Saturday, 2 January 2010

Warming up for a great workout

Warming up is a vital component of every workout. In addition to getting us mentally and physically ready for exercise, it provides an opportunity to practice the movements we are going to perform in the coming session whilst hopefully minimising the risk of suffering injury while training.

So, how best to warm up? Assuming you are warming up for a general workout, it makes sense to perform a generalised warm up which gets all the muscles, joints and systems of the body working well to facilitate a good training session. The ingredients of a general warm are

1) The pulse raiser – cardiovascular exercise is used to raise the heart rate and is the part of the warm up that makes you warm! It’s important to make the pulse raiser graduated i.e. increase in intensity over time. By using exercises such as rowers, cross trainers or skipping, in addition to raising the pulse, it is possible to mobilise all the major joints of the body. You should finish your pulse raiser at an RPE or around 5/6 or, in other words, feeling ready to get on with some more strenuous exercise! 5 to 10 minutes spent on this component of warming up is plenty – we want to be warmed up and not worn out after all.

2) Joint mobility – chances are that if you selected the rower, cross trainer or skipping, you’ll have mobilised your major joints already and won’t need to spend any further time getting your joints ready for exercise. If, however, you warmed up using a bike or treadmill, you may well need to mobilise the joints you didn’t move during that exercise. To mobilise a joint, simply take it through its natural range of movement in a controlled fashion, increasing the degree of motion as you feel the joint warming up e.g. shallow knee bends progressing to full squats over 10-15 reps to mobilise the hips and knees or small arm circles progressing to full arm circles to mobilise the shoulders.

3) Flexibility – it’s not uncommon to see people performing static stretches as part of their warm up but, as useful as this type of stretching is, it’s far better to utilise a method of stretching called dynamic stretching in the warm up and leave the static stretches for the cool down. Static stretches tend to cause reduced blood flow through muscles, muscular relaxation, the pulse to slow and reduced body temperature – none of which sound like things we want in a warm up! In comparison, dynamic stretches keep the heart rate and body temperature elevated, “wake up” our muscles, mirror the movements likely to be performed in the workout and also promote joint mobility.

The Ultra Fit Warm Up
In the video, you’ll see a pulse raiser – in this case skipping, plus 4 dynamic stretches which will prepare the muscles and joints for the workout to come. Make sure when you perform your own warm ups you make your cardio progressive i.e. start slow and build up gradually and perform your stretches in a controlled and rhythmical manner – never being too ballistic. The whole warm up should take somewhere between 5-10 minutes in total, depending on how much cardio you do and how many repetitions of the dynamic stretches you perform...

Remember - before starting a new exercise routine, make sure you get the go-ahead from your Doc!

This article and video was first published on

Friday, 25 December 2009

Seasons Greetings!

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you all. Wishing you health, wealth and happiness in 2010!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Learning Ladder

Everyone has heard the expression “practice makes perfect”. The thing is, this isn’t strictly true – if we practice something incorrectly, all we get is very good at doing something wrong! For example, if you always perform (in other words practice) press ups with a sagging lower back; this is how you will always do them. It will become engrained and breaking this habit will be very difficult and time consuming – thus practice didn’t make perfect, it merely taught a bad habit. Really, the saying should be “perfect practice makes perfect” as it’s far better (and easier in the long run) to establish good habits in the first place, rather than have to unlearn bad habits before replacing them with better ones.

It’s sometimes quoted that (in terms of exercise performance) that it takes around 500 repetitions to learn a new technique and for it to become automatic but 5000 to unlearn an old one and that assumes that all 5000 are performed faultlessly! This is one of the reasons that at Solar Fitness Qualifications, we strive for good form in all our exercises from the very beginning of our courses. We know that, for every day we let our students perform exercises with poor form, there will be a whole lot of extra work required to prepare them for their assessment time both for the students, trainers and the assessors alike!

This leads nicely onto something called the “Learning Ladder” which describes the process we go through when learning a new habit or skill. The learning ladder can be applied to just about any behaviour but this article will focus on things health and fitness related...

Unconscious Incompetence
On this rung of the learning ladder, the individual doesn’t realise they have a negative habit. This could be a gym goer who always does lat pull downs behind the neck without realising the dangers to his or her shoulders or a dieter who skips meals to help them lose weight, not knowing that this behaviour could disrupt their metabolism and stall their fat loss. People who are Unconscious Incompetents would benefit from education and explanations to teach them why their behaviours are not the best way forward in achieving their goals.

Conscious Incompetence
“If at first you don’t succeed, try try and try again!” goes the old saying. This sums up the Conscious Incompetent. They know what they should be doing but often fall “off the wagon”. This could be the dieter who just can’t say no to cakes when it’s some ones birthday at work (and there are a lot of birthdays at their office!) despite the fact they know it will hinder their fat loss or the weight trainer who, more often than not, misses their Friday leg workout because the guys on the football team convince him to skip training and have a few beers down the pub instead, despite the fact he knows this will unbalance his weekly training programme. Conscious Incompetents need help with motivation and assurance that the new habits they are trying to develop will be of long term benefit. Tools such as goal setting and decision balance sheets can be very beneficial for this type of person.

Conscious Competence
To an outsider, those that have reached Conscious Competence may seem to have it easy but the reality is that, despite the fact they eat what they should and exercise regularly, it’s a struggle. They’d love to skip a workout or two or relax their diets and eat some junk food but they just won’t give in to temptation. Periodically the gravitational pull of the sofa, the lure of the pub or the thought of sugary foods can get to the point where they feel like it would be easier to just give up and indulge but they stay focused and stick with it - but it’s not always easy to do the right thing. For this person, positive affirmations can be very useful to help maintain focus and as a reminder that all the hard work is worth it.

Unconscious Competence
At this level, exercise and eating well are a part of everyday life. No external stimuli are necessary as habits are now just a fact of life and it would be unthinkable to not exercise regularly or eat well. For this type of person, adherence to regular exercise and good nutrition are easy which, ironically, can make them less than ideal as mentors to those people who find sticking to their new healthy lifestyle choices a struggle. It’s possible they may lack empathy as it’s been so long since they found exercising frequently and eating well a struggle. Ideally, we should all strive to reach this level of self-mastery but the reality is that very few do which is probably just as well or personal trainers and nutritionists the world over would soon be out of a job!

Regardless of your current level on the learning ladder, keep at it, and keep striving for improvements. It IS worth it in the long run. It’s not always an easy process and there will be times where you’d rather stay in front of the TV or buy a take away instead of cooking a healthy meal at home BUT...they payoff every time you resist temptation you will be one step closer to your health and fitness goals. And remember, perfect practice makes perfect!

Patrick Dale

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Deck of Cards Workout

Ever been at a loss as to what training to do? Ever thought “I’d really like someone to tell me what workout to do today”? Well then – the Deck of Cards Workout is for YOU!

