Zombie Fitness: The Downfall of the Commercial Gym

thriller

Two years in a commercial gym have driven me to a point of disillusion with everything it stands for; pushy sales people, rolling contracts, the promotion of sugary bars and ‘glow in the dark’ energy drinks, abdominal machines, abs classes, abundant cardio machines (with TV screens) and choreographed classes.  Don’t forget the satisfaction people have with their poor weight-training technique and their lack of willingness to learn anything different.

It is what I call ‘Zombie-Fitness’ where people sign up having seen the usual components they expect from a gym; cardio, weights, stretch area and studio.  Then they just come in and do what convention tells them to which is one or all of the following

  1. 3 sets of ten on a collection of weights exercises
  2. 30-40 minutes cardio followed by some pointless abdominal exercises
  3. A Les Mills class

Of course a protein shake afterwards and it’s off home.  The choreographed classes epitomise Zombie Fitness where you simply turn-up (and set up in the case of BodyPump) follow the leader then leave (often without even saying goodbye to the instructor).  Heck you could have had someone on a TV screen telling you what to do and showing you the routine.  At least with Spinning® we aim to be proper teachers giving a different style of workout every week and providing an element of autonomy over which riding technique you select, provided you are in the right cadence range and energy zone.  Going back to the original point the outcome of Zombie Fitness is as follows

  • There is no or little interaction so the social element is removed.
  • Circuit classes where there is more interaction, do not get a look-in because only Les Mills  instructors are getting paid.  Circuit-Training, or Metabolic Conditioning, provides the best mix of weights and cardio allowing us to achieve our results a lot quicker.

The end result is that people get bored, lose motivation and not before long, leave the gym.

There is however light at the end of the tunnel.  It seems that such gyms are now promoting new styles of training that break from the norm, using different names like functional-training, HIIT Training or MetCon.  Fitness First are calling it Freestyle Training and are now outlining dedicated freestyle areas like the one below.  This is why I have chosen to stay put but now it takes the general gym-goers to come out from the ‘dead’ and embrace this style of training more, not just because it is more effective but because the collective nature of these workouts create more social interaction, enjoyment and fun.

freestyleFF

The style of Metabolic Conditioning that I shall be teaching soon is TACFIT, or Tactical Fitness where we aim to also address mobility and flexibility to help keep you injury free.  We keep the exercises limited so that you get better and better with time, sometimes in the same workout, as opposed to traditional bootcamp or ‘Insanity’ where there are just too many exercises, thus preventing the body and nervous system to adapt to a certain move.  Remember, sufficient variety may be good to work different muscles and keep you interested but a degree of consistency is also required to facilitate neural drive and help the body adapt to a new stimulus.

Again, going off the topic a little but my hope is that you can understand the existence of Zombie Fitness and how we need to be aware of it.   I don’t want to discourage people from classes so keep enjoying them.  Just implement two things:

  1. Accept an instructor’s offer of engagement whether it is to cheer or clap, or simply take a feedback form and fill it out.
  2. Open your mind up to circuit-training and of course read up on TACFIT at RMAX International.
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My Weekend at the Spinning® Clinic

spinning_cert

Just completed my two-day spinning® clinic in Central London and like the barefoot running coaching it was a great course for me to do.  Until now I had been teaching indoor cycling having qualified with a lesser-known brand.  In fact, most instructors that teach indoor cycling are not qualified with the actual Spinning® brand.  I am actually happy to have taught a more freestyle version previously as it gave me the opportunity to improve my skills as an instructor.  Now I feel I am ready to represent the brand.

Now I feel a sense of belonging to a global network using a global language to convey our instructions.  Did you know that all the different drills in spinning®, like ‘seated flat’, and ‘sprints on a hill’, have their own symbols?

For attendees this is of great benefit because if they come across a Spinning® instructor the language used will be familiar to them so even if there is a substitute the class continuity can be preserved.

The spinning programme is a wide and extensive programme.  It can be implemented to achieve numerous goals by following the different training methods discussed briefly on their website www.spinning.com.  Through this, one can achieve all their fitness goals I believe be they improving fitness or achieving fat loss.  A good spinning® bike is about £500 and that really is all you need to get fit with the right instruction.  A few little separate sessions of weight training will help and everything is sorted.  Only those that wish to bulk-up in muscle mass will need more help in the weights room but just to look lean and toned the spinner is really all you need.  I know that is all I would need, I just do the other stuff because I enjoy it and it is also my job.

