Thursday, 28 October 2010

The NEGATIVE Force Multiplier!

I was having a conversation with someone yesterday, and we were talking about the things that people do without realising the consequences.

And it struck me that when I wrote the "Force Multiplier" post, I missed out something very important. I realised, that many people don't realise what they're doing.

You see, the idea of the Force Multiplier post was to encourage you do do as many little (or big) things as possible towards being healthier. And that the combined effect of all of these little things would add up to have a large effect on your health.

A multi-vitamin taken every day, along with a healthier breakfast, and a fish oil supplement, and 1 less pint of lager, and an extra cup or two of water etc all add up to make you healthier. None of them huge in and of itself, but when combined with the others are quite powerful. The more you do, the more powerful the total effect.

What I failed to mention was that the opposite is also true.

You see, drinking one or two cups of coffee per day won't kill you (although it will have a negative effect), eating a couple of biscuits a day won't kill you (though again....), having a glass of wine, a pack of crisps, a cigarette.....

Though these are all bad for us, and will have a negative effect on our bodies, alone they aren't a major concern (arguably).

But add these together, and you've got a BIG problem.

A couple of cups of tea/coffee, AND a cigarette, AND a couple of biscuits, AND a pack of crisps, AND a glass of wine... Do you see where I'm going with this?

All of these "little things", that "won't kill us" add up. They all add together and compound to have a huge impact on our health.

Again, the more you do, the greater the total effect.

One day of bad eating and no exercise won't make you fat, but stack a lot of those days together and you've got yourself an extra couple of inches round your waist!

Sometimes we don't need to go to extremes and "eat like rabbits" to improve our health, it's just a case of reducing the negatives that are holding us back.

If you smoke - cut back; if you drink a lot of tea/coffee/fizzy drinks - replace some of those with water; if you eat a lot of biscuits - have a few less.

Little by little you can cut back or cut out completely these little things that add up.

This is probably the first step you should take towards better health. Gradually replace the bad habits (junk food, caffeine, cigarettes, lack of exercise etc...) with good habits (drinking water, exercising, eating a raw salad every day...), and step by step you'll gain control over your health, your weight, and your energy levels.

Your challenge for the next week is to cut back on at least one of your bad habits, and introduce or increase one of your good habits.

Maybe cut out one thing (Chocolate? Crisps? Biscuits?) and drink an extra 2 glasses of water per day...? You choose. But do something.

If that goes well, gradually cut out more of the bad, and introduce more of the good. Your health will steadily improve.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Should you be counting calories?

I've often told people that it's not so much the calories that matter, but where they're coming from.

Obviously 1,000 calories of chocolate has pretty much no nutritional value, whereas 1,000 calories of broccoli or vegetables has a lot to offer.

I still stick to my guns on this, but you can't argue the science. At the end of the day, calories in vs. calories out is the most basic rule to weight loss/gain/maintenance.

If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat, to gain weight, eat more than you burn, and to maintain, eat as many as you burn.

Although it does get more complex than this, and hormones come into play, as well as (like I said) where these calories are coming from, you can't escape this one, simple rule.

The benefit if getting these calories from nutrient-rich foods is that you will have to eat much higher quantities to get the same number of calories (so you'll be full, and not starved); and that by giving your body all the nutrients it needs, your brain won't be sending you the "eat" signal, so you won't get hungry as often.

So back to the calories...

Any diet that says you need to be eating X number of calories is one to steer well clear of.

Everyone is different, and for a diet to tell everyone, regardless of shape, size, age, physical condition etc, to eat the same number of calories is just nonsense.

So how many calories should you be eating, and how much do you need to cut back to lose weight safely and permanently?

There are a number of calculations used to workout your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate - i.e. how many calories you need just to stay alive - this would be how many calories you'd burn if you slept all day).

BMR is responsible for burning about 70% of your daily calories, so it stands to reason that the higher this is the better (more muscle, more activity, smaller more frequent meals all increase metabolic rate).

My preferred method of working this out is the Katch-McArdle formula, as it takes into account lean mass, rather than just total body weight (which doesn't tell you how much of the weight is calorie-burning muscle, and how much is fat).

Since this formula uses lean body mass, it's the same formula for men and women. But you WILL need to find out your lean body mass to work it out - just ask an instructor at your gym to measure your body fat %, and you can work out your lean mass from that (Total weight - fat weight = Lean Body Mass).

So now let's work out YOUR BMR...