This workout has been around a while and has been written about by the likes of Matt Furey and Ross Emanait and I’m pretty sure neither of them lay claim to having invented it but it’s such a good effective training system it’s worth promoting again.

The Deck of Cards Workout is deceptively simple...using a normal deck of playing cards allocate an exercise to each suit for example Hearts = squats, Diamonds = press ups, Spades = lunges, Clubs = bent-leg sit ups. Then, starting with the well shuffled deck face down, turn over the top card and do the prescribed number of reps for that exercise so if you turn over the 8 of spades you would perform 8 lunges (either in total or per leg – that’s up to you.) Then, with minimal rest turn over the next card and do that exercise and so on until each card has been turned over.

Jokers can be removed or left in to provide extra exercises – the Joker could be something like run 500 meters or do 20 burpees...whatever you feel like putting in. The idea is to complete the deck as fast as possible so it’s an excellent cardio and muscular conditioning workout. Personally I like to make sure the Joker is a real challenge to add some extra intensity to the workout but whilst a challenge is good, making the Joker so tough that you fail to complete the workout would be erroneous so use some common sense!

Regarding the picture cards, there are a couple of options...Jacks = 11, Queens = 12, Kings = 13 or all picture cards = 12 (or higher). The beauty of the Deck of Cards Workout is you set the parameters based on your current fitness level and progress is very easy to logically progress the workouts over time. For example, as time progresses and you get fitter, the ace can increase from 1 rep to 3 reps and later to 5 reps and so on which adds volume to your workout. Ideally, when you have designed and completed a deck of cards workout it’s a good idea to repeat it on a regular basis so you can monitor your improvements as you (hopefully) complete it in less time than before.

The Deck of Cards Workout lends it’s self particularly well to body weight or minimal equipment exercises which keeps the transitions fast and the pace of the workout high but it can work equally well using traditional weight training exercises. Below I have outlined some of my favourite Deck of Cards Workouts to get you started...feel free to use them as they are or mix elements from the different workouts into your own unique training session. If you come up with a particularly good one, why not post it below for others to use?

1) Black cards = push ups
Red cards = bodyweight squats
Jokers = run 500 meters.

2) Hearts = Burpees
Diamonds = double unders (x 2)
Spades = high pulls
Clubs = sit ups
Jokers = 60 second planks.
(For this workout, when performing double unders complete 2 reps for every number of Diamonds i.e. 4 of Diamonds = 8 double unders)

3) Hearts = skipping (x 10)
Diamonds = body rows
Spades = kettlebell swings
Clubs = dipsJokers = row 500 meters.
(For this workout when skipping perform 10 turns of the rope for every number of Hearts i.e. 7 of Hearts = 70 turns of the rope etc.)

4) Hearts = step ups
Diamonds = sandbag clean and push press
Spades = chin ups
Clubs = crunchesJokers = 100 rope turns skipping

5) Hearts = barbell squats
Diamonds = barbell deadlifts
Spades = body rows
Clubs = bench press
Jokers = 60 seconds of twisting sit ups
(For this workout use around 60% of 1RM – it may be necessary to perform the reps rest/pause style i.e. if unable to perform all of the reps when a high card is revealed then do as many of the reps as possible, rest briefly and then continue with the set)

I strongly recommend writing in large letters the exercises you have allocated for each suit and sticking it somewhere visible for the duration of the workout. This will minimise any time wasted trying to remember what exercise you are supposed to be doing and avoid making mistakes.

As the cards come out in a random order, sometimes you’ll get a good run of dissimilar cards but from time to time you’ll think you must be playing poker and you’ll get runs of suits or lots of high cards in a row. Tough! That’s the beauty of this workout – you never quite know what you are going to get and that randomness is part of not just the fun but also the training effect. Runners call this kind of mixed training Fartlek which means speed play so just keep on keeping on – for every “bad” run there will be a good one.

There are endless variations for the deck of card workout and you are only limited by your imagination and as a change from the norm it’s a great but simple workout which really gets the job done!

Feeling inspired after writing this piece so I did a Deck of Cards Workout for my own training today.

I warmed up by skipping for 5 minutes and doing a few dynamic stretches...

Ran 500 meters
Black cards = press ups
Red cards = bodyweight squats
(All picture cards done for 12 reps, other cards for face value)
Jokers = run 500 meters - my pack has 3 of ‘em for some reason!
Ran 500 meters to finish

182 reps completed for press ups and squats plus 2,500 meters running

Total time from start to finish including the additional 500 meter runs = 26 mins 7 secs of FUN!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The joy of short workouts

Getting your daily exercise quota in can sometimes be difficult – life just gets in the way! Maybe it’s work, or family commitments, commuting or availability of nearby facilities because you are on the road. Regardless, some days it can feel like there is a conspiracy to stop you maintaining your healthy lifestyle! If time is short, it’s all too easy to cut exercise completely from your daily schedule but if you have just a few minutes free, it’s possible to get an effective workout “on the go” which won’t take up too much time but will still be beneficial.

Many exercisers fail to see the benefit of shorter workouts but I believe this has a lot to do with the fact that historically, most people’s workouts usually come in at a fixed duration such as 45 minutes or 60 minutes. In addition to the time spent exercising, we also have to get to and from the gym, get changed into workout clothes, pass pleasantries with fellow exercisers, shower after exercise, change back our regular clothes and then get ourselves home. That 60 minute workout could end up using 2 or more hours of valuable time! It’s no wonder that sometimes it’s just not possible to fit in a workout if time becomes short.

Luckily, there is a solution – the periodic inclusion of mini-workouts that can be performed anywhere from the home to the office which use a minimum of gym equipment and take a maximum of 30 minutes from start to finish. Now I’m not suggesting you forgo your regular gym visits in favour of these mini-workouts but when it comes to beating the time crunch any exercise is better than none. You can view these workouts as “break out in case of time emergency” sessions to use when you can’t stick to your normal routine.

Make sure you spend a few minutes warming and before and cooling down after any exercise session.

1) The out and back
This cardio workout will get your heart racing, your blood pumping and burn plenty of calories whilst requiring nothing more than a stopwatch and your regular exercise clothing. Simply head out the door (either walking, jogging, running or cycling) at a steady and comfortable pace (preferably on a flat road/pavement) and continue for 10 minutes and then try to make it back to the start faster than you went out. This first 10 minutes should be graduated (i.e. start easy and build up progressively) and constitutes your warm up. After the turnaround and as you get closer to home, really begin to push the pace so that you race to see how quickly you can complete the return journey. On completion, spend a couple of minutes walking slowly before performing a few stretches for the lower body and you’re done. Adjust the timings of this workout to suit your individual fitness levels e.g. 5 minutes out instead of 10 etc.

