Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Bodyweight: Should you be tracking it?

Whilst it is the most common metric to track (because it’s the easiest to measure and has been the main measurement people have always tracked historically), tracking body weight can be a double-edged sword.

Most people associate weight with fat, but in reality, fat is only a small part of what you’re weighing on the scales - muscle, fluids, bone, organs, even your dinner are also going to affect your “weight”.

What most people who want to lose weight actually want is fat loss, not weight loss (the two don’t necessarily have to come together).

The confusion around bodyweight can cause as much of a hinderance as a help.

Would I recommend tracking weight if your goal is fat loss?

It depends...

If you’re fully aware of what weight really means, and can check it, then forget it, then yes, it would be helpful to track it and keep an eye on your progress to see if what you’re doing is working or not.

But if you’re the type of person to get hung up on it, and stress about it if it’s not doing what you want (even through that my not mean what you think it means), then definitely no.

Also, daily weight changes can be huge (a couple of kilos up or down are quite normal), and you need to be aware that you simply can’t gain or lose weight from fat or muscle that quickly! Use some common sense.

Unless you’re swimming the channel or doing something of equal challenge, you’re unlikely to lose a measurable amount of weight from either fat or muscle in a day. Likewise, unless you gorge on 20,000 calories, you’re unlikely to gain much either. So, your pound or two weight fluctuation from one day to the next is almost certainly going to be down to, predominantly, hydration levels.

If you are tracking your weight, my advice would be to measure it daily, at the same time, under the same conditions (upon waking, after using the toilet will be the most consistent).

[If you don’t believe how important this simple tip is, weigh yourself first thing in the morning, as soon as you get up, then weigh yourself again that same evening and see how different the measurement is!]

Then take an average at the end of each week (add up all the weights then divide by 7). This will be a far more accurate way to track your weight that will even out the ups and downs from hydration levels etc. You can then compare your weight week to week to see if you’re making progress or not.

Women should also be aware (and I know you all are) that weight can vary dramatically over the course of the month. This is again due to hormones and fluids, NOT a sudden 5lb fat gain overnight!

You’ll have to compare each week/phase with the same week/phase next month to get a more accurate measure of progress. This may seem like too much, but your goal should be long-term, so you have the time to do this, and if you’ve chosen to use bodyweight as your main measurement, this is worth doing to get a real idea of your progress.

Week to week would not be a fair comparison for these reasons.

So, whilst it can be useful, it’s up to you whether you choose to use weight as a measure of progress. Just remember, if you LOOK better, FEEL better, and are STRONGER and FITTER - does weight really matter?

Obviously, the more metrics you can use to monitor your progress, the better idea you’ll have of whether what you’re doing is working or not. Personally (and with my clients), I track bodyweight (as described here), measurements (neck, chest, waist, hips, thighs as standard, possibly also shoulders, arms and calves), bodyfat % (as accurately as possible, usually using the naval method as well as bioelectrical impedance readings), and progress photos.

These, along with training records (have weights increased? Fitness levels increased? Recovery times improved?) give me a very clear understanding of how the program is working.

Track as many variables as you reasonably can and use these to monitor your progress, and don’t panic over a pound or two here and there unless it’s consistently going in the wrong direction!

Get in touch if you need more help :)


Monday, 17 June 2019

Outdoor Training

With the warmer weather finally here, it might be time to take your training outdoors. It’s not just for runners and cyclists, gym-goers can take training outside too.

There are many benefits to training outdoors:
- The fresh air is much nicer than the sweaty, air-conditioned gym air. 
- Sunshine (which has a whole host of health benefits and is something many people, especially in this country, don’t get enough of).
- Grounding/Earthing – getting your bare skin in contact with the earth has also been shown to have many health benefits.
- You can use different exercises to what you’re used to doing in the gym since you have more space and are away from machines. A great opportunity to mix up your training for a while.

Whilst there may not be any of the machines you’re used to using outdoors, and while you may still need to use the gym for some heavier resistance-based sessions, you can get a lot done with just your bodyweight and your surroundings.

Bodyweight exercises are great for both building strength and working on your conditioning – push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, burpees and many more are all great options that are always beneficial to work on. 

Mastering these basic bodyweight movements will always be complimentary to other weight training and general movement health.

The open space is a great chance to work on some sprints – something that too few people utilise, and that aren’t quite the same on a treadmill! (A word of caution though – build yourself up to these and always remember your limits. And warm-up very well first!)

Speed and agility work (with cones, speed ladders, hurdles etc.) is also great for athletic performance as well as general co-ordination. Practicing acceleration, deceleration, change of direction and foot speed is another great way to change up your training and reap the rewards.

Tied in with this you have lower intensity exercises such as yoga and stretching – which would be great to do outdoors in a peaceful setting.

Not forgetting the more traditional outdoor activities mentioned before like walking, running and cycling – these are always more enjoyable outside in the real world than in the gym on treadmills and stationary bikes.

