same goal is exponentially more powerful than going it alone, and modern technology makes that a hell of a lot easier!
I'm toying with the idea of a male version of this, built around my Thor program which is still one of the most popular blog posts I've written so stay tuned for further news on that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

One For The Ladies - How To Be The Skinny Bitch At The Office Christmas Party

One of the things I pride myself on is achieving outstanding fat loss results with busy female clients.

In fact when people ask me who my "target market" is or to describe my typical client, the ones who I have the best relationships with and therefore get the greatest compliance and most rapid results with, my answer is always the same, "female lawyers and gay men!"

Well, I have yet to come up with a program for the second of those specific niches. But if you're female, are interested in losing two jeans sizes in the next month and have limited time to commit to an exercise program, I do have something that might tickle your fancy.

In January we will be launching a home fat loss program. This will be for clients who want to achieve the kind of fat loss results our clients do on a monthly basis, but for whatever reason, financial, geographical or other, can't make it in to our studio to physically train with us.

However, I don't want to launch it until its been tested. I know the program works, but I've never delivered it in this way before without seeing the client in person.

So it comes down to this; I want 20 ladies who will be my trial subjects (I was going to write guinea pig there but its hardly the most flattering analogy) who I will work with over the next month. I will go to work like a mad man to get you looking your absolute best for the Christmas party season. You don't have to meet me in person, you don't even have to live in the UK. You just have to be willing to do exactly what I say for 30 days. Do that and you will get better results in those 30 days than you have in your last year of diet and exercise. I know because I do this every week and its what we have built our business on.

The ideal candidate for this program will-

-Female (obvs)

-Have had at least some experience of exercise in the past, but you DO NOT have to be super fit to begin with. I'm talking you've tried a few fitness classes in the past and at least know what a dumbbell looks like.

-Be willing to give me 30 days of your life and trust what I recommend. By the way, I train people who routinely work ridiculous hours and have a lot on their plate. I generally have 2 hours a week of in-person contact time with my clients. I'd be a moron if I asked them to do hours and hours of exercise every day, be insanely restrictive in their diets or go through bottles of obscure supplements. I know you're busy and am prepared to work with rather than against your schedule to get you the results you need. But remember I'm doing this to test a program, if you don't stick to it the test results are worthless so if you don't think you can commit this is not for you.

Thats it.

How much?
In January when we launch this program to the thousands of new years resolutioners we'll probably set the price at around £139. But this is the test phase so I'm not going to charge that much.

So for the month of November only it will cost £47, significantly less than the cost of one private session with me.

If you want in, email me at and if you're one of the first 20 applicants who I think are going to stick to what I say, we're in business.

30 days from now you'll be the skinny bitch at the office Christmas party. Love it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Brekafast Cereal, Snake Oil And Other Rubbish

It was heartening to see this article appear in The Guardian this week

It gives an excellent summary of the history of breakfast cereals and makes for very interesting reading. Its great to see an article in a national newspaper suggesting that cereals are not the healthy choice many still think they are.

Breakfast cereals were first promoted by Victorian era religious zealot Sylvester Graham as an antidote to such evils as "carnal thoughts." These guys had quite a bee in their bonnet about sex, JH Kellog (he of the corn flake) even advocated burning the sex organs with carbolic acid.

Cereals are also the ultimate example of selling a cheap commodity at a huge mark up by creating the perception of health benefits, when in fact they are simply cheap, abundant crops processed in a way that removes any and all nutritional benefits. This is a common tactic, seen also with whey (a by-product of the manufacture of cheese) and soy.

Quaint as all this seems, things haven't changed much in 100 years. Its fascinating to look back on the tactics of these early health guru's and snake oil salesman such as Bernarr McFadden (christened Bernard, he changed his name to Bernarr to sound like the roar of a lion) and Dudley LeBlanc who created the first "health tonic" Hadacol (named Hadacol because he "hadda call it something") and see just how similar they are to today's TV nutritionists and pill peddlers.

There will always be eager customers for someone willing to claim they have an easy answer to a problem. Too fat? Lacking energy? Take this pill/drink/super food and your worries will be gone. Wouldn't that be great?

I attended a convention where someone used a device to demonstrate how tap water was horribly polluted. The device, a box with two metal rods, when placed in the tap water, turned it a nasty brown colour. Anyone who studied science until the age of 15 may remember this as the process of oxidisation, or in laymen's terms, rust. Yet many were amazed and eager to buy the demonstrators magic water cleaning device.

This was pure snake oil selling, it couldn't have more authentic if the guy had rolled into town on the back of horse and cart with tales of his discoveries in the far East.

I don't see this changing. Its a very old scam and is as effective today as it was in Kellog and Sylvester Graham's day.

But if people are beginning to realise breakfast cereals one of the worst foods you can start your day with and an absolute disaster for fat loss, its a definite step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Once And For All- Running Does NOT Make You Fat

This article popped up in the Independant this week.

I immediately had a apoplectic fit. But on reading it its actually not as bad as the headline suggested and the journalist deals with the subject in a fairly balanced manner.

But there's still that headline; "does running make you fat?"

I get the need for attention grabbing headlines but lets get it straight- Running, or any form of exercise does not, does not DOES NOT make you fat.

The argument here seems to be similar to writer Gary Taubes' position, that aerobic training makes you hungry which makes you consume extra calories which makes you fat. The problem with a lot of fat loss research is that people tend to only report the mean numbers or read the abstract. What you find when you look closely at the numbers is that there tends to be a huge variance in individual responses, with some participants losing huge amounts of weight. Effectively, people can be divided into "compensators" and "non-compensators"

Compensators (and the author of the article in The Independant is a classic case of this) will sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously eat more and move about less in their daily life while undertaking an aerobic training routine.

To quote the article - "Getting up at 6am for long runs demands an increase in calorie intake. My response? Two breakfasts, minimum, and then protein-based snacks before and after runs. Ah yes, and the cake."

If I drive around for a few hours til my petrol tank is empty, then go to a station to fill it up, do I then conclude that driving causes my petrol tank to be full? Aerobic training is a way of burning calories, plain and simple. Calories as we know are not the whole picture when it comes to fat loss but they are a factor. If you take the fact that you're exercising as carte blanche to eat what you want, its not going to work. This is not complicated.

There are a number of factors that make running a less than ideal training method for many people, but this suggestion that it makes people fat is moronic, oversimplified and misleading.

