The Importance of Glute Activation

Strong and properly functioning glutes will serve to improve your performance in any activity involving hip extension (e.g. squatting, deadlifting, running and jumping) and help prevent pain and injury from occurring to the knees and lower back.

 

The gluteal muscles are made up of three separate muscles that make up your butt!  These muscles are:

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Gluteus Medius
  • Gluteus Minimus

Physiologically, the gluteus maximus is the strongest muscle in the human body!

Glute Muscles Illustration

 

The primary functions of the gluteal muscles are to:

  • Abduct the hip
  • Extend the hip
  • Externally rotate the hip

They also play an important role in stabilising the sacroiliac joints.

 

Why is glute activation typically a problem for people?

Most people spend a huge proportion of their time in a position of hip flexion (sitting down).  An inactive lifestyle is a sure-fire way to create glute dysfunction.  Extended periods of time in this posture over the long term will lead to negative adaptations in the hip flexor muscles.

Shortened hip flexors don’t allow for full hip extension, which is where your glutes are able to contract with the most force.  Additionally, being an antagonistic pair, short and tight hip flexors will actually inhibit your glutes.  The actual physical compression associated with sitting on your gluteus maximus will also impair blood flow and neuromuscular function.

Another reason the gluteus maximus has a tendency to shut down is because this can be easily enabled by the body through compensation patterns.  Most compound lower body movements can be performed by overworking other muscle groups: squats using the spinal erectors and quadriceps, and deadlifts using the spinal erectors and hamstrings.  If you often experience hamstring cramp or lower back discomfort when performing simple glute bridges then this is you!

When we begin working with a new client for the first time, glute function is one of the very first things we address and almost always we find issues.  We have to address the issue of glute activation by utilising specific exercises, stretching out the hip flexors and teaching effective mental cues.

 

How does a weak gluteus medius cause back pain?

When you are walking or running, as you plant your left foot your left gluteus medius is responsible for controlling the height and stability of the right side of your pelvis.  If this muscle is weak and not functioning correctly, the right side of the pelvis will dip, causing side-bending of the lumbar spine, resulting in compression of the left side facet joints and intervertebral discs.  Over time, many repetitions of this pattern can lead to damage to structures and chronic pain.

In the same scenario, the body can try to compensate for the weak gluteus medius by over-working the quadratus lumborum muscle of the opposite side.  This means when planting the left foot the weak left gluteus medius causes the right quadratus lumborum (muscle to the side of the lower back) to tug upwards on the right side of the pelvis to stabilise the lumbar spine.  This pattern of compensation will eventually lead to shortening of the muscle, resulting in trigger points and pain.

 

How to address weak and dysfunctional glutes?

It is important for most people to perform hip flexor stretches and glute activation exercises as frequently as possible, especially prior to exercise.

Two important static hip flexor stretches:

  • Half-kneeling hip flexor stretch

Statically contract the glutes on the side that you are stretching

  • “Sofa stretch” for the rectus femoris

Flexion at the knee targets the hip flexor that crosses both joints.  Statically contract the glutes on the side that you are stretching 

 

Five important glute activation exercises:

  • Double-leg glute bridge

Do not hyperextend the lumbar spine

  • Side lying hip abductions

Do not let the pelvis roll backwards

  • Side lying clams

Do not let the pelvis roll backwards

  • Quadruped bent leg hip extension

Flex and extend from the hip.  Keep the lumbar spine neutral throughout

  • Monster walks

Forwards, backwards and side-to-side walks with a strong glute band around the knees

 glute blog pic

Adding a strong and high quality glute band to any double-leg lower body compound exercise in your warm up will serve to increase the activation of your gluteus medius.  Here is a link to the product we use with our clients at Elitas.

Strength Training – A Powerful Medicine

When most people think of strength training, they think about the visual impact: building more muscle, losing body fat, changing body shape, etc.  What they don’t realise is that the physical changes that we see are just the tip of the iceberg. The real benefits (which scientific research has now demonstrated) are far greater than most people could possibly conceive.

 

The real issue embedding most people’s misguided view for strength training is that the media typically exposes us to the extremes.  If you were to ask most people on the street how they would picture a weightlifter or somebody who regularly lifts weights, you may get recollections of men with blood pouring out their nose from lifting 1000lbs and steroid abusing male and female bodybuilders who are just as unhealthy as many obese individuals.  When most people inform their doctor or family that they are weight training they typically get the same response: “But you’ll get too big!” or “you only need to do aerobics for heart health”. Unfortunately these misconceptions have emulated from years of stigma, myths and stereotypes.

 

How about the 40-year-old mum or the 50-year-old office worker who just wants to get in better shape and improve their health?  Lifting weights won’t just make you stronger and more muscular.  Used and programmed correctly it has the potential to literally transform your life and your health.