2) Alternating sets of squats and press ups for 10 minutes
A great little workout that will keep the major muscles of the body ticking over nicely until you make it to the gym again. All you need is bit of floor space and a stopwatch or a clock with a second hand. When you feel ready start your stopwatch and perform a set of bodyweight squats. At the begging of the second minute perform a set of press ups. For the third minute perform another set of squats and so on. Continue alternating sets of press ups and squats until you have done 5 sets of each and 10 minutes have elapsed. In terms of reps, you have a couple of options...perform as many reps as possible in each minute or choose a number of reps you are comfortable with for each minute and stick to that for the duration of the workout. When I do this particular session I do 20 press ups and 30 squats but you should modify it to suit your individual needs.

3) The Spartan Circuit
I found this workout over on and have modified it slightly to suit my own exercise preferences. It’s a great 20 minute workout which really “does it all” in terms of cardiovascular benefits and whole body muscular endurance. All you need is a programmable timer or view of a clock with a second hand, a skipping rope, a mat and a strong exercise band although this is not essential. Appropriate footwear is also a good idea because of the impact associated with skipping...

2 minutes skipping (easy to warm up)
1 minute lunges
2 minutes skipping
1 minute of ab crunches
2 minutes of skipping
1 minute of press ups
2 minutes of skipping
1 minute of squats
2 minutes of skipping
1 minute of rubber band rows
2 minutes of skipping
1 minute of prone back extensions
2 minutes of skipping (easy to cool down)

(Perform as many reps as possible in the 1 minute time blocks but make sure you work within your own fitness limits resting when necessary)

The exercises are interchangeable so feel free to slot in your favourites so long as they are adhere to the legs/upper body/core format described above. If you haven’t got a rubber exercise band available you could use a light weight (e.g. a medicine ball or even a bag packed with books) and perform bent over or upright rows instead. Not a proficient skipper? No worries – just substitute the skipping with step ups, jogging on the spot, shadow boxing or your favourite aerobic move from your exercise class...the workout will be just as effective.

4) The 3 exercise whole body workout
Inspired by the following sessions are simple but very effective. You will need something to do pull ups or body rows from. If you can’t find anywhere suitable then its okay to perform bent over rows with whatever weight you can find e.g. a sand bag, filled sports bag or even a small child! Our three exercises can be arranged in a number of different but equally effective ways to get a whole body workout from just 3 exercises...

a) 5 pull ups/10 press ups/15 squats – perform as many laps as possible in e.g. 20 minutes

b) 10 pull ups/20 press ups/30 squats – perform 1 lap every 3rd minute for 15 minutes

c) 50 pull ups/100 press ups/150 squats – just chip away at the reps until they are all complete trying to perform the whole workout in as little time as possible

d) 5 pull ups/10 press ups/15 squats/20 double unders (double turns of the skipping rope)/skip to next 2 minute point and repeat for 10 sets/20 minutes

e) Perform 3 minute rounds of 5 pull ups/10 press ups/15 squats doing as many laps as possible in the allotted time before resting for 1 minute and repeating for 4 – 5 rounds

As you can see, lots of variation even though only 3 exercises (or 4 if you use the skipping variant) which works every muscle in the body either directly or indirectly. The reps can be adjusted up or down depending on current fitness levels, as can the number of sets/duration of the sessions. Simple and effective!

5) Burpees!
The burpee is one of the classic whole body exercises which are hard to beat when it comes to whole body conditioning. Combining a squat with a press up means the majority of the body’s main muscles get a great workout and also there is a large cardiovascular demand. There are numerous ways of making use of the common burpee and getting a very challenging workout in minimal time. For info on how to perform a burpee check this link...

a) The 20-1 Burpee Challenge
This is a classic! Perform 20 burpees and then rest a few seconds before performing 19 burpees, rest again, 18 burpees, rest, and 17 and so on down to 1. The rests are intuitive but should only be as long as is necessary – the aim is to compete the challenge as fast as possible. 20-1 too much of a challenge? Try 15-1, 12-1 or 10-1.

b) Timed Burpees
Set your countdown timer for e.g. 10 minutes and perform as many burpees as possible in the time. The aim is to do more reps each time this session is repeated!

c) Repetition Burpees
Set yourself a repetition goal e.g. 100 burpees. Perform the 100 reps as fast as possible. The aim is to do the 100 reps faster each time this workout is performed.

d) The Burpee Pyramid Workout
Start your stopwatch and without any rest between exercises, perform the following...5 burpees/10 press ups/15 squats/20 hill climbers or double unders. Repeat for 5+ sets beginning each set every 2 minutes. The faster you work the longer you get to rest...

e) Burpee drop sets
Perform 5-10 full burpees (press up and jump)Perform 5 -10 burpees (no press up but still jumping)Perform 5-1 burpees (no press up or jump)Rest 30–90 seconds and repeatAdjust the rep count and number of sets according to your individual fitness level. For “fun” you could also work your way back up the sequence for a real challenge!

f) 10 burpees, 10 reps, 10 sets, 10 minutes!

Do a set of 10 burpees every minute for 10 minutes – simple! Adjust the rep range according to you own fitness levels.

There you have it - lots of short, sharp and effective workouts to help the time-crunched exerciser get their training done even when there aren’t enough hours in the day. So, no more excuses for missing workouts (sorry about that) and like Nike says “Just do it!”

Belly Busting Bonus!

All of the above workouts will use the muscles of the core, albeit indirectly. If you want to add some core workout at the end of one of the mini-workouts try the following sequence...

Side plank (left) – 30 seconds
*Front “Cossack” plank – 30 secondsSide plank (right) – 30 seconds
**Supine hip bridge – 30 seconds
Rest 30 seconds and repeat 1-2 more times (increase or decrease the durations as appropriate)

Side plank

*Front “Cossack” plank – in the press up position, brace your abs and spread your feet to give a good base of support. From this position alternately slowly lift one hand off the floor and touch your opposite shoulder. You should feel a shift of weight through the core muscles as they attempt to stop you rotating. Avoid holding your breath and make sure your spine remains in a neutral position – no sagging or rounding allowed!

**Lie on your back as if you were going to perform abdominal crunches. Pull your feet in close to your buttocks and keep them flat on the floor. From this position drive down through the heels and push your hips up towards the ceiling using your hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles – make sure you don’t use your hands! Perform either for reps or as a timed static hold.

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Success Quotient – stack the odds in your favour for reaching your fitness goals

Are you getting the results you deserve from your exercise time? Are your workouts effective, productive and enjoyable? Are you moving towards not just reaching your fitness goals but exceeding them? No? Well you aren’t alone. Many people put in their time in the gym and eat well but find themselves treading water rather than steaming ahead. Why? Exercise and eating well are only two parts of the equation - when it comes to getting into great shape, what you do during the rest of the 168 hours that make up the week is as important as what you do in the gym.

