Wait! There is Never Enough Time

Wait! There is Never Enough Time

by Rick Ashworth

I watched a film recently about what it might take to find yourself, assuming you ever can? It dealt with the confrontation of personal troubles but, to me, it was more about procrastination and leaving things until something significant comes along and forces you into them.

It is far too easy to blame external factors or to use them to deflect the way we feel about ourselves in order to keep us from taking that leap towards changing, regardless of the size of the chasm before us.

I remembered the women with type-1 diabetes who I offered my help to a few years ago but instead of simply talking to me and getting an understanding of whether I could help her she instead decided that though I might be controlling my diabetes well now that I should wait until I had been ‘suffering’ with the condition for as long as she had and then see if I was still controlling it then! Was she scared of giving herself a better life, a healthier life, a longer life with my help? Of course, I couldn’t guarantee that but who knows what each of us might have learnt from the other. The reason, I think, was and is down to control, giving the reigns of your life over to another. Doing so doesn’t mean you have failed it just means you could use a hand and I’m as much in need of that as anyone.images

Yet, it does seem to me that we, in this country, find easier to blame someone else for our failings or assume that those who are doing better than us have cheated in some way rather than look at ourselves and try to make appropriate changes.

In all seriousness, how else can you explain the massive surge in type-2 diabetes or the increase in depression over the past decade? Not one of those who are suffering due to weight-issues woke-up one day and found themselves dramatically overweight with an exhausted pancreas in ownership of an illness/disease that could kill them. For whatever reason they went past the time to seek help when they were free from symptoms and pushed straight-through to thinking it was a lost cause.

Drugs might alleviate the symptoms but they won’t solve the cause and that’s the scary bit; doing something that is so alien to the run of life that you have followed for so long that the habit is set and there’s a massive comfort in that. However, that feeling of comfort will be regained through repetition and if that repetition is on a healthy path then you will remain healthy.

 

Hopefully, you are not suffering from anything as potentially bad and frustrating as diabetes but even if your goals are increased fitness, slight weight-loss or more confidence and health have you taken steps towards them or are they still ethereal desires that are more likely to come to fruition whilst you sleep?

 

If you have goals and cannot bring yourself to jump into them with both feet off the highest cliff you can find, then don’t. It is far easier to reach your goals through small steps or by using marginal gains. If your goal is to run a marathon then I suggest your first training session is not a 26.2 mile run (or, indeed, any session you ever do…ever). This is much along the same lines as changing your eating habits should not be to throw away every food-stuff in your kitchen and restock from scratch.

 

Wanting to be a better you, whatever that might mean, does require a leap into the relative unknown and the leap means you’re probably jumping across to receive help from someone who you’ve never met, you don’t want to open up to and it’s difficult, of course it is, and the hardest thing we do as adults is to say we don’t know something.

 

Am I the right person to help you become fitter? Can I help you change your diet and live a healthier life free from diabetes and other complications? Can I help you run a marathon? I don’t know but if you’re thinking about making a change to your life remember that there’s never enough time to sit back and procrastinate and that an initial discussion about how I could help you is absolutely free.

So, get on with it: apply for the job, write the novel, buy the new car, train for the marathon, eat Kale and call me; I’m absolutely positive that I can help you on some of those!

 

Rick Ashworth MSc Applied Sports Science (with Psychology): 07887745773

Which Period Are You In?

 

By Rick Ashworth – MSc Sports Science

 

A couple of weeks ago we discussed how to re-invigorate your new year’s resolutions and, as Spring and the good weather approaches, I hope you’ve managed to make exercise an important part of each week and are making some good progress with your goals?

However, if you are getting in the gym but as hard as you’re trying there hasn’t seemed to be much improvement it might just help to be following a structure to your training and that is exactly what we’re going to discuss.Unknown

 What Do I Need To Do?

To make gains in the gym, and generally, this means increasing your muscle size, whether you’re training to bulk-up specifically or looking to lose weight; as an increased muscle mass will increase your metabolism and force your body to burn more calories at rest. Therefore, you’ll improve your definition, tone, shape, whatever you want to call it, it will make you look better.

 To do this you need to get tired. If you’re not pushing your muscles to failure then you haven’t asked them to do more than they are capable of doing and your body won’t see the need to make them bigger, no matter how much you wish they would. It’s as true for women trying to increase their muscle size by a few percent as it is for body-builders trying to add specific mass.

There are, however, a few caveats to consider before you try and bench press the weight of a small car over your chest.

 Build a Base

 Use a four-week ‘foundation period’ to build good strength, improve your core and learn how to lift correctly and safely. This doesn’t necessitate a session or few with a personal trainer but it would help you understand the reasons why this stage is so important – believe me when I tell you that lifting heavy with a poor posture will eventually lead to injury and that won’t help improve your body shape one bit.

Tight and underused muscles grow at a slower rate than flexible ones. This is not just down to imbalances that cause you to rely on specific muscles during a lift but tight muscles often have a restricted blood flow, which means that nutrients and oxygen that help rebuild the muscle after training will not get to them as easily, therefore, their growth becomes affected. This is as good a reason as any to change an exercise routine every 4-6 weeks; to try and work the muscles that are not receiving the same benefit from an exercise as others, along with avoiding boredom and other factors as well.

 Try exercises that utilise several joints, such as squats, lunges and presses and think about ways to add a functional element to them, try a lunge but twist your torso to each side as you do so; which will bring additional muscles into play at the same time.

 Use a rep-range of 15-20 for 3 or 4 sets and control the lift throughout.

 Time to get Hyper

 This doesn’t mean to drink very strong coffee; though if you don’t drink much coffee then caffeine before a workout may help you lift more and train harder…?

 After base training you should be ready to progress to heavier weights and work more specifically to your goals. This second phase of training is usually referred to as hypertrophy, which essentially means to make your muscles bigger. The rep-range will usually be between 8-12, meaning you’re lifting the weights for a period of about a minute (use a watch if it’s easier) and it’s this minute or time-under-tension that fatigues the muscle. This means no blasting through the reps like a lunatic but keeping a steady movement throughout, lower the weight through the eccentric phase of the movement (when the muscle is lengthening) for 3-4 seconds and push back to the start straight-away without a pause, constantly having the weight-in-motion.

