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Hindsight is beautiful, isn’t it? I’ve been in the fitness game for over 10 years now, training myself under some of the best coaches in the world, and working with hundreds of clients as a personal trainer. I’ve learnt a fair bit about training in that time, and there is a lot of things I wish I had known back when I started. Lucky for you, I can tell you what you need to know, to save you finding out the hard way like I did. Use Your Muscles, Don’t Lift Weights Stop focusing on how much weight you have on the bar, and on getting it from A to B. Instead focus on the strength of contraction and how hard you can feel the muscles working. Tension drives muscular growth. You will have more tension on the muscle when you focus on using the muscle, rather than bringing in other muscles to cheat the movement and lift more weight. Supplements Are Supposed to…SUPPLEMENT Back when I first started training I wouldn’t work out if I didn’t have a protein shake. I genuinely thought it would hurt my gains. Seriously! Don’t believe the hype supplement companies tell you. Food is the bread and butter of your nutrition. Supplements are there to help fill in any gaps and make your life easier. They’re not a requirement. Nothing You Do In The Short Term Is Life Or Death Don’t worry about having a couple of weeks off, or trying to work yourself to death for 3 weeks because you have a holiday coming up. Consistency over the long term is what builds your body. What you do over months and years is going to determine how you look. What you can do in a couple of weeks will have very little impact comparatively. Focus on long term progression. Getting Really Lean Will Change You I believe everyone should diet down to very low body fat levels at least once. You don’t need to try and be a bodybuilder or anything, but the process of dieting changes your relationship with food and your body. You learn that hunger is not going to kill you, and become adept at shutting it out. You learn how to forgo things you’re craving, and find enjoyment in discipline. You will be tired, but train anyway, and that changes your mindset about what your body is capable of. When I got very lean and was in a large calorie deficit, I continued to get stronger! The body is a very adaptive machine and can take a lot more than you probably think. Habits Always Beat Motivation Want to make serious changes to your body? You’ve got to create new habits. No matter how motivated you are right now, it will not possibly last. You simply need it to last long enough to create new habits which make the necessary processes happen, without the need for motivation. Things like getting up and going to the gym first thing in the morning, without thinking about it. Doing your grocery shopping and food prep at the weekend, or spending 20 minutes working on mobility before a training session. None of these things are sexy or fun, but they’re important. If you want to make sure they happen, you need to...read more
If you’ve had a long, stressful day, the last thing you want to do is head to the gym. While we obviously think you should since exercise helps reduce stress, we also wouldn’t blame you for wanted to stay home and watch TV. However, just because you’re having some TV time doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Here are a few ways to get a workout in while watching the tube. Do Exercises During Commercial Breaks You can focus on the show while it’s on, and then use the commercials to do your workout. If you have stairs, running up and down them for a few minutes will give your lower body a workout while raising you heart rate. You can also do a set of basic but effective exercises (see below) right on the living room floor. Work Out During the Show If the characters in your regular show always do certain things, use that as a cue to do a specific exercise. For example, in the show The Office, the character Jim always gives the camera a specific look. If you’re watching it on Netflix, you could do 10 squats every time he looks at the camera. Sit On an Exercise Ball If you really can’t bring yourself to do lots of exercises during your show, you can still burn a few calories and build some muscle. Instead of flopping on the couch, watch TV while sitting on an exercise ball. It will help you build strength in your core without too much effort on your part. Best TV Exercises The best exercises for when you’re watching TV are ones that don’t distract you too much from the show. If you didn’t care about watching, you would’ve gone to the gym. Below are some of the best exercises for a TV workout. Lunges Lunges work your legs, glutes and core in one easy move. Plus, there are lots of kinds of lunges at focus on different parts of your lower body. You can do classic lunges, backwards lunges, sideways lunges, or curtsy lunges. Squats Squats are a classic move that works for everyone from the serious athlete to the beginner. The best part is that you face one direction so you can keep your eyes on the screen. Jumping Jacks (or Jumping Rope) This is a great way to get your heart rate up. If jumping jacks are going to be too distracting (or if you don’t have the space), try jumping rope. You don’t even need an actually jump rope. Just mimic the motions with your arms. Sit Ups The sit up is a tried and true method for working your core. They can easily be done on a yoga mat on the floor. There are all sorts of workouts you can do while watching your favorite TV shows or movies. Simply search online for a workout to do with a particular show. There are exercises for The Office, Parks and Rec, Law & Order, The Bachelor, Harry Potter and more. Pick whatever you want to watch and follow the exercise routine. Plus, you don’t have to have a ton of equipment to do a great workout at...read more
