Top Ten Tips for a Tip-Top Tummy

Top Ten Tips for a Tip-Top Tummy

By Rick Ashworth – MSc Sports Science

These days it seems a flat belly is barely enough and that we all should have beautifully crafted stomachs that reveal every muscled curve, so sculptured you could stand shirtless on a plinth in the middle of the British Museum and have a good chance of someone asking whether you were an original Michelangelo. Well, pooh-sticks to that, I’ve never had a six-pack in my life but I have always had a middle with a circumference well below the risk levels associated with poor health, including type-2 diabetes and other auto-immune and health disorders, that’s 37” for a bloke and 32” for a woman, by-the-way.Unknown

However, we all know that excess fatty deposits tend to be held around our middles, there or thereabouts anyway. There can be various reasons why we end up carrying too much fat, generally it’s down to taking in excess calories but more contemporary reasons centre on our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the elevated stress levels many of us now feel, which is even worse should you have no healthy way of dissipating them.

The following tips will not banish stress for good and nor will they will lead you to a life of extraordinary bliss or allow you to make a deal with God in the hereafter but they will point you towards having better health and all the benefits that come along with that:

  • Rebel Against the Government – this is not to incite an uprising but to pretend there is a sugar tax after all, that sugar is so expensive that you can’t afford it. Cutting down on (or, even, stop taking altogether) calories that have very little nutritional value will improve your health and reduce all the factors that lead to cancer, heart disease and all those other unpleasant and downright ghastly diseases that will put you in a box too early. These foods include but are certainly not limited to: fizzy drinks, alcohol, biscuits, cakes, crisps and chocolate. These foods make you fat and promote disease, the more avoided the better your health.
  • Never Skip Breakfast - skipping meals is a bad thing, studies show that eating within the first hour upon waking helps to regulate insulin levels, which in turn, helps you stay fuller for longer and stops fat storage. Top foods for this are: eggs, fresh fruit, meats and whole grains. This latter food group has been found to be eaten by people with lower belly fat.
  • Stop Stressing - life’s too short or, at least, research suggests it might be if you keep it up. Stress can play a big role in fat storage so avoid it. Try yoga, take up meditation or a morning constitutional through the park. Get away from your desk at lunchtime with a good book (in fact a bad one would probably do). Studies suggest that standing up and pacing around during a phone call causes less stress and tends to lead to better decision making too.
  • Drink - that might be a little misleading, it means water, sorry about that. It doesn’t mean carrying a two litre bottle under your arm all day but just sip occasionally and drink when you’re thirsty. It’ll help keep you feeling full and every cell in your body will work better for it.
  • Exercise Like a Dog - which is to say you don’t need to train for hours on end every day to achieve the body you want but when you are exercising go after that ball with everything you have. Your ball is more likely to be a treadmill or a bike but using high intensity intervals will reap the greatest benefits for the time taken. Train for 1min as hard as you can with 1min recovery for only 5-10mins (include a short warm-up and cool down) to help burn more calories during but, also, after exercise too. Further, if you can throw in a few resistance exercises primarily on your chest, back and legs, e.g. bench press, back row, squat and lunge you’ll make even better inroads.
  • Vitamins & Minerals – all of these are important in your diet, just as an example, vitamin C helps balance cortisol levels caused by stress and helps the body to break down fats into fuel. Other important vitamins and minerals include magnesium, calcium and vitamin B12, at the very least you should be taking a multi-vitamin and Omega-3 every single day.
  • Dump Sugar – really this is just the same as point 1 but it bears repeating simply because it is the chief reason type-2 diabetes is soaring and why so many people are struggling with their weight. There are many ‘hidden sugars’ in many, many foods but by simply cutting back on the obvious ones you’ll be taking the biggest forward step you can in taking control of your diet. It’s all over the news at present and, believe me, it’s going to cause more health problems for the population in the future than, well…anything.
  • Get Fat! - healthy fats are massively important to your health. You need to appreciate that fat contains more calories per gram than anything else but fish, walnuts and avocados will help to keep you fuller for longer and will enable your body to function at it’s best, just stick to one fat source per meal but don’t be scared of choosing the higher fat option, it usually means less sugar than the ‘0%’ fat or ‘low-fat’ options and is, therefore, far better for your overall health.
  • Eat Fibre - more fibre in your diet means slower digestion, which, in turn, means feeling fuller for longer and it slows down the digestion of any sugars into the bloodstream. It’s the basis for the GI Diet and it’ll help clear out your system too.
  • Stand Up Straight! - this one might seem a little silly but it’s true. Due to our sedentary working lives, many of us are slightly hunched and end up walking or standing with our head bowed, meaning our lower backs become stretched and our stomachs become folded. This folding means rather than having our skin stretched tight over our abdominals it sags and makes us look fatter than we actually are. Flexibility is a key issue, which might need professional help with but the taller you stand, lifting your chin from your chest and pulling your shoulders back, then the more toned your middle will look.