 And Time to Relax

 Lifting heavy weights is not all that’s required. If you have poor sleep patterns, i.e. not enough or irregular hours and different times each night then your body will not recover sufficiently from each session and every subsequent session will become harder and strip the ability of the body to ever fully recharge leading to potential injury and, certainly, worse results. If your diet is poor then results will similarly be affected to the point where a poor diet focused on junk-foods and alcohol may negate any workout that you put in.

 A good diet alongside a low alcohol content and constant sleep pattern will mean your body will suffer less stress, have better digestion and a greater chance of building muscle (a diet should have protein levels of 1.5-1.8g per kg body weight).

 Again, as with the base period, change your exercise plan every 4-6 weeks.

 Hiit It

 Although by following a good diet and lifting weights, whether free weights or on the machines, should reap great results you can make those results even better by hitting the cardio trail…hard.

 Don’t waste your time walking or jogging for half-an-hour on the treadmill, watching the calories used tick up and fool yourself that you’re doing a good effort.

 In conjunction with a weights plan, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) will deliver the physique you want in much quicker time but it requires hard (and I mean hard) effort. A ‘simple’ session would be to warm-up for a few minutes and then perform 10 sets of 1 minute flat out on whatever machine you are using, followed by 1 minute of very easy recovery, which can be a jog ,walk or even stopping to suck in all the air you feel you’ve missed out on during the previous minutes effort.

 This kind of effort will strip fat from your body, improve your sprint speed and, even, make endurance exercise easier, it’s all three-in-one so use it.

 Remember that hard training does require correct nutrition, which means good quality carbohydrate too. If you refuel with soup and salads you’ll most likely feel tired and struggle through your workouts. If you struggle to get the required nutrition from meals alone, which can be several small meals through the day not necessarily the three ‘square’ meals we were all brought up on, then take protein supplements and others to assist your goals and requirements.

 If you work hard you should see a change in as little as a couple of weeks, so get to it.

 Train Hard, Train Happy.

 Rick Ashworth

M: 07887745773

rickashworthpt@gmail.com

Peanuts or Power

By Rick Ashworth MSc Sports Science

 According to recently published research, the best way to overcome a peanut allergy is to eat more peanuts, which makes a certain amount of sense as, after all, we are constantly being told that the number of allergies is forever on the increase as we molly-coddle our children and grab an antiseptic wipe if little Johnny so much as picks up a worm but eating dirt never seemed to do me much lasting damage (said the type-1 diabetic!).images

 

Of course, to little Johnny peanuts might not taste great and they might even make him feel a little queasy but his body will adapt and grow stronger against the allergen. His white blood cells will throw-down the bows and arrows they have always relied upon and re-arm with Apache helicopters and Tomahawk missiles so that the next time that same allergen tries to invade it will be vaporised; the training axiom of what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger comes to mind…?

 

However, this article is not about allergens it’s about exercise and, as it turns out, exercise is rather like fighting allergens, so all you ‘little Johnnys’ take note. Much like never being exposed to allergens will not help your body combat them in the future, if you want to get fitter then you need to start exercising and, maybe, push yourself to a point where you might just feel a little sick.images 1

 

Much like overcoming an allergen, you should introduce yourself to exercise gradually, not training every day to the point of exhaustion. If you are starting from nothing or very sporadic exercise then just start with a gentle jog or light resistance training; try to jog for a couple or so minutes and then take a breather in the form of a walk, perhaps doing an easy warm-up then 4 sets of 4 minutes walking on a 1 minute walking recovery, cool down for five minutes to help return your heart rate and body temperature down to pre-exercise levels and that will take you half-an-hour. Also, or otherwise, try doing fairly simple weighted exercises for 3 sets each of 15 repetitions with a 30 second or so recovery between each lift. Pick a weight that you can comfortably do for the first set, struggle a little for the second and not quite be able to do for the third. Try a circuit that looks something like:

 

  • Barbell Chest Press
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Barbell Squat
  • Dumbbell Seated Shoulder Press
  • Dumbbell Alternate Walking Lunges

Each set of exercise should take about a minute at a steady and controlled tempo and, therefore, the session should last approximately 25 to 30 minutes.

 

Fitness is a very straight-forward concept and if you want to get fitter and stronger then, in general, you must try harder (run faster and lift heavier) than you have done before. If it’s too difficult to do a whole session like that then do some of the session harder and some the same as before; the more you do the better the results but just lifting more for one solitary set is clearly an improvement on what you have done before and you still get a gold star for that.

 

By working harder you will force your body to adapt, much like introducing small amounts of an allergen to your immune system; given time a continued increase of the stimulus, whether that’s peanuts, heavy weights or a harder run, your body will become used to tolerating that amount of stress and be willing to learn to cope with more.

 

Hard exercise in whatever form it takes is good and will improve your strength and fitness but, as a final point for this posting, if you ignore a good diet (as has been discussed numerous times before) then you will lose many benefits and put extra strain on your immune system, potentially opening yourself up to colds and other viruses; I think this is where we began the blog but in that situation your white blood cells will have to do more than simply being used as an analogy.

 

For a more in-depth understanding of how to begin an exercise program or to add more power to your existing one please get in touch or for more information and how you could have a free personal training session at in the South Manchester/Cheshire area call 07887-745-773.

 

Happy Hard, Train Happy – for the life you want to live

Fit not Fad

 

By Rick Ashworth MSc Sports Science

 

In my last blog I briefly discussed that though super-foods do exist, the term is somewhat misleading and that successful marketing campaigns have us all regarding things like green tea with a reverence that is well beyond what research can prove.

All year there have been articles espousing the benefits of various diets, some with a bit of research and some with absolutely none. However, one that caught my eye the other day and has continued to bounce into view over the years is the ‘Alkaline Diet’. A diet that suggests our blood is too acidic. Now, I’ve seen films about having acidic blood and I’m pretty sure that even if this were true (and I’ll lay it down early as a bit of a plot spoiler here that it isn’t), you need not worry about any potential offspring exploding out of your stomach or being run over by an armoured personal carrier driven by a civilian called Ripley. Indeed, it is my limited biological knowledge rather than my epistemological understanding of names that seems to remind me that food is broken down by acid in our stomachs and, therefore, acid is a rather vital component to our existence. So, if acid is a good thing in this respect, what the hell is the point of an alkaline diet? Just what is going on?Unknown

 

As briefly touched on above, from a biological point of view, our blood is usually always around 7.4pH. Believe me, if it fluctuates more than 0.1 up or down you’re in trouble; of the dying kind. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to dip some pink strips of paper into your blood to find out, if you’re reading this then it’s fair to say that you’re fine and have yet to mutate into H.R. Geiger’s latest creation.

