Exercise is a vast subject with many opinions as to what works and how to do it. I am writing this from my years of experience as a personal trainer who has worked with a staggering array of different clientele from tennis players, keen runners, rugger players etc through to those for whom any exercise at all is a real challenge, such is their physical condition. I myself have had to battle with the fall out of a bicycle accident I had over 30 years ago in which I fractured my neck and face. When younger I was very gung ho, as most of us are in this profession. As I’ve aged, things have got more and more difficult. So from a variety of angles, I have worked out what works and what doesn’t. The answers are sometimes surprising.
Cardiovascular work, a.k.a cardio or CV is the exercise that raises heart rate, exercising heart, lungs and muscles. It is the most popular form of fitness and generally if someone is said to be fit it either means they are good looking or they have a good level of cardio fitness. It rarely seems to be used for the many other forms of fitness. I have a deep suspicion about long slow cardio – anything lasting longer than 40 minutes at a time – unless the goal is a marathon type event.
Essentially there are two types of cardio, continuous and non-continuous or interval training. Continuous is as the name implies; just keep on going steadily. Interval training has two types which are timed intervals and fartlek training. Timed intervals are dictated by the clock, fartlek training means you rush along for as long as you can, then recover and do it again when you are ready to. All these have value depending upon what your goals are.
Racket or field games – tennis, squash, football, hockey are a mixture of interval training with strength or power components. Also even in continuous training, such as distance running or cycling, there can be rapid bursts of energy that would use other energy systems, ie to get up a hill, to overtake if in a bike race or to leap out of the way of a speeding driver.
This usually involves shoving stuff about with an activity duration of 1 second to about 2 minutes per burst of activity. It is also known as resistance work or strength training. It ranges from doing a few press ups at home to full blown Olympic Lifting. The stuff you shove about ranges from your own body weight, dumbbells, barbells, machines found in the gymlike leg press, chest press etc, but can also include things like the ‘green gym’ which is vigorous gardening, usually helping a wild area clear overgrown brambles for example. It can be highly technical with its own nomenclature of sets, reps and tempos (explained in the section weights definition). Of utmost importance in weights is using good techniques. In order to be effective, weights are heavy and much damage can be caused by injudicious shoving. However, a well designed and executed weight routine can do wonders to help people achieve goals of increased performance, weight loss, increased bone density, stress management and improved immune system. Age is no bar. Remarkable studies have been done on the very old showing how much they can be helped1. Where a child is concerned, particular care must be taken with good technique, and certainly groups of children in a gym is not a good idea since they would have much fun at the expense of safety. But apart from that, properly supervised on a one to one basis, weights can do children the power of good.
Bendiness. Frequently stretching is much neglected or done shoddily. Seen as boring by those who don’t know how to do it. Usually done with enthusiasm by the already bendy. However it is a critical component to keep injury at bay, no matter whether you are an athlete or an ordinary Joe who just wants to stay active. It is also a vital component of improving performance.
Again much neglected. Balance gets worse with age. The rot sets in at about 40 years. Good news, it improves with practice and the injury risk is low – provided you are sensible about where you are balancing, of course. Standing on a Swiss Ball can lead to death if you fall off since the tendency is to fall off backwards and break the neck. Not a good outcome.
Doing multiple actions at once. It is obvious in all reactive sports. But even in a sport like rowing, the better you co-ordinate the pushing with the legs and the pulling with the arms, the quicker you’ll go.
I am going to go into this with some detail since all of the above components of exercise are greatly improved with a good core. No matter what the reason is for exercising, it will be performed better and more enjoyably if the core is active. Also if flat abs are desired, the ‘core’ has to engage properly otherwise hours can be spent fruitlessly doing sit ups. When sit ups are done badly, they will make the belly stick out more and can cause backache. Doing piles of sit ups will not lead to a 6 pack unless you are very lean. The exercise itself cannot reduce the body fat lying over the belly. So what is the mythical core?
It is much misunderstood. The basis of ‘the core’ is the deepest abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis (known as the TVA).
The big red muscle on the torso to the left is the TVA.
Here are the other abdominal muscles. The six-pack, or Rectus Abdominis, is clear. If we peer closely at the muscles on the left of the torso, we can make out the external obliques. Beneath all these lies the TVA.