To improve your chances of success and reaching your fitness goals, answer the following 30 questions honestly, making note of any shortcomings or areas that need attention....
For each question use the following scoring system...

Always = 10
Mostly = 8
Frequently = 5
Rarely = 3
Never = 0
Look at each 10 question section individually to see how you are faring exercise, nutrition and recovery wise and then add up the score for all 3 sections, divide by 3, to give you your combined score...

Section 1 – Training
If you are taking the time to exercise, it makes sense to do it right. If you score badly in this section, make some changes so that unproductive workouts become a thing of the past!

1. Free weight/bodyweight exercises make up most of my training volume
2. Compound exercises make up 80%+ of my training volume
3. I use proper exercise techniques in all my training (minimal cheating)
4. My training programme reflects my goals and weakness
5. I change my programme at least every 6 weeks but stick with it long enough to give it chance to work
6. My programme is balanced to ensure all major muscles are exercised and I perform not just the exercises I’m good at but also the ones I’m not good at!
7. I refrain from performing low quality workouts e.g. junk miles, too much easy cardio etc.
8. My training is consistent and I seldom miss workout except when absolutely necessary
9. I perform adequate appropriate CV and flexibility work for my goals and my health
Section 2 – Nutrition
Without good nutrition not only your fitness but your health may suffer. Even if your training is perfect, without adequate nutrition your body is unlikely to benefit from exercise. Like putting the right fuel in a high-performance car, eating a well balanced diet will ensure the machine runs smoothly and optimally.

1. I only eat junk food one or fewer times per week
2. I consume adequate quality protein according to my requirements
3. I consume adequate carbohydrates according to my requirements
4. I avoid low quality/highly refined foods as much as possible
5. I try to minimise my consumption of processed foods, sugar and trans fats
6. I consume fruit and/or vegetables with every meal
7. I eat 4-6 quality meals a day (not just snacks)
8. I consume a post workout meal within 15 minutes of my training session
9. I keep my alcohol intake within healthy levels
10. I drink 2 or more litres of plain water a day plus 250ml per 15 minutes of exercise
Section 3 – Recovery
To benefit from exercise, the body must be allowed to recover. For recovery to occur we need to be in a neutral state called homeostasis which means all the systems of the body are in balance. If our body is out of balance e.g. because of too much stress or too little sleep, its recovery ability will be impaired and, as a result, progress is likely to be slow or possibly non-existent. Work with your body – not against it!

1. I try to keep my stress levels to a minimum
2. I sleep 8-10 hours a night
3. I go to bed no later than 11pm
4. I get a sports massage at least once a month
5. I am on time with work tasks and/or studies
6. I take time to relax during the week - not just at weekends
7. If I drink alcohol, I do so in moderation
8. If I am feeling over tired, injured or unwell, I will refrain from training until I feel better
9. When my stress levels are high, I reduce my training intensity/volume
10. I perform a light CV cool down post training
Add the scores for each section together and divide by 3 to give you your Success Quotient percentage...

90-100% - Excellent!
You are virtually bound to make good progress and, with continued determination and patience, should have little trouble reaching your health and fitness goals.

70-89% - Adequate
Some of your practices are maybe holding you back and whilst you may well reach your fitness goals, it’s likely that it’ll take you a lot less time if you address the highlighted shortfalls
40-69% - Poor
Your progress and ultimate success is being hampered by poor nutrition, training and recovery habits. It’s very unlikely you’ll make significant progress towards your fitness goals unless you make some radical changes to your lifestyle
0-39% - Danger!
Not only will you fail to make any significant progress, your performance is very likely to decline with possible negative effects on your health and well being. It’s time to make some radical changes for the better before it’s too late!
So, now you know what you need to do to increase your chances of success. If you need to make changes, avoid trying to make too many at the same time. Introduce a couple of changes at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Lifestyle changes can take a while to “stick” so make it as easy as possible by making simple changes initially and working up to bigger changes once you have built up some momentum. Finally, make sure the changes you make fit as easlily as possible into your current lifestyle as if they don’t, it’s highly likely that you’ll soon revert back to your original behaviours.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Try something new today!

While cleaning up some folders on my computer I came across this old article that hasn't seen the light of day since I wrote it 2+ years ago so I thought I'd give it an airing - hope you like it!

As I write this, I’m mid way through a 4 week long visit to the UK to see my family and friends…it’s a bit of a working holiday really; I’m writing lots of (hopefully!) good articles, planning my lessons for the rest of the year and catching up with people I’ve not seen much of over the last 12 months. Even though I’m on vacation and away from my usual training facilities, I was determined to continue with as close to my normal exercise routine as possible. Right from the get-go this proved to be a bit of a problem! I didn’t have the same amount of time as I normally do, my usual choice of equipment wasn’t available, there was no local gym for me to use, my day was less structured, and even the weather was against me more often than not! It was all a bit frustrating…I began to resign my self to doing very little activity over the coming weeks.

However, rather than let all this stuff get in the way of my pursuit of the healthy lifestyle, I decided to use this as an opportunity to try some different activities and not be ruled by my normal schedule. Instead of throwing my hands up in defeat and becoming a coach potato for a month, I looked for new and interesting physical activities that I wouldn’t normally do. I basically decided to “play” instead of train and I have to say it was very refreshing both mentally and physically. So, I hit the internet and local newspapers to see what activities and facilities were available to me during my visit. I’ve found plenty to keep me amused…

So far, I have had a few 1-to-1 kick boxing lessons, been to numerous group exercise classes, visited a near by indoor climbing wall, been to an adult gymnastics class a couple of times, ran around a near by park, completed lots of bodyweight exercise circuits, and, because I am without a car during my visit, I have walked to my nearest wi-fi hot spot most days – walking being one of the most readily available and healthy activities you can do.

So, what’s the point of this article? Many of the exercisers I know are very precious about their exercise routines. Runners run, cyclists ride bikes, weightlifters lift, bodybuilders build, and swimmers swim and so on. However, when they don’t have access to their normal training environment, they tend not to exercise at all. I see this as a huge missed opportunity to experience other ways of exercising, learn a new skill set and having some fun in a different but still healthy environment. The old saying “a change is as good as a rest” couldn’t be truer for the average regular exerciser.

Okay, so doing something different may take you out of your comfort zone, it might mean you try something you find you don’t like, maybe means you’ll be doing something that you’re not that good at or doesn’t directly aid your current goals but think of the benefits. At the end of the day, we were designed to be active and activity comes in many forms, most of which will have at least a minor benefit to our bodies and our health. AND you never know you just might find a new activity which fires your passion and gives your regular exercise routine a much needed shot in the arm. When I was in the armed forces, I was often told “routine is the enemy” and it’s only over the last couple of weeks I have finally understood the wisdom in those words. For well rounded heath and fitness remember “variety is the spice of life”.