 

So, my rudimentary biology would seem to stand up. Our stomachs have far more acid in them than can be swayed by eating an orange (even two) or by putting too much vinegar on your chips (not that you eat chips, of course, evil carbohydrate!).

 

imagesNo food regardless of what the tabloids may suggest is going to change your blood from acid to alkaline, it might change the colour or smell of your pee but your blood will stay the same. If you really want to change the concentration of your bloodstream then just hold your breath. Though I’m not endorsing this practice, the longer you hold your breath for then the more your bloodstream will build up acidity as an accumulation of carbon dioxide in the body cranks the pH level up. Once this acid build-up becomes too great you either breath and the inrush of oxygen displaces the carbon dioxide and everything quickly returns to normal or you pass out; at this point your body decides that you’re an idiot and knocks you out so it can start breathing again, which potentially says something about the creator of the Alkaline Diet…?

 

Hopefully, none of you are reading this last bit as you pick yourselves up off the carpet whilst trying to shake the dizziness from your head. The message is hopefully clear enough, if someone tells you to go on a diet that will balance your blood acidity then they either have no idea what they’re talking about or they’ve been in a breath holding contest one time too many!

 

Sadly, it’s never as straightforward as that, as all this doesn’t mean that the Alkaline Diet can’t or won’t help you lose weight, just that it won’t work for the reasons they are telling you it will.

 

The best diets involve lots of colourful foods, vegetables and protein along with some slow-release carbohydrates such as sweet potato, brown rice, sweetcorn and fruits; I’d even recommend a meal where you eat your favourite foods like pizza once-a-week (we’re trying to get fit and healthy, not boring and unhappy)!

 

By all means diet but know what you’re eating and why you’re eating it, there are too many people trying to make a quick buck from a lack of knowledge, experience and care for the people they are trying to ‘help’.

 

Make sure you take your information from a qualified professional who understands what you want and why. For more information and dietary advice for weight-loss, maintenance and diabetes please feel free to call me.

Give Your Fitness A Boost!

 

By Rick Ashworth MSc Sports Science

Hopefully, you’ve pushed through the January blues and have your New Year resolutions firmly back in place and you’re feeling better and exercising hard? If not then have another read through my last post about re-starting your New Year’s resolutions, however, if you’ve taken heed then this post will give you fresh impetus to train hard to maximise your results. This post is all about your metabolism and how to charge it up!

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Of course, you’ve heard the term metabolism before and I’m equally sure you’ve decided on whether yours is slow or fast and you know that you can speed it up by taking various legal substances. So, perhaps you already know that your metabolism is the chemical process occurring in each and every cell to give your body energy and the more cells you have then the more processes and the higher your metabolism, which is why the bigger you are the higher your metabolism will be.

 

Hence, your metabolism is the base level amount of calories you need to burn each day to function normally; to keep simple processes functioning like breathing and keeping your heart pumping. It is also governed by the amount of exercise you do, which is any movement at all, whether that’s walking, running, doing the gardening or anything else that gets your butt off the sofa.

 

Although your base level metabolism is set by your weight you can burn more calories and, therefore, have the best possible attempt at either weight-loss or body-shape through appropriate training and exercise.

 

First off, what is your base level metabolism? Your metabolism is based upon several factors:

 

Age

How old you are affects the speed of your metabolism. The older you are, the slower it will be, which is specifically true after the age of 40. Research suggests that you can expect your metabolism to slow by about 10% each decade over 40, which means the amount of calories you eat should drop or the amount of movement should increase; and, clearly, the latter is harder to control and achieve as you age.

 

Genes

Like it or not, your genes affect your body massively. If your parents stayed slim despite stuffing their faces at any given opportunity then you’re likely to have the same good fortune. Some people just absorb nutrients better than others, harsh but true.

 

Gender

Women have slower metabolisms than men due to them carrying more fat than their male counterparts and less muscle mass. Muscle mass requires the body to burn more calories at rest than fat and, hence, men require more calories than women to stay in the same shape.

 

So you’re looking at the above and either thinking: ‘great, I’m off to the fridge’or ‘that’s not good, I can barely eat a thing!’However, there are ways and means to give your metabolism a little boost in the right direction.

 

 

Crank It Up!

 

Below are three researched and proven methods to increase your metabolism:

 

Lift Weights

As we just went over with the difference in gender, the more muscle you have then the higher your metabolism is going to be. Think of it this way – every pound of fat (about 0.5kg) burns approximately two calories each day, whereas, the same amount of muscle burns six. Imagine if you could put on 2 or 3kg of muscle, for one you’d look great and, for another, you’d be burning about an extra 30 calories-per-day. It might not sound much but that’s about 8 strawberries or 3 Pringles crisps if you’re thinking what nutritional rubbish you could opt for instead.

 

Interval

Not only is interval training the fastest and most effective way to get fit but exercise that works your heart rate from high to low will make your metabolism work hard well after you have. Studies suggest that vigorous exercise can make your metabolism stay elevated for up to 14 hours after training has finished; you have to be working pretty damn hard for that but, put simply, the harder you work, the greater the benefit afterwards. Sprint!

 

Eat Scheduled Small Meals

There is some research that eating a little and often is slightly better than the usual three-main-meals-a-day. This is due to the metabolism having to fire up and actually burn calories to help you digest the food you’re eating; mind you these small meals need to be of good quality, your metabolism might increase just after you eat but it still won’t burn anything to significantly dent the fat laid down by eating a chocolate bar.

 

 

Don’t Believe The Hype

 

Super Foods

There are foods that give you a great nutritional kick for the amount eaten but there really isn’t anything out there that will give you a magical metabolism boost. People extol the virtues of spices such as cayenne pepper or cinnamon and drinks such as green tea but just because it’s hot and makes you sweat does not mean it’s doing anything to your metabolism. That’s right, a vindaloo will not help you lose weight and, unless you’re planning to have it intravenously 24/7, the effect of green tea on your metabolism is so slight as to be worthless.