The TVA muscle wraps around the abdominal contents like a corset, so it passes around the back as well as the front, attaching into the fascia2 surrounding the spine. The TVA draws the abs inwards, thus compressing the abdominal contents. Our current diet, with the emphasis on grains, poor quality fats, taking anti-biotics without restoring the good bacteria afterwards, chlorination of water, lack of stomach acid – oh, the list is endless – means that the intestines get inflamed and are in no fit state to be compressed. Signs of this inflammation are abdominal distension. It is very common for people to mistake a bloated belly for a fat belly. If there is inflammation or irritation in the intestines, the TVA becomes inhibited and will not fire up properly. Another clear sign of this is breath holding when doing an ab exercise.
To get this muscle to work, digestion and food sensitivities need to be addressed. Wheat is a major player in all this. I have never known anyone whose abs have not improved after giving it up. I have known many refuse to even try, such is the addictive nature of the stuff. I have written 3 blogs on the subject, a pictorial one, a short one and a long one. Click on the links to read more. It is also worth noting that the tennis player, Novan Djokovich partly attributes his success to giving up wheat – and learning how to breathe.
Why does it matter?
For several reasons. With the attachment into the fascia surrounding the spine, as the TVA contracts, it pulls on this fascia, making it firm up around the spine to support it as we bend and straighten. Also the same nerve that makes it contract also contracts the pelvic floor, activates the diaphragm and the very deep back muscles that support the structures of the spine. You may hear these referred to as the multifidus. If you stick your bottom out and bend over a bit and run your fingers either side of the low back, you will feel 2 long bands of muscles running either side of the spine. These are collectively called the Erector Spinae and are muscles of movement, helping the torso to stand up straight having bent over. It is not their job to support the bones of the spine, the vertebrae. So no matter how strong these are, they do not help reduce back ache. To reduce back ache, be it spinal or across the sacrum, the TVA needs to be activated and then those deep supportive back muscles will activate too. The TVA works in concert with the other abdominal muscles, connecting the lower body to the upper body, and vice versa, of course. So for many sports, the main power is generated in the legs and a well working core connects leg power to the shot.
If the spine is not properly supported, the whole body is weakened. Essentially the brain knows everything that is going on in the body. Sadly it can’t send a ticker tape in front of the eyes to give a read out. If part of the body is weak for whatever reason, the brain will do all it can to protect the body from injury and this means weakening the muscles surrounding the joint or turning them off altogether. Since the spine is a series of 24 moving joints, if it is unsupported by the deep back muscles, then the whole body will be weakened as it moves about.
The book Therapeutic Exercise for Lumbopelvic Stabilization, by Richardson, Hodges and Hides makes the point that other stabilising muscles of the body fire better when the TVA is active. As well as abdominal inflammation, they also posit that poor TVA function is a result of our sedentary life style and lack of balance challenges.
Other ‘Core’ Muscles
The body is divided up into muscles that move it and muscles that stabilise it. So the erector spinae move the spine, the multifidi stabilise it. The big muscles of the chest and back, the pecs and the lats, move the arms and the little muscles surrounding the shoulder blade, collectively known as the rotator cuff muscles, stabilise the arm.
Postural imbalances, caused by sedentary lifestyle or mood disorders, for example, often make it hard for the stabilisers to work. So the common rounded shoulder position makes it very hard for the external rotators of the shoulder to work effectively.
Here are links to four ab exercises that help strengthen the core.
- The first exercise to master is alternating superman on the swiss ball.
- The second is alternating leg lowering.
- The third exercise is the plank.
- Then finally the ab crunch.
What I have found is that generally people are already doing what they are capable of doing. It is true that lack of time and lack of motivation play a major part in not exercising. But if the body is very unstable, then to do any exercise hurts and the brain knows this, so many excuses will be found to avoid exercising. And the statement ‘Use it or lose it’ is very apt. So if it hurts to walk, then we walk less and less and this becomes self-fulfilling. Sometimes the cause is an old injury. For example, an ankle sprain caused us to limp whilst it was very sore and although the pain and swelling went down, we continued to limp since pain is a great teacher. Over the years, the constant slight limp can lead to pain in either leg due to altered walking patterns.
Sometimes people don’t exercise because they simply don’t have the energy to even begin. Assuming there is no chronic illness such as ME, this can be addressed by really reducing the amount of sugar in the diet to stabilise blood sugar. Of course, there is the circular problem of eating sugary stuff for comfort and exercise being a good way of improving mood, thus reducing the need to comfort eat. To break this circle, the choice is either move more or change eating – or address why it hurts to move more.