Then you have outdoor classes like Bootcamps…

Here you can do many of the above-mentioned exercises and more. Some of these classes will have more equipment than just bodyweight and park benches, and you can really make the most of the combination of the space to train and all the options that brings, with the resistance work offered by the equipment.

They’re also likely to have different equipment to what you’ll find in most gyms or different ways to use it.
Tyres, kettlebells, sleds, medicine balls, battling ropes, sledgehammers and more are often used to great effect in outdoor sessions.

The main point I’m trying to get across here, is to make the most of the good weather! You’re not limited to just training inside and the fresh air and sunshine will provide as much, or maybe even more benefit than the exercise itself.

Find some green space – local parks and fields, your garden, the beach… and just move!


Tackling Problem Areas

We all have certain areas on our bodies where we seem to store more bodyfat and find it harder to shift the weight; for women this is often around the hips and thighs, and for men this is usually around the stomach. Whilst this isn’t a rule, and you may be different, this is generally what we tend to see and it’s dictated, at least in part, by your hormones (hence why it’s slightly different for men and women).

The real question though is, can we target those areas for fat loss (also known as “spot reduction”)?

Unfortunately, the answer is complicated, and whilst we can’t, technically, spot reduce (i.e. do some stomach exercises to lose fat from your stomach), we can improve our chances of burning fat from those areas.

Naturally you’ll tend to store fat in those areas as it’s a protective mechanism built-in for our survival – protect the reproductive system/internal organs. What this means for you is that hormonally, you’re set up to store more fat in those areas, and they’ll be the most difficult areas to lose it from (because your body wants it there).

Now, you’ll always gain fat all over, and lose fat all over – it might just get stored slightly quicker in those areas and take a bit longer to shift. So it’s not that it moves from their last, just that it may take a bit longer, especially if the other factors we’re about to talk about aren’t addressed.

So, what can you do about it?

The first thing is to plug the leak. Stop fat being stored. This is simply a case of getting control over your diet and exercise regime so that you’re not consuming more calories than you’re burning. Find the balance between what you eat and drink, and how active you are (this does not just mean cut calories! Read my other articles for a better understanding of how to go about doing this).

Once you have your routine in place and are burning more calories than you’re consuming (hopefully from healthy, nutritious foods), your hormonal profile should start to optimise itself and you’ll start to burn some bodyfat, but this will be from all over your body, not from any areas in particular.

However, there are a couple of things that may prevent you from burning fat from those problem areas (other than hormones) and the types of exercise you choose will play a role in whether or not the bodyfat from those areas gets mobilised and used for fuel or not.

Circulation plays a big part in this. If you mobilise fats (release them to be burned for fuel) from a problem area (your hips and thighs for example), these fats then need to make it into circulation to be burned. If they don’t get circulated, they’ll stay put and get laid back down as fat stores.

To do this you’ll need to make sure you’re not blocking circulation, sitting down for example will not encourage blood flow to your backside, hips and thighs – so sitting on a bike, rower or other machine isn’t likely to be beneficial if these are your problem areas.

Whilst exercising the area you’re trying to focus on doesn’t burn fat from that area, it does increase circulation in that area, which will help to make sure that fat from that area is being burned along with from the rest of your body.

It’s quite common for people to have under-active muscles – the muscles of the backside (glutes) and lower abs being some of the most common since most of us sit down for a large portion of the day – reducing blood flow and in effect “turning off” or de-activating those muscles. Other postural muscles tend to get weak too as a result of prolonged sitting positions and lack of use.

Ask a knowledgeable trainer for some activation exercises for these muscle groups and do these to “activate” the muscles before you start your exercises.

Then choose exercises that will work those areas whilst encouraging circulation. Large, full body exercises are better than waving your legs around Jane Fonda style (though these could be useful as the activation exercises if they hit the target muscles…).

Avoid anything sitting down and don’t use a bodybuilding type routine i.e. working one area/body part per workout.

Aim to work your upper body (to get blood flow there), then your lower body (to shift the blood flow to your legs), then upper body, then lower body… keep pushing the blood to different areas to encourage circulation (sometimes referred to as PHA – Peripheral Heart Action training). This will also improve your fitness levels as your heart is constantly having to work to pump blood to different body parts to feed the working muscles.

If you’ve ever gone dizzy after a spin class, this is because you’ve pushed all of the blood to your legs and it stays there, so when you stand up/get off the bike, you go dizzy, the same as if you’ve been sitting down for a long time and stand up too quickly. So, while spin may be fun and have its place in some training protocols, it might not be the most effective use of your time if you’re trying to lose weight and have stubborn areas.

Review your workouts and see if you can tweak the exercise order and change the exercises to ones that will encourage circulation to problem areas. Upper body/Lower body supersets will be better than 3 sets of chest, then 3 sets of legs… etc.

If you have problem areas that aren’t shifting and think your workouts need adjusting, show this article to your trainer and ask them to rewrite your workouts accordingly, or find someone who can help.