 

Caffeine

There’s a slight increase in metabolism through caffeine but the effect is slight and studied results inconclusive, if you drink it do it because you like it and don’t kid yourself there’s a health benefit…wait, that sounds very much like the advice for another drink at the moment…!

 

Dieting

By significantly reducing your calorie intake for a couple of months or more you can reduce your body’s metabolism substantially due to your body going into what is called starvation mode whereby calories are used to preserve vital functions such as circulation and breathing. After this, when you return to eating normally it can still take several weeks to normalise function; a window in which you can easily put weight on. Dieting is fine but do it right and appreciate the amount of calories you really need.

 

The take home message, as ever, is to burn more calories than you consume. If you eat more than you burn then you’ll be putting on weight, it’s actually as straight-forward as that it just doesn’t seem like it.

 

By Rick Ashworth MSc Sports Science

Now Is The Time For Making Some New New Year’s Resolutions?

How long did it take you to break your new year’s resolution to exercise more and drop the excess weight from Christmas? Did you manage a week, two? If you’ve yet to feel your motivation slip then you deserve to be seeing some progress and I hope you are because the statistics show that by the third week of January most of us are beginning to lose the passion we had, some have lost it altogether.

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Psychological research suggests that it takes between four and six weeks of continuity to form a habit; some studies suggest up to 9 weeks. That’s not going to the gym three times the first week and once the next but marking the diary several times every week and sticking to that throughout those formative weeks. Habits are not formed out of sporadic behaviour but consistent application.

 

Check out your Facebook buddies and those you follow on Twitter (personal trainers and professional athletes should be exempt but the rest…?), how many are still knocking out gym-selfies and posting about how many steps they managed on the Stair-Climber? The decline is starkly against the surge in posts pre-christmas from people vowing to have ‘just one more week’before the weight comes off.

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The good news is that it’s only the start of February and if you’ve begun to feel that struggle (or have given in to it already) then don’t beat yourself up, I’m here to tell you how to get going again The best strategies involve planning. This means writing down a chart that specifies when, where and how you will do what you plan. For an exercise plan it involves writing down a time (the full duration) and what you intend to do in the gym. If you have a personal trainer then that’s all taken care of but if you’re doing it yourself be sure to have a good idea in mind, otherwise, as is often the case, you can find yourself wandering between equipment and getting bored quickly and, without knowing what you plan to achieve from a session, you will struggle.

 

However, a plan can be as simple as saying: ‘every Saturday morning I’ll get up 30 minutes earlier and go for a run before the kids get up’. So you set the alarm and eventually every Saturday it becomes an automatic action to get up and run, there’s no thought or dilemma, no should I or can I be bothered, the action is triggered by the external stimulus: alarm sounds, you go running. Don’t worry you’re not one of Pavlov’s dogs, if any other alarm goes off at any other point in any other day you shouldn’t feel the urge to start doing laps around the local shopping centre or charging down the sideline doing interval sprints as your son plays Sunday morning football; this doesn’t mean you can’t should you feel like it though…!

 

If you’re still feeling disappointed that you’ve fallen off the bandwagon already just think about this little statistic: last year new gym memberships in the US were higher in March than in January. So it seems that many people suffer through the winter blues before setting off in search of their summer shape.

 

Sometimes it’s not you but those around you who prove to be a barrier to a new you. If you’re getting stick off others for not training then it’s simple: don’t tell them you’re going to start.

 

Despite it apparently going against every piece of advice you’ve ever been given, telling others you’re about to embark on a new exercise program to get support and increase motivation could be the worst thing you could do. Certain studies have found that by blurting your intentions out to everyone it could actually make you feel like you’ve already achieved most what you set out to. Unfortunately, talking a good game is not the same as playing one; most of us would already hold a World Championship medal in something or other if that were the case, I know I would.

 

When you finally get into the gym it’s equally important not to worry about gym-members who look great or are hammering out a high speed on the treadmill. The gym isn’t about the person next to you, it’s about you and Johnny Barrelchest has no more right to any equipment or gym-space than you do. However, what you should respect Johnny for is his ability to stick to a schedule, he doesn’t look the way he does by chance and you won’t look any better by staring as he knocks out another chest press either.

 

Have a plan. If the equipment you were going to use is occupied then, guess what, use something else, don’t just moon-about on the gym floor hoping someone will finish up on the treadmill in the next thirty seconds. Use the X-trainer or bike. Can’t get on the bench press then do a press-up. If you’re struggling then any fitness instructor or personal trainer with a cell in their brain should be able to give you about ten alternatives without pause for thought and they won’t charge you for the information; in fact, they should show you how.

 

Regardless, here are ten tips to help you stick to your new New Year’s exercise resolutions:

 

Be realistic

 

 This is just as relevant to dieting too. If you’re starting a new running program don’t plan on running 10k in 35 minutes in the next couple of months, aim for increases that are attainable; run 0.2km/hr quicker on the next run or run for two minutes longer, neither will feel greatly harder but, clearly, you’re doing more. Much like dieting, don’t say that you’re never going to eat a chocolate bar again because you’ll only end up feeling guilty and depressed when you do. Aim to eat more healthily and, maybe, cut down your portion size too, Government guide-lines overstate the amount of calories the average man and woman require each day.

 

Plan

 

Make a plan for the week ahead not the next day. Sure, sometimes things change and you might have to miss a session or eat out rather than have the mackerel salad you were going to but by having a plan ahead of time then you’re less likely to blow it off and others will be more inclined to take your plans seriously and support your efforts if they know what times you’re free or what your goals are.

 

Be Determined

 

You’re not up for training today…so what’s going to make you? Did you leave your kit in the car so you don’t have to go home to get it? Did you book yourself into circuits for next time so you know you have a place?

 

Think about why you wanted to do this in the first place, what were your goals, do you want to be fitter, healthier and live a longer and more active life? What is that going to take? Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself out loud why you’re going to miss training and see if those excuses still seem good enough.

 

Talk to your friends

 

Don’t tell them you’re going to be the next Mo Farah but just tell them you want to start going to the gym a few times-a-week and these are the times and the reasons why. Those close to you will understand why and support you, tell them how to do that best.