For some the establishment of a goal is very important to help them get going. This could be weight loss, but it could equally be raising money for charity, or just the need for an end goal such as taking part in the local 5k. This is very individual.
Sometimes the reason for not exercising is merely that people get fixated ideas about what constitutes exercise – that it involves going to a gym, going out running, that it involves wearing nasty sports clothes that resemble colourful underwear. In early sessions with a client who isn’t exercising, except with me, I will bat out exercising ideas to get them thinking. So exercise can be dancing, martial arts, kite surfing, trampolining, open water swimming. It can be solitary or group based. Some enjoy running alone, some as part of a club. Games requiring reactive skills such as netball, hockey, football can be just the ticket for others. Others enjoy racket sports such as tennis or squash. And, of course, for many group exercise classes are very motivating. What is most important is to find the form of exercise that is most appealing whilst fitting into life and then getting prepared to enjoy that activity.
How to get women to exercise.
What is utterly true is that we are designed to move and if we don’t our health, both physical and mental, suffers.
Reps: repetitions. This is the number of times the weight is moved in an exercise, for example we could do 8 squats, take a rest, then do 8 squats again. So that would be 8 rep(etition)s of squatting. If, however, an alternating lunge is being done (stepping forwards with one leg, stepping back, then stepping forwards with the other leg), 1 rep would equate to a lunge on the right leg AND and lunge on the left leg. Lunges, 8 reps is going to take a lot longer to do than Squats, 8 reps.
Sets: So doing 8 squats equates to 1 set. 2 sets would be do 8 squats, rest then do another 8 squats.
Tempo: The speed of doing the movement. There will be 3 or 4 numbers, each representing in seconds the lifting phase, the lowering phase and the bit in between. How this is written varies from trainer to trainer.
TUT: not the noise the trainer makes if we make a mistake. But it is time under tension – so we can total up the number of seconds a body part is exercised during a session and also the total time the muscles worked are under tension during the whole training session.
Concentric contraction: This is the harder part of the exercise. In the chest press it is the pushing up of the weight, in the squat, it is the standing up part.
Eccentric contraction: This is the easier part – the lowering phase. In the lat pull down, it is the raising of the bar (if we look at the plates on the exercise machine, as we raise the arms up again, we will see the plates actually moving down), in the squat, it is the lowering of the backside part.
Rest Intervals: Sometimes written RI. The rest time between sets.
X – move the weight as quickly as possible. So a Poliquin tempo of 20X0 would mean lower for 2 seconds, then immediately explode up.
AMRAP As many reps as possible. Keep good form.
Form. Technique. Always argued about. Knee position is particularly controversial.
Compound And Isolation Exercise: Essentially the difference between, for example, a chest press and a chest fly:
A compound exercise moves more than one joint so when a chest press is performed, the elbows bend and the arms move at the shoulder joint.
When performing a chest fly, the only movement is at the shoulder joint, the elbows stay in the same position throughout the movement. A chest press will involve the muscles of the chest and the back of the arms, a chest fly will only involve the muscles of the chest.
A squat is another example of a compound exercise , a Romanian deadlift an isolation exercise.
Isometric exercise: There is no movement at any joint – an example is pressing the hands together so the chest contracts.
Isotonic exercise: Normal weight lifting.
Closed Chain exercises: This is a thing like a squat where you move, and the world doesn’t.
Open Chain exercises: This is a thing like a bench press when you move the weight about.
So a push up is closed chain. A leg extension/hamstring curl on a machine is open chain. On the whole in life legs move in a closed chain as in walking, running, jumping. Arms tend to be open chain – picking things up, hitting things, pushing things about.
It is largely a myth that exercise alone will help weight loss. Exercise helps weight loss by improving mood and normalising appetite and some types of exercise increase muscle mass, which really can help. It all depends upon what sort of exercise we do and how we do it.