A relatively new treatment called “Dry Needling” is now being employed by physical therapists, and it’s becoming increasingly popular with athletes. Though some consider it to be painful and invasive, other swear by it as the miracle treatment that resolved their chronic pain issues and allowed them to keep competing at a high level after a severe muscular injury. Studies have shown that dry needling is both safe and effective for treating myofascial injuries, many of which are chronic and debilitating for serious athletes. What is dry needling? “Dry Needling” is also called “Trigger Point Needling” or “Intramuscular Manual Therapy” and with those three names, you might begin to get some idea what it’s all about. It involves sticking a small needle, the same type used by acupuncturists, into an active and often painful trigger point. The needle works within the muscle, thus the name “intramuscular manual therapy” and attempts to resolve the trigger point by overstimulating the nerve connection at that spot. In the 1940’s, some of the initial investigations into treating myofascial trigger points involved identifying the points, and then treating them with an injection of some type of solution (saline, etc) to try to stimulate and disperse the trigger point and resolve the myofascial pain issue. Later on, in the late 1970’s, further studies determined that the solution injected during the “wet needling” was not causing the relief, and that the needle alone, inserted into a trigger point, was all that was needed to stimulate the tissue to release. Trigger points are often located at the muscle to nerve junction, and occur when some other imbalance in the body, be it repeated stress or overuse, has caused the nerve to misfire and create a chronically tight spot that can radiate pain both locally around the area and because of the nerve connection, also has the potential to send pain to other places within the body. Dry needling hopes to use physical intervention to disrupt and reset that nerve signal, ideally releasing the trigger point and resolving the pain it causes. How is dry needling different from acupuncture? Dry needling and acupuncture both involve the same type of small needle, but acupuncture relies on an eastern theory of medicine, where disease originates from stagnation or excess of energy (Chi), while dry needling is based in western medicine that sees disease and dysfunction as more of a physical phenomena. That said, a study comparing traditional acupuncture points to myofascial trigger points found that both their location and the area they affect with referred pain or dysfunction lined up 71% of the time. That implies that much of the time, the same issue treated with an acupuncture session or dry needling session might have a similar treatment and outcome, regardless of the theory behind each of the treatments. Who can preform a dry needling treatment? Dry needling in most states can only be preformed by a specially trained physical therapist, or doctor of physical therapy. Other types of manual therapists that also work with trigger points, such as massage therapists, are legally prohibited from treating with dry needling because the treatment is intramuscular, and involves penetration below the skin level. It become a bit murky in states where acupuncture is not thoroughly...read more
We all know that too much sugar isn’t good for you, especially the processed kind. It can lead to weight gain, make your energy levels inconsistent, cause breakouts, and increases your risk of things like heart disease and diabetes. Still, most Americans eat way too much sugar on a daily basis. For a healthy diet, men should consume at most 37.5 grams or nine teaspoons of sugar per day. Women should eat no more than 25 grams or six teaspoons. However, some studies have shown that the average American eats 76 grams of sugar per day, or the equivalent of 19 teaspoons. Thankfully, there are relatively easy ways to cut back on sugar. Read Labels Companies sneak so much sugar into products you wouldn’t expect. Jarred tomato sauce is a big culprit of added sugar, as is peanut butter. Always check how many grams of sugar per serving are in all your processed food. You should also read the ingredients list. Some foods have naturally occurring sugars, but if you see sugar (by any name—glucose, dextrose, sucrose, maltose