 

Reward Yourself

 

To take all the ambiguity away, this does not mean a cupcake after each session, it means setting a goal that takes some achievement, maybe going to the gym three-times-a-week for three or four weeks should be rewarded with a trip to the cinema or a new pair of gym shoes, something fun or something that can help you focus on continuing your good work, after all, everyone loves new kit or is that just me…?

 

Track your progress

 

You’re doing well but how well, can you remember how much you lifted two weeks ago or do you just have a vague guess and if it feels difficult then it must be an improvement?

 

Equally, are you keeping a food journal? Are you eating less or are you having more snacks because of your new exercise regime? It might not be a bad thing, you might need more calories for all the energy you’re expending or, alternatively, you might feel that because you’re working out you can eat more, which is not always the case at all.

 

Make a list, keep a journal, whatever it is you need to know.

 

Don’t worry

 

If you fall off the bandwagon and stuff your face for a meal or even a day, if you can’t make the gym because of work or family commitments then that’s OK. The gym shouldn’t be the be-all-and-end-all of each day. As we discussed earlier, it’s about habits and if you’re eating well and working out to a fairly regular pattern then your body is not going to be derailed by the odd day off. Be consistent.

 

Keep on keeping on

 

Just reinforcing here. Struggling to keep going after a few weeks? Then have a few days off to eat a few ‘bad’things and put your feet up. If you’ve worked hard for a few weeks then a couple of days are not going to destroy everything. Sure, the more effort you put in and the healthier you eat then the better and the quicker you’ll reach your target but don’t be miserable about it, you’ll never succeed if you don’t like what you’re doing.

 

Make February the month to keep your resolutions, it seems to be what everyone else does!

 

By Rick Ashworth Msc Sports Science

Food Foundations

Following advertised diets is all very well and, indeed, should help you lose a few pounds, which is to be applauded but what happens after those first few weeks ditching the booze, chips and sweets? What happens when you’re fed up eating cabbage and dying to have just one slice of pizza or go out to a restaurant to order something other than a plain salad and glass of water?

These are all reasons why diets ultimately fail and people end up weighing exactly the same or more as they did after Christmas, only it’s two months on and all the motivation and desire has slipped to be replaced by excuses like age or metabolism or I’ll just lose a few pounds before I get back to the gym…

This is why I preach a balanced way of eating, in moderation and with an understanding of what foods do what to you; this is why carb-cutting is so good because it shows you exactly what those carbs are doing and what they are doing is causing you to gain weight!

In order to lose weight it has been stated by a variety of empirical studies that you need to have a calorie deficit of between about 300-600kCal per day. To do this you need to know your metabolic rate, try:            http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/bmr_calculator.htm (I’m not endorsing the site, it’s just Google’s top hit).

From this you will find out how many calories you need to burn to stay exactly as you are and, I imagine, the figure that you get will surprise you but metabolism is based on sized so the bigger you are the higher it will be. Therefore, subtract the 300-600kCal from your score and you’ll come to your ‘allowed’ calories for the day (you can increase this by working like the Dickens in the gym, an hour weight-training will give you about an extra 300kCal to your daily total).

It is difficult to change your score but one way that is guaranteed to work is from increasing the size of your muscles. We’re not talking Olympic lifter here either, just a small percentage increase will mean some of those calories your body has been handily storing as fat will now be burnt as energy. Less calories stored means a leaner body so get doing those press-ups and lunges or get yourself down to the gym.

The other way is through a sustained program of healthy eating. Your metabolic rate will not change overnight, however, a diet is not something to focus on for a week or two, which is why so many fail, but for a prolonged period and the longer the better; be patient and consistent. If you gained weight over a period of years don’t expect to lose it in a period of days.

I believe it’s important to eat ‘bad’ food within your ‘diet’ too though. A little and often is fine and will stop you falling off the wagon. To binge eat after denying yourself your favourite treat for a week. If you eat well for 5-6 days and slip a little for one then your body is going to habituate itself to the 5-6 days not the one day which contained a chocolate bar and a dessert. Of course, that said, the better you eat the better your results.

Therefore, using a points system to help you better appreciate which foods are nutritionally rich against those that are only contributing to weight gain is a useful tool, which has the added benefit of giving you a picture of your whole day’s diet and that is exactly what we will explore tomorrow.

Foot Loose!

Some topics in fitness and exercise come around time-after-time but some are routinely ignored as not being exciting or interesting enough for the general imagination. Take feet, when you plan for your next training session you think about sets and repetitions, the weight and, maybe, a cursory pause for posture but do you ever think about your feet?

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Power Base

Most people fail to consider what a full range of movement is for any given exercise; never dropping their elbows lower than shoulder height for an overhead press or controlling a barbell all the way to just above the chest for a press. So when so little consideration is given to those specific muscles, it is comfortable to argue that most will be unaware of their feet at all, even, when they are pulling on a pair of socks or lacing up their shoes; let alone when performing an overhead press and, therefore, there is no point taking into account less obvious exercises such as chest presses or pulldowns.

 However, the critical role that feet play in every exercise cannot be overstated.

 There are, of course, movements such as a clean, snatch, jerk or deadlift that require specific placement of the feet to perform the movement safely but the feet play an active, and vital, role in virtually every other exercise you can think of.

 Runners know how important foot placement is to performance. Indeed, an entire industry has grown from the knowledge about how individual biomechanics impact ability. An athlete can build all the strength and power in the world but if they are not able to utilise it effectively then they can forget about challenging for the top honours.

 Power is everything and that does not mean size. Not only is power the key to lifting and sprinting but power-to-weight ratio the vital statistic governing endurance performance.

Power is built from the foot pushing off from the ground and transferring through the legs to the core. This power can be compromised by poor biomechanics, such as the ankle rolling in as the foot pushes against the ground and the body compensates for this elsewhere up the kinetic chain. A solid foundation propels the rest of the body into action.

 Many set themselves up for exercises with feet pointing at irregular angles, whilst others move their feet during planted-foot exercises. It is not only injury that is being prevented by halting lifts as the ankles roll or the heels lift but it also compromises the power they can impart on any given exercise.