“Trying something new” is also great advice for anyone new to exercise. Don’t restrict your choice of activities to the normal gym, cycling, jogging, classes or swimming. As good as those activities are, if they don’t inspire you, then look for something else that will. What sports have you done in the past? Watched on TV and though “that looks fun”? With a bit of net-surfing on your part, I’m sure you’ll find a club, group or society of people who share this interest and will provide you with the support you need to have a go at something new. There are groups out there for all ages and all levels of experience whose soul reason for existence is the promotion and development of their chosen pass-time and beginners will be welcomed with open arms. An additional benefit of joining a group is the social support and opportunity to meet people and make new friends which can contribute to your overall enjoyment.

Remember – exercise shouldn’t be a chore! It should be life enhancing, enjoyable and something to look forward to. If you find your self dreading your next workout, training session or team practice, maybe you should be looking for a new challenge – one which excites, energises, stimulates and entertains you. After all, as I’ve said before, “it needn’t be hell to be healthy!”

Friday, 2 October 2009

Cardio confusion – your guide to aerobic exercise

Cardio. CV. Aerobics. Energy system work. So many names for the same thing! And with so many cardio options available, it’s tough to decide which method is best. Much of what is written about cardio exercise is biased towards one approach or another and is often based on the authors’ preference and back ground. In this article I’d like to provide you with an independent view of cardiovascular training so that you can make an educated choice as to which method is best suited to your goals.

What is cardiovascular exercise? For exercise to be truly considered cardio, it should consist of steady-state activity which uses large muscle groups in a rhythmical manner and elevates your heart rate to somewhere between 60-90% of your maximum heart rate. Generally, activities such as jogging, running, power walking, cycling, swimming, group exercise classes, rowing, and using a skipping rope are the mainstay of aerobic activities but ultimately, any activity which significantly elevates the heart rate for an extended period of time can be considered aerobic training. To be honest, the modality used makes very little difference and you should choose the one you like most/dislike least!

How hard?
Cardio training is normally performed for an extended period of time so it’s important to choose an exercise intensity that is hard enough to be beneficial but not so hard that it becomes necessary to stop. It is generally accepted that the benefits of aerobic exercise are gained from working at between 60-90% of an individual’s maximum heart rate (MHR) and many people rely on monitoring their heart rates as an indicator of exercise intensity.

You can calculate your Heart Rate Training Zone (HRZ) by performing the following calculations...

Simple Karvonen Theory
220 – your age in years x 60%220 – your age in years x 90%
e.g. HRZ for a 40 year old220 – 40 = 180 x 60% = 108 bpm220 – 40 = 180 x 90% = 162 bpm

Heart Rate Reserve (takes into account elevated fitness levels associated with a lower resting heart rate)
220 – age in years – resting heart rate x 60% + resting heart rate220 – age in years – resting heart rate x 90% + resting heart rate
e.g. HRZ for a 40 year old with a resting heart rate of 60 bpm220 – 40 = 180 – 60 = 120 x 60% = 72 + 60 = 132 bpm220 – 40 = 180 – 60 = 120 x 90% = 108 + 60 = 168 bpm

These numbers represent the lower and upper range of your HRZ. Going below 60% will essentially negate many of the benefits of exercise as it will be too easy where as going above 90% will take you into the anaerobic zone where lactic acid will start to rise and you’ll be forced to slow down and stop...and it hurts too! We’ll look and anaerobic training later though as it’s a very useful exercise tool.
To keep an eye on your heart rate while exercise you have a number of options can use a heart rate monitor, you can take your pulse manually at either your wrist (radial pulse) of at your neck (carotid pulse) or, if using gym-based cardio equipment, many machines have built in hand sensors which measure your heart rate although some are more accurate than others.

However, the calculations above are not infallible – some people don’t fit into either of these systems and may find that their HRZ makes exercise either too easy or too hard. Luckily there are a couple of other methods we can use to monitor exercise intensity...

The Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale
The Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE for short) was designed in the 1960s by Gunnar Borg – a Scandinavian exercise expert. He devised a scale with which to prescribe aerobic exercise to his athletes based on how they felt while training. The original RPE scale went from 6 (absolute rest/inactivity) to 20 (maximum exercise intensity). Why a scale of 6 – 20? Borg’s athletes had an average resting heart rate of 60 bpm and an average maximum heart rate of 200 bpm so he just knocked of a zero. It was found that, with some practice, it was possible to estimate how hard an athlete was working based on how they felt and this corresponded quite accurately to their corresponding heart rates. For many people, the classic 6 – 20 scale is a little awkward to use so it has been simplified and adapted to suit the general exerciser...

1. Inactive/at rest
2. –
3. Very light
4. –
5. Moderate
6. –
7. Heavy
8. –
9. Very heavy
10. Maximum
As a general rule of thumb, steady state cardio should be performed at an RPE of 4 – 7 for maximum benefit. Exercise below this level won’t cause much in the way of fitness or health benefits and above will mean approaching the anaerobic zone.
The Talk Test
Our final method for assessing exercise intensity is the talk test. Quite simply, while exercising in your aerobic HRZ you should be able to hold a conversation with regular pauses for breath every couple of sentences. If you can only manage single word responses then it’s likely you are working too hard and if you can manage whole paragraphs without pausing for breath then you’re probably not working hard enough. Combine RPE with the talk test and you should have no problem making sure you are working at the correct intensity to get the maximum benefits from your exercise.

How long? How often?
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 3 bouts of cardio exercise per week for a minimum of 20 minutes per session at between 60-90% of MHR to a) improve fitness and b) reduce mortality. Doing more is not necessary for health purposes but if performance enhancement (elevated fitness levels) is your goal then increased frequency and duration are likely to be necessary. Even rust-stained iron pumpers should make sure they get their 20 minutes 3 times a week for protect themselves from the likes of CHD and other diseases of the cardiorespiratory system.

Different approaches to aerobic training
So now you know how to monitor your exercise intensity and how long/how often to exercise, let’s look at the different ways you can choose to perform your aerobic activity...
LSD – and no, not the drug!
LSD stands for Long Slow Distance training and it the method that most exercisers “fall into” when they embark on a cardio training programme. LSD training is exactly as it sounds – performed at a relatively slow pace for extended periods of time. LSD training builds base level aerobic fitness and conditions the body for extended workouts. LSD is performed at around 60% of MHR or around RPE level 5 and may be performed for as long as an hour or more. LSD training has the advantage of not being overly exhausting but on the down side requires a greater time commitment compared to some other methods we’ll discuss later.
LSD is a vital component of training for marathon running and long distance cycling but while a necessary part of endurance athletes training, many fitness enthusiasts use LSD for weight management in the hope that it will result in substantial amounts of fat loss.