Its this woolly thinking thats led to statements like "Sprinters are leaner than marathon runners so you should sprint and totally avoid aerobic training"

This has been repeated so much that it is accepted as gospel. While it is technically true, trainers are massively overinterpretting the statement when applying it to their clients.
Sprinting, probably more than any other sport in the world is self selecting. Sprinters are born so if you want to be a world class one, as the saying goes, you need to pick the right parents. A small percentage of people on earth will ever be able to run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds. They aren't built like that because of sprint training, they are sprinters because they are built like that.
Sprinting is the most genetically predetermined, self selecting sport on the planet. I'm not saying training plays no role. Clearly lifting weights, doing physical work every day and in some cases use of steroids will get you big and ripped. But to take what a sprinter does and extrapolate that out to " 20 minutes of intervals a few times a week will make you look like a sprinter" is bullshit.

Bottom line, I don't know what parallel universe people are living on where they think moving more is going to be counterproductive for fat loss, but it doesn't reflect the reality I see in my gym every day.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Jodie Marsh's Muscles

So Jodie Marsh has done a bodybuilding competition. Judging by twitter, Facebook, and various opinion pieces the general consensus seems to be a mix of "I don't like her but fair play" and "looks gross though"

Having never met the woman I can't quite understand the outpouring of scorn. She seems to just be one of many people playing the fame game and doing well out of it and good luck to her.
As for the "she looks gross" part, well bodybuilding is a pretty weird sport I'll give you that. I can easily see how someone on the outside looking in would find it pretty hard to relate to and wonder why anyone would ever want to look like that. It's worth bearing in mind that when someone is on stage they are at their absolute leanest, a state that is maintainable for only a couple of days at a time. They are fake tanned and oiled up and looking about as far removed from a normal human being as possible. It looks weird, I get it. But I think in many cases, people who readily dismiss bodybuilding as ridiculous or pointless are telling us more about their own lack of progress in the gym or discipline at the dinner table.

Whether you like the look or not bodybuilders are the most successful dieters in the world. They are bigger and leaner than anyone else, so whatever your physique goals you can learn something from the bodybuilding world.

Will these new pictures result in women shunning weights for fear of "bulking up"? I don't think so. In recent years women have definitely woken up to the fact that weight training is essential to body transformation and that a few sets of squats do not a Ms Olympia make. At Aegis, slightly more than half of our client base is female and they are a pretty cool bunch. They power clean, squat and drag sleds and no one worries about getting bulky. Any such worries, if they are expressed, are generally stamped on in the consultation process with a pair of steel toed boots.

If anything, I have witnessed a baffling increase in new male clients who utter the dreaded phrase "I don't want to get too big" ("Oh thank God you told me! We'll only do two sets of lunges instead of three, otherwise you'll wake up tomorrow looking like He -Man")

If you take a look at the cover of mens health from 2000, and then look at an issue from the last two years you'll notice a stark difference. The cover models from the 90s and early 2000s were uniformly lean, muscular guys. The modern trend however has been towards men who are just, well, skinny. Perhaps the roles are reversing.

Where am I going with this? Men need to man up, and women need to keep it up. You don't have to like bodybuilding but don't be scornful of someone elses hard work. And if you're a man who is worried about lifting weights for fear of getting too big, do me a favour and give yourself a good, hard slap round the head.

PS - While I was writing this someone sent me a link to an interview with Jodie on This Morning. My thoughts-
1- I want to marry Holly Willoughby
2- I thought she came across like a nice person.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Psychology and fitness - (3 famous psychology papers and what they say about the fitness world)

For about 4 years I shared a house with a bunch of psychologists. Over the course of that time by process of osmosis (or maybe more accurately by process of talking crap over bottles of red wine) I developed a keen interest in the field and in the fascinating research that has been done over the years. There are certain key studies that will be familiar to any psychology undergrad and indeed to much of the lay population. I recently started thinking about the implications of these studies for the health and fitness world, and what they might tell us about our behaviors.
My "academic" education is pretty limited, I don't have a degree or masters. But I read, I question, and I research. Here's my spin on things.

Stanley Milgram on authority-
Milgram carried out one of the most notorious experiments in the field of human behaviour. The experiment involved members of the public asking an unseen person in another room a list of questions. Unbeknownst to them, the answerer was in fact an actor. Every time the answerer seemingly got a question wrong the questioner was told to press a button which gave them an electric shock.
The machine which delivered this shock had many buttons , each corresponding to a different strength of electric shock. They went from mild shock, through to severe, all the way to an ominous button marked "xxx". As the experiment progressed and the answerer continued to make mistakes the questioner was told by a person in a white coat with a clip board to administer stronger shocks. Despite the actors obvious distress and audible screams, most participants continued to dutifully press the buttons. At a predetermined point the actors suddenly went silent, neither answering questions nor screaming. Even at this point , 65% of participants continued to administer electric shocks to the (now presumably dead) person in the next room. All because a person in authority told them to.

In fitness we see this behaviour in the phenomenon of guru following. Once a person is positioned as an expert and has amassed a group of followers, they can then simply make statements and have a large section of the industry take them at their word. Aerobics make you fat, spinal flexion/machine based training/aspartame is the devil, this or that gives you cancer, whatever. Statements can simply be thrown out there with little or no regard for actual evidence and quickly become dogma, repeated so many times they become received wisdom. Never questioned, merely accepted.
I'm not concerned here with wether these individual statements are true, more with the eagerness of many to simply "be told" rather than think and explore and research for themselves. Perhaps it's intellectual laziness, or perhaps obedience to authority is hard wired into human behaviour and trainers are no different.

BF Skinner and the superstitious pigeons-
Skinner and his team observed a group of pigeons through a glass window. At random intervals food was dropped into the pigeons enclosure. Occasionally the food would coincide with the pigeon performing a particular action, spinning round in a circle or bobbing its head in a certain way. What the researchers noticed was that the pigeon would then continue to perform that action, presumably believing that it had actually caused the food to drop in. In effect, they had observed the development of superstition in pigeons. Similar research was later carried out on groups of children and the same thing occurred.
We see this all the time in the health and fitness world, particularly in the area of supplementation. Many will swear by echinacea for example, because they took some and a few days later their cold was gone. But what happens to a cold if you take absolutely nothing? After a few days, it's gone.
I'm not anti supplement at all, some work. And to be honest I'm not that bothered about people buying totally unproven supplements or homeopathic remedies, it's their money and I'm happy to see it as a self selecting tax on people who ignore statistics. My concern is that it seems to feed into a larger trend of completely disregarding science in favour of personal experience. So we have trainers recommending a supplement because it "worked for them" when the research has never shown it to be any more effective than placebo, while simultaneously criticising the medical industry and claiming research can "prove anything".
(Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a Latin phrase meaning "after, therefore because of," a logical fallacy that fits nicely here. And no I don't speak Latin, it was the title of an episode of The West Wing)

This trend is troubling, and I have a nagging fear about waking up one day and finding myself part of the alternative medicine industry. Perhaps we're already there?