Cardio is the most popular – and long slow distance at that. People will trudge for hours on a treadmill or plough up and down a swimming pool. A study3 published in 2009 of 4 groups of women, average age 57.2, average BMI 31 had 1 control group who carried on as before, and the other 3 groups worked for respectively 72 minutes, 136 minutes or 194 minutes total per week at a moderate effort level – under supervision on both the treadmill and the recumbent bike. They did this for 6 months.
|Group||Total time exercised per week||Time per Session3 or 4 per week||Weight lost|
|1||72 mins||20 – 24 mins||1.4kg|
|2||136 mins||34 – 45 mins||2.1kg|
|3||194 mins||48.5 – 64.66 mins||1.5kg|
The women did record what they ate – and were instructed the study was not about weight loss, so made no dietary adjustments. These are the averages of the 3 exercising groups, so some women lost more weight than others and some none at all. All the women did lose weight around the waist (unlike the non-exercising control group)- but the study did not record how much. All it did say was that the women who lost weight, lost more from the waist than others who did not – which is a good thing since abdominal fat is considered high risk for developing hearts attacks or diabetes.
So this study shows that exercising at a moderate rate for longer does not necessarily result in a greater weight loss. It seems as much can be achieved in 20 minutes as it can in 48 minutes. The study makes reference to other studies that showed that longer exercise times increase the appetite to compensate for the energy burnt up during the exercise session.
So longer isn’t better and to make a more significant difference in weight, then what is eaten has to be addressed. There ain’t no way round it.
HOWEVER exercise does improve mood. Gentle exercise is relaxing and this is good for stress reduction. Abdominal fat is the result of years of chronic stress, so anything that helps lower stress levels is good for us. After a good stride out with the dog, even in the pouring rain, we do come back more cheerful than when we went out. Provided the dog didn’t do anything awful like run off or roll in something unspeakable, of course. Depression can cause comfort eating in some, so provided we don’t come back to a big cream tea, feeling happier after a dose of pleasant exercise can help curb over eating.
If you want to use cardio to help you lose weight, then it is best to work hard, intervals for up to 35 mins rather than long and slow.45. This equates to playing sports vigorously; taking part in an aerobic class which is normally designed with hard bits and easy bits; if you cycle, then pushing yourself up the hills and recovering along the flats. If you are using walking as a means of exercise, then getting puffed if you live in a hilly area is easy to achieve. It is not so very easy in flatter areas since you will have to walk like the clappers to get sufficiently out of breath, and this raises just as many stabilisation issues as running does. One reason long slow exercise does not work is how the body uses its energy. Indeed in long slow distance fat is burned preferentially, but post exercise appetite soon puts paid to any fat burnt up.
So if you want to use cardio to help weight loss, be prepared to get very sweaty.
Getting stronger helps you lose weight by increasing your muscle mass. When you have more muscles, you quite simply burn more calories when you are not doing anything at all.
If you think that getting stronger means you will instantly look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, think again. To get very muscular requires a great deal of work and dedication. Even if you do get a bit bulgy, to lose muscle you quite simply stop exercising. No dieting required. If you do tend to get a bit muscular easily – and I have trained a couple of females who this happens to – then adjustments are made to the work out and you still get stronger, but not bigger.
The best weight programmes for weight loss are those alternating upper and lower body exercises.
The most effective length of time shoving things about in the gym is 30 mins – 60 mins and no more. Do not do any cardio. This merely confuses the body. To warm up you do non-static stretches and METS, then do the exercises you are going to do on a lighter weight, then onto the full weights, taking 2 -3 steps to get there.
Post exercise you should have something sweet with a good protein source. Do this as soon as possible after the workout.
The ideal rep range is 8 – 12. This is the range that builds muscles. Working with higher reps becomes less effective because insufficient muscle mass is built up to make a difference.
There is nothing to beat being strong. It feels good to be able to shift things about at home without giving yourself a hernia over a bag of shopping. It is good for your bone density, good for mood and lowers blood pressure.
The downside to strength work is not excessively big muscles, but in fact poor form and injury. Our lifestyle and diet predisposes us to injury. Excessive sitting, head poked at the computer screen or hands clamped to a steering wheel, head poked forwards to concentrate on the road ahead. Add into this old injuries – the skiing accident had at school, the time you fell off the kerb and wrecked your ankle, that nagging back ache. All these things are going to make working hard at weights difficult. Indeed, they are going to make vigorous cardio a problem.
Work with a trainer who knows what they are doing and be prepared to go for regular sports type massage. Pay attention to stretching.