and high-fructose corn syrup) on the list of ingredients, you know it contains added sugar. Eat Real Food Sugar occurs naturally in a lot of the food you eat, but those sugars aren’t necessarily bad for you. Your body needs them to function properly. There also isn’t a ton of sugar in them anyway. The more real food you eat, the less likely to are to eat sugar. Instead of reaching for boxed snacks in the afternoon, grab an apple, a few almonds or some carrot sticks. Don’t Drink Your Sugar We don’t necessarily thinking about the contents of our beverages the way we think about food. It’s easy over the course of a day to drink a ton of sugar. Sodas, fancy coffeehouse drinks and alcoholic beverages all contain sugar. Skip the sugar in your morning coffee and swap out soda for tea or sparkling fruit water. At happy hour, stick to beer, straight liquor or even a little bit of wine—just no mixers. Get Enough Sleep When you’re sleep deprived, you’re less likely to make wise decisions when it comes to what you eat and drink. You reach for quick carbs and sugars when you’re tired to give you a boost of energy, but it doesn’t last long. Your blood sugar drops and you eventually crash. You then reach for even more sugar, turning it into a cycle. Eat More Often You are much more likely to reach for sugary foods when your blood sugar is low and you feel ravenous. Eating consistently throughout the day can help keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady so you’re not as likely to give in to cravings. Just remember to stick to healthy snacks that are mostly whole foods. Go Cold Turkey If you’ve tried the easy ways and still have trouble dealing with sugar cravings, you may want to consider quitting it altogether, at least for a little while. Eliminating processed sugar completely is tough, but after a while you’ll stop craving sweets. It might even make natural sugars in fruit and dairy taste even...read more
A foam roller is an extremely versatile piece of equipment that everyone should have. They’re inexpensive (a cheap one costs around $25), portable and you can use them to do a wide variety of exercises. They can be used to help you stretch, relieve sore muscles and even build strength. Here are our favorite ways to use a foam roller. Massage Your Muscles The best and most popular use for a foam roller is for massaging your muscles, also called self-myofascial release. If you’ve been working out hard and your muscles are aching, massaging them with a foam roller can help loosen them up. It gives you a deep tissue massage that breaks up scar tissue and other tight spots. It promotes healing and speeds up the recovery process. Here are some of our favorite massage moves that can be used for both warm ups and cool downs. Be warned: it will hurt in the best way possible. Back Sit upright with the foam roller under your lower back. Place your hands on the floor behind you. Slowly bend your knees and move the roller up your back to just beneath your shoulder blades. Hamstrings Tight hamstrings seem to be a big complaint. Place the roller under your thighs and roll from your butt to your knees. Cross one leg over the other and roll one thigh at a time for increased pressure. IT Band Lie on your side with the foam roller underneath one hip. Cross your top log in front of you with the knee bent. Move your bottom leg over the roller from the hip to the knee with as much pressure on the bottom leg as you can stand. Do Some Yoga Foam rollers can be used as a yoga prop to help deepen your poses and make yoga more accessible. Make the Ground Closer If you’re in triangle or another pose where you want your hand on the ground but can’t quite get there, a shorter foam roller can help. Place the flat edge on the floor anywhere you need the ground to be a little closer. Ease Lower Back Pain Sometimes when you’re lying flat on the floor in yoga, it can cause pain or discomfort in your lower back. Place a foam roller under your knees to relieve pressure. Extend Your Stretch If the basic yoga poses have gotten a little too easy for you, use a foam roller to make them more challenging. Place a foam roller under your ankle for a deeper hamstring stretch or use it to really work your shoulders and lats. Build Strength You can use a foam roller to boost your workouts and help you build muscle. Plank and Pushup Make planks and pushups a little harder by adding an unstable surface. Place your hands on the foam roller while doing a plank, or put it under your feet while you’re doing pushups. Core Workouts Instability helps build your core. Place the foam roller lengthwise down your spine while doing sit ups and marching crunches. Balance A foam roller can work like a balance disc. Try a rolling lunge. Instead of stepping backwards into the lunge, keep the roller under your back foot...read more
