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Understanding ‘Cardio’

‘Cardio’ is a term you will hear a lot in the gym. Usually in a negative way, with thoughts of, mundane, prolonged incline walking on a treadmill springing to mind. However, ‘cardio’ encompasses much more than long slow distance training. This article will delve into the many different types of ‘cardio’ and how you can use it to help reach your training goals.

 

Firstly, ‘cardio’ is short for cardiovascular exercise and can be defined as any exercise that increases heart rate and keeps it up. However, heart rate can be raised in so many different ways, all of which bring about a different adaptation. Therefore, it’s important to have your goals clearly defined because a training session to develop aerobic capacity will look very different from sessions used to build speed, speed endurance or lactate threshold. If you aren’t an athlete, it is likely you will be wanting to use CV exercise to improve your overall health or to lose weight. In which case, you will want to familiarise yourself with all types and use some of each in your training throughout the year.

 

When it comes to cardiovascular exercise, our body uses three energy systems. These are called the alactic system, lactic system and aerobic system. There is almost never a time at which all three systems aren’t working simultaneously. However, for most forms of exercise, one energy system will be being used a lot more than the other two.

 

 

If you want to develop speed, then you want your training to be focused on building the alactic system. The alactic system is used for high intensity exercise for up to approximately 13 seconds. It does not use oxygen and instead forms energy from recycling ATP using phosphocreatine stores in the muscle. These stores are very small however, hence why we can only utilise this system for 13 seconds before a prolonged rest (>3 minutes) so that the body can restore phosphocreatine levels. With that in mind, we can apply this to a training sessions to help develop this system. An example being 8 sets of 10 second sprints with 3 minutes rest. Many people don’t feel like they’re ‘working hard enough’ when doing this sort of training as they aren’t out of breath. However, looking back at what this system uses, it does not use oxygen, therefore when we train this system correctly, we do not create an oxygen debt and therefore do not feel out of breath. We can apply specificity to make this session more applicable to the goal. In very simple terms, runners will do this session on a track, cyclists on a bike and rowers on a row-erg or boat and so on.

 

The next system we can develop is the lactic acid energy system. The popular ‘HIT’ training falls into this category. This energy system derives energy from glucose. However, the oxygen debt from high intensity exercise results in lactic acid being produced, causing pain and this is why this energy can only be the predominant energy system for up to 3 minutes. When training, work intervals will be between 30 seconds and 3 minutes with rest intervals no longer than the work interval. This is so that the lactic acid cannot fully clear prior to the next interval, resulting in a gradually increasing tolerance to lactic acid. This is useful training for events which use this energy system such as 800m running. Sessions for this energy system can look very different. For example, 3 sets of 30 second sprints with 15 seconds rest. As well as, 6 sets of 3 minutes working hard with 3 minutes rest. Despite targeting the same energy system, the latter session is more aerobic, so it’s important to know what event you are targeting and tailoring your sessions towards that goal.

 

The final energy system is the aerobic energy system. This utilises oxygen and is best developed at around 70% of your maximum heart rate. An example for a 40-year-old would be (220-age) = Max Heart rate estimation. (220-40) = 180. 70% of 180= 126bpm. This will be the predominant energy system for any exercise lasting over 3 minutes. Therefore, this is going to be the predominant energy system for events such as 5km run or above.

It is worth noting, that if you are using cardiovascular exercise for general health then it is most productive to add a bit of each type of energy system training throughout the year. However, adherence is key, therefore it’s important to prioritise the type that you enjoy most and fits into your lifestyle.

Time Efficient Training

 

Designing a time efficient hypertrophy training programme

 

Why?

 

During certain periods of everyone’s life, life takes over and training needs to take a back seat. However, this should very rarely result in complete cessation of training. Making your schedule as time efficient as possible can be a real tool in helping you still carry out effective training sessions during busy periods in your life. Here are some factors that must be considered and altered when doing so:

 

 

Training Factor How to make it Time efficient and why?
Exercise Selection Primarily Choose Bi-Lateral Compound Lifts, as these will hit the most muscle groups and are typically the lifts you can easily load.
Set Structure Implement Supersets, Drop-Sets and Rest-Pause sets to increase volume without increasing overall session time by much.
Inter-set Rest Minimise inter-set rest. Typically, down to 1 minute.
Volume Implement minimum effective volume for growth, this is dependant one each muscle group and will vary slightly between individuals.