This involves integrating exercise into everyday life. It is argued that our prehistoric ancestors would view going out for a run as total madness. Without a shadow of doubt, their life was hard physical work everyday. There would have been bursts of intense activity – such as killing an animal for dinner, butchering it, chopping up wood etc. There would also have been long slogs, such as getting the killed animal back to the cave. So assuming that our health has not deteriorated too much and our blood pressure is normal, then it is a good idea to exercise in very short bursts. This means if going up stairs, go down them again then back up. If possible – without being arrested for lunacy – just hop from foot to foot for 30 secs whilst singing a little tune to self. Enough to get a bit breathless. Do this kind of thing regularly throughout the day. This sort of programme can be easily be developed.
Lunch Time Exercise
Another idea is to cycle to work. If that is not possible, it does help to have to walk more by parking further away, by getting off the bus a few stops away or getting off at a further tube stop. If up for it, we could run back to the car park/bus or tube stop after work. Then at least we can shower when we get home.
Here we are, cheap team building exercise at lunch time.
Study after study shows the effectiveness of a short session of interval training One such is reported in Science Daily and is a report on a study done by Professor Martin Gibala of Canada’s McMaster University that shows that 10 x 1 minute sprints 3 x per week are the equivalent of doing 10 hours per week of moderate intensity exercise. If the Science Daily piece is looked at, links to reports of many other such studies can be seen.
There are a number of factors to consider when trying to improve performance. I hope the following few paragraphs will give some different ideas as to how to get more out of the chosen sport or activity.
Yes, following a good training plan is essential. Sometimes these training plans are not so well thought out. For example doing a 5 mile run to improve performance in any field or racket sport needs careful thinking about. Does running continuously for 5 miles ever happen in the game? Does it help sprint speed? Does it help change direction more quickly? Does it help co-ordination? Indeed, none of these things are improved by a 5 mile run. If running is seen as totally essential, then a 30- 60 sec sprint interval training programme would be better since this will help get across court or field more quickly and improve heart rate recovery. So any training programme should resemble the intensity of the sport trained for.
Another regular oddity in training programmes – this time for the endurance runner – is the recovery run. What on earth does this achieve that actually resting won’t? The time spent doodling along on a short run could be much more constructively spent on other things that will improve times such as flexibility or strength. Or just plain resting. Other components of the training programme would benefit from being thought about as I hope the following will make clear.
Brain/ Body Integration
A rapid way to get excellent results is to use the Z-Health system. This is based on recent neurological research and integrates the eyes, the balance and the body. The most important part of the body in any activity is the eyes – on a basic survival level, we simply have to be able to see that sabre toothed tiger about to attack us6, we then have to be able to get away without losing balance. In a time of extremis, the body will recruit the muscles necessary, even if this leads to longer term injury. So the order of importance is eyes, balance then body. And for time immemorial, we have only trained the body. When the eyes and balance are integrated with the body, the results are remarkable. As stated in the opening remarks, over 30 years ago I fractured my neck and it has been misaligned since. I have seen many practitioners to try to improve the alignment. On my recent Z health course, one very simple exercise sorted my neck out in a couple of minutes. It was an extraordinary experience.
There are two things to be assessed to get real improvements in sporting performance, one is the skeleton and the other are the muscles. The 2 are interrelated; tight muscles will lead to misalignments in the skeleton and modern lifestyles with much driving and computer work lead to poor posture which misaligns the skeleton which causes the muscles to become unbalanced. So a good assessment is vital to help devise a stretching programme that addresses the issues personal to the athlete and the sport played.
A common fault is too much curve in the low back and this predisposes the player or runner to weak abs and back ache. Very tight hamstrings lead to too flat a back which predisposes the athlete to slipped discs – and reduces sprint speed. If the sport involves overhead work, eg racket sports, volleyball etc and the upper back will not bend backwards or the shoulders are rolled forwards, then performance will really suffer and injury will happen. Sometimes the band down the outside of the thigh is so tight, it rotates the upper leg bone – again leading to poor performance and injury. So for optimal performance and minimum injury risk, the skeletal structure needs assessing and addressing. This is the work of remedial masseuses, chiropractors or osteopaths.
Long, strong muscles are a vital part of sports performance. They contract far more strongly and quickly than short, tight muscles and are much less prone to injury and equate to running more quickly, to hitting a ball (or a body if a martial artist) harder and with better control.
Most people who play any sport regularly have stories to tell of calves or Achilles heels tearing or snapping. Apparently it sounds like a gun shot. Now the Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the body, so not easily torn. This means there was one tremendously tight calf muscle that led to that7. Time spent stretching properly would have prevented that injury. And the same goes for hamstring tears (that said, chlorine toxicity can lead to hamstring tears – tri-athletes beware).
