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)