 

Following these ten simple steps will lead you on towards having a toned middle, with good all round health and fitness; for life.

On The Twelfth Week Before Christmas…

My True Love Said to Me: ‘you have to start training right now!

By Rick Ashworth

Christmas might still seem like a fair way off, what with the summer putting in a belated fight and many of us only just stepped back off the plane from somewhere with cold beer, constant blue skies and a world away from calorie-counting, pedometers and the like. However, as far away as it might still seem, Christmas is now only 12 weeks away and it is largely agreed throughout the sports and fitness industry that 12 weeks is a minimum length of time to reach your goals. It isn’t to say that if you have less time than this that you might as well give up before you start but that you will struggle to reach your final goal in less time than that.images

The reason for 12-weeks training isn’t that some maverick or celebrity trainer plucked the number out of the sky in order to give their business three months security, it is a period of time where a new exerciser will make clear progress but also one that allows the trainer to work through plateaus in performance, nutrition and the formation of new psychological habits that will help you embed these new habits and allow you continue either with or without a trainer in the future and also allows you to learn a variety of exercises and how to plan a program for yourself.

And you need to plan in stages. Your goal might be to put on muscle mass but to achieve that you might be better served focusing on dropping body fat and improving overall fitness first rather than attempting to lift the heaviest weight you possibly can from the onset. So, whilst the overall goal remains an increase in muscle mass, the initial goal addresses your current ability; you lift weights that gradually become heavier week-on-week, whilst slowly making your diet more nutritious and adopting a healthier lifestyle. Dropping body fat will push you in the appropriate direction for a leaner more muscular body shape and by making small and incremental changes to your diet you will understand how important the correct foods are to helping you in starting and continuing your progress to your goal.

As stated, this week (w/c 28th September) there are just a few days beyond the twelve weeks to Christmas, so if you are serious about getting in better shape for Christmas then it’s time to get serious right now!

You might look at the next three months and feel scared, after all, it’s a long way off and a long time to stay focused and not fall off the so-called bandwagon. However, the good news is that you don’t have to. Any good plan will have oases placed strategically for recovery and reward upon having put reached a particular goal.

 

Rules

There are a few simple rules that you should do your level best to follow at pretty much all times, which are:

  •  No simple sugars: no sugar in tea, no cakes, no biscuits and, definitely, no chocolate.
  • Lean meats and vegetables should make up a huge proportion of each meal (that could very well include breakfast as well, though porridge would be a good choice too).
  • Make non-processed nuts and things such as raw carrots your snacks of choice but by eating plenty of protein (at least 1g per kg bodyweight per day) at each meal you should feel like snacking less.
  • Find out your required calorie intake for each day and do not drop your intake below 500-700kCal each day as this will impact your ability to lose weight.

Motivation

You have to stay motivated, the average gym member will make use of the gym for the first four weeks after signing-up and then pretty much just waste their cash thereafter.

There are a variety of ways to stay motivated, however, you might have to try a few of them out to see which ones work best for you. Here are a few to try:

  • Use a calendar to write-up a plan and pin it to the fridge or somewhere equally obvious and update it on each session. You could also objectively assess yourself on, say, a scale of 1-5 and then reassess each month to see if you’ve improved – such as time management to get to the gym, how well you’re managing your diet, are you getting fitter (assessed by doing a timed running circuit…?).
  • Train with like-minded friends or make use of outside resources like apps such as Strava, MyFitnessPal or GPS trackers and wristbands.
  • Book in with a personal trainer even just one session a week to give you a boost and keep an appointment in your diary to adhere to. They can teach you the basics about how to train most effectively and plan a diet more specific to your goals.

Sign-up to a race, much like booking in with a personal trainer, is something that is in the diary and provides you with a point to train towards and, who knows, you might even enjoy it!

For more details on how to flesh-out these ideas and get in great shape for Christmas, whether healthier, faster, bigger, stronger or many others give us a call at Cheshire fitness and we will whip you into shape!

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

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