Take a chest press as an example. On the face of it a chest press has nothing whatsoever to do with the feet. The exercise involves the upper-body, it is all arms, shoulders and chest.

 The lifter is lying down with their knees bent with the feet not being given a seconds thought; on the floor and out of sight. However, as the lifter lowers the bar, the shoulders are pushed down into the bench but so too should the feet be pushed down into the floor – why?

The answer is because the base of power comes through the feet having solid contact with the ground. When you try and drive a heavy bar back up to the rack there is a temptation to arch the back as if driving your back into the bench will impart more power. The back cannot arch if the feet are flat and keeping them so will enable you to better complete the press. Have you ever seen someone twisting their body across the bench, like a fish caught in a net? It is not only their body snaking from side-to-side but, more often than not, their feet kick out as they make that final and dramatic push to hook the bar onto any part of the rack they can. It is neither safe nor effective.

 Instead of rocking the shoulders and lifting the hips, what if the lifter had focused on planting their feet firmly into the floor. They would have generated force from the ground, up through the legs, core, back and shoulders and transferred all of this extra power, finally, through their arms and into the bar. Struggling at this point would mean they were truly at their maximum effort, failing due to the number of repetitions not through poor form or because they were trying to lift too much.

 Try bench pressing a weight with your feet in the air. It is harder, much, much harder. It doesn’t matter what position you are in, if your feet are off the floor you will struggle. Want a more obvious example, the incline bench is almost impossible without your feet down, it helps to support the lifter but also allows them to generate their maximum power; for a first time lifter, an incline bench is the perfect place to start understanding the importance of foot placement.

One of the reasons why good trainers preach so much about the strength of the core is because it is fundamental to transferring the power as laid down, or should that be up, from the feet. With a weak core all the extra power will get lost in the translation to the working muscles.

In running faster acceleration is due to greater foot to ground contact, every time the foot is in the air it is slowing down, i.e. it is not doing anything to assist the athlete. When lifting, if the feet are in the air, arched or positioned inappropriately for the exercise undertaken then the lifter is not going to be able to perform the exercise to the best of their ability.

This transfer is no more evident than when performing an overhead press. Due to the lack of equipment, such as a bench, for support, when performing these actions with heavy weights it is absolutely vital for a solid base and core because of the motion involved in the dynamic lift. Feet, ankles, the lower leg and knees provide balance as the weight is lifted and keep the weight above your head upon completion.

Because of the motion involved in a dynamic or Olympic lift a break in the chain can have devastating effects on the ability of the athlete to perform the lift; lifting the weight and staggering to regain balance is not an effective lift. Should the foundation become loose and the legs begin to shake then it becomes obvious that the athlete will be able to produce less power. If the lifter considers the feet before beginning the lift and try to grip the floor with their toes before beginning the lift then they will give themselves a much greater chance of lifting the weight effectively, safely and to lift something heavier than they have before.

 Give the bottom a firm grip

A squat should not be performed by pushing the barbell up from the back of the shoulders off the rack, stepping back and then easing down with hips swaying to the side or with a back curvature resembling someone trudging down the street with a stick.

The squat, or overhead press as another example, begins the moment the weight is taken off the rack. Before the shoulders even come into contact with the bar the core should be tightened and kept so throughout; when stepping back into position, when digging the toes into the floor and when dropping the hips in a controlled fashion between feet placed approximately shoulder-width apart towards the floor.

Relaxing at any stage allows errors to creep in. Once technique is compromised, posture can be bullied out of shape by the weight. For light weights this is not necessarily going to be dangerous but it will impact the number of repetitions you can achieve and will probably mean you stress incorrect muscles. However, for heavier weights, injury becomes more likely.

 So, the next time you are setting up for a squat or an overhead press, take your shoes off and dig your toes into the floor.

It is all about the feet. It is a mantra that should be sung throughout a workout as it is all too easy to forget in the throes of lifting. For the vast majority of exercises, the feet should be placed about shoulder-width apart with the toes pointed slightly out. Grip the floor and don’t allow the feet to become passive. It should go without saying that they are for more than simply standing-on, they are the first point of contact with the floor, which makes them the power base for pretty much every exercise you ever do.

How will you know if you are not using your feet correctly? A good reference point is the bar: is it swaying from side-to-side or wavering as you go up or down? If the answer is yes then the body is too relaxed, which probably means your feet are not properly placed. Once the feet are locked in for a static exercise they should not move.

Before dropping into a squat the lifter should note their position: standing straight without a lean and making sure they contract through the feet, legs, core and back. With heavy weights this should be done before the bar is lifted clear of the rack to prevent wobble or a lack of balance when pacing back away from the rack to start.

The stronger the base the more stable the lifter will be when lowering and the more power they will be able to utilise to drive out of the squat too.

You snooze, you loose

Though lunges do not carry the potential stressors through the exercise as, say, a squat, as they are an exercise that requires continual movement from foot to foot, then, they could be argued to be even more important.   The core is crucial and a drop in tension can result in a loss of balance that will place tension through non-working muscles.

 Unlike a squat, a lunge requires the toes to point straight ahead upon each footfall, at which point the landing foot should aim to grip the floor to help tighten posture and allow the focus to shift to lowering the back knee.

From a weak postural position there is no way to recover during a heavy lift. Power-lifting (deadlifts, cleans and such) requires movement through various phases, almost always beginning from the floor. Many lifters simply address the weight without pausing to set their feet, tighten their core and lift their head to focus the posture of their back. If the hips begin to rise before the legs have finished driving up the weight will shift forwards and put additional stress on the back. With low weight this can be corrected through the movement but with heavier weights if the lifter does not halt the lift at that point then injury may result.

Ideally, feet should be placed at shoulder width, slightly narrower for a deadlift, and the bar resting up towards the shins. The shoulders should be pushed over beyond the bar so the alignment allows the lifter to feel like they are pushing their feet down into the floor rather than yanking the bar upwards; when this is achieved it allows for the smooth pull-up of the bar in a straight vertical lift.

This posture is critical for what power-lifters term ‘quick lifts’and the rest of us ignore because they are hard! Much of the difficulty is down to getting into the correct position to start with. The start point is the same as a deadlift but the execution is fast and aggressive, ending with the lifter on their toes, hence allowing them to squat back down under the bar to drive it up holding across the top of the chest and utilising the power of the legs by gripping back into the floor and pushing up from the ground and through the legs. It is no more complicated than the initial phase of the lift but due to the fast movement of the body it can become difficult to keep the body taut throughout – it is not uncommon for inexperienced lifters to lose that integrity after the initial drive from the floor.