BMR = 370 + (21.6 X lean mass in kg)

120lbs (54.5kg)
Body Fat = 20% (24lbs)
Lean Mass = 96lbs (43.6kg)
BMR = 370 + (21.6 X 43.6) = 1312 calories

(remember, this is what's required simply to keep you alive! So you still need more, and cutting calories below this amount will only end badly)

Now you need to calculate your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure).
To do this, you take your BMR and multiply it by the appropriate value from the activity multiplier, which is as follows:

Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)
Lightly active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)
Moderately active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)
Very active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)
Extra active - BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports & physical job, or 2x day training)

So for our example above, assuming moderate activity (work out 3-5 days/wk),
BMR = 1312
Activity factor = 1.55
so TDEE = 1312 X 1.55 = 2033 calories

This is the most accurate method you can (easily) use. (There are others, but they're expensive, and for the sake of a hundred calories or so accuracy, this will do just fine!)

Going back to the example, to maintain weight, this woman would need to consume 2033 calories per day.

What if you want to lose weight?

Well we need that calorie deficit we talked about earlier. But the reason for going to all this trouble to work out the TDEE is so that you know how many calories YOU need to cut out to lose weight safely.
This is obviously different for everyone depending on their TDEE. So diets telling you to stick to X calories are just plain lying to you!

To lose weight, without sending your body into the starvation response, cut calories by no more than 20%. So for the 2033 calories/day example, she would need to drop the calories to no less than 1,626.


If you want to increase the weight loss further, work on the calorie deficit from the other end; exercise.

Burn more calories by increasing your activity levels to increase the deficit and lose weight faster, but safely.

So hopefully from this post you can see that what works for someone else, won't necessarily work for you. Work out what YOU need to do, and stick to the rules. No more than a 20% cut in calories, and increase activity levels.

Persevere and be patient. A body that took 10 years to acquire won't go in 2 weeks. Don't rush it or you'll end up depressed, frustrated, and right back where you started (or worse).

As I mentioned at the beginning where your calories come from is also key in unlocking weight loss. So check out my other blog posts to find out what you should be eating, and what you should avoid at all costs if weight loss, or indeed health, is your goal.

You can also work with me personally to figure out a diet suited to you and your specific goals by contacting me through my Personal Training website 

Friday, 1 October 2010

Crunches Cause Back Pain

I remember back at school we often did “fitness tests”. Even studying Sports Science at uni we went through these so-called fitness tests, and again on my Personal Training course.

The bleep test
Sit and Reach test (for flexibility)
The sit-up test etc.

These are all tests that have been used for years – but how effective are they?

The bleep test works. It’s a great way to test your general fitness level, and the key is in re-testing, NOT in the level you reach when you do it. (There are other considerations to bear in mind, but if all things remain unchanged, the re-test will show fairly accurately any gains or losses in fitness levels).

Sit and reach is pretty useless. It doesn’t show where your flexibility/inflexibility is coming from, since it is a whole body test.

And as for the sit-up/crunch test, that’s the reason for this post.

The rectus abdominus (the “abs” or 6-pack muscle) is a superficial muscle. Meaning, while it looks very nice, it doesn’t do much to support your body functionally. It won’t go far in helping with your stability, strength, or anything else... it will however help give you awful posture and back pain if overtrained.

Due to the attachments of the muscle in the body, if you do 100’s of sit-ups/crunches, it will pull your chest downwards towards your stomach, rounding your back and producing awful, and unattractive, postural distortions. As well as rounded shoulders and tight hip flexors (which are a problem many people face these days anyway, without these awful exercises reinforcing the posture!).

Obviously, as well as looking awful, this poor posture can cause all sorts of problems, predominantly in the shoulders, neck and back. Joints out of alignment will cause pain, stiffen up/lose mobility, and cause muscle imbalances which can lead to injury.

With back pain being as common as it now is, and all the hype about “core” training, more and more people are turning to these exercises in order to work their core. As well as the belief that thousands of sit-ups will help lose the belly (which obviously we know it won’t).

Well it’s not working. As I said earlier – the rectus abdominus is a superficial muscle, meaning it doesn’t work to stabilise and support the spine. In fact, it works to flex the spine. That means it’s actually going to make things WORSE, by exacerbating the problem. Plus, all the time you spend working your abs, you’re NOT spending doing the exercises that WILL help!

In order to reduce back pain, and pain in any other areas, you need to work on balancing the muscles across your body and re-aligning the joints.

If you want to work your “core”, you need to focus on exercises that will strengthen the deeper muscles of your trunk, such as the Transverse Abdominus and Obliques.

Planks, side planks, and side raises are good exercises for this, but sticking to large, full-body movements will make sure you’re activating your core in a functional way, instead of isolating the movements.

In short, you don’t need to specifically work on your core. If you’re using good exercise selection, your core will be working the whole time. (And as for losing the belly, it’s these large movements that are going to burn the calories, not small, isolated movements like crunches or bicep curls.)

Crunches will lead to imbalances, poor posture, back pain, and potential injury. You might have a nice looking 6-pack, but it won’t look good on a hunch-back who looks like they’re in pain!

For more ideas on exercises you can do that will work your “core” without causing back problems and muscle imbalance, check out my youtube channel