This is not to say that personal experience is unimportant. It's absolutely vital. Certainly with things like exercise selection, nutrition approaches or techniques to increase client compliance there are many ways to skin a cat, and using approaches that have worked for you is perfectly valid and sensible. Personal Training is an art as well as a science. But if a trainer is prepared to make hard, scientific recommendations about supplements causing a specific response, then I feel these recommendations should be backed up with hard, scientific evidence, not superstition.

The Forer Effect- The Forer effect describes our tendency to give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of our personality that are supposedly tailored to us specifically, when in fact they are vague and general.
The psychologist Bertram Forer demonstrated this by giving a personality test to his students. He then returned with what he told his students were specific analyses of their personalities, which he then asked them to rate for accuracy. The students rated them as highly accurate, at which point Forer revealed they had all been given the same reading.
You can read what he gave them if you like. Be honest about how accurately you feel it describes you, and try to imagine how you'd feel if someone gave you this following what was supposed to be a highly accurate personality test-

"You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life."

Obviously this effect is heavily relied on by psychics, astrologers and other charlatans, but is it also used (consciously or unconsciously) in the health and fitness industry? Certainly I think we see it in many "allergy tests" which purport to prescribe supplements for specific, sub-clinical ailments. So we have questions like "do you feel you could have more energy?", "do you experience mood swings?" and the like. These are so vague that almost anyone would say yes, even if you rarely experience mood swings the question causes you to think of a time that you have, making it seem all the more tailored to you. Again I'm not saying that all allergy tests are utter rubbish, just that some seem to be!

We are all guilty of falling into these cognitive traps, and bar a small group of out-and-out snake oil salesmen I believe the fitness industry is in fact full of people who genuinely want to help their clients. Being aware of these tendencies might just help us to make better choices about how we help them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Intermittent Fasting

I'm a fan of self experimentation. When it comes to training and nutrition, I enjoy trying new and often extreme approaches out on myself. Even if they are not practical for use with our clients the act of trying new methods out on myself is one way to keep training fresh and fun. Last month I tried performing the power snatch every day. The result? My shoulders and traps grew, my snatch technique improved dramatically and I absolutely mangled my wrists.

This month it's the turn of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting (IF) is having a bit of a "moment" right now in the fitness industry. If I'm honest it's the type of thing I would have dismissed but enough trainers who I respect have been raving about it for me to finally crack and give it a go. I have to say so far I'm a bit of a convert.

The benefits of intermittent fasting are supposed to be increases in growth hormone and improved insulin management, both of which will help shed fat and keep it off. Are these definitely genuine, proven benefits? I don't know. I think there are a number of other benefits however.

1- it teaches you what actual hunger is. I got into training and grew up with the mentality of "you must eat 2-3 hours or your muscles will disappear." I don't still believe this and the research doesn't really support it. I do think it has an application when trying to build a lot of muscle, but for a weight loss client I think it can be counterproductive. Despite this it's a very deeply ingrained habit, in the past I would find myself ravenous just a couple of hours after a meal . The interesting thing about fasting however, was that I was not actually that hungry at all. The act of deciding not to eat and being motivated to stick to the plan seemed to help and in fact I had great energy all day. Oddly though, when I finally decided to eat at 7 in the evening I was immediately starving. The lesson? How much hunger is genuine and how much is simply a Pavlovian response?

2- it's a simple method that leaves no room for interpretation or grey areas. You just choose a period of time (generally 16-24 hours) during which you decide not to eat. Hard and fast rules are more powerful than "guidelines" when you are attacking fat loss. Guidelines can be easily twisted to suit a hungry stomach and reduced willpower, but strict rules are harder to justify breaking.

3- you remove a significant amount of calories from your week in the simplest way imaginable. Calories are always going to be part of the picture. They may be less important than food quality, macronutrients ratios and other factors, but they are always going to be one leg of the fat loss chair. Even if all the claims about hormonal benefits turn out to be false or greatly exaggerated the simple act of removing a chunk of calories from your week in one move will without fail produce significant changes.

If you want to try it out here's what I suggest.

- Don't put too much pressure on yourself to go a full 24 hours. The first time I tried it I said I'd go till lunch time and assess from there. As it turned out I felt great and ended up not eating till the evening. The point is this shouldn't be about suffering through or punishing yourself. It's simply choosing not to eat for a slightly longer period of time once a week.

- go dinner to dinner. Maybe it's just a personal preference, but I think eating as normal the day before a fast is easier than going lunch to lunch or breakfast to breakfast and going to bed hungry.

- If you're quite overweight or a beginner to exercise, this approach is probably using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. I would also be very wary of using it with any client with a history of disordered eating (In fact, I haven't used this with clients at all yet, just myself)

- when you break your fast, don't over compensate. Just go back to eating as normal.

Anyway those are my thoughts. If you want to learn more about intermittent fasting , do a search for Brad Pilon and his book "Eat Stop Eat".

Now, to decide on next month's experiment .

Zack Cahill

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Alcohol And Training - Can You Drink And Make Progress?

Alcohol is a deeply ingrained part of British life , and a real point of struggle for many of our clients. Now, your bog standard fitness blog will tackle this issue with something as useful and insightful as "drinking is bad , mmkay?"

Or " it's a simple choice between being fat and unhealthy, or not drinking"

But in truth, it's not. For many it's a choice between socialising with their friends or not (the glib, pious personal trainer answer to this would be "get new friends")

For others it's a choice between progressing their career or not
(ask any city professional where the best networking gets done and the most strategic relationships are solidified and they'll tell you it's over drinks)

Booze is a social lubricant, a rapport building shortcut, and the linchpin of just about any social occasion. So as trainers are we living in the real world when we tell our clients not to drink? I don't think so.

I've been doing this a while, I know a lot of personal trainers and most of them drink, some drink heavily.

Now, they also train every day, are generally young, eat well and lead fairly low stress lives all of which tips the balance in their favour. But the fact remains that when you get a load of fitness people together at the various events we attend its usually as anarchic as any office piss-up. So the standard fitness industry advice to avoid alcohol is quite hypocritical.

Never the less , It's an unavoidable fact that excess alcohol consumption is unhealthy, slows weight loss and at extremes can be very destructive.

I grew up in Ireland, which is effectively the international school for binge drinking so this is a subject I know a little about. So do I think people need to cut out alcohol to get in great shape? No.