The ability to change direction on court or field requires great hip flexibility. So what happens to the knees when sitting cross legged on the floor? If this is not reasonably effortless, with the knees very near if not on the floor, then this indicates work to be done stretching out the external hip rotators, the most famous of which is called the Piriformis.
If serious about improving performance, then regular sports or remedial massage should be included. A few sessions with a good personal trainer will also help discover tight muscles and effective stretches will be taught as well as an effective strengthening programme devised. If the trainer is very up to date, then eye/balance body integration will also be addressed.
I have a male client who comes to see me once a fortnight. Between visits he does no strength work, so progress is slow. However, recently his strength had increased dramatically and the reason was he decided to spend a while each evening stretching.
Stretching is quite an art and different muscle groups respond differently. For example, the hamstrings do not respond to vigorous stretching. This is probably due to the high number of stretch receptors in the muscles, so when a stretch is sensed, they fire and actually cause the muscle to contract. So if the hamstrings are stretched strongly this means they actually tear instead of lengthening.
So stretching has to be treated with respect. It has been repeatedly shown that static stretching – that is any stretch held for 10 seconds or over – leads to injury if done just before exercise. There is a place for long slow stretching, and that is away from the sport or activity. Immediately before activity, then the best stretches are dynamic, eg leg swinging or of a contract release nature as follows.
Overall, the most effective and fastest way to stretch is using contract/release methods. This involves different methods with such mysterious names as PNF, METS, PIR. Rather than waffling on for paragraphs, to simplify it all I would refer you to the how to stretch your quads blog. In this you fire the quads up, relax, then fire up the opposite muscles, glutes and hamstrings to help the quads relax. This is working on the principal that if one muscle tightens up, its opposite number has to relax to enable this.
So tight muscle need to be identified and an effective stretching programme devised.
This is a simply huge subject. A good strengthening programme will do wonders for performance at whatever activity done. However, a poorly designed or executed strength programme will cause a drop in performance and lead to injury. Where it goes wrong is lack of knowledge, lack of expertise and poor observation. I have witnessed quite appalling things being done to sports people – and the sports people suck it in because it is ‘hard’ and they can ‘feel it’. Possibly the most distressing site is what is done to children – press ups from the toes with the heads hanging, backs like bananas and shoulders rolled forwards and down, sit ups that should be called neck ups, walking lunges with knees going every which way. And then the child (or adult) runs about the tennis court or whatever bashing away with misalignments everywhere. And never see the big time because they end up injured and disheartened.
The most important thing about strengthening the body is for the body to be stable. It is disastrous to undertake a set of walking lunges if the knees, hips or ankles are wobbling about. It is utterly hopeless doing plyometrics when the ankles are buckling in on impact. Why do press ups if the shoulder blades are winging, the head hanging low and the back shaped like a banana? This trains the body to be weak.
So, boring as it sounds, a strengthening programme will always pay attention to the stabilisers of the joints and that the joints are moving as they should.
Also a strengthening programme should bear in mind the intensity of the sport. So explosive sports need to work up to explosive programmes that will involve olympic lifting and lifting very heavy weights, usually involving under 5 reps. This works the explosive fibres, called fast twitch. Many sports involve a mixture of explosive stuff and mid-range stuff, called lactic acid. For this the workouts will vary between very heavy – 5 reps and under and heavy – reps 5 – 8. What is important is that each workout is clear as to what it is aiming to achieve. For best results, do not mix rep ranges in a single workout, this means the workout is spent clearly working one energy system and this maximises results. To nail the point, this means the workout does not begin with 5 mins of cardio! The workout begins with appropriate PNF stretches and then moves directly to the lifts, starting lighter and working through 2 or 3 steps to reach the desired weight.
Just as with a flexibility programme, a strength programme will fit the needs of the athlete.
Good co-ordination depends upon good movement patterns that stem from good body/eye/brain integration.
Knees go where knees need to go. It is a damaging myth that knees should be over ankles when squatting or lunging- and that knees should be aligned with the middle toe. Knees need to be strengthened and worked in positions that will aid sports performance.
Such a huge amount has been written about in this subject. The desired rep range is 8 – 12, with forays into lower reps using heavier weights which will increase muscle density and overcome plateaus.