You know how important exercise is to leading a healthy lifestyle. You probably do cardio at least a few times a week and hopefully work on building strength and muscle, as well. One aspect of exercise that often gets forgotten is stretching. Stretching is crucial to a well-rounded workout plan. In fact, it’s just as important as strength and cardio are to your routine. Here are the benefits of stretching regularly. Better Posture If you’ve been working on building a strong core and shoulders, you should be able to stand up nice and tall. However, if your muscles are too tight, it could be causing you to hunch over. In addition to strength, keeping yourself limber will lead to better posture. Makes Workouts More Accessible If you want to perfect your pistol squat but can’t get low enough to do it, it might not be a strength issue. Increased flexibility will make it easier for you to achieve those difficult moves. When your hips and hamstrings are loose, you are able to get even lower in those squats. More flexibility and rotation in your shoulders will make arm and chest exercises easier. Lowers Risk of Injury Tight muscles are much more likely to pull, strain or tear than loose ones. Stretching helps increase your range of motion so you can do more. You won’t have to worry as much about tearing your hamstring or straining your shoulder during a tough strength workout when you know your muscles are flexible enough to stretch out and bounce back. Less Low Back Pain Lower back pain is a common complaint amongst adults, especially those who sit at desks all day. You can build your core muscle, but if those muscles are tight, there’s only so much a strength workout can do for you. When your hamstrings, glutes and hips are tight, it puts excess pressure on your lumbar spine to keep your body properly aligned, leading to pain. Stretching will help loosen those muscles and distribute the weight more evenly. Keeps Knees Healthy Many adults develop knee problems as they age, and a lot of it has to do with the pressure that we put on them every day. Short, tight and weak hamstrings create big imbalances in your legs and force your knees to do more work. Building lower body strength will definitely help, but you need to stretch those muscles out, too. Limber hamstrings and a flexible IT band will support your knees when you’re running and squatting. Clears Your Mind Stretching helps release tension in your body, but it also helps ease tension in your mind. Just 10-15 minutes a day of active stretching can calm your mind and give you a mental break. A class like yoga is designed to use stretches and flexibility exercises to help you clear your mind. You don’t have to become an expert yogi to reap the rewards. You’ll see improvements simply by stretching after your other workouts. Still, if you can, you should try to do one long stretching session once a week, somewhere between 45 and 60 minutes. Whether it’s a yoga class, pilates video or just your own flexibility work, making time to stretch deeply every week will make your workouts much...read more
Statistically the third week of January is when most people ‘fall off the wagon’ on their New Year’s resolutions and fail in their fitness goals. For a couple of weeks you might have been dedicated and disciplined; hitting the gym before work and strictly eating a healthy diet. After a couple of weeks, you will naturally start to crave foods you are missing, as the initial surge of motivation starts to deplete. The gym becomes less and less appealing. What do you need to do to keep it up? To stick with your healthy lifestyle for more than 2 or 3 weeks, and finally make this the year that it sticks and you achieve your goals? The first thing we must do is define what failure is and isn’t. What is Failure? Failure is not eating one meal that isn’t on your diet plan, or missing one gym session. We have to move away from the thinking that anything other than 100% perfection is a failure. You’re a human being, life happens and you are never going to get everything right, every time. Expecting to do so, and using that as your measure of success is simply setting you up to fall. You will never be able to meet those expectations. The only time you fail is when you give up trying. A bad day doesn’t mean you failed. Slipping backwards a little in your progress doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Only when you quit trying and admit defeat, have you failed. Setting Expectations You need to set expectations that you have a chance to meet. If you’re aiming too high – for perfection – you’re never going to attain that. You must allow yourself a little bit of flexibility and freedom on your plan, for when life gets in the way. If you’re realistic with yourself, you know that you’re not going to never eat foods you like again. You know you’re not going to go to the gym every single day for the rest of your life. The aim is for progress, not perfection. Every week, every month, you move forwards. Averaged out over a week, you should be sticking with your plan the majority of the time, and that will ensure you make consistent progress forwards. Changing Your Self-Image One of the reasons we struggle with setting realistic and sustainable aims is because we do not believe we can do it, before we even start. If that is our belief at the beginning, we will set ourselves up to fail; to prove ourselves right. It lets us feel better about giving up, burying the feelings of wanting to change back into the back of our mind, and going about our normal lives, content that we tried to change. To actually succeed, you need to change your self-image. You need to believe that you can become a fit person, slim person, or whatever it is you’re aiming for. That means setting targets that are realistic for you to achieve. If you have 40lbs to lose, you’re not going to do it in 2 weeks. You should plan to lose 2-4lbs in that timeframe and no more. You’ve got to look at it from the perspective of the progress you have made thus far, not how far you still...read more