The negative effects of non- ridiculous alcohol consumption have, in my humble opinion, been overstated in the fitness world.

I've done 8 weeks totally booze free, and honestly I can't say that it was worth it.

That's my subjective opinion. But when we look at the research it seems to back me up. The oft touted testosterone sapping effects for example , are in reality so minimal as to be insignificant unless you are drinking quite heavily or drinking every day. (One study showed a 6.8% drop in testosterone following 3 weeks of drinking 3 beers a day every day. I don't advocate drinking every day. Another showed a more significant reduction for 16 hours only after the equivalent of 10 beers. Granted, in Ireland that would be known as "Sunday afternoon", but for most people thats still a fair amount of booze)

There is even some research to suggest that moderate drinking can improve insulin sensitivity (But what's moderate? That's another story. By the way if you want references I can put them in the comment section, I'm doing some mind numbing cardio as I write this and can't be bothered to dig it out. So instead you get me brain-dumping. Nice!)

The main issue with alcohol is that it interferes with the liver in a way that causes other calories consumed to be more readily stored as fat. This is compounded with the fact that we tend to make more indulgent good choices when we drink. It's been my gut feeling for years that stupid food choices while drinking and on the following day have a greater impact on the waistline than the alcohol itself.

So, how can we minimise the negative effects of alcohol while still enjoying the odd drink?

A few caveats. Binge drinking is unhealthy. Alcohol can be a very destructive and dangerous drug. It has messed up lives and had ill effects on millions of families including my own. It can also cause you to sleep with ugly people. I'm not saying you should drink as much as you like and there won't be consequences. But you're probably going to so here's my suggestions.

1- keep it to once a week.

2- on the day you are going to drink, consume as little fat and carbohydrates as possible. Stick to protein sources like chicken and to green veg.

3- alternate alcoholic drinks with sparkling water. The bubbles slow you down more than still water would.

4- don't make stupid food choices the next day, get right back on track with eating proper food and keep it lower carb.

5- stick to low sugar drinks. Dry white wines or spirits. If you're having mixers make them sugar free. I'll probably get kicked out of the trainer club for advocating "aspartame laden diet drinks" but in this specific circumstance I'd rather a bit of sweetener than the sugar.

6- don't take this as carte Blanche to drink as much as you like. No matter what way you look at it , 8 hour drinking binges aren't healthy. Don't do it and think it won't have consequences. You're an adult. Understand the consequences and make your mind up.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How To Learn The Power Clean

Opinions about the olympic lifts are quite polarised within the strength training world. Some believe they are far too complex to justify teaching to anyone who doesn't actually want to become an olympic lifter, and that you can get all of the benefits of the lifts using jumps and medicine ball work without the teaching process.

Others believe the olympic lifts are the greatest form of exercise and that everyone should build their training around them.

As usual, fence-sitter that I am I come down somewhere in the middle, though to be honest as time goes by I find myself including them more and more.

Yes they are quite technical in nature, and should not be included straight away unless the client already has a very nice front squat and is reasonably well structurally balanced. But I believe the benefits of including them in a program far outweigh the time it may take to master them. We should be in this training game for life anyway so what's the rush?

In the video below I run through the sequence I use to teach the lifts to beginners. I stole this method from Glenn Pendlay, a well known American weightlifting coach.

One nice thing about the video is that Sam who demonstrates the method does not use power cleans in his own training so you are seeing him make the typical mistakes that I see beginners make all the time, and see me try and correct them. An 8 minute video isn't quit enough time to nail the lifts but Sam gives it a good go, and hopefully you find it useful!

If you want to learn hands on how to apply these training techniques and put them into an intelligent strength training program, I'm holding a one day seminar on Saturday the 24th of September.As mentioned in the vid, I'm running it alongside Jay Benedetti

We're calling it MASS- the Muscle And Strength Seminar (nice acronym eh?) and its £97 to take part. We'll be training you and providing food so its very much a learn by doing day. Drop me a line on to book. Theres about 4 spaces left.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Back To School Leg Workout

We're experiencing quite an influx of new clients this month. September is always quite a busy time for new inquiries . Perhaps we are still in the mindset of "new academic year, new me!"

Maybe people are returning to work having done some travelling, during which they realised "hey it's not about slaving away in the rat race! I'm gonna start a new chapter! get in shape, learn tango and start working towards opening that basket weaving retreat in Goa"

Or maybe people are just feeling fat after their holidays.

Regardless, here's a little leg smashing finisher I've been using with a lot of clients lately. This is for the client who has gone through our 3 month introductory process and can therefore perform the fundamental lifts (squat, deadlift, press, Olympic lifts) reasonably well, and can therefore start doing the sexy (or horrible depending on your point of view) stuff. This builds work capacity and burns fat. Bosh.

The Leg Smasher
with no rest perform-
2 lengths pushing the prowler
2 lengths walking lunge with 16kg kettlebell
2 lengths prowler
10 kettlebell squats
2 lengths prowler
20 kettlebell swings
2 lengths prowler
20 bodyweight squats

Rest 2 minutes, repeat.

Not easy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Dukan Diet - Some Unfocussed Ramblings

"what do you think of this Dukan diet thing then?"

"what you mean that "new" diet where you reduce your carbs and increase your protein?"

It's pretty clear that the Dukan diet is a repackaging of the Atkins diet, which was itself based on pretty well established weight loss diet principles prior to Ancel Keyes leading us on a 50 year low-fat wild goose chase. This "new" diet adds nothing meaningful to what we already know about weight loss, and is an example of successful marketing rather than interesting and novel nutritional concepts. So far so obvious, what then can we actually learn from the success of this diet?

1- Look for the commonalities. low carb high protein does work. In this regard the Dukan diet is spot on. This is just another case of the good information being the big principles that are common to successful programs rather than the minutia. Low carb high protein works. Focussing on real food not processed crap works. Lifting weights and moving more works. Really, though we tend to get caught up in debates about selenium or front squats vs back squats, these things are all just details.
Personally I would focus on food quality before macro nutrient ratios. Make sure you're eating real, whole foods that walked, swam or grew in the ground before you worry about how much carbs or protein you're taking in. There also seems to be quite a lot of dairy products in the Dukan diet which I'm not the biggest fan of. But low carb, yes I'm on board with that.

2- proximity bias is universal. It always amazes me when people I'm close to, and who I would therefore happily advise on diet and training for nothing, decide to go on something like the Dukan diet or weightwatchers. But I shouldn't be, because of proximity bias.