Another great thing from the course was that most of those attending weren’t even fitness professionals.  They were those with normal office or desk jobs who had a passion for fitness and spin and wanted to do this course in order to help themselves do better in their own classes and to also keep alive that dream of working in the fitness industry one day.

I have also had the opportunity to teach a class today in my new style and I look forward to developing these skills in future weeks.  I have some really good ideas planned.

Big shout out also to my Master Instructor Sandro Morelli who is an encyclopaedia of knowledge and a great inspiration.

I thoroughly recommend this course to anyone whether in the fitness industry or not.  Hope you enjoy your journey into spinning®

Pre-exhaust method to build big pecs

Another one of those problems faced by iron-pumping enthusiasts is when you feel your performance improving on the bench press but the chest remains as flat as a pancake. So what seems to be the problem here?

It’s a simple case of the arms taking dominance over the chest  I should think. So here’ s the primary method used to address this; it’s actually a method that we are all taught in PT school but now I stumbled across evidence that this method actually works. It’s called the pre-exhaust method and the idea is that you fatigue the tricep first so that once you hit the bench press exercise the chest becomes more engaged during the move.  The picture above features one of my clients, Jenner.  We never actually practised the pre-exhaust method but what he did have was a slight injury to his left tricep.  After a few months of working with him we see that the left pec is much better developed than the right pec.  My belief is that the weakness in his left tricep allowed him to engage the left pec a lot better.  Again a small portion of people will find their pectorals responding well to any chest exercise and they are that minority regularly attending the gym either because they see their results and are thus motivated or because they are scared of losing what they already have.  This method is more for those that struggle to build the chest or because they have plateaued.
The method is pretty simple; perform an exercise that will fatique the tricep.  The chosen exercise needs to isolate this muscle to make it a complete ‘billy-no-mates’.  The standing cable extension with the rope is a good choice for me.  Once you have done that, hit the chest with an effective pressing exercise, dumbell press or bench-press.
Breaking plateaus is a challenging game and gradually I am building up my repertoire of plateau breakers but this is a common one that every Personal Trainer is aware of.
Hope you have fun trying this out.

Add 10 kg to your Maximum Bench Press

BP wrong

This is not a make-believe Men’s Health claim. I actually did increase someone’s plateauing 1 rep maximum by 10 kilos on his bench press. It was a 3 months process (which you can easily condense into 9 weeks) but now we have built a strong foundation upon which we can beef up his chest which would not have been possible without adopting such a perfect structure. This method is perfect for someone who finds it difficult to build up his chest. If it doesn’t happen easily just with a few chest workouts then you need a plan Like this no doubt.

There is no fancy name for this method because it’s my method and I am a nobody 😦 as i already mentioned it is for people who have

1. Plateaued

2. Lack the genetics needed to get that chiselled physique.

Quite simply you go through a 9-week phase training chest twice a week. All your exercises are press variations. Dumbbell, barbell, smith machine, incline, decline whatever. Each micro cycle is 3 weeks long.

Weeks 1-3

every exercise is 5 sets of 5 (Yes I know this has already been documented so let me finish)

weeks 4-6

Every exercise is 4 sets of eight

Weeks 7-9

Every exercise is 3 sets of 12

Once you complete your 9-week cycle you will find not only that you are stronger on your 1 rep maximum but you have also built up the chest in the process. Try it for yourself because you may as well. What else were you planning a thirty minute time-wasting abdominal workout?

The last point of caution concerns form. Check the ‘big four’ post for more info on this but form on the bench press is extremely overlooked compared to what we are accustomed to with squats and deadlifts.

Hope you enjoy trying this out folks.

Fat Gripz for getting bigger arms

imageimage

I’ve known about this product for over a year but only ordered it with two clients in mind.  Now I’m surprised that so many people aren’t using them.  This is the difference in just two weeks.  The forearm on Jonathan is now much more beefy on the right.  The bicep itself is one quarter of an inch bigger with two half-hour bicep sessions a week.

FatGripz have been named ‘Training Tool of the Decade’, probably because it gives your training a whole new dynamic without changing your routine that much.  It’s not just about building your forearm muscle and enhancing your grip.  The nervous system plays a part by not allowing you to progress in lifting weights until the forearm catches up.  Once you challenge the forearm the rest of the body follows and plateaus are broken.

My advice however, is to go back to the basics first and focus on the big lifts, relying predominantly on your chest and back workouts to build your arms.  Once you start getting and seeing that shape you crave then start thinking about breaking those plateaus with training tools like FatGripz and supplements like creatine.

