Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Super Legs & Butt Workout

Courtesy of those boys Dean Ash & Neale Cranwell from the Active Channel.  Now its true that these boys are hard core as both are professional bodybuilders, but during this particular leg workout session they looked like they were struggling just a bit.  Some of the things they were doing will not be everyone's cup of tea but the ones I'm going to explain to you could be done by both ladies and gents. 

Now Summer supposedly is on its way, so ladies that's the time when we can don our shorts and show off our legs and butt!  Men you know who you are, stop flexing those biceps we also like to see a decent back side!

Back to the routine, these exercises were performed on a Smith machine, you could also use a Squat rack.  If your gym doesn't possess any of these you could do a bodyweight version or a free weight version, but watch your technique.  The exercises are:

10 x lunges (10 on one side then repeat 10 on the other)
10 x narrow stance squats
10 x sumo squats (wide stance, toes pointed out)

So as you can see there's quite a lot of volume.  The boys didn't go too heavy either,  10k plates on each side of their olympic bar for their 1st set, then used the 20's for their 2nd set. 

Ladies if you have never trained in this manner before, or if any doubt at all please get an instructor to show you how first with an unloaded bar, technique is crucial.  Here's how to do the exercises;

  1. Lunges  -  Stand directly underneath the bar, legs hip width apart with an overhand grip wider than shoulders.  Engage your abdominals, rack the bar into position, so it sits on the fatty pads at the back of your shoulders / upper traps.  Now take a step back with one leg so your knee is slightly behind your hip and your on your toes.  Action - drop this leg down towards the ground, you should be feeling this in the calve, hamstring and butt on this side.  Do the required number of reps then change legs.
  2. Narrow stance squats  -  stance should be hip width or narrower.  You may need to inch forward of the bar a little, in this exercise you want to be able to get your bum down nice and low but not at the detriment of your knees.  They shouldn't overshoot your toes, you'll know when your in the right position cos you'll really feel it in your butt!  If you are unsure get an instructor to watch your technique.  Ladies if this exercise is difficult, first try holding onto something with one hand for support then send your hips back and down towards the floor with control, squeeze your butt on the way up. 
  3. Sumo squats  -  This is similar to how you would perform a normal squat position, except your stance is wider than shoulders and your feet should be turned out to around 45 dgrees.  You may find you can't go as low.  But you should definately feel it in the butt and inner thighs.  Again perform the required amount of reps, take some rest and repeat all the exercises again which can be a heavier set if you prefer, but be warned, it may hurt!  If these are your last exercises don't forget to stretch.
After a few weeks if you were to do the above exercises 2 perhaps 3 times per week, along with other muscle groups and some HIIT  you should definitely be turning heads!

Good luck

Side Note:  If you are in any doubt as to the suitability of this workout please consult with a professional (like myself) beforehand.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Part 2 - The Cross Trainer 'v' Stepper

In most gyms cardio sections amongst the bikes and treadmills you'll no doubt come across a line or two of  Cross Trainers.  If your lucky you may also find some steppers or stair masters to.  Now in our gym I see more people using the CrossTrainers than the steppers, and I ponder to myself why would this be, what's the fascination with the Cross Trainer?  So here we go with my comparison of them both and which I think is more beneficial.

The Cross Trainer

Cross Trainers also known as Elliptical Trainers are a weight bearing, low impact combination of exercise bike, stair climber, treadmill and ski machine in one as they simulate the movements and benefits of all four.  The name 'elliptical' comes from the elongated circular motion that your legs go through. It's movement is probably closest to skiing, except that your legs go up and down in an oval or elliptical motion.  Cross  Trainers also have handles, which just like holding and using ski poles whilst cross country skiing provides an upper body workout.  They also allow you to pedal backwards therefore avoiding boredom.  Some Cross Trainers also allow you to increase the incline so your able to add some intensity for a super hard legs day.

As Cross Trainers are very low impact, this makes it an advantage over say a treadmill if you've any joint or back problems, are overweight or coming back from rehab.

Now the minuses, personally the movement actually feels a little odd and unnatural and their is a tendency to over stride and if you already have back issues this may not help your situation.  Also because the Cross Trainer is easy to master and requires minimum effort to use you may be tempted to stay on it for a long time and as we know staying on something in your comfort zone for a long time is ineffective. 

In a nutshell the Cross Trainer can be an okay bit of kit, it will burn more calories than perhaps the bike for example, as you are using both upper and lower body.  But remember for an 'afterburn' effect you need to be doing some form of interval work with a decent amount of resistance, example 30 seconds of hard work where your SPM's (strides per minute) are above 130 (or whatever you an manage for 30 seconds, you are the best judge) alternated with 1 minute of recovery SPM's 90 - 100 repeat for 10 to 15 minutes.  So anyone working towards a weight loss goal ambling along for 30 minutes or more need to change up a gear!