Without a quick movement of the feet and a solid foundation from there and through the core and it will become impossible to lift heavier weights and progress on. Always start from the bottom, you’ll be amazed how well you rise.

About the author

Rick Ashworth is a MSc Applied Sports Scientist and level II England Triathlon Coach, working with Manchester Triathlon Club and Cheshire Fitness. He has played various sports to a county level and is currently an age-group endurance athlete, with a best place finish of 3rd in a UK ultra-marathon in 2013. 

Diagnosed type-1 diabetic in 2004 maintaining healthy HbA1c (blood glucose levels) throughout, he has a keen interest in the key role nutrition plays in health and fitness.

He offers free training and nutritional advice and can be reached at:

rick@cheshirefitness.co.uk or rickashworthpt@gmail.com 

 (+44) 07887-745-773

Do You Get It?

Last Friday was National Fitness Day. A day to make you think about your own fitness and health, inspire the younger generation and keep the great flame of sporting legacy from the 2012 Olympics burning. I’m sure you saw the coverage by the nation’s media?

 If you didn’t then don’t worry, there wasn’t any. I think it means a legacy more easily remembered? I’m not sure about the irony but this week there have been a plethora of articles about the benefits of exercise on brain function and memory as we age, a breakthrough in diabetic research and a program about curing insomnia…on second thoughts that might have been the football?

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Research has found that those of us in middle-age can improve their brains capacity for synthesising new cells, whilst strength training and running in the same group helps to reaffirm neural pathways for memory and, in some cases, can even bring long forgotten memories back to life; it’s all stored in their for better or for worse.

 What is definitely for worse, however, is the sad fact that about 25% of UK adults are inactive, doing nothing to raise their heart rate to even a moderate level (something like a good walk as opposed to just ambling from the car to the nearest coffee shop – drinking more calories from a cappuccino than they manage to expend in the entirety of their day).

Get Started

 A major stumbling block is getting people to understand that activity doesn’t have to be a run or a weights session or something that reduces them to kneeling down in a pool of their own sweat after the first couple of minutes. Physical activity is just getting yourself moving. A hard gym session is good but if you happen to be in that 25% then just a walk around the garden or swapping short car journeys for a stroll instead will be of great physical benefit; it’s about making a progression on from your current level. If your current level is watching TV and walking to the kitchen then how about missing the next 30-minute soap episode and getting outside instead; watch it on catch-up when you’re idly flicking through the channels and really just time-wasting?

 If you’ve not engaged in serious exercise for several years or more then trying to hammer out 10k on the treadmill is not the way to start. Start small, everybody else did.

Get The Message

 People are constantly shovelling nutritional garbage down our throats on a daily basis: take this pill to burn fat, replace that meal with this shake, don’t eat before 10am, don’t eat after 8pm, don’t eat at all, and on and on it goes…

 The same is true of exercise. How many gym classes can you name: Metafit, circuits, metabolic effect training, Insanity, Boxercise, bootcamp…they are all based around interval training and bar a handful of calories difference will all do the same thing for you. It all depends on how hard you can push.

 Any exercise is good exercise. Ten minutes, 20 minutes, sprint, jog, heavy weights, light weights or all those classes listed above. Just try to do a little more than you’re currently doing and you’ll progress. If you can bench press 40kg then try to press 45kg. If you can run 5k on the treadmill in 25 minutes then try and do it in 24:45. Ten repetitions in 30 seconds during your last fitness class then how about 11? It really is as straight-forward as that.

 Nothing is ever wasted, never feel like you’re not doing enough, if you’re doing something then you’re probably doing a good deal more than most. Smile, you’re doing great!

Get Motivated

 It’s OK to have a time out every-so-often, to not exercise and to just relax but if that attitude spreads on for longer than a second week then your gains from the previous few months will start to subside. Without motivation there will be no commitment and without that you’ll give up and the dumbbell will soon be replaced by the remote and button jeans by elasticated jogging bottoms; not cool.

 What can you do about this? Well, you could find a gym-buddy? Do you have any friends who enjoy the activities that you, might benefit from some training or might if you cajoled, threatened or blackmailed them into it? Maybe you should just extol the positives about exercise instead?

 How about talking to someone in the gym, maybe asking one of the instructors if they know anyone who has the same goals as you and who tends to be in the gym about the same times? It’s not necessarily unusual to go through periods of lethargy, however, if you don’t feel like training but you know that if you don’t show then you’ll be letting someone down then you’ll be far less likely to skip. Guilt is not usually a great feeling for combating anything but at least any stress you feel will be assuaged by the effects of a good training session and once you’re there and doing it then you’ll probably find that you’re enjoying it too!

 Can’t find anyone suitable then there will always a personal trainer on hand to push you on. A personal trainer isn’t just there to bark at you and make you sweat though. A good personal trainer will give you a wide variety of exercises, make it fun and provide motivation not just through the a session but the simple fact that you have an appointment in your diary should make sure you get to the gym on time – when missing a session means you’ll be out of pocket then there’s a lot more riding on it.

Get a Freebie

 In every gym I have ever worked in I have always offered new members and prospective clients a free session and all the time anyone needs to have a chat about their goals and current training strategies to meet them.

 I have widened my influence to give advice to people as far afield as Australia and USA and if you have any questions then you can feel free to get in touch and I will answer as soon as I can. However, if you live in the Cheshire or South Manchester area then there’s every chance that I can get over to you for an informal chat and I’ll give you whatever information I can.

 Keeping fit can seem like a chore. Every evening on the streets there are runners and cyclists shooting past and I think a lot of people think that has to be the standard to begin. Everybody started from the same place, nobody ran the marathon in 2hrs from scratch, Mr. Olympia was not born with a 58”chest (2010 winner Jay Cutler). Their motivation might have been different from yours but they knew what they wanted and did not relent until they got there. If you are simply trying to improve your overall health for the sake of your family, an illness or to feel more confident about yourself (and I can certainly relate to the latter two) then your goals and exercises are not as formidable as they might seem and by breaking them down into smaller, easier, chunks then there is no question that you can live the life you want to.