Secondly, a lot of guys are missing the point on their arm workouts, picking up huge dumbells and relying on momentum to shift the weight.  There are no bicep curling competitions, getting big guns is the goal from targetting the biceps so keeping the tension in the bicep throughout the movement will stand a better chance of yielding results.

Back to the FatGripz then below are two resources to refer to when looking more into their benefits.

http://www.fatgripz.co.uk/?gclid=CK_Zz6XiwrUCFYfJtAod1hEAOA

And you have a video where Charles Poliquin discusses the product.  Get this, he’s even found that thicker implements even correct imbalances between right and left… AMAZING HUH!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o22UUAmCa3s&feature=player_embedded

Order yours now.

Forget Rep Ranges And Just Work To Your Mood

There’s a lot of obsession with rep ranges when it comes to weightlifting and bodybuilding.  At PT school we are always taught this idea of doing 12-15 reps for toning (or getting ripped), 8-10 reps for building mass and 5-7 reps for gaining strength.  Something like this anyway and frankly I don’t really care because it is just bullshit I think.  I happen to think that as long as you get the movement right you will see the results.  Those that don’t get the movement right will probably only see their arms grow a bit.  Those with good genes will see results quick even with bad form.  In other words a lot of the books and programs you find online or in magazines are practically worthless.

Or are they?  Perhaps we do need some sort of program we need to stick to in order to remain motivated and keep some sort of structure and discipline within our training.  However, what if we are sticking to sets of 10 and we realised we feel strong enough to go up a weight?  in this situation, I say we leave the programme and we work to our fullest potential.  Keep going up on the weights, work through the entire dumbell rack until we reach breaking point.  In this case, when training clients I will wright down on their record ‘AFAFA’ (As Far As Form Allows).  This means we have capitalised on every available ounce of strength.  Maybe we will not be able to lift the same amount the next week which is where we return back to the programme.

So work to your mood, not the rep range but just remember two things:

1.  Stick as much as you can to good solid powerful lifts.  Bench press and dumbell press for your chest, maybe throw in the smith machine press.  On each you have a variety of angles so keep the presses going for at least 5 different exercises.  A few flyes and pec decs you leave till the end.  Like I said in my article and accompanying video on the big four we focus on shifting weight in the forward-backward, up-down direction.  On your back training, it’s pull-ups and deadlifts, bent-over barbell rows (wide and narrow), single arm rows (dumbell) and leave lat-pulldowns and low pulleys until the end.  Go for solid moves only.

2. Solid moves are those that guarantee solid form.  Form is crucial.  A lot of people compromise form for intensity just to see the higher numbers on those plates and dumbells.  we should aim to build performance on top of effective and fluid movement.  I’m not denying you can bicep curl huge amounts of weight but how much of that movement has been with momentum and against little resistance.  Do you think this is going to bulk up your bicep??  Every move should be up-down, down-up, forward-backward.  Reach your full potential like this then once you plateau you can start getting fancy with bands, chains and 1.5 reps etc.

The moral of this article is then that you work to your mood so that you exercise your full potential and don’t miss any opportunity to discover your awesomeness.

Weight Training Basics – The Big Four

Saaj talking

Back again after a prolonged absence with this insight into the basics of weight training.  Thanks to my fitness manager Phil Young, videographer and photographer extraordinaire, we got this video done where I explain the importance of the big four lifts.  This is the foundation of any weights programme and everything else is supplementary.  So let us get into them one by one:

Big Lift Number 1 – BENCH PRESS

Let a teenager loose in the weights area and they just look at the bench press not quite knowing what to do.  Still eager to pop that bench press cherry they will have a go or better still get one of their buddies to show them.  The actual move is quite simple but most people find a way to bench which they find comfortable within thier own mobility constraints.  Hence it is useful to know the optimum position for each and every limb.  I explain where the arms should be and what to focus on, namely the path of the elbows;

– At the bottom of the move the elbows are still pointing downwards.

– For this the forearms must remain vertical

– Therefore your starting hand position is not too narrow or too wide, so pinky roughly on that little marked line on the bar.

Powerlifters tend to widen the hand position in order to complete the move quickly but we want to enforce that limb-to-core-connection which my coach Scott Sonnon calls Shoulder Pack.  So the elbow is never in line with the shoulder but slightly lower.

BP wrongBP correct

The left shows the wide hand position and the right photo (not perfect to my liking) is where I try and emphasise the correct alignment.  The video is a lot clearer.