The Stepper

There are a few variants of the Stepper, you can get the mini ones that you can easily use at home to ones that include the arms into the movement as well, such as the Versa Climber, Jacobs Ladder and even ones that look like a mini escalator which you have to keep up with.  We are lucky in our gym that we have four AMT's (Adaptive Motion Trainers) so you can step as well as stride.  I would say that the movement on these machines feel a lot more natural than the Cross Trainers.

Stepping is a natural functional movement,you've only got to walk up and down a few flights of stairs to get a little out of breath and feel the muscles of your legs and butt kick in!  The Stepper machine stimulates this movement, is low impact and weight bearing as your heel will naturally want to come off the plate on the downward stroke on the movement unlike the Cross Trainer where your feet are a little more fixed.  If you wanted to work on your balance a little more, step in 'prisoner' mode with your hands behind your head.  Concentrate on standing tall, chest slightly elevated, shoulders naturally back and down, abs engaged, weight in the back of your heels and really push down through each leg on the downward stroke.

The AMT's also stimulate jogging and sprinting depending on how much effort you put in with your shoulders and hips.  Again its all natural, a great conditioning and cardiovascular workout and puts your joints i.e. shoulders, hips and ankles through a good range of movement.  Plus how good would you feel replicating sprinting otherwise!  They give you a better calorie expenditure.  Even without much resistance you can burn upwards of 10 + calories in 1 minute.  I have experimented on both the
Cross Trainer and the AMT and the AMT can give me an extra 100 calories burnt in a similar time.

In a nutshell, my winner by far. 

Even though the Steppers and AMT's are very natural and functional machines, surprisingly many people struggle, feeling a burning sensation in their legs or they become out of breath very quickly.  This is not normally the response on the Cross Trainer hence more time spent on it.  If they have no willpower they will probably end up on the Cross Trainer.  But believe me if you stick with it, great things will happen and you will see some positive changes.  If your only able to stay on it for a couple of minutes, that's a great start, next time stay on for 3 minutes and so on and so forth.  Your strength and stamina will improve, then you will be able to add more resistance.  Intermediate and advanced users can use throw in some HIIT programmes!

I hope this helps and encourages you to come off the Cross Trainer.  Please leave me a comment.

Till next time.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Part 1 - Which gym machines are best for fat loss?

If you've read some of my previous blogs you'll know I'm more of a fan of HIIT (see blogs 26/11/11)using kettlebells, boxing, suspension training, free weights, or whatever I have lying around.  But I wanted to have a quick chat about the best overall cardio machines in the gym for fat burning which will complement your strength and resistance programme.  If machines are your only option (although they needn't be) the intensity of your effort is paramount.  You shouldn't EVER in my opinion need to do an hour on one piece of cardio (although in the gym I see it an awful lot!).  If weight loss is your primary goal then this is madness.  Twenty minutes tops of HIIT on one or two pieces of cardio, job done:)

Fat burning and the fat burning myth which I would like to firstly dispel.  Now while its true you'll burn a greater amount of fat in the weight management zone, also known as the 'fat burning' zone, namely 60 - 70% of your maximum heart rate, its not necessarily going to give you an afterburn effect.  These days its all about intensity, and the short burst intensity periods must be getting you out of your comfort zone for your body to respond and adapt, and the above mentioned zone doesn't always achieve this.  Anyway I digress, back to the original subject, in my view which are the best cardio machines for long term calorie burn and overall shape and conditioning.

Ok my number one is the Rower.  Sadly the Rower seems to be the least favourite cardio machine and that's such a shame because its brilliant.  It's low impact, utilises both upper and lower body muscles,  puts the knees, hips and shoulders through a good range of movement, encourages good posture and core stability and involves the heart and lungs too.  Rowing is great for both conditioning and strengthening.

Now why may you be put off the rower, firstly the 4 stages of rowing can sometimes be hard to master (ask your instructor to break them down).  But once you have mastered it, it will feel smooth and co-ordinated.

Secondly many people with back or knee pain are also put off from using it.  It may be that they've seen a hard core lunatic going hell for leather, sweating buckets on the rower and been put off or have tried it before and used incorrect technique and ended up in pain.  So again get your instructor to go through correct technique with you.

So you've decided your going to give it a go.  What resistance should I use? Well your row could be that of a fast sleek boat, or more of a slow cruiser.  For a fast row boat have the damper setting on 5 or less, for a slower row use the damper setting somewhere between 6 and 10.  Of course both of these boats can be rowed hard, you just have to apply more force. 

Whatever programme you do on the rower, remember it should get you a little out of your comfort zone, you should be breathing a little harder than normal.  If you are a beginner aim to keep your SPM's (strokes per min) above 25, a more conditioned person could aim for over 30 SPM's.  No matter what your level you could try adding say 10 power strokes in where you use 100% of your effort on the pulling part of the stroke.  These power stokes can be added in as many times as you are able, making sure you have some recovery in between each.  These power strokes are a form of interval training, they are great for motivation.  You'll find the fitter you get, the more power strokes you could do, for example instead of 10 you could be doing 15 or 20 or having less time recovery time in between them, because as I keep saying your body responds and adapts to a positive stimulus.  You can then progress to some of the challenging programmes on the rower to keep a little variety and avoid boredom.