Proximity bias is the tendency to discount information that comes from a source that is familiar to us. You may tell your mother she should reduce her intake of bread til you're blue in the face, but if an actress says it in Hello magazine suddenly it's gospel.

The tricky part is this can happen with long term personal training clients too. I've seen it a number of times where I'll have advised a long term client on an injury for a few weeks before just referring them to a therapist, only for them to come back and tell me the therapist told them what I'd been saying for the past two weeks. This only tends to happen with clients I've been training for years, and shows that proximity bias is part of human nature. We need to take it into account and figure out ways around it.
(just realising I could get a whole blog post on this alone so I'll shut up about it for now)

3- people love a system. The rules of nutrition are very simple, they'll never change, they've always worked and will always work. But if you just tell someone "eat real food. Meat, fish, poultry, veg, fruit" they'll say "yeah but I already knew that." Now, at this point I feel like responding "well then why are you still fat?" but clearly this would get us nowhere.

What's weird though, is if I present the same information in the context of a specific "system" with phases and it's own unique language and principles, (repackaging the same information in a new way just like the Dukan diet) I get a much greater buy-in from the client.
There's no point fighting it, it seems to be hard wired into our behaviour . So instead I try to use this behavioural quirk ethically to the clients advantage. I present the information without making wild, unscientific claims but I present in the form of a unique system. This gets greater compliance initially, and once the client is on board I can start to emphasise the importance long term healthy eating over "going on a diet."

Good grief that was a bit of a ramble! I'm off to drag a sled .

Monday, August 15, 2011

Guest Interview - Alwyn Cosgrove and Dr Chris Mohr

Alwyn Cosgrove- I’m really excited to be back with Dr. Chris Mohr today. We’ve got him cornered in the the hot seat to talk about the always popular topic of supplements.

AC: Thanks for taking the time for our readers today. Let’s get right to it -- are there any supplements everyone should be taking?

Dr. C: High quality fish oil and vitamin D. A recent study showed that omega 3 deficiency is responsible for 96,000 deaths ... the 8th leading cause of preventable death in the US! And the more I read about Vitamin D, the more I realize how beneficial it is and how common deficiency is. I was recently talking with one of the world’s leading Vitamin D experts, Dr. Bob Heaney, as part of the monthly audio series for Dietary Supplement U ... he quoted studies showing around 60-90% of teenage girls were deficient.

AC: That’s crazy. I’ll get back to fish oil in a minute, but have you seen that’s also true for people like me, living in Southern CA who are fortunate to have a good amount of sun?

Dr. C: It’s interesting. Dr. Heaney (and others) have shown that if you live north of Atlanta, you don’t make sufficient D from the sunshine. And even if you are out in the sun, all summer long, research shows that by the winter your stores will be depleted again once the sun isn’t quite as strong and you may not be exposed to as much. Remember, too, most of us aren’t sitting poolside day in and day out, where most of our bodies are exposed. We’re covered by clothing and the rest of our bodies are covered in SPF, which doesn’t allow sufficient D to be made. The other problem -- it’s a really difficult one to get through the diet. Sardines and anchovies aren’t really at the top of most people’s “what’s for dinner” lists. But they’re great sources of D.

AC: Good stuff. What is the best type of omega-3 to take -- fish oil, krill oil, flax oil, etc?

Dr. C: Most of the science -- over 7,000 research studies -- use fish oil. Here’s the deal. There are three omega-3‘s. EPA, DHA and ALA. Fish oil is high in EPA and DHA. Non fish options of omega-3‘s are high in ALA. All are healthy, but they’re not equal. So flax seed or oil is NOT a replacement for fish oil. As for krill oil...there aren’t many data out there right now. High quality fish oil has more EPA and DHA. It’s more concentrated than krill oil. The “krill people” suggest krill is more potent. But I can’t say it better than omega-3 expert, Dr. Bill Harris, who is the August ‘issue’ of the Dietary Supplement University monthly audio series: “Considering the much higher price for krill oil (vs. fish oil), the potentially small increase in bioavailability may not be worth it. Until we have data comparing fish oil to krill oil on intermediate markers of risk (triglyceride levels, vascular function, etc) and actual disease endpoints (CHD death, heart attacks) we won't be able to say one is better than the other.”

AC: How much fish oil should I take?

Dr. C: From all the data I’ve read and heard, I think 1 gram of EPA/DHA per day is safe and effective. If you have heart disease, high triglycerides, etc than a higher dose is certainly warranted. Our 2 year old daughter even takes it and has practically since she’s been born.

AC: I’m excited to hear that interview. Let’s shift away from “general” supplements for a second and talk performance. At Perform Better when you presented on Dietary Supplements, you had one slide on creatine and said “it works.” Pretty funny. But what was shocking to me is that you were then bombarded with questions about creatine. Is there new information.

Dr. C: I stand by my original statement -- creatine works. It’s one of the few performance supplements that has stood the test of time. It’s safe and it’s effective for strength based athletes ... maybe even endurance athletes according to some research. But strength based sports for sure. No new information. As much as companies tried to come out with “bigger and better” creating products, basic creatine monohydrate has stood the test of time.

AC: Any other performance supplements on the horizon that show promise?

Dr. C: Beta alanine is an interesting one. The data seem to be mounting for this fairly new supplement. And most show promise. It’s most commonly used for delaying fatigue and reducing time to exhaustion. The data are pretty consistent in terms of positive findings; it seems to enhance muscle buffering (imagine easing the burning feeling in your quads if you did 200 rapid body weight squats, for example). More practically, if you are a sprinter, cyclist or other high intensity, short duration type of athlete -- maybe you can mask this “pain” -- which could increase your performance. We did an interview with Dr. Abbie Smith who is an Assistant Professor at UNC Chapel Hill and has pioneered a lot of the beta alanine research. I learned a ton myself since it’s a pretty new area.

AC: You didn’t mention branched chain amino acids, but I know a lot of my clients ask me ... anything there?

Dr. C: I have to be honest, I’m not that impressed with the science. Most of the data suggests it may be effective in reducing muscle soreness, but not necessarily improving athletic performance. Theoretically, it’s great to have less muscle soreness. But at the end of the day, what does that mean? Particularly for the “average” client who is simply training to get in better shape or maintain their already great shape. I’d personally rather have someone use a whey protein supplement, naturally rich in BCAA’s and get more bang for their buck.

AC: Brings up a good question -- whey, casein, egg, soy, etc. What’s the BEST?