They say that strong people are harder to kill. I’d add that they’re also less likely to get injured, in any capacity. Strength is the foundation of a body fit for anything. Be that running, team sports, obstacle races, or just daily life. There’s a right way to do strength training in this context. The 220lb bodybuilder might well be as solid as a rock – but he’s not particularly athletic or mobile. Fortunately, you can be strong; without being huge and un-athletic. In this post I’ll lay out the key do’s and don’ts for getting not strong and bullet-proof; but also faster, more agile and flexible. Free weight training for stability Free weights are going to challenge the bodies stabilising muscles where machines will not. Machines will make the primary mover stronger, but not the supporting muscles. This actually increases the injury risk in many cases – assuming separate work is not done to strengthen the supporting muscles that are not active during the machine exercise. For example, a machine chest press will make the pecs bigger and stronger, but will not help the function and strength of the rotator cuff muscles around the shoulder that create stability and allow for free and safe movement around the shoulder. On the other hand, a dumbbell chest press will challenge the stability muscles as well as the prime mover (pecs), lead to more balanced development and safer, stronger shoulders. Full range of motion movements Using a full range of motion is actually more effective for strength and muscle growth anyway. Leave the ego at home and do your exercise through the full range of motion. However, here it is relevant because injury tends to happen at extreme end ranges of motion. People get hurt because they are in a weak position with little leverage, and their muscles are not strong enough in that position to sustain the force applied to them. Something has to give. As an example, if you watch a gymnast you would expect them to rip their shoulders out of the socket regularly – most people sure would. But gymnasts have incredible strength and joint integrity in extreme ranges of motion and they are able to take a high degree of force, in positions most people could not. Loaded stretching Loaded or weighted stretching is somewhat an extension of the previous point. It is building strength in an extreme range of motion, where a joint or muscle is under a large stretch. With loaded stretching you are also increasing the range of motion. You’re creating a buffer where your body is comfortable going beyond what is the general range of motion requirements for a joint. This means you always have some spare room to play with This is the importance of mobility (active flexibility). As an example, if you can perform weighted splits, you are never going to get in a position where you land from a jump and overextend your hips, because you have so much additional range of motion you can access. The risk of injury drops significantly. Loaded stretching not only increases range of motion, but will be increasing strength in the important extreme end range too. Blend low, medium and high rep ranges To achieve a fully balanced and strong body you need...read more
Guys… Who doesn’t want big arms? Every man wants a set of bulging biceps to show off his physicality and strength. It’s a body part that you see getting the most attention in the gym, from guys young and old. Unfortunately, a lot of people suck at arm development, because their training is all wrong. So, let’s look at how to train the arms for sleeve-tearing effectiveness. Not Just Biceps The first mistake a lot of guys make is only doing curls. Dozens and dozens of sets of curls. The biceps are important, and curls are an important part of any arm routine, but the arms are not just biceps. In fact, the triceps at the back of the arm are bigger in surface area than the biceps, meaning developed triceps give the look of much bigger arms. For a fully developed arm, you need to train the biceps, triceps and forearms. It’s easy for your arms to look big when you have a vest on, but if you want to show your strength in a t-shirt, you need to ensure the forearms are developed as well. All The Angles For full development of the arms (indeed any muscle) you need to train all the muscles through all the angles available. The biceps have 2 heads, while the triceps have 3. To fully develop the arm muscles, you need to apply good training stimulus to each