While exercising at LSD pace fat provides the primary source of energy however, fat is so energy dense – 9 kcal per gram – that even extended workouts result in only relatively small amounts being oxidised (burnt). Regardless of pace, running a single mile uses around 100 kcal and 1 pound of excess body fat contains about 3,500 kcal so to lose a pound through slow paced aerobic exercise alone it would be necessary to run 35 miles! Chances are that’s more than most people run in 2 weeks! LSD training (and remember LSD can be applied to cycling, rowing, stepping as well as running) is great for developing base level aerobic fitness but when it comes to fat burning/weight management, there are other methods which will be more successful and efficient.

Fartlek – funny word but serious training method!
Fartlek means speed play in Swedish and that describes perfectly our next method of cardio training. The basic premise is to run (or cycle, row etc) at a variety of paces which are selected at random. The exerciser may walk, jog, run or sprint for a variety of distances and durations over the course of a workout until the exercise time period has elapsed or a predetermined distance has been covered. Physical landmarks such as lampposts, street signs or trees is a great way to organise a Fartlek workout e.g. after jogging for 5 minutes to warm up alternate between running hard for 3 lampposts and slow jogging for 1 or jog 1, run 1 sprint 1 and repeat.

Alternatively, work periods can be controlled by counting the number of strides or time elapsed or a combination of the above. The variations are endless and can be just as easily applied to cycling as they can to running or any other cardio exercise modality. The intensity of a Fartlek workout can be easily altered to suit an individual’s fitness levels by moderating the amount of high intensity exercise compared to lower intensity work – in other words the less fit the exerciser, the slower jogging and brisk walking will be performed.

Fartlek, done for a shorter duration than LSD but at a higher overall average pace, is a good fat burner because of the periods of higher intensity training which triggers a phenomenon called EPOC (Excessive Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption) which will be discussed later.
FCR – time to hit a higher tempo!
FCR stands for Fast Continuous Running but, as with all of our cardio training methods, this approach lends itself well to just about any exercise modality. FCR is just like it sounds, working hard at a high constant pace. On our RPE scale, FCR would score around 7 or 8 or about 85-90% of MHR and is the highest sustainable level of aerobic activity – think red lining your car just below the point where the engine will blow! Some refer to this as tempo training and others anaerobic acid threshold training but regardless of what it’s called; FCR is a tough but generally shorter workout. The idea is simple – run (or cycle or row etc.) as fast as possible avoiding going so fast that you are forced to slow down because of fatigue. Lactic acid (one of the by products of anaerobic energy production) is literally bubbling under the surface and going any faster will result in having to slow down or stop. FCR is (or should be) a constant battle to maintain pace – even though the body is probably saying “slow down!”

Because of the large accumulation of lactic acid in the blood, FCR is a supreme fat burner because of EPOC. When lactic acid accumulates in the blood, the aerobic system has to work overtime to clear it out once exercise comes to an end. This “after burn” is responsible for an elevated metabolic rate (energy expenditure) at rest. The body is literally in overdrive working to clear unwanted lactic acid from the system and, as a result, burns a whole load of energy not just during the workout but also in the hours (yes HOURS) afterwards. The metabolism may be elevated for up to 48 hours after a hard lactic acid inducing workout which results in substantial energy costs and potential fat loss. Pretty good for a shorter workout!

LSD (long slow distance) training causes minimal EPOC and, as a result, is not so efficient for fat loss. FCR is an excellent training method for improving higher end aerobic fitness, teaching the body lactic acid tolerance and in training athletes involved in shorter, more intense sports like boxing, middle distance running, rowing or martial arts. It goes without saying that because of the advanced nature and demands of this type of exercise; FCR is something to work up to and should only be attempted after establishing a base level of aerobic fitness via LSD and Fartlek training.

Interval training – the clock is your coach!
Interval training can be defined as “periods of higher intensity work interspaced with periods of rest” and is a very useful and flexible training approach which, with modifications, is suitable for everyone from the beginner exerciser to an Olympic champ. By manipulating the training variables i.e. speed, distance covered, length of recovery etc it’s possible to design interval training programmes for just about anyone...

1) E.g. Beginner client – low level of fitnessPower walk up hill 3 minutesSlow walk on flat 2 minutesRepeat 4 times

2) E.g. Intermediate client – good base fitnessRow 1000 meters as fast as possibleVery slow row for 2 minutes Repeat 6 times

3) E.g. Advanced client – very high level of fitnessSprint 400 metersJog 100 metersRepeat 10 times

Work vs. Rest periods
Aerobic intervals
With aerobic intervals (up to 90% MHR) generally workouts are on a 1 to 1 work to rest ratio or possible 1 to .5 e.g. Run 3 minutes, resting 90 seconds to 3 minutes between efforts.

Anaerobic Intervals
Workouts that exceed 95% of MHR will often require a longer rest period between efforts so 1 to 2 or 1 to 3 work to rest intervals are the norm e.g. sprint for 30 seconds, rest for 60 – 90 seconds.

Please note these are only guidelines and work/rest intervals can be manipulated freely to suit the abilities of the individual exerciser.
Regardless of the standard of the client, the interval principle is the same – alternate periods of higher intensity exercise with periods of recovery. Interval training allows significant overload of the cardiorespiratory system which will result in good increases in the both anaerobic and aerobic fitness while also being, according to some experts, the ultimate fat burning workout because of very high degrees of EPOC. Certainly, a hard interval session can result in very high heart rates and elevated body temperature for many hours after exercise has concluded which is a good indicator that the metabolism is very “revved up” even at rest.

As high-end interval training can be so demanding, it is very important to progress into it gradually. It’s certainly not a good idea to attempt workout number 3 if you have little or no running experience. Make haste slowly and start your interval training regime with the intention of gradually increasing your workload over the coming weeks – your body will thank you for it! Putting it all togetherSo now you know about the various cardio training methods let’s briefly look at how you can incorporate them into your weekly schedule...

If your chosen sporting activity is very start/stop like basket ball or rugby, the majority of your cardio training time would be best spent performing a variety of interval training whereas if your sport involves fast but continuous effort e.g. 5km running or similar, FCR should be the dominant feature of your workouts. If you are more involved in activities that take place over longer durations e.g. long distance running or cycling then LSD will be a necessary tool for you to utilise on a regular basis. If however you just want to add some variety to your current cardio routine I suggest the following template as a good staring place.