Dr. C: I side with whey. It’s absorbed quickly (great post workout). It It seems to be “better” for helping with protein synthesis (building protein). might help you feel more full, so you take in less calories. Not bad, particularly if you’re trying to lose weight. Again, whey is also naturally rich in BCAA’s. We do talk more in depth about each of these -- including BCAA’s and essential amino acids -- in Dietary Supplement University.

AC: I have to say, I’ve never seen any supplement resource as complete as Dietary Supplement University. The monthly audio updates are awesome too, so you get to learn from so many experts. It’s an absolutely MUST have for anyone who works with clients -- trainers, coaches, strength coaches, etc. You did a nice job boiling all the research and complicated science into easy to ‘digest’ info. I don’t want to even know how long it took you to put together.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Client Excuses Song

We are lucky enough to have a lot of very dedicated clients, but if they do miss a session or two without a good enough reason here's what we tell them

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Latest News From Aegis

Well its been a hectic week at Aegis studios hence the lack of blogging.

-We launched a new service, teaming up with a local business to provide the healthiest lunches in London to our clients. We're talking low carb, high protein, organic meat, cooked with coconut oil. Basically the ultimate healthy lunch. We put this in their hands as they walk out the door after the session, which is powerful. Lunch has always been the meal city workers seem to struggle with most, they would either leave after their session and then not eat for a few hours, or eat something crap. Not good enough, so we solved the problem for them.

-We've been dealing with a big influx of new clients, to be handled by our newest team member Fabio (more on him in a future blog, his story is ridiculous)

-Moving house, both myself and Greg. Me to somewhere local and Greg to the wild and scary world of "outside London" A place where your neighbours call over with cake to welcome you apparently, sounds dodgy to me. I've even heard rumors of random strangers in the street wishing you a good morning. *shudder*
So Greg is now doing 3 days of training people at the studios and the rest of the week in Chiswick. Not quite the four hour work week just yet but getting there.

-Lots of other smaller projects within the business. "Systems" is the key word here. We want the business running smoothly so we can focus on what matters, smashing it up in the gym.

SO in the mean time here's a little video interview I did a while back. I talk about the importance of program design in providing a service for your clients, its a bit technical as it was aimed at trainers, but hopefully you'll find it interesting.

So, have a great weekend and talk soon.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Thor Program

Following hot on the heels of our green lantern workout I thought I'd give some love to the other big comic book movie this year- Thor, the god of thunder.

If you've seen the movie you'll know that Chris helsmworth is a pretty impressive specimen. It's not the first time we've seen actors undergo incredible transformations for a movie role. Daniel craig of course packed on some muscle to provide women with a reason to watch Bond movies, Tobey McGuire defied decidedly poor genetics to get in shape for spiderman, and Hugh jackman became Huge Jacked Man for wolverine (he wasn't that huge but that was too good a pun to pass up)

So here is the premise- an A-list actor walks into my studio tomorrow and says he has 12 weeks to transform his body for a movie role. What do I do with him?

I will make the assumption that our hypothetical actor has been lifting weights prior to this. They move reasonably well and are not complete beginners. Here's what I'd do-

1- I would have him train twice a day. I have never seen a more effective method of rapid body transformation than twice-a-day training. Of course not everyone can do it, not many people have the time or the motivation. But a multi million dollar movie contract and the ability to focus solely on preparing for a movie role for 12 weeks of your life should help here.
Generally the morning session would be heavy lifting and power work, while the later session would be higher rep work, with more isolation exercises for key muscle groups. On which note...

2- I would focus on the upper body, and in particular the shoulders. Of course lower body exercise would be included, but the overall volume of work would be less. A few sets of squats and deadlifts twice a week would be the extent of it. This will give us the total body muscle building effect of these great exercises, boost the metabolism and testosterone production, but not be enough work to detract from our gruelling upper-body schedule.

How many movies have focused on the action hero's impressive hamstring development anyway? It's all about the abs on upper body in Hollywood.

However! I would have the actor perform power snatches every day in the morning session provided he can do them well. It wouldn't have to be particularly heavy, but frequent power snatching builds the traps and shoulders like nothing else.

3- I would build the program around pressing. Overhead, incline and some flat bench pressing for lots of sets of 3-5. This would be balanced with higher rep rowing exercises in the 8-12 range. The pressing muscles are the ones which will make the biggest visual impact, along with ....

3- abs. The big screen loves abs. This is going to come mostly from diet of course, but since this article is already becoming a bloody masters thesis I won't go into too much detail, here's the bullet points

6 meals a day

The bulk of the carbohydrates to be consumed before and after training sessions

Eat high quality meat and fish, and lots of veg each meal.

Post workout protein shake with simple carbs.

The usual basic supplements (multi vit, fish oil, magnesium) with perhaps a few extras to help fat burning in the final month.

Direct ab training would be done in the last couple of weeks on a 3 days on, one day off rotation.

4- as we move into the final phase it would be all about maintaining muscle mass while getting as lean as possible. It's possible for relatively small actors to look very impressive on screen as long as they have good abdominals, and even in a perfect world muscle gain is a slow process. So our time in this phase would be better spent dialling things in and getting our imaginary mega star as ripped as possible.

Sled work would be added every day and the carb content would come right down.

The result would be a ripped, athletic, bad mofo ready to swing hammers and punch bad guys in the silver screen.

Now, what possible application could this have for the average person with a job? Well, I have clients right now on our elite body program sticking to a schedule like this and their results are phenomenal. It can be done, it's just a matter of prioritising your body for a period of time. Brutally hard work, definitely not for everyone, but that's what it takes to look like the God of Thunder.

(by the way, in the interests of this article not turning into an even bigger rambling mess I haven't included a sample training program. If you want one, drop me an email at and I'll pop one over. Not my fault if it kills you)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Training male vs female clients

We have about a 50/50 mix at aegis between male and female clients. Though the methods for training each are broadly similar, there are a couple of considerations

- women generally have higher work capacity, they can do more work per session. I frequently put female clients through workouts that would kill a small horse.

-while men have greater relative upper body strength, there's far less of a difference on lower body exercises.

- women are capable of more reps at a given percentage of their max. For example, a guy lifting 90% of his maximum weight on an exercise might only get 3 reps, while a woman might get 5 or 6. So when writing programs, where I would a have guy do 3-5 reps I'll have a woman do 4-6.

- women always want to take less rest between sets, men want to take more. It's often necessary to slow women down so they are able to perform the exercises correctly for the required reps. Men you just have to shout at til they get off the floor.

- women don't care about the weight on the bar. Whereas it's sometimes all men care about. You need to sometimes reign men in from putting too much weight on the bar and lifting with ugly form. With women it's usually a case of convincing them they are stronger than they think.