Form is everything. Many who exercise to gain muscle mass end up looking rather like huge, bent Q-tips To gain a balanced body and not suffer long term injuries, it is vital to learn how to shift weights well. In the upper body, generally it is the shoulder depressors that are neglected, so the lats don’t fire properly and the back does not develop the fan. Also the pressing muscles are favoured over the pulling muscles, and this, along with lifestyle issues lead to rounded shoulders and upper back, and again long term shoulder injuries.
If the legs are slim, then it is the devil’s own job to get them to build. Basically they have to be wellied hard everyday. It will hurt. As with the upper body, good form and muscle balance must be looked after to avoid long term injuries.
Frequency of training is a subject much discussed. Good results do need rest days, so the Poliquin camp recommend 2 days training then one day off. If the training is high quality, then once a week per body part is good. However, that part could be trained more than once that day. So if it is arms day, then the 1st workout would be heavy, the lunchtime workout mid range and the evening programme higher reps. But before embarking on this kind of intensity, you should have been weight training for a good few years. In the early days, progress is satisfyingly rapid. This then slows and to keep the progress moving upwards, then good form must be of paramount importance. The joints need to be stable and balanced, so the external rotator cuffs, shoulder depressors, the VMOs, the feet and the grip will benefit from a regular workout. And the diet needs to be optimal.
High quality regular massage is a must. The best possible diet with plenty of high quality meat, fish and vegetables must be followed along with good supplementation with high quality vitamins and minerals. Post workout nutrition is vital – a mixture of carbs and protein to maximise muscle building and recovery.
Under the age of 9, children are still developing their nervous systems, so exercise should be interesting and not long slow distance. So if they swim, the swimming should be short sprints rather than long miles. They should be encouraged to dive and to play on floating islands, which develop their balance skills. Running is again sprinting, changing direction and not jogging. Children really should exercise and, as with adults, it has to be a form that appeals.
If they take to a demanding sport like tennis or football, then care must be taken to ensure the highest possible quality of coaching. Technique is everything. Yes, they may be able to hit or kick the ball hard, but if they are firing off an unstable base, then injuries will follow. As I stated in How To Exercise To Improve Performance, doing a set of poorly performed press ups does much more harm than good. If a sports career is desired, then the child’s body must be preserved. It is pointless spending hours and hours ‘practising’ the forehand if not concentrating on every single shot and on every single moment of that shot. Otherwise poor habits are just being reinforced. I recommend reading ‘The Talent Code’ by Daniel Coyle.
Good nutrition is vital. In these days of high sugar intake, this easily written and not so easily followed. Even if the child is active and slim, their growing body has great need of highest quality protein, fat and carb. Sugary drinks belong with protein post training or match and no where else. Get it right, and the child will also do very well in school as well. It is also worth putting the child on a high quality fish oil (DHA) for the brain, a high quality multi and Vitamin C. Fussy eating is helped by Zinc. This will not only help performance, it will also help recovery, help prevent injury and grow a bright child.
The two areas of the body that seem to cause women most concern, apart from a flabby belly, are the backs of the arms and the buttocks. Owning a pair of saddle bags for a butt is not desired. So to get a firm bottom, the first exercise to master is described in the linked blog The Supine Bridge. Then move onto the Romanian Deadlift. Full Squats work the butt and the best exercise of all is using the Roman chair. However, the butt will still sag if it cannot be tightened at will – and I’m talking about both butt cheeks being able to squeeze. The quad stretch is a good way to test this out. Even when standing there should be a bit of tone in the butt cheeks -they should not feel limp and saggy. I am now going to talk about why the bottom can be so frustratingly floppy.
A wobbly bott has two interrelated causes: poor posture and a weak bottom muscle.
There are more examples of how we can all stand badly, but for our purposes, this will do. As can be seen, the picture on the right has the head poked forwards, a bowed upper back and big curve in the lower back. Modern lifestyle is hugely to blame for this very common way of standing: sitting as a desk, driving, pushing a buggy, slumped over chopping onions for dinner etc. As the upper back drops over, instead of straightening it, it is easier to stick the tummy out in order to stand upright. Adding insult to injury is sitting down for long periods. What happens is that various muscles tighten and shorten and others become long and weak. There are two muscles that concern us here and they are the hip flexor group and the outside band of the leg, the Iliotibial band or ITB.