Beginning the fitness journey for elderly populations

During the later years of life, certain things can start to become harder, we gradually start to lose our strength, speed and co-ordination. For some people, this can unfortunately lead to a loss of independence. It is widely known that regular exercise can aid with vastly slowing down the ageing process, however, the proportion of people taking part in regular activity actually decreases with age. Therefore, it’s important to identify what barriers elderly people, exclusively, face when it comes to partaking in regular physical activity and try to combat them, as oppose to simply telling them that they should exercise.

 

The first, and in my opinion by far the most significant, barrier is social norms. Amongst the elderly generation, it is widely considered that exercise is something for younger people. This holds specifically true for resistance training, which is not only stereotyped for being exclusively for young people, but young men specifically- making older women twice as likely to disregard it. As well as being the most significant barrier, I also believe it is by far the most difficult to change. If someone has held a belief for 60+ years, the chances of them changing it are slim. Although, education goes a long way and it’s important to make small steps. An example of this would be encouraging a group of elderly people who already partake in aqua aerobics to try the light resistance class. And for the sedentary, instead of trying and get a book club into a strength training programme, start them off by encouraging a group walk. Also, from an individual point of view, if you are an elderly person who wants to become more physically active then putting yourself in the right environment, like a water aerobics class, is going to surround you with more like-minded individuals, and make it a lot less daunting should you choose to tackle a more demanding form of physical activity.

 

Next, there’s the physical barriers. Older people may have sustained many injuries over the years, which, combined with a natural loss of muscle elasticity and strength from sarcopenia, can make the prospect of more movement particularly less appealing than if someone had proposed the idea to them 30 years prior. To combat this, hiring the right professional can be key in making exercise pain free and enjoyable. A good personal trainer can identify any movement limitations you may have and provide an exercise programme which addresses these issues as well as making you stronger and healthier. For more serious issues, the right medical professional will be needed.

 

Next, there’s the fear of venturing into the unknown. Most people in their 20’s will have at least been to a gym a few times, even if they have not adhered to a programme they will have familiarity to what basic movements look like such as a squat or shoulder press. However, 40-60 years ago, gyms were a lot less common and therefore elderly people now haven’t acquired any knowledge of resistance training. Therefore, if they were to feel confident enough to go into a gym, they simply would not know where to begin, which can make the experience even more daunting and overwhelming than it already is. To combat this, there is a few options depending on one’s budget. The gold standard would be to hire a good personal trainer, who will provide a bespoke programme to you as well as educating you on correct exercise execution and the benefits of each exercise, so you can truly value the experience and the positive impact each part of the session can have on your life.

 

One important thing to note which often gets missed with elderly people is that their nutritional needs change as they get older. For instance, within the fitness industry it’s common knowledge that 2.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day, spread out over 4-6 servings will optimise protein synthesis, leading to optimal recovery. However, what is less widely documented is that protein requirements increase with age. The amount it increases is approximately 0.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day for every decade after 20’s. For example, someone in their 30’s would need 2.4g per kg of bodyweight per day and someone in their 40’s would need 2.6g per kg of bodyweight per day and so on. Now, this amount is particularly large once you get into the 60’s etc. Therefore, it’s important to recommend supplements that elderly people will enjoy, so that every meal isn’t just an enormous serving of meat in which will take a large amount of digestive power to breakdown.

 

Overall, many elderly people do experience barriers to exercise that many people fail to identify. That is why it’s important to meet them where they’re at, and help them in addressing them in a way that’s bespoke to that individual, to give them the best chance at adhering to a lifestyle of regular physical activity.

Are you reading this and are some points resonating with you? Would a small group personal training session for more elderly populations be something that you would be interested in? If so send us a message and if we can get a few individuals interested this is something that we would be happy to facilitate.

Journey of a 50kg weight loss transformation by Coach Jonny Molloy.