So if the Rower is not part of your routine, next time at the gym grab your instructor and get them to show you this excellent bit of kit. 

Part 2 I'll be talking about X-Trainer 'v' Stepper.
Happy Rowing :)

Friday, 13 April 2012

Struggling with Weight Loss, implement SMART goals......

Goals in relation to exercise can be set for long, medium and short term. Whatever the term agreed, following the SMART principles will ensure your able to keep on track and get to your end goal faster.
So what does SMART stand for,
S  - Specific
        M - Measureable
      A - Achieveable
R - Realistic
     T - Time frame

Lets break each one of them down, firstly Specific it must be specific to you and your goal.  Lets take weight loss for example, you should have a specific number in mind, its no good saying I want to lose a bit of weight, how would you know when you'd achieved it?!?  So specific could be ' I want to lose one stone in two months'.  So you don't forget, commit there and then by making a note of the start date and the date in two months time.  Put this in your diary, stick it on your fridge, on your wardrobe doors, mirrors etc somewhere you'll be reminded everywhere you look!

Measureable - having set your goal, you need to be able to measure it, by measuring it you will stay encouraged and on track.  So using the above as an example, we could further break this down in to 'I will aim to lose a minimum of 2lbs per week'.  Also remember to record all information, by writing everything down you will stay focused and motivated.

Achieveable and Realistic - if your goals are not achieveable or realistic you will lose heart, give up and not achieve your goals.  Best to take small steps rather than set the bar to high and fail.  The above example is achieveable and realistic especially if you are combining both sensible eating and moderate out of comfort zone exercise / activity. 

Time frame - your goal as we stated earlier should have a deadline, whether it be a short, medium or long term goal date.  Timed goals are achieved easier than an open goal, so you must have a start and finish date.  Again taking the above as an example, all being well you should have attained your weight loss goal of 1 stone in around 7 weeks or less. 

Do not panic if you have a little wobble here and there, we're all human after all!  Just sit down and reassess your goal situation again, even if your weight loss or whatever your goal is has to be achieved over a longer period that's absolutely fine.  If you keep to the SMART principles and find some determination, willpower and commitment you will succeed :)

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Are you drinking yourself fat?

It's not just foody calories that were exposed to that can lead to unnecessary weight gain but also the liquid ones. So the next time you grab yourself a coke, tango, energy drink, flavoured coffee, hot chocolate, alcopop etc, it may be wise to stop and rethink before taking a swig.

Lets look at why they have a negative effect on our body and how they contribute to added weight gain.   
  • Drinks (other than water) are 'energy' dense rather than 'nutrient' dense.  This means they give us a quick hit of energy (sugar rush, insulin spikes and crashes, and an overworked pancreas to say the least!) but offer no nutritional value whatsoever.
  • The sugar and acid combination in soft drinks causes cavities in our teeth, and leeches calcium from our bones.
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS - extremely bad trans fat) is sometimes used to sweeten soft drinks and this is linked to diabetes.
  • All the calories from your sugar laden drinks will lead to obesity.
  • Sugary drinks may also contribute to a increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and kidney damage.
  • Your favourite Costa or Starbucks flavoured coffee could be loaded with anything from 300 - 500 calories! It may also contain anything from 10 - 20 teaspoons of sugar! If you have one of these drinks every day, just imagine what that may look like over a week. In fact if this is you I suggest when you get home, grab a teaspoon and packet of sugar and pour out 70 teaspoons of sugar. This may be the minimum amount of sugar your eating just from you favourite drink over 7 days! Could be time to find a different favourite don't you think?
Wanted to look at alcohol separately. There's no doubt that drinking alcohol frequently i.e ladies more than 14 units per week and men more than 21 units per week will inevitably make you gain fat. Lets also consider the following:

  • Alcohol inhibits both the fat-burning enzymes and the muscle-building hormones in your body for many hours after consumption. Which obviously is not good if your aim is losing weight or building muscle!
  • Alcohol is normally consumed later in the day/evening, a time when your body has the least need for the extra calories.
  • Alcohol is seen as poison to your body and obviously wants to get rid as quickly as possible.  While your body is doing this all other processes go on hold, this means the food that you are probably eating now and consequently the next 6 - 8 hours will be stored in your fat banks and kept there until needed for energy.  Which may not be for a while as soon you will become tired and will need a long snooze.
  • Alcohol is not an intelligence-enhancing substance and can lead you to make poor late-night food choices, i.e burger, hot dog and fries from your local van man, takeaway, kebab etc.
  • Alcohol contains a lot of calories (7 calories per gram) with very little, if any, redeeming nutritional value.

Also found this interesting link on what happens to your body when you drink Coke, if you are a Coke drinker this is a must read.  Follow the below link.

I think the last thing to say on the subject, a little like our food choices, the key is moderation.  Perhaps don't indulge in these things every day, just have them as a reward 2 or 3 times a week or look for alternatives.  They are out there, just get into the habits of reading labels and remember when it comes to sugar if a product has more than 15g per 100g its probably not a great choice!

Till next time,