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Chelmsford, Essex, United Kingdom
Fitness trainer, currently running post natal fitness program but interested in everything health, fitness and eco related

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

How to get better results from leg exercises

The obvious benefits of core training are improved posture, reduced  back problems and flat abs, but if you’re not getting the results you would like from lower body workouts, core training can help to get better results here too. 

Core training works the deep postural muscles of the body which don’t necessarily get trained by ordinary training programs.  If you have developed bad postural habits and your core muscles have become weak and imbalanced,  you probably exercise with poor body alignment and movement control.  This can mean that, although you feel like you are working  your legs hard, you might not be getting the conditioning results you want.

Being more precise and controlled with your exercise technique allows you to get more training benefits out of exercises.  Lunges, for example, are an excellent exercise for the muscles of the upper legs but they are rarely done with good form.  Look at people doing lunges in the gym and you'll see them leaning backwards, forwards, feet too close together, too far apart or out of alignment, knees turning inwards, wobbling etc..  This will make the exercise far less effective in toning up the legs and might lead to knee problems.

Core training takes time and patience and has to start with the basics, so often exercisers aren’t interested because they want to feel like they are making the most of the time they spend exercising.  Core training feels a bit slow and certainly isn’t a calorie burning activity.  The long term benefits are worth the time invested though – it’s hard to get good body shaping or sports performance results with bad exercise technique.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Fitness isn't just about workouts

On the most recent training course I did, one of the things we had to do for the practical exam was finish off by giving some “homecare advice”.  I don’t know whether this is standard for all courses now, as it’s a few years since I did any training, but I think it’s a good idea to encourage people to think of their fitness in a more holistic way.

Taking part in a regular fitness activity is a very positive thing to do, of course, but we shouldn’t forget about our health and fitness the rest of the time.  For example, it’s not a lot of use to do a Pilates class twice a week if you spend the rest of the week slouching and exercise is unlikely to keep you slim if your diet is bad.

  • Examples of the “homecare advice” we gave are:
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Do pelvic floor exercises while you are doing the washing up/driving/watching TV etc.
  • Get your “5 a day”
  • If you’re working at a desk or computer, try to do a regular posture check and make sure your shoulders are back, your back is straight and your legs aren’t crossed
  • Check packets for sugar content
  • Aim to walk a total of 3 miles this week
  • Take time to properly relax at least once this week

The aim isn’t really to specifically tell people to go off and do one particular thing that week, but just to encourage participants to think of fitness in terms of their whole lifestyle, by reinforcing the message every week.  Technology has made lifestyles less active and diets have become much less healthy over the last few decades.  Pigeon-holing fitness into a few slots a week where you go to the gym, a class, for a run etc. without the foundation of a healthy lifestyle probably won’t give you the results you hope for.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Fitness “experts” who can you trust?

This post has been sparked by my receiving an e-mail from the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS), advertising a training course.  Since being established in 2002, REPS has done a lot of shouting about how only fitness professionals on the register are to be trusted.  It states as one of its purposes:

"To protect the public from individuals who do not meet nationally recognised standards."

No mention of providing free marketing for private companies, but that’s not my main problem.  I had a look at the training course they are promoting and it is a one-day workshop, after which attendees are supposed to be ready to take group exercise to music classes.  No prior qualification or experience required!

So the organisation that was set up to protect the public from individuals who do not meet nationally recognised standards is actively promoting an organisation that wants to let people loose on the public after 1 days training.

To be listed on REPS you have to have a fitness qualification from one of their approved providers.  The trouble is, they’re not very fussy about who they approve.  With an organisation like Skills Active, it’s all about ticking boxes.  If the course content ticks all the right boxes, the course is approved.

I recently did a course with one of their approved training providers.  The course manuals were littered with errors and incorrect information and the practical exam was assessed by our course tutor with no external moderation.  Not surprisingly, the pass rate for the practicals is nearly 100%..  This course gets you on the register at the highest registration level.