Celeste is a mum of 3 children. Her alarm goes off at 4:00am daily to begin her day. Her occupation is quite high stress as a highly successful manager at a supermarket. Celeste had never stepped foot in a gym in her life prior to this transformation.

 

Celeste had a consultation with Coach Jonny and discussed seeking help on improving her health and well-being, her main goal was to drive weight loss and some guidance and support on what program to focus on and how to begin her program as a complete stranger to the gym.

 

When most embark on a fitness journey a lot of the focus is on what the client needs to start doing but without the guidance and coaching of what the client needs to stop doing in order to achieve sustainable lasting results. A coach can help you navigate through all of this along your journey and provide you with the correct tools to stay on track with your goals.

 

Jonny believes that anyone can achieve life changing results as long they are willing to change and have trust in the process that their coach plans out for them.

 

Some people want to change but are you willing to change you?

 

Jonny’s coaching style strips back the shiny stuff and helps clients understand the fundamentals of what is required to lose weight and build lean muscle mass.

 

“It isn’t about what I can do for the client. The process is about what we can achieve when we work together as a team. When that clicks, anything is possible just like how Celeste has turned her life around by us working together.”

Short vs Long rest periods for Muscle Growth

Reference: Schoenfield et. al. (2016) Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance Trained Men.

 

Information on the study:

 

  • Trainees with at least 6 months resistance training experience were split into 2 groups

 

  • Both groups performed 7 compound lifts, for 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 3x per week, for 8 weeks

 

  • 1 group rested for 1 minute between sets, while the other rested for 3 minutes between sets

 

 

  • It was found that the longer rest group saw superior gains in all muscle groups when compared to the shorter rest group.

 

  • This supports the idea that longer rest periods are superior for hypertrophy

 

 

Application to real world:

  • With longer rest periods come longer overall sessions durations, unless you cut overall volume.
  • Overall volume has been shown to be a significant factor in muscle hypertrophy
  • Therefore, it may be worth only applying these long rest periods if you have the extra time free in your schedule to allow you to do so.

Is scale weight an accurate way to track progress?

When people embark on a fitness journey, whether that be to lose body fat or gain muscle mass, the common tool to track their progress people use is how much the number on the scales changes over time. However, is this the most accurate way to track progress towards body composition goals? Just like most questions relating to health and fitness, the answer is- it depends.

 

The first thing to remember is that scale weight is the total weight of all the tissues in your body and not just muscle and fat. Therefore, it is not the most accurate measurement when it comes to measuring body composition. Other methods include skin fold callipers, a cheap tool which measures body fat percentage. However, despite its low cost, the skill needed to take an accurate measurement makes this a fairly inaccessible method of measuring body composition. The gold standard of body composition measurement in a DEXA Scanner. Although, this is a very expensive piece of equipment, only really seen in medical facilities due to its use in also identifying bone density and helping diagnose patients with osteoporosis. Due to other methods being inaccessible, scales are by far the most common tool used by the general population to assess progress in their body composition goals, so what can be done to ensure you are getting the most reliable and accurate changes to body fat and muscle as you can with scales?

 

Any tool is only effective when you know how to use it and scales are no different. Weighing yourself on Monday at 7am and then again on Sunday at 8pm will not give an accurate measurement for how your weight has changed over the course of the week, due to factors that will be discussed in this article. Therefore, if you are to use scales accurately, I would recommend taking daily measurements, first thing in the morning each day and then calculating the mean average each week and compare each week’s average from the last, to get a more accurate measurement of how much your weight is changing due to changes to fat or muscle tissue.

 

So, what factors can influence the weight on the scales besides from muscle and fat tissue? Firstly, there’s water retention. The amount of water our bodies hold will hold will change throughout the day, as well as day by day. Reasons for this include carbohydrate and sodium intake, which cause our bodies to hold more water- not add on fat tissue (a common misconception in, the case of carbohydrates, spread by the misinformed and keto zealots). Therefore, if your diet is more heavily carbohydrate based for a few days, then you may add some weight. However, this will be due to the added water retention from an increased intake of carbohydrates, not an added amount of fat tissue.