Day 1 FCR
Day 2 LSD – recovery/easy pace
Day 3 Rest
Day 4 Intervals
Day 5 Rest
Day 6 Fartlek
Day 7 Rest
If you choose to design your own weekly template it’s important to remember the following...
Avoid having too many intense workouts in a row without any rest/recovery time as you may feel burnt out
  1. Monday follows Sunday! Don’t begin AND end the week with hard or identical workouts.
  2. It always look easy on paper – don’t be afraid to change your plan if you underestimated its intensity
  3. Make haste slowly – only increase your workout durations by around 10% a week. Greater increases than this may lead to injuries and you can’t train if your are injured.
  4. Cross training is a great way of making sure you don’t over stress any one particular part of your body. By mixing your exercise modalities e.g. running, cycling, rowing, swimming etc, you can avoid overloading and possibly injuring your limbs
  5. Choose the exercise modalities you enjoy – running is not compulsory! You can swim, cycle, step, skip, row, walk or whatever suits you best. If it hurts it’s probably not doing you any good
  6. Remember that cardio is not the golden goose of exercise – it’s important to make sure that you also perform your strength training, flexibility work and core work otherwise you may find yourself very fit but as weak as a kitten with the posture of Quasimodo and as flexible as concrete!
So now you know about cardio exercise. Introducing some of the methods described in this article will hopefully get you out of your cardio rut and push you on to new, higher levels of aerobic fitness. Oh, and by the way, if you are one of those people I see in the gym every morning walking sedately on the treadmill while reading a’re wasting your time!!!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The lost art of programme design

Being able to design good programmes is the one of the fundamental skills a personal trainer needs to be able to demonstrate. Our clients’ success depends on our skilful manipulation of the training variables and our financial success depends on our clients’ achieving their goals while hopefully enjoying the process. This all means we need to write exercise programs that are physically stimulating, mentally interesting, challenging and varied.

The object of this article is to explore the fundamentals of programme design with a view to sharpening up our programme design skills and avoiding getting stuck in a programme design rut!

The most common problem I see is that the majority of trainers write programmes that they would perform themselves…i.e. trainers with a cardiovascular background write CV programmes, whilst trainers with a resistance background invariably produce watered down hypertrophy sessions. This is not personal training! A clients’ programme should reflect their needs and wants and not reflect the area of interest of the trainer.

I recently heard about a personal trainer who had every single one of his clients on a very similar programme regardless of their experience, gender, goals or medical constraints…

1) 10 minute bike warm up
2) 20 minute treadmill intervals (1 minute fast/1 minute slow – 10 sets)
3) 2-3 resistance exercises (mainly isolation, performed as part of a split routine)
4) “Sit ups” – flexion based core movements (no extension, rotation, lateral flexion etc.)
5) Stretch (as time permits)
Example programme designed by a not – so personal trainer

Reps were always in the 8-12 range, 3 sets were performed each time and the last set was, almost without fail, performed as a drop set.

This kind of programme design is far removed from the personalized approach we teach at Solar Fitness Qualifications. The trainer in question (not one of our graduates!) may well experience some positive results with his clients initially but, needless to say, it won’t be long before his clients hit the dreaded “performance plateau” and a client who ceases to see improvements in their fitness and increases in their fitness levels is very likely to take their hard earned money elsewhere, leaving our not-so personal trainer with a gap in his diary and a subsequent drop in earnings – not a good scenario.

There are a number of prerequisite stages that need to be covered before we even set foot in the gym. Follow these steps and your clients will soon be well on their way to reaching their training goals…

1) Gathering information
The first stage of programme design is to gather information. Initially, this should take the form of an in depth medical questionnaire, a discussion of the clients general lifestyle (nutrition, time available, exercise history, likes, dislikes etc) as well as goal setting.

2) Health screening
After establishing our clients’ goals etc, we need to screen our clients fully to ascertain their readiness to exercise. The normal battery of static tests should be applied – blood pressure, Resting Heart Rate, Lung Function and Body Composition. Remember these tests provide personal trainers with a legal safety net and should never be ignored. The results of these static tests may reveal underlying medical conditions and also provide an opportunity for medical referral.

3) Fitness Testing
Once we have established that our client is healthy enough to commence exercising, it may be necessary to conduct some rudimentary fitness testing including appropriate tests for cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and proprioception/balance. This information can then be used to establish musculoskeletal fitness, energy system fitness, the setting of initial intensity levels and monitoring improvements in the coming months.

4) Review
On completion of this initial consultation, it might be necessary to adjust our clients’ goals if the gathered results suggest that they are unrealistic. Remember it is much better to under promise but then over deliver rather than over promise and under deliver! More often than not it is the trainer who will be blamed for the client not reaching their fitness goals, and not the client for non-compliance so ensure goals are challenging but realistic targets to improve your chances of success.

5) Personalised programme design
When we have gathered all the pertinent information, it’s time to put pen to paper and start being creative with our programme design.

The first rule of programme design is “treat what you find”. Fitness training IS therapy and we have gained a lot of information about our clients physical well being. The results of our testing should be the lynch pin on which our programme is based…

If the client is weak then they need to develop strength
Client is unfit then cardiovascular exercise needs to be prescribed
Poor flexibility? Developmental stretching is required
Poor posture? Postural correction exercises are needed
Weak core? Poor muscular endurance?
Poor proprioception? You get the idea!

Treating what you find is the very essence of personal training – an individualized approach based on the clients physical needs.

Not every client wants to be a bodybuilder!
Something I have noticed many trainers often do, regardless of their clients’ needs, wants or goals, is to prescribe split routines. Split routines are the reserve of the body builder or strength athlete and really have no place in the average gym users’ weekly schedule!

The whole point of a split routine is to permit large amounts of volume to be performed for individualized muscle groups to encourage hypertrophy to occur which is influenced directly by training volume. Very few of our clients are seeking such a specialized response from their exercise routines and therefore are most of them aren’t candidates for this type of training.

The majority of our clients will benefit far more from performing different whole body routines 2-3 times weekly plus an appropriate amount of cardiovascular exercise on the days in between.
Full body training uses large amounts of energy, eliminates the need for lots of isolation exercises, is extremely time efficient, promotes muscular balance and trains the body as a single synergistic unit – which is how it normally functions. All it takes is a single missed workout from a weekly split routine and the whole programme becomes unbalanced whereas missing one day of whole body training will, other than a missed exercise opportunity, will still address all of the clients’ muscular needs. Also, human nature being what it is, it’s quite likely that if a client is going to miss a workout, it’s going to be one they enjoy less or find hardest and chances are, that’s the one they can’t afford to miss because it’s the one that addresses their weaknesses.

Whole body training requires creativity on behalf of the trainer, intelligent planning, correct ordering of exercises and also belief from the trainer that whole body training is a viable and useful method of training and not for “beginners only”. Writing split routines is relatively easy as it allows for a “kitchen sink” approach to exercise selection – no need to select quality exercises based on merit or functionality when you can do them all in a single session!