So how do you know who is any good?

You can look for academic qualifications, such as HND, BTEC, Certificate of Higher Education, Foundation Degree and BSc (obviously in sport and fitness related subjects). These tend to cover subjects in greater depth and encourage research and development of  ideas and are properly assesssed.  However, you need to watch out for private training organisations who market their qualifications to look like university qualifications by calling them things like post graduate diploma and masters diploma.  

As far as industry qualifications go, have a look at training providers websites and see who trains their instructors most thoroughly and examines them properly.  YMCA courses are very thorough and always properly examined.  However, they also moderate the written exams for a lot of other providers.  Unfortunately, this means that a CYQ qualification doesn’t necessarily mean the person has trained with YMCA, just that the written exam has been marked by them.  The person may be useless at practical teaching but passed by an in-house moderator who wants his/her company to have a high pass rate

What else can you do?

There are some reliable sources of information.  Generally, government organisations, charities and some fitness industry organisations give sensible, well-founded information.

There are many more examples of health charities and government organisations which give good advice.  You should always check if you’re not sure your instructor is talking sense!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

More weight loss madness

In the news today, the Food Standards Agency is launching a campaign to warn people against the dangers of taking the drug DNP to lose weight.  This is an industrial chemical which speeds up metabolism and therefore the rate at which fat is burned.  It is banned in the UK (but available illegally), is highly toxic and potentially lethal.  AND PEOPLE STILL TAKE IT.  Why do people’s brains and judgement desert them when it comes to weight loss?  Is it so hard to treat your body properly and follow a healthy diet that people take dangerous risks like this or cling desperately to the claims made about absurd diets?

It seems that a lot of people who are overweight are in total denial of the fact that the only safe and long term solution is a change of eating habits.  Even exercise can’t make up for bad eating.

For all but the most cynical and down to earth, what we believe is influenced to some extent by what we want to believe, but when it comes to weight loss people seem prepared to believe anything and try anything, EXCEPT the safe, healthy option advised by all responsible bodies involved in healthcare.

Sensible weight loss takes time, but you get there in the end, whereas when you chase magic solutions, you end up never getting there.  Also, when you change your diet gradually, your body gets used to better food.  I sometimes get called “strong-willed” for turning down things like desserts or chocolates.  But the truth is, I just don’t want them.  They taste too sweet and synthetic .  

At the other end of the spectrum, I was reading the workout/diet schedule of a competitive female bodybuilder the other day.  She has 7 meals a day and they’re all things like just egg whites or a plate of vegetables.  I wondered if she actually enjoys her diet, or if she puts up with it because she is so dedicated.  I don’t know if I could get used to a diet as strict as this and think it was more enjoyable than what I eat at the moment, but I do know that I wouldn’t swap my diet for one full of pizza, chips, chocolate etc. even if I could do so without becoming overweight.  And if I did want to take up bodybuilding I would have to change my diet gradually, because I know I couldn’t go onto a diet like that overnight.

Even if you follow a crash diet and lose some actual bodyfat (not just water), what then?  If you haven’t lost weight by healthy eating and got used to better eating habits, the weight will go back on.  As the Nike slogan of a few years ago said: “There is no magic wand”.

Friday, 4 October 2013

A good way to lose 14lb

Following on from the last post, if you do want to lose 14lb, here is a more realisticway to go about it:

First, work out what is wrong with your current diet.  Something has made you get overweight and is stopping you losing weight.  You need to accept that this has to change, not just for a week, but permanently.  Otherwise, you will always be battling with your weight and chasing miracle diets.

Where are your calories are coming from?

Even if you think you are following a low calorie diet, or eating healthily, it's always worth keeping a food dairy for a few days.  Almost everyone has a few surprises when they do this.  Hidden sugars are often a problem for dieters.  You might have cut out the obvious cakes, sweets, chocolate, bisucuits and ice cream, but what about breakfast cereal, fruit yoghurt, table sauces, canned beans, hot drinks, fizzy drinks and alcohol for example?  Although it's more healthy, fruit juice has a lot of sugar in it too.  Fruit itself is not so bad, because it contains fibre too, which will slow down the release of sugar into your bloodstream.