-muscles to emphasise on women for aesthetic purposes are different to men. The program will still be based around big movements (though I'll do a lower volume of heavy deadlifts with women and more squatting instead) but I'll often program in some higher rep exercises at the end of a session for specific muscle groups.

With women you want to develop the glutes, hamstrings, deltoids, Lats and triceps. You want to de-emphasise the traps, forearms and neck.
With men the traps, forearms and neck are "power" muscles that can and should be developed.

So, small differences worth considering when your putting a program together.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Every now and then...

I make a bit of an effort to make this blog a useful resource and set it apart from the usual bog standard fitness blog. But every now and then its nice to just do something stupid.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sam Gets Smashed- Intro to Man Circuits

Here's a little video filmed at the Aegis studio where I put Sam Feltham, local trainer and owner of Smash the Fat bootcamps in East London, through his paces.

Man Circuits are just one aspect of our programming system which we use to turn average London city workers into superheroes. If you want to learn more about them check out my other (slightly more technical, but also slightly sillier) blog here -

Sam's site is here -

And here's the vid, enjoy!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Aegis Training Philosophy (In One Sentence)

I've always felt that the best teachers are masters of taking complex concepts and explaining them in a way that is simple (but not simplified) and easy to understand. As trainers we may have the greatest technical knowledge in the world, but if we can't put that across to the people we're trying to help in a way that they can get their heads round, then I don't feel we are doing our job. So when trainers and nutritionists start talking about their complicated, proprietary systems and using jargon that is impenetrable to anyone without doctorates in biochemistry and physiology, my spider senses start to tingle. It feels like I'm being "sold to" rather than educated.
So just how simple can we get with this? Is it possible to sum up your entire nutrition/training/lifestyle philosophy in one line?

I'm fond of the phrase "don't eat anything with an ingredients list" or variations on the theme of "if it grew in the ground or used to be alive, eat it. If not, don't"
But these don't address training and lifestyle, or allow for large variations in food quality (a battery farmed low-welfare chicken was, after all, alive at one point. It just happened to have a crap life!)
So, here's my attempt at summing up everything I know about health and fitness in one line. I'm no Christopher Hitchens, but what I may lack in elegance I hopefully make up in efficiency:

"reduce the amount of man-made or man-augmented foods in your diet as close as possible to zero, and increase your amount of physical activity as much as possible without exceeding your capacity to recover"

Okay, so it's a long sentence! But it's one sentence nonetheless. And most importantly it touches in every every aspect of the general Aegis philosophy. As for how to apply it, there are an infinite variety of methods which can be debated to death (in fact if you wish to debate, add to, or take the piss out of anything I've said please feel free to comment below). But that's another post for another day, and my dinner is ready!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Green Lantern workout part I

What's that? Shameless search engine fodder just because there's a movie coming out? Well, maybe. But bear with me!

Aside from being a strength training geek, I also happen to be a comic book geek. Yes lifting weights and reading comics may seem like odd bedfellows but I assure you my bookshelf is one part Zatsiorsky to one part Alan Moore.
Anyway, the green lantern is a slightly more obscure superhero, lacking the recognition of superman or batman, despite inhabiting the same fictional universe. He is a member of the green lantern corps, an intergalactic police force who protect the universe from various threats with the use of their power rings (yes, I know, but stick with me here). The ring is capable of producing anything the ring-bearer imagines, provided he keeps it charged by placing it in his power battery (the physical green lantern of the title) and reciting the green lantern oath-
"in brightest day, and blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight,
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power, Green Lanterns light"

Ok Zack, shut up and get to the point.

Well, allow me to draw an analogy between the green lantern's ring and your central nervous system (CNS).
(warning, massive oversimplification ahead)
The CNS is absolutely crucial to strength training. In fact strength training IS central nervous system training by definition, as the CNS is ultimately the engine, the coordinator and the limiting factor for force production.
Any time you perform a set of an exercise you are doing two things, you are stimulating the CNS and you are accumulating fatigue both of the local muscles involved and the nervous system itself.
The trick is to keep the stimulation high and the fatigue low. So, the CNS is your power ring, it will let your muscles do whatever you want, but you have to keep it charged. See? I got there eventually!

So how do we stimulate the CNS without fatiguing it excessively? How do we keep that ring charged?

First of all, some simple principles for training effectively without accumulating massive amounts of fatigue. Then in the second part of this post I'll provide some strategies for training that will actually recharge the CNS.

Train frequently- seems counterintuitive, but when you employ the other fatigue-limiting techniques I'll list it becomes second nature. I truly believe there is no physiological reason for most people to have "rest days". That's not to say there aren't lifestyle or psychological reasons but that's another story. The nervous system requires and thrives on frequency. High frequency also builds work capacity, which allows you to train , you guessed it, more frequently! Infrequent, high intensity style training is a vicious cycle as the less you train, the less capacity you have to train (the less "fit" you become if you like) and therefore the less work it takes you to overtrain. So remember, there is always something you can do, every day, to make yourself better.

Avoid training to failure on bigger movements- I am not an absolutist and there is a time and place for nearly every training technique. But in general, on big barbell exercises like squats, deadlifts and presses, it's better to lift more often, for more sets while not taking those sets to absolute failure. This allows you to do more work overall which is the name of the game. I'm not advocating training easy mind you, so if you can text and squat you're doing it wrong.

Do not emphasise the lowering phase (particularly on big exercises) if you also want to train them frequently- the lowering or "eccentric" phase of any lift is what does the most damage and accumulates the most fatigue. If you can only get in the gym a few times a week, then accentuating the eccentric phase with a slow lowering tempo has it's uses. But you can't both train frequently and do this. Eccentrics can be useful but they don't allow frequency, and frequency trumps all!

Do a few things well- you only have so much power in your battery . Don't use it up on exercises that don't directly tie in to your goals. To be honest, for most people this probably just translates to more squatting and less silly single leg/unstable/machine exercises. Bottom line, spend most of your time on the most productive exercises.

Ok, that does it for the first part of this post, next time- how to use a training session to enhance CNS recovery.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

3 Things to Spend Your Money on...(before you spend it on supplements)

I'm a fan of some supplements, I just think they are too often over relied on. Ultimately, the very best supplement will slightly accelerate the progress made from training and nutrition, rather than creating progress in itself. I tend to stick to the few basic supplements that have a good evidence base and have consistently produced results for myself and my clients. These include good quality protein powders, multivitamins, fish oils, creatine and green tea extract. In fact in the case of the multivit and fish oil I tend to think of these less as supplements and more as staples. But beyond that I've never been particularly impressed by anything. So if you're going to spend money on something to improve your health and performance, here's a list of things I'd spend it on first.