 

Call me on 07887-745-773 for your free session and/or consultation.

 

Happy training.

How Red Are You?

Following on from last week’s blog where I threw my weight behind eating a low-carbohydrate diet, this week we pull at the horns of red meat on your plate and ask whether eating a more plant-based diet would give us greater longevity and better health?Unknown

 Once upon a time red meat was demonised as being too fatty and blamed for cancer and heart disease, then as the low-carb diet pinched a hold on like Wilson Philips in the early nineties it was given somewhat of a reprieve! However, somebody did, indeed, make us turn around and say goodbye and that person was Walter Willet and his team of researchers at Harvard School of Public Health who stated that a high red meat diet shortens our lives; and things seemingly could blow you away, I do like a steak! Yet, it is not as straight-forward as eating a prime cut of sirloin to put you in A&E but then, of course, it never is.

 In 2012, science writer Gary Taubes, followed up on a research paper that stated red and processed meat consumption was potentially deadly and that eating too much, too regularly, would cause a host of chronic diseases and, therefore, inevitably, shorten our lives. He was not complimentary about the published results, which we will come to soon, and I happen to agree with his assessment wholeheartedly.

 First off, let’s just look at what scientists are saying about eating red meat now? If we enter ‘red meat’into Google it produces a mishmash of headlines stating that red meat causes greater risk from bowel cancer whilst, at the same time, it can increase our muscle longevity (which apparently means keeping muscles stronger throughout our lives rather than our bodies working like zombies long after our death, which sounds like a much more fun article to write but it is a mite off topic…). Further on, the question is asked about whether humans should eat red meat at all, perhaps they could follow that up with equally pertinent questions such as: should dogs chase cats?

 Even a passing knowledge of dentistry will imbue you with the knowledge that we have teeth called canines that are, basically, there to tear flesh, not a pretty thought when put like that but true nevertheless. Of course, there are those who suggest that herbivores like the hippopotamus have huge teeth but, generally, we don’t attack or defend ourselves with our teeth; they don’t reach as far as a cruise missile for a start…

 As we know all too well, it is perfectly possible to live on a purely vegetarian diet whilst getting all the required nutrients we need and I know; I spent the best part of a decade doing so, running marathons and competing in triathlons whilst doing so. However, I’m veering off again as all I want to do is have a balanced view of red meat pros and cons for a human diet but I think it only fair to mention that I am not just banging the meat drum here either. If you want to cut out meats then there are no specific health implications I can throw at you, which is more than can be said of the meat industry and allied health.

 Despite the fact that we are all omnivores and it is in our nature to eat meat, we are constantly being told that we should at least cut down our consumption. White meat is OK (as long as it’s cooked thoroughly) and you only buy free range eggs because that’s presumably what our ancestors did from convenience stores that dotted the African savannah?

 However, if we are to use the paleo dietary reference then we must omit all processed foods as it is my understanding that our Palaeolithic ancestors did not cure bacon, make sausages or have a pineapple slice on a gammon steak. It is a good job too as the research, such as it is, is rather damning when it comes to processed meats but not pineapple slices; as far as I know. A bacon sandwich will not kill you, however and rather perversely, the chemicals used to preserve the meats might be turned into carcinogens by the bacteria in our stomachs but they might not just the same, all very cut and dried stuff here! The BBC has a great line (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21682779): ‘One in every 17 people followed in the study died.’Call me a fanatic but I reckon that if they had lengthened the study for a few more years they might have found that every single one of the participants died…apparently, 10,000 people died from cancer and 5,500 from heart disease and they forgot about the three knocked down by a bus that were presumably attributable to a diet high in processed meats too!

 The 2013 study from the University of Zurich suggested that eating more than 20g of processed meats per day would be enough to increase mortality rate, that’s about half a slice of bacon or a quarter of a sausage per day,therefore, if you eat two sausages-a-week you’re doomed. Is it just me or does that sound like utter haggis and mash?

 Every study has variables but food studies have a whole host of dependent variables that are generally shoved into a corner and ignored, these researchers certainly seemed to.

 Participants in large scale studies, as they must be for nutritional research, come from all strata of society and have a wide-range of habits, hobbies and lifestyles. This is all good as it can mean that results can be made attributable to society at large but, just as easily, it means they can not. Those with lower incomes, by and large, eat a great deal more red meat and, therefore, so the researchers would have you believe, suffer from greater rates of heart disease and other maladies but it is this smoke-and-mirrors research that Gary Taubes takes issue with.

 The conclusions are easy: eating more red and processed meat means you’ll die younger. The people on the study who ate the most red meat did die at a younger age so it is that obvious, is it not? Well, not if you take into account that these groups also smoke and drink more and, also, lead much more sedentary lives and guess what all those markers have in common…?

 That’s right, you have passed your first MRes module, all those markers are associated with a greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and so on.

 So what research is trying to say here is that, well, not very much really. I apologise for wasting the last few minutes of your life dissecting something that, ultimately, I could have done with a quick sentence at the start. Is it meat that kills you or is it drinking, smoking, sitting on your butt watching Eastenders or have you simply been dealt a poor set of genes?

 Research paper after research paper continues to be published and then editorialised in our national newspapers about how every bite of food out there will somehow manage to kill us early, if it is not Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (try saying that with a mouthful of burger!) then it will be slipping on a banana-skin.

 The real truth in all this is that until studies are conducted and published with all outliers and variables accounted for then we will always struggle to understand what food is going to do to our health. Researchers et al. always sign off with everything in moderation, which is tiresome and boring but quite possibly right.

 When reading articles always look for the words could, might, should, etcto get an idea on how close to fact they really are.

 However, in the case of red meat I would keep to a couple of servings per week and eat chicken, turkey or fish for your source of protein for other meals. Personally, I try to eat meat a maximum of once per day, eating fish or vegetarian for other meals. It is always going to be the case that variation in your diet is for the better and fresh foods that have not gone through pesticides, freezing (unless it is ice-cream!) or other manufactured production procedures will almost certainly be better for you; good luck with that by the way…

 

For more information please call me on: 07887745773

 

Live Happy, Live Healthy. For the life you want to live!

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