The best way is to write down everthing you eat and work out how many calories are coming from each food group, but this can be a bit long-winded.  As a rough guide, you should be aiming for no more than 50g total intake of sugar per day - this includes fruit sugars and lactose in milk and yoghurt.  If you had a 30g serving of cornflakes with milk, a glass of orange juice and a fruit yoghurt for breakfast, this would be most of your 50g!  

If there is a lot of sugar, some of it needs to go.  But not all at once!  Eating habits are hard to change and an overnight switch to low sugar is much less likely to be successful than a gradual reduction?

Try to limit blood sugar spikes

All sugar is not equal!  As I said above, fruit is better than juices, because the fibre slows down sugar release.  There are lots of factors which affect the speed of sugar release, but in general sweets, juices, fizzy drinks, and hot drinks with added sugar are going to affect blood sugar very quickly.

Cook from scratch more

You need to look at your weight loss efforts as a permanenet change. Take aways, meals out and ready meals are always high calorie and full of rubbish your body doesn't need.  

Be realistic with your diet plan

You need to find foods which not only are healthy and not too high calorie, but are enjoyable and fill you up.  Otherwise the diet will fail.  Very few people will put up with being hungry all the time or eating food they think is horrible or tasteless.  Losing 14lb should take at least 7 weeks and trying to do it more quickly isn't advisable or likely to succeed.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Lose 14lbs in a week?

There is a discussion on the netmums.com website that has been going on since 2008, has over 5,500 replies and over 781,000 views.  It’s about a diet which is supposed to make you lose 14lb in a week.

According to the original post, the diet came from a heart consultant.  This seems odd, because I’ve never heard of a highly qualified health professional suggesting someone loses a stone in a week.  According to the NHS 12 week weight loss plan available here http://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/loseweight/Pages/Loseweighthome.aspx, 1-2lbs a week is a safe and sustainable amount.  This is the normal advice given by responsible people.  

Whatever the story behind the original post, the fact is that ever since the post has been receiving infinitely more attention than a post entitled “lose weight the safe and healthy way” would have.  Why is this?  Why is it so easy to make people believe there is a miracle answer to their weight problems?  Probably simply because they want to believe it.  Losing weight is difficult, because it means a change of habits.  The reason something like this is so appealing is that it is only for a week, so people think they can grin and bear it because there is an end in sight.  

You can’t lose a stone of fat in a week.  The only way to lose fat is to use it for energy – either for your body’s daily metabolism or activity.  14lbs of fat supplies 57,000 calories.  Anyone who has been on a diet will know that an average woman needs about 2,000 calories a day.  So if you ate NOTHING for a week, you’d only be 14,000 calories short of what your body needed!  If you lost all of this in fat, this would only be about 3.5lb. 

Now, there are some people posting who say they have lost a lot more than 3.5lb on this diet.  The thing is, it’s not all fat they’ve lost.  A lot of what they have lost will be water.  When you starve your body of food it can use for energy, it breaks down its carbohydrate stores, which releases a lot of water.  As soon as there is enough food coming in, these stores are replenished and the water is put back.

I know anyone reading this who wants to believe in miracle diets will have stopped reading two paragraphs ago.  One of the main challenges for health and fitness professionals is how to convince people that if they don’t like being overweight, they have to accept that they have been mistreating their bodies and need to treat them better.   Half starving themselves is only going to make things worse because it’s not beneficial to mental or physical health and any weight loss achieved isn’t likely to be sustained, because they will go back to their old habits as soon as the starvation exercise is over.  

The weight loss industry is massive and any well-marketed new diet that comes out is likely to be a hit if it promises an easy solution.  But I don’t know anyone who has lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off by doing anything other than making a commitment to a healthier lifestyle.