 

Next, there’s the amount of food you are currently digesting. First thing in the morning, is when you have the least food in your digestive system as it will have been 9-10 hours since your last meal. Therefore, food being digested cannot influence your scale weight, unlike if you weighed yourself shortly after a meal.

 

Besides from keeping these variables at bay, what else can be done to improve the reliability and accuracy of scales measuring body composition? Firstly, you could also use a measuring tape and measure your Hip to Waist Ratio. This is productive because most people hold the majority of fat around their Waist area. Therefore, if you are trying to gain muscle mass and you put yourself in a calorie surplus and put on weight, you may believe you are getting closer to your goal. However, if you take measurements are realise your Waist measurement is increasing at a faster rate than your Hips, then this indicates you are putting on fat faster than muscle mass. This information can then lead to you making productive changes to your training and/or nutrition.

 

Next, it’s important to ensure you are setting yourself up for success. One way to do this is to ensure you are consuming enough protein and tracking it. Ensuring adequate protein intake with a suitable resistance training programme and sleep will ensure that any weight loss will not be due to loss of muscle mass. Alternatively, when gaining muscle, will ensure you are adding as much muscle mass as you can in the calorie surplus you are in.

 

In conclusion, scales are far from perfect when it comes to measuring body composition goals. However, with the correct information, it can be a very useful tool to help you stay on track when pursuing your goals.

 

How often should you change exercises?

The Study:

‘Kassiano et. al. (2022) Does Varying Resistance Exercises Promote Superior Muscle Hypertrophy And Strength Gains? A systemic review J Strength Cond Res.

 

What is the study is about?

 

It’s a review that tries to find evidence for how often exercises should change in an exercise programme in order to maximise results.

 

Results of the study:

 

  • Changing exercises too frequently seems to be less effective for muscle growth compared to sticking with the same exercises for an extended period of time.

 

  • Furthermore, there’s evidence supporting that less frequent exercise variation may promote greater long term muscle growth as a result of differences in regional hypertrophy

 

  • However, each exercise stresses specific ranges of a muscle. Therefore it might be beneficial to switch exercises every so often.

 

  • The general recommendation for how often you should change exercises looks to be in the region of every 4-6 weeks. Certain factors may change this though, such as enjoyment of a programme, linked to adherence.

 

Application to clients:

 

  • My recommendation would be to generally follow these guidelines with the exception of a couple of reasons: Firstly, if the client gets bored of certain exercises. Secondly, if the clients goals change. But if your goal is to become better at certain lifts then its likely that you will require those lifts throughout your macrocycle.

 

Principles of Training- Periodisation

Throughout the year, someone may have one, or two main, goals. This can apply to athletes and the general population. For example, an elite athlete may target peak performance for the Olympics in the summer, whereas someone in the general population may want to achieve their most aesthetic look for a specific holiday that summer.

 

Periodisation can be defined as the planned manipulation of training variables in order to maximise training adaptations and to prevent the onset of overtraining syndrome. This is important as, for many athletes, several different adaptations need to be improved upon throughout the year, in order to achieve peak performance. Also, they cannot work on all aspects of performance simultaneously, as they can only train for a finite number of hours per week and focussing on too many things in this time will not provide the adequate stimulus for improvement. Therefore, athletes and their coaches will prioritise different adaptations, in a set order, in order to achieve the best condition possible.

 

To give an example of this, let’s look at an endurance runner who is targeting a 5km race in summer. This structure can be applied to both recreational runners and elite runners, the difference between elite and recreational will come in training volume, as oppose to how they periodise their training.

 

If the race is in July, the runner will want to build their aerobic base between September and December. The aerobic base is built first for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is comprised of low intensity running only, with some strength and conditioning work. This low intensity running is much easier to build up after the off-season, as hard running would result in overtraining and potentially injuries. Also, the aerobic base will help recovery time during and between hard running sessions in later phases, helping keep those sessions of a higher quality throughout each session and throughout the season.