Big Lift 2 – Overhead Press (OHP)

A very underemphasised move but if we forget muscle groups and think big moves it makes perfect sense to perform an exercise that works the triceps, shoulders, upper-chest, even our core and back-stabilisers.  Of course this is when done properly.  Once again, elbows stab down with forearms vertical.  We limit any lean back and press right above our head.  This helps take the lats to full length and helps us avoid that typical bodybuilder look where the arms are suspended from a compressed shoulder-joint, elbows are permanently fixed a good 30 cm from the body and arms internally rotated.

OHP wrongOHP correct

So the left shows an incorrect lean back while on the right I press right above my head and hold a natural arch which only looks excessive because my lats are quite well-developed.

Big Lift 3 – Deadlift

There are so many versions of this, to the extent that top coaches differ on technique.  I see Poles and Czechs debating the subject.  I just work on technique that recruits the strongest parts of our body in the safest and most efficient manner possible.  There are of course common mistakes which I have been guilty of and there are often mobility constraints.  In fact, 80% of the men deadlifting shouldn’t be without raising the bar on to blocks if you follow the prinicples of leading back expert Stuart McGill because most of you have really bad flexibility.  Plenty of yoga then.  In a nutshell, back needs to be straight throughout.  Heels into the ground, head up to the sky as fast as possible whilst maintaining a straight back.  What’s your maximum? Who gives a shit as long as that form is correct. Ramble over and breath.

DL wrongDL correct

No need to explain the difference but notice that I even look down in order to maintain a straight line from crown-to-tail bone.  Every magazine and demo has head up.  It looks so uncool and constipated!!

BIG LIFT 4 – SQUAT

The one that most of us hate but we have to do it.  It’s not the best leg-exercise in my opinion (for me it is the step-up) but it is by far the best weight-training move as it activates more muscles than any other weights exercise.  However, most people are reliant on their quadricep muscles and this is bad, bad, bad.  Think of abseiling; you have to lower yourself with control.  You’re now controlling the equivalent of your bodyweight so you have to use the extensors in your back and of course your upper hamstrings and glutes.  Likewise you have to get maximum power out of those two muscles in conjunction with the quads on the upward phase.  Distribtuting the weight around the body is the aim here in order to maintain the position of the squat as the ultimate move.

Squat wrongSquat correct

So this is a quick 101 on the big four.  We are always learning.  I myself am travelling to Dublin in 2013 for another workshop on the subject so look out for more on this subject.

So I’ll leave you with the full video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfTJoYsoVwM

My trip to Tuscany

Now onto why I was really sunning it out in Tuscany.  I am priveleged to be part of something called RMAX International, a ‘Global Peak Performance community of teachers and students’.  Naturally, I am more student than teacher but our founder Scott Sonnon developed a system of training known as Circular Strength Training (CST) which reflects elements of a whole range of other more traditional fitness systems like Yoga, Thai Chi, Russian Sambo, Indian Club Swinging and many others.  As a fitness professional I was getting involved in Clubell training and my search led me to the great man, finding out that a whole set of bodyweight exercises also formed a large part of his training.  I came to realise that there were some UK-based RMAX coaches around so in the summer of 2011 I attended my first CST seminar in Marylebone at Diego Core’s Field and Training Clinic.

In this course I learned what was required of me to become CST certified.  Only 100 repetitions of three exercises known as the ‘TRIAL BY FIRE’

with 15lb clubs.  Check this demo out

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKE1LS930P0

After months of practise I attended the first UK certification in Slough UK, attended by people from all over Europe and beyond at Vik Hothi’s centre IMAS UK.  Thankfully I passed this gruelling fitness test and felt a great sense of honour and achievement.

It was also a great honour to meet Scott Sonnon as well as European head coach Alberto Galazzi

One year on and I have benefitted greatly from being a CST instructor.  I understand human movement so well now and have a good idea on understanding proper human biomechanics. This is particularly important when deciding what kinds of exercises to give to people.  The actual exercise programme resulting from CST is TACFIT where the aim is to condition ourselves physically and mentally for the challenges we face in life.  An integretive programme where there is a lot of emphasis on breathing, recovery and mobility and where the exercises do not comprmise any of the aforementioned, unlike with other systems where the actual exercises can involve a higher than normal level of good mobility which does not suit most 21st century desk-jockeys.

So my journey took me to Florence where there was a convention for all European based instructors.  I was thoroughly impresses by the Italian boys and girls who look very committed and enthusiastic about what we are involved in.  My aim is to now prepare for my Tacfit certification and my CST retesting, hopefully ending with attending the TACFIT bootcamp in Capri this time next year.  I am excited about this journey and know that in following it I can find the fittest version of myself so I invite all readers to do the same.