When teaching programme design I use the following template to help my students learn how to correctly order their exercises. This template does the hard work for you by balancing movement patterns and avoiding overlapping muscle groups.

1) Compound leg exercise e.g. squats
2) Horizontal pushing exercise e.g. bench press
3) Horizontal pulling exercise e.g. bent over rows
4) 2nd leg exercise (preferably also compound) e.g. lunges
5) Vertical pushing exercise e.g. shoulder press
6) Vertical pulling exercise e.g. lat pull downs
7) Triceps exercise e.g. tricep push down
8) Biceps exercise e.g. bicep curls
9) 1st core exercise e.g. stability ball crunches
10) 2nd core exercise e.g. 45 degree back extensions

By slotting exercises into the above template, the trainer can easily produce an effective and well balanced whole body routine. With regard to repetitions and sets, these values are goal and fitness level dependent but somewhere between 8-20 reps for 1-4 sets should meet the majority of exercisers needs. Begin with a conservative approach to intensity and volume with the view of making the workout more intense over time as the client becomes fitter and more able to perform the workout. Remember that you don’t have to use the same rep and set scheme for all the exercises. Distribute the volume of the workout as necessary. For example you may have the client perform 3 sets of the leg exercises but only 2 sets for the rest of the body and only 1 set for the arms at the end.

Making progress
Once the basic programme has been designed and has been followed for a period of time, it will become necessary to manipulate the training variables to promote further improvements in fitness…

The training variables include the following:
Altering the rep range
Decreasing the rest periods
Increasing the number of sets being performed
Changing the exercises e.g. from machine to free weight
Increasing number of exercises per muscle group
Increasing the load being used
Altering the order of the exercises
Progressing exercise complexity/skill requirement
Increasing the balance or stability demand of the exercise e.g. progressing to stability ball exercises
Using unilateral (single limbed) movements
Combining exercises into complexes, supersets or adopting other training systems e.g. drop sets, super slow, pre exhaust or post exhaust training to name a few.

Periodic manipulation of the training variables and rotation of exercises should result in an almost endless variety of workouts without having to resort to split routines which are best left to bodybuilder wannabes and aren’t really suited for the majority of our typical clientele. There is nothing wrong with split routines per se, just the fact that they are often prescribed to clients’ whose requirements would be better met by whole body programmes.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Benefits of Exercise

We are often told that exercise is good for us however the phrase “good for us” is a bit vague and considering the effort, motivation and dedication often required to become a regular exerciser, surely being told it’s “good for us” needs to be expanded on.

In this article, I want to list the benefits of exercise and hopefully, in turn, help raise your motivation levels and make it easier to stay on the straight and narrow road to better health and fitness!

There are many benefits associated with regular exercise and they can be broadly divided into two categories – physical and psychological. Some of these benefits may be a bit of both so I’ve listed them according to my interpretation…

Let’s get physical!
The human body consists of molecules, chemicals, minerals, cells, tissue, organs, bodily systems, muscles, bones, blood and numerous other components – all of which benefit from regular appropriate exercise. Some of the physical benefits of exercise include:

Improved cardiovascular health (cardiovascular referring to the heart and lungs)
Improved cardiovascular fitness
Improved circulation to extremities (no more cold feet!)
Reduced likelihood of developing varicose veins
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced likelihood of suffering heart attacks and strokes
Lowered resting heart rate
Improved blood lipid profiles
Increased energy expenditure leading to lowered body fat levels
Reduced stress levels/stress management
Lowered risk of developing diabetes and lowered resting blood glucose levels
Lowered incidence of all cause mortality
Improved muscle tone
Increased muscular strength, power and endurance
Greater muscular flexibility
Increased range of movement at major joints
Increased bone density & decreased risk of Osteoporosis
Stronger ligaments and tendons
Improved co-ordination, balance and proprioception
Increase immune system efficiency
Improved posture
Lowered incidence of non-specific back pain
Increased resistance to fatigue
More energy for day to day activities

Are you mental?
Many people are very surprised to learn that exercise has a very positive effect on our psychological state also. A healthy body and a healthy mind often go hand in hand…

Elevated mood state due to release of exercise induced endorphins
Increase mental focus
Provides a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and achievement
Lowered stress levels
Reduced likelihood of developing depression
Increased self confidence
More positive outlook on life – a “can do” attitude
A healthier attitude towards food
Greater self awareness

That’s not all folks!
And if those reasons weren’t enough, here are a few more often forgotten benefits of being fit, healthy and a regular exerciser:

Exercise provides us with a great opportunity to increase our social circle
Makes us more attractive to the opposite sex
Can help develop both self sufficiency and team work
Gives us more latitude with what we choose to eat
Teaches us to be goal orientated
Improved time management, organization and planning ability
Improved quality and enjoyment of life!

Never too late...
Generally, people are living considerably longer than they used to. This gives the impression that society is now healthier than ever before. Sadly this is not the case. Chronic degenerative diseases plague modern man, as does obesity and other conditions associated with poor nutrition as inactivity. Modern medicine is now so advanced that we can keep people alive longer and control symptoms with medication. However, this long life is often accompanied by poor quality of life, disability and unpleasant side effects from medication. People are living considerably longer than their predecessors but their quality and enjoyment of life is much lower than it could be. Personally, I can’t imagine a worse fate than living a long time but losing quality of life. It’s never too late to begin experiencing the benefits of exercise – the body is a remarkable machine which adapts readily to change and has this capacity long into our twilight years. Improved fitness, strength and health are there fir the taking!

How to use this information?
The next time you find your self tempted to skip a workout, eat junk food or are not sure if you should even begin trying to be more physically active, try this exercise…

Divide a piece of paper into two with a vertical line. This is your “Benefit versus Cost” list. On the left hand side, write the heading “Benefits” and on the right hand side write the heading “Costs”. List as many benefits as you can think of including the ones listed above and any others you can think of. On the other side, make a note of any costs you feel are associated with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. By cost, I don’t just list financial implications, but the cost in terms of time, sacrifices and changed behaviours.

In this exercise, in the majority of cases the benefits will always greatly out weight the costs. Sure, you may have to cut back on pizza night form three times a week to once a month, you might find you need to get up forty five minutes earlier, you might miss having beers with your friends after work but compared to what you’ll be getting in return, the sacrifices you’ll make are really very small indeed!

So, the next time someone says “why do you bother with all that exercise stuff”, reach into your pocket, get your “Benefit versus cost” list out and then reel of all the great things you are getting back in return for your investment.

The ancient Greeks were a clever bunch and had a great many sayings and expressions that are as true today as they were when they were first uttered by Socrates, Hippocrates and the other fathers of modern knowledge.

One of my favourites is this “Make time for exercises, or make time to be ill”.

Right, I’m off for a workout!!!