These muscles can be seen in the picture to the right. Their names are Psoas major, Iliacus and Tensor fasciae latae. There is one other culprit not pictured, and that is the centre muscle of the thigh, the Rectus Femoris (rec fem). The psoas and the iliacus join together to form the iliopsoas and along with the rec fem shorten causing either the hip to not fully straighten at the front or, more commonly, to pull on the spine, causing it to bend into the big lumbar arch pictured above. Collectively this group is called the hip flexors. It is also very common for the tensor fasciae latae to tighten up due to muscle imbalances causing the front of the ITB to get very tight. Now the big bottom muscle, the gluteus maximus also attaches onto the back of the ITB and when it contracts, it should cause the hip flexor group of muscles to relax. HOWEVER because of the shortening of the hip flexors as stated above, the hip flexors cannot relax, so the bottom cannot contract. This effect is more easily explained with the arm muscles, the biceps and the triceps – when we want to lift something up by bending the elbow, the biceps at the front of the upper arm contract and the triceps at the back of the upper arm have to relax in order for this to happen – otherwise the elbow cannot move at all. It is called reciprocal inhibition. So when we are looking at the hip flexors/gluteus maximus, I hope it can now be clearer as to why tight hip flexors inhibit that bottom and so it cannot contract at all – so gets very saggy. Also a tight TFL prevents contraction because it unbalances the ITB.
So to get a tight butt requires work to release out the hip flexor group and the ITB, thus allowing the bottom to get a good squeeze on. Incidentally, a tight hip flexor group will also lead to weak flabby abs because the spine bends too much, thus shortening the back muscles and then these back muscles will work instead of the abs. So there is much to be said for releasing out those hip flexors. Would that it were so easy to fix the backs of the arms.
Flabby backs of arms – bingo wings/dinner ladies arms/batwings – this is caused by another reason to do with hormones and has nothing to do with muscle imbalance. To reduce fat on the backs of the arms, the male androgens need to be increased (both men and women have male hormones – it is just that men should have a lot more than women). In order of survival, the sex hormones come last. Think about it, if we are very stressed, then the body will put all efforts into survival and put procreation well down the list until the stress levels are better. Similar with toxicity. So to reduce flabby arms takes a real commitment to getting extremely healthy. This will involve eating well (this will include eating organic animal protein and eating good fats which include saturated fats), reducing toxicity, getting enough sleep, finding ways of coping with stress that work and don’t just make you fat, and taking high quality supplementation. If this path is chosen, yes, bingo wings will go but health and vitality will go up through the roof. Botox will be unnecessary since you will glow with health.
- http://www.humankinetics.com/aacc-policies-and-guidelines/aacc-policies-and-guidelines/who—heidelberg-guidelines-for-promoting-physical-activity-among-older-persons This is a link to the World Health Organisations guide lines on physical activity among older adults [↩]
- The fascia is a layer of tissue that is thin but immensely strong. It lies beneath the skin and above the muscles. There is a superficial layer and a deep layer. Although it is more complex than merely a huge body stocking, essentially it does work rather like a huge body stocking since it is interconnected. So tightness in one area does affect the whole body. A good massage therapist will also be working on the fascia as well or maybe instead of the underlying muscles [↩]
- Church TS, Martin C K, Thompson AM, Earnest Cp, Miku CR et al (2009). Changes in weight, waist circumference and compensatory responses with different doses of exercise among sedentary, overweight, postmenopausal women. PLoS One 4(2):e4515 doc 10. 1371/journal.pone.0004515 [↩]
- Shaw KA, Gennat HC, O’Rourke P, Del Mar C. ‘Exercise for overweight or obesity’. cochrane Database of systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 4. Aft. No: CD003817. This is a meta-analysis of 89 relevant studies on the effects of diet and exercise on weight loss. It found that the most important way to lose weight is through diet. It found that higher intensity exercise was more effective than lower intensity, but less so when combined with diet. However, people exercising hard got more health benefits. [↩]
- Puterman D, Lin J, Balckburn E O’Donocan A, Adler N et al (2010) The power of exercise Buffering the Effect of Chronic Stress on Telomere Length PLoS One 5(5): e 10837. Doc10.1 371/journal.pone.00 10837 [↩]
- copy and paste this link to see what they can do with the blind: http://youtu.be/OKd56D2mvN0 . Be prepared to be amazed [↩]
- the 2 calf muscles, the big gastrocnemius and the underlying soleus both run into the Achilles tendon which runs under the sole of the foot [↩]