 

Between January and June, they will slowly introduce harder running intervals, gradually getting more difficult as time goes on. Every coach has a different philosophy but typically, 2 hard workouts will be introduced each week. These will initially be at around lactate threshold speed. This helps the body increase the speed it can run at before lactate starts to accumulate and cause pain and fatigue. Then, even later on, towards May and June, hard interval workouts above race pace and above the lactic threshold will be introduced. These will help the athlete mentally and physically tolerate the feeling of lactic acid better. Ultimately helping them in the closing stages of the 5km race.

 

A couple weeks prior to the race the athlete will taper. This is where training volume is halved in order to reduce fatigue so the athlete is fresh for the race. Training isn’t ceased all together, as aerobic training adaptations can reverse in as little as two weeks. It would also be quite a shock to the system mentally to not run for two weeks and then try and run your fastest ever race. Nutrition will also be manipulated accordingly due to the lower calorie expenditure during the taper.

 

For a more general population client who only wants to look aesthetic, periodisation of training is less important. This is because training for muscle gain (hypertrophy) and muscle retention looks exactly the same. However, what we can periodise is the nutrition.

 

For example, if the holiday is one year away and the client is already in okay shape (up to 17% body fat approximately). Then we can bulk for the first 8 months whereby they are in a moderate calorie surplus (Maintenance calories+ up to 500kcal per day) with adequate protein (2.2g per kg of bodyweight). Along with their training and sleep, this is an optimal environment for muscle growth. However not all of this added weight will be muscle tissue, some fat tissue will be added.

 

Therefore, for the final 3 months, they can adopt a moderate calorie deficit (Maintenance calories – up to 500kcal), still with the same protein intake and adequate sleep. Training may need to be adjusted. This is because the calorie deficit may leave the person with slightly less energy compared to when they were in a calorie surplus. Therefore, other principles of training such as progressive overload, may not continue to progress at the same rate. However, this is okay when someone has aesthetic goals as this is an optimal environment for fat loss.

 

Overall, it’s important to identify exactly what adaptations need to occur for you to achieve your training goals and then to be able to focus on them in the right order, to attain the results you want, at the time you want as well.

 

Principles of Training – Individualisation

Each and every one of us is physically and mentally different. This is why, when it comes to training, everyone’s approach needs to be bespoke to them, if it’s going to be optimal.

 

One of these factors will be their starting point, in terms of ability, in their fitness journey. For example, if two people come to a personal trainer saying they wish to build better whole-body strength, then both will be assessed to see where their starting point is at. If it becomes clear one athlete has a proportionately stronger upper body than their lower body, and the other person vice versa then despite the same goal, their programmes will look different. The first person will need a more lower body focussed approach whereas the other person would need the opposite, this is an example of applying the principle of individualisation.

 

Another key factor to consider is lifestyle variations. Everyone has a life outside of the gym, all of which will include factors which influence their performance inside the gym. Therefore, this needs to be considered when programming. To give another example, imagine someone wants to become generally fitter all round. If they’re a labourer then you need to consider that their job is very taxing, therefore workload needs to be managed more carefully as to avoid overtraining and injury.

 

 

Next, there’s anatomical variants between each individual which can affect performance in the gym. For example, someone with a larger rib cage convexity, steeper sternum angle and short limbs is going to have a better chance at being better at the Bench Press compared to someone with a smaller ribcage, flatter sternum angle and long limbs, due to the first person having a shorter range of motion to achieve a full repetition and the line of pull on the pecs from insertion to origin. Another way in which anatomical differences influence training, can be down to active range. Everyone’s active range for a given movement is different. A common example would be overhead mobility. If someone cannot lift their hands directly above their heads (180 degrees of shoulder flexion) then trying to perform an overhead press is going to take them out of their active range and they will lean back to achieve the overhead position. This person will be putting a lot of stress on joint structures outside of this range and also increase the risk of injury when lifting outside of it. Therefore, consider this individual difference and give them an exercise that challenges them in their active range, for instance an incline press, set to a height whereby they are working in the active range that they can achieve.

 

Next, there’s two factors that link together. These are tolerance to training loads and responsiveness to training load. One’s tolerance to training load is going to help you in the initial phase of deciding things like how frequently they should train and how demanding each session should be. Their responsiveness to training will link closely with progressive overload. So, someone who responds very quickly to training will need to increase their training load more frequently than a slow responder. It’s important however that progressive overload is applied correctly to both people to prevent any from overtraining or undertraining.