Tacfit classes are held every week at Diego Core’s Centre the link for which is above (like on his name).  So come along and try something different and do things you never thought you could do.

Tuscany Baby!

If you just want to go for a little weeekend chill, experience a different environment, nice weather and nice food for the weekend, and at minimal cost, this is an ideal place I feel.  Speaking as someone living in the UK, flights are relatively cheap. I got mine for around £100 pounds return on Ryanair, booked four months in advance.  If you decided to leave Friday and return Monday it would be cheaper but then you’d be paying more for accommodation.  As for hotels then on sites like booking.com you will be able to find something decent for 45euros a night.  I stayed in the Holiday Inn in a quiet little suburb called Rovezzano.

Pisa

Flying into Pisa is both cheaper and more convenient.  A bus from here to the city and then into the Square of Miracles is so straightforward and there are always people around to help you.  It’s unbelievable how fast you can leave London and then be standing in front of the leaning tower in a matter of hours.  Just make sure you purchase your ticket at the airport then validate the ticket on the machine once you board the bus.  This leads me to stating that you must ensure you pay for your ticket.  I actually incurred a fine thinking that no inspector would come on a Sunday.  Will never make that mistake again.  Your stop for the piazza dei miracoli is clearly stated and about ten stops from the airport.  This is the view once you enter the square

So the three sites are the Baptistry, cathedral and then the leaning tower.  If you had more of a longer trip then you could take time for a more in-depth guide but if you just want the photo then make it one worthwhile like I did.

Whilst there, you may just want a little snack so I recommend El-salvadore.  Along this road you will see a number of side streets so just before you reach the tower turn right into one of the side streets and grab a panini or pasta with some refreshing coffee.

Once you have seen the main sites you can return to the airport and then make your way to Florence.  The terravision service leaves right from in front of the airport and you can even book your ride from home and pay for it online.  Nevertheless there are always people there ready to take payments for your ticket so you can’t go wrong with terravision.  I found it to be a great service and of great service.

Florence

One hour and you’re in Florence at Stazione Santa Maria Novella.  Hotels here are pricey so I would definitely recommend Rovezzano as a place to stay.  The Holiday Inn is what you’d expect and the breakfast is good, better than what you would get in a HI here, the chocolate croissants are amazing.  Here is the view from Rovezzano

Only problem is that the rovezzano station is in the middle of nowhere so either get the number for a cab firm or use your smart phone to navigate because you will need it.  As for getting there then it is usually platform 14 from the centre, trains bound for Azzero.  The ticket queue is a nightmare so just type in Firenze Rovezzano on the machine and pay up there, it will save you time.

Once you have checked in you hit the city.  For a whirlwind weekend you can cover everything within a couple of hours.  Maybe first enjoy some sunshine next to the cathedral, then at sunset hit the Ponte Vecchio and then go for some authentic food.  You just treat yourself to some ice-cream.  You won’t be able to help yourself once you see this

This was all in one day.  Going back to Rovezzano you may need to take a bus and number 14 is what you want.  It will leave from one of the side entrances of S.M. Novella next to Burger King but remember your ticket.

As for Sunday then I was actually in Florence for a fitness convention which I will talk about in my next post.

Choosing the wrong footwear for spin

Time to eat some humble pie and admit that I was totally wrong in my selection of footwear.  However, the experiment helped me realise that nothing beats investing in cycling shoes so time for me to pull my money out.

With the shoes featured in my previous post the thin sole put me in too much contact with the pedal requiring more force in every stroke.  I was teaching on a Keiser bike and realised that I could not hit 400 watts plus so easily.

The flimsy nature of the footwear meant too much flexion at the toes and I felt the traction at the back of my knee and slightly in my lower back.  Hence, a rigid shoe is better.

A thin shoe will not fit into the pedal cage adequately so the foot is not stable.  Hence, regular sneakers/asics that you use for running are probably better as it is more likely to fit into the cage well.

In any case, normal footwear will not allow you to maximise the use of the ball of your foot as with the pedal clips you have to apply pressure  in the middle of the foot.  With cycling shoes you can apply pressure more at the ball of your foot and this may improve performance greatly.

At least I am happy with the way my new trainers look but after I return from Italy I will look to invest in some cycling shoes and see the difference they make.

Many thanks to Tom Joka and Andrew Frimpong for assisting me with their knowledge on this subject.

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