head. Meanwhile, the forearms are made up of about a dozen muscles, which for simplicity we will categorize into 2 – the flexors and the extensors. To train all the different angles, you need to do exercises with different grips, and different shoulder angles. Palms facing up, neutral / facing each other, and facing down. With the arms overhead, in front of the body, straight down, and behind the body. I will explain which exercises hit each position in the next section. Exercises for Full Arm Development Biceps: Chin ups and pull ups work the biceps with the arms overhead. Using a variety of different grips will work the arms in a variety of different ways. This focuses predominantly on the short head of the biceps Preacher curls, with the elbows in front of the body also work the short head predominantly, this time in isolation, without the help of the powerful back muscles. Standing curls with dumbbells or barbell work the biceps in the most balanced way. Be sure to use all the different grips; palms up, hammer grip and palms down. Placing the arms behind the body in a seated incline curl, or cable drag curl will work the long head of the biceps more. Triceps: Overhead triceps extensions, and to a lesser extent skull crushers will work the long head of the triceps, which will pack size onto the upper arm. Triceps pushdowns work the triceps in a balanced way, be sure to alternate the 3 grips to fully develop the muscles. Dips, with the arms behind the body, will build up mass on the short head of triceps, giving the ‘horseshoe’ shape to the muscle. Forearms: Not to neglect the forearms, you can work them as primary movers in wrist curls and wrist extensions. Supplement this with other exercises that force the forearms to work hard such as reverse...read more
The world was introduced to “cupping” as a practice in the 2016 Olympics, where the tell tale marks were easily visible on elite Olympic athletes that are using the practice to reduce pain and improve performance. While it may have been little known to the general public, cupping has been around as a form of alternative medicine for thousands of years, traditionally practiced by acupuncturists and eastern medical practitioners, and now practiced by a number of more modern therapists including physical therapists and massage therapists. Cupping works by using a flame to heat the air inside a glass cup, causing the air to expand. The cup is then placed on the skin, where the air inside the cup rapidly cools and creates a vacuum with the skin, causing a pulling sensation that stretches the skin and underlying structures. The Origins and Theory of Cupping From an Eastern perspective, the theory behind cupping is similar to the theory behind acupuncture. It aids in the flow of chi, and helps to mechanically move energy throughout the body. While some cupping does create bruises, similar to a hickey, not all cupping leaves marks. The same cup placed on the right and left side, using the same pressure, might result in a mark on one side and nothing on the other. The eastern explanation for this phenomena is either an excess of energy or a deficiency of energy. If a bruise is created, then there was too much chi present, and it has now been drawn out to the surface where it can be cleansed by the lymphatic system. If no bruise results, there was a deficiency in energy and the cup helped to bring the energy and circulation where it was needed. Present Day Cupping These days, more and more practitioners and athletes are using cupping for benefits ascribed by western medicine, ignoring the energy component all together. In western medicine, cupping is often referred to as manual myofascial decompression. A massage therapist uses positive pressure with their hands to improve tissue elasticity, break up adhesion and scar tissue, and release myofascial restrictions. The same theory can be applied to cupping, but using negative pressure instead. When cups are used by a massage therapist, they’re often placed on the skin after brief oiled warm up strokes with the hands, and then the cups are moved and manipulated over the surface of the skin, pausing where the tissues reaction to the negative pressure varies, as restrictions can be visibly seen by the therapist through the clear glass cups. Cupping for Pain That’s Skin Deep Subjectively, clients report that cupping can be quite uncomfortable during a treatment, but that after a session they’re feeling energized, with pain noticeably diminished and sometimes dramatic range of motion gains for restricted areas. Objectively, therapists report that when range of motion for the hamstrings or runners of the upper back “reach and pull” muscles of swimmers are tested before the session, clients with substantial restrictions can observe a 10 to 15 degree increase in the range of motion after a single treatment. Cupping is most effective for fascial conditions that are present right beneath the skin, including plantar fasciitis and illiotibial band syndrome. Cupping for Illiotibial Band Syndrome For illiotibial band syndrome, cups are placed throughout the...read more