 

Finally, the psychology behind training must also be taken into consideration. As with most things, intrinsic motivation is the key to long term adherence and this is achieved when someone feels competent, so the training programme must not feel too difficult for the participant. They also need relatedness, this comes from good relationships attached with the activity. Therefore, having great rapport with your PT, or attending the gym with a friend is a great idea. It’s also a reason why exercise groups with a more ‘community feel’ are more popular, the biggest example of this being the rapid growth of CrossFit over the past 10-15 years. Also, the participant must feel like they have autonomy, this can come via a number of ways such as having the freedom to train when they want, as well as being able to have a say in what they do during sessions (if they want that).

 

Overall, there’s many factors here to consider, it’s important to manage them all carefully, in order to ensure you are getting the most out of your training.

Principles of Training – Specificity

Different methods of training provide our bodies with a diverse range of stimuli, which in turn cause a wide variety of adaptations. This is why we need to apply the principle of specificity, which ensures that the training we are doing will provide our bodies with the correct stimuli to cause the desired adaptation and bring about the desired change to our performance or aesthetic measures of our physique.

 

In order to apply specificity, we need to work backwards. By this, I mean we first establish what element of our performance or aesthetic we want to change. In other words, this is your goal, such as lose body fat, increase muscle mass, run a faster 5k or increase your deadlift 1RM. Next, we take this change to performance or aesthetic and identify what adaptation will cause this.

 

To give some practical examples, let’s take some common goals and walk through the process of devising a training programme to optimise results. Firstly, it’s important to note that nutrition is paramount in any training goal you may have. However, as this article is only about applying specificity to our training programmes, we won’t touch upon that in this article.

 

If we look at programmes to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy) or optimise fat loss they are actually identical, it’s the nutrition which will differ. This is because in both of these programmes we want to provide as much stimulus to the muscle so that they have the best environment for growth when in a calorie surplus and the best environment to be retained in a deficit, thereby optimising fat loss.

 

When making a training programme ideal for optimising hypertrophy we need to look at which aspects of training that cause hypertrophy. These include: training close to/muscular failure on a regular basis, ensuring enough volume is completed on each muscle group throughout the week and ideally training each muscle group on 2 separate days per week. When it comes to training close to/at failure, it’s worth noting that this must be achieved by not only training hard but also selecting exercises with a high external stability so that it’s fatigue on the target muscle that is the limiting factor and not something else such as a loss of balance. Without this, we will have to cease the set prior to the muscle being close to failure and thereby not achieving our goal of that set.

 

Volume has been shown to have a linear relationship with hypertrophy i.e. when looking at it purely through the lens of specificity, the more volume, the better results. However, we need to apply the other principles of training in order to identify the optimal volume for each individual at a given time in their training cycle.

 

Next, let’s take a look at applying specificity to a popular performance based goal such as running a faster 5k. Now this is very context specific as there’s so many factors that go into improving 5km performance. Therefore, which element of training someone focuses on will differ between individuals, this will be talked about in much greater detail during the next blog on individualisation.

 

From a general perspective though, we need to identify that about 88-90% aerobic. Therefore, countless HIT sessions are not going to be very beneficial for 5km performance. Instead, we need to train aerobically for the vast majority of sessions. These are going to be made up of long easy runs, typically at an intensity around 60-65% of maximum heart rate. At this intensity, you should be able to hold a conversation quite easily, if you need to walk to achieve this then that is fine. Other types of training will be tempo runs and intervals where you are at the threshold between aerobic and anaerobic performance. This will help your body adapt to getting rid of lactic acid and be able to stay in aerobic respiration at faster paces. Lastly, a small proportion of the sessions will be anaerobic, working on speed endurance, as this accounts for a small part of 5km performance.

 

Overall, specificity is arguably the most important principle of training because if you get it wrong, your training can be extremely unproductive. The last thing you want to do is put 100% effort into a training programme only to fall massively short of your goals all because your sessions were bringing about ineffective adaptations in relation to your goals. Therefore, it is essential you learn how to apply the principle of specificity prior to writing any training programme.