Better meat -while I have to say I'm agnostic regarding some of the specific claims made by raving fans of organic food, I do tend to think that a cow that was well looked after and fed it's natural diet is going to be better for you than a grain fed cow that was treated with drugs and so on. Food quality is important, and if you're going organic I would have fattier meats such as beef higher on my list of priorities than vegetables.

More vegetables- Even if you think you're eating enough vegetables the likelihood is that you're not. Regardless of your goal, increase the volume and variety of veg that you're eating before spending money on a supplement. The point is to create a "base" of health before chasing a more specific goal such as fat loss or muscle gain. Trying to pack muscle on an unhealthy body is an exercise in futility.

Soft tissue work- particularly if you do suffer from niggling pains. Just like the previous points stressed creating internal health through proper nutrition, structural health is just as important if you want a life-long and successful training career (which you should!) So before looking for a miracle pill, find good soft tissue therapist to ensure you're body is actually working properly. At Aegis we have a phenomenal network of specialists we can refer our clients to if needed.
Bottom line, supplements are fine. But to get the most bang for your buck look at getting healthy, nailing your diet and eliminating niggling pains so that you can move and train effectively before you splash out on the next "magic bullet".

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Direct Abdominal Training- Why I Changed My Mind

Old school abdominal crunches are not en vogue anymore in the fitness industry, with good reason.
Our clients sit all day in a flexed position, so there would seem to be little sense in having them come to the gym and repeatedly flex their spine again. Renowned spine expert Stuart McGill makes a pretty water tight argument against training spinal flexion is his book ultimate low back performance. Add to that the limited time most clients have to spend with their trainer (we see our clients on average 8 hours per month) and its not hard to see why crunches tend to get dumped in favour of the big bang-for-your-buck exercises like deadlifts.
I still agree with all of the above arguments so it is still quite rare that I will include flexion in a clients program. But as with all training modalities I feel there is a time and a place where it can be effective.
When a client is already lean , circa 12% bodyfat, and is looking to step things up for an event such as a beach holiday, I will now have them perform direct ab work in the last two weeks on a 3 days on, 1 day off basis. Naturally, this is in conjunction with a number of other rapid fat loss strategies including additional short home workouts , diet and supplementation.
The benefits of this approach are as follows
1- The abdominals are muscles , they are capable of hypertrophy (muscle growth). Their capacity is pretty limited, but as a short term strategy for "peaking", a little bit of ab work can help show more definition.
2- it reinforces good client behaviour- the easiest part of my job as a trainer is the training session. The hard part, the art and the science of achieving real world results, is in everything the client does in the other 166 hours of the week when I'm not seeing them. Anything I can make the client do outside of the session to keep them on track is beneficial. Short ab sessions done at home most days help keep the client focussed on the outcome they want and therefore more likely to stick to the other behaviours that support that goal. If every night you're spending 15 minutes focussing solely on developing your abs, don't you think you'll be that little bit less likely to cheat on your diet or miss other training sessions?

As you can see the psychological benefit is as important as the physiological one, probably more so.

As for how I advise training the abs when using this strategy, I don't think exercise selection is as important as how the exercise is done. I advise the client to simply choose two flexion exercises, for example, crunches on the floor and reverse crunches, and do 3 sets each of about 15 reps. I tell them to focus on flexing the abs as hard as possible throughout the sets. Squeeze hard to bring the rib cage toward the pelvis, and maintain that tension when lowering the body so the low back almost has to pull the upper body back down.
That's it. Again, this is not a long term strategy, and is a very small part of the overall approach I use to get clients into the elusive "six pack abs" club. So if you have an already solid fat loss plan in place to take you to single digit bodyfat give it a try, but if you still have an appreciable amount of fat to lose, your effort should be spent elsewhere.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Training The Advanced Client (and more Arnie quotes)

I've written before on this blog about the fact that our clients tend to be a pretty homogeneous group. They all tend to have desk based jobs, work long hours and have similar exercise histories. Consequently, they will usually have very similar training needs when they first come to see us. If you were to look at a training program for a handful of clients in their first three months of training they would probably have a lot in common, for example an emphasis on mobility at the hip, ankle and thoracic regions, and a good deal of training volume spent on upper back work and single leg exercises like split squats. One of our aims with all clients (in addition to their own personal goals naturally) is to have them full back squatting, deadlifting, chinning, pressing and performing some variety of olympic lift safely and with excellent technique within 16 weeks minimum. For most people it doesn't take nearly that long, but we do see the occasional person in pretty poor shape.

But if mastery of these core lifts is the goal, and we achieve that in our allotted time, what then? Today I'm giving an example of a program for a more advanced client, one who has gone through the process of developing proper mobility, stability, endurance, strength and technical proficiency to do it. In other words, this is the sexy stuff.

We name all our programs after characters from Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, so I call this one Matrix, after Arnie's character in the film Commando. So get ready because, to quote the man himself "all f**king hell is going to break loose". The idea here is very simple, for each session you choose from one of 3 movement patterns
- Upper Body Pushing
- Lower Body Hip Dominant
- Lower Body Quad dominant
You then choose 3-4 exercises that train that pattern. Each exercise should lend itself to using more weight than the preceding one. You then simply work up in weight in sets of 3 reps. When the weight becomes too heavy for that exercise you move on to the next exercise in the sequence. You should always strive to move the bar as fast as possible, and rest as little as you can without impairing performance (highly individual but this might be only 30-40 seconds on lighter sets moving up to 90 seconds on heavier lifts) Here's an example


Day 1 - Lower Body Hip Dominant

Power Clean from the hang - 4-5 sets of 3, progressively heavier each time
When the weight becomes to heavy move on to
Deadlifts - 4-5 x 3
Progessing in the same manner, finally moving on to
Rack Deadlifts from the knees - 4-5 x 3

Day 2 - Upper Body Pressing
Strict Military press (as above)
Push Press
Incline Bench
Flat Bench

Day 3- Lower Body Quad Dominant
Power Snatch from blocks
Front Squat
Back Squat

Day 4 - rotate back to Upper Body Pressing

Assistance work (upper back etc) is done either at the end of a session or between upper body sets. We train the back of the body quite differently to the front. You may often hear that you should do a set of rows for every set of presses to balance strength on the front and back of the body. I believe this is a misunderstanding of how the body should be trained for balance but thats a blog for another day. In the mean time , give Matrix a go and see if it turns you into "one gigantic motherf***er" (oh just watch the movie)