 

Here are just a few examples of the positive impacts of strength training:

  • Metabolic functions are boosted. Your ability to handle insulin and elevated blood glucose is significantly increased. Your risk of diabetes and all the secondary diseases that come with it are drastically reduced due to this greater handling capacity. . The impact for those who build even just a few pounds of muscle are actually far greater than those who just participate in aerobic sports. In fact, because of the increased carbohydrate consumption typically associated with prolonged aerobic training, metabolic resistance can actually be more likely, particularly in later years. This is truer for those with high training volume (e.g. marathon runners, triathletes etc.) who pile on the pasta, rice, carb gels and glucose drinks. Aerobic training certainly has a place but I would argue that the correct resistance training programme has far greater potency when it comes to metabolic health improvements.  It also causes less oxidative stress to the body.

 

  •  Your bone density greatly increases. Osteoporosis and bone disease is rife within Western society. The average person loses 1% of their bone mass every year from the age of 30 and quality of life is massively reduced in those who find moving painful because of bone demineralisation. Want to avoid fractures and severe bone degeneration? Get lifting and strengthening those bones alongside your muscles!

 

  •  Your immune system is dramatically improved. Strength training has been shown to have more of an immune boosting effect than traditional aerobic exercise.  The cortisol release from strength training is much lower than that of somebody hammering away on the treadmill every day. When people think about improving their immune function they think it’ll expose them to less frequent colds and tummy bugs. This is true, but the real value in regulating and managing your immune system is reducing your risk of the big time auto immune diseases, such as MS, ALS and even cancerous conditions in which the immune system is dramatically impaired or has become dysregulated. Many modern day health issues such as thyroid conditions, and arthritis are now considered to have an autoimmune/inflammatory component, so anything to improve your immune function puts you in a much healthier position.    Poor immune function even in earlier years is potentially a precursor to more serious issues later in life. Lymphatic tissue which carries a great deal of our immune cells has to rely on movement which acts as a pump.  Good nutrition and exercise in general are therefor not just a positive but an absolute essential if you want to live a healthy life.

 

  • Your neuromuscular health is improved.  Increased neural and nervous system adaptations come about as a result of training specific movement patterns with resistance, and greater neuromuscular health is associated with greater wellbeing, longevity and overall quality of life.  Improving the strength of your neuromuscular system not only improves your coordination but also has been shown to dramatically reduce the incidence of trips and falls in all populations (most significantly the elderly).  This increased neuromuscular activity has also been shown to upregulate certain genes which optimise oxygen uptake, brain health and the rebuilding of damaged or irregular tissue. Optimising your CNS is another underappreciated component of health!

 

There are many more points I could add to this list but just these few key ones should be enough to convince even the most stubborn of people that strength training is an absolute essential. Strength training is so much more than just improving body composition and it is an unfortunate fact that most people cannot see the true value and this is further compounded by the myriad of myths and misconceptions.  Many people are guilty of this misguided view, even many doctors!

 

Once you look past all the social media fitness models, bodybuilders and strongmen (the extremes), you can see that strength training, aside from nutrition, could actually prove to be mankind’s best, most powerful yet most underutilised medicine. It is for this very reason that I actively encourage everybody I love and care for to participate in some form of resistance training, irrespective of their age, gender or abilities and I would implore you to make a start as well!

 

David

 

Two Fitness Myths Which Must Die!

1)      Muscle turns to fat once you get older.

 

This one really grinds my gears and a little piece of me dies whenever I am confronted by somebody asking me whether I worry that my muscle will turn to fat once I get older.  Muscle turning to fat is akin to plastic turning to diamond, it just can’t happen!

 

What’s that I hear? “But David, I know many guys who have gained lots of body fat once they got older. They were once muscular and now they are fat. Surely it must be true”?

 

The most common reason why this occurs is that most muscular athletes such as rugby players, bodybuilders, powerlifters, rowers, track cyclists etc. consume large quantities of calories.  In some cases this can exceed 8,000kcal per day.  If you have been eating that way for many years and train 2-3 times per day and then retire, cut back the training volume and move less, guess what? Those habits you formed consisting of slamming back heaps of meat, potatoes and energy drinks continue into later life and you are subjected to fat gain, just like anybody consuming more calories than they expend.

 

Muscle is an extremely metabolically demanding tissue, so if you are smart about what you eat, this should actually contribute to fat loss as you age and not fat gain.  One of the biggest reasons for a decline in general health and metabolic health with age is the decline in muscle. The cure? Get lifting some weights!  You will live longer whilst looking sexier!

 

 

2)      Women get too bulky if they lift weights.

 

Aaargh! This is single handedly the worst statement ever to afflict humanity (well nearly…).  Many a time here at Elitas we have held our heads in despair as we listen to female clients telling us how they don’t want legs the size of tree trunks, traps so big they have no neck and biceps twice the size of their husbands’.

 

Now, before I explain this one there will be may of you saying…

“But my friend Helga, the shot-putting Lithuanian, now looks like a world strongest man competitor after she started going to the gym twice per week”, or “I started squatting and now I can’t fit into a size 2  dress anymore”.

 

*SIGH*

 

Before I rant on, it is fair to say that women do and will gain a little muscle mass from the correct type of training and nutritional strategies required for hypertrophy. In fact, this increase in muscle mass is incredibly important for health.

 

A reasonable amount of muscle mass for a woman to gain whist raining 3-4 times per week could be 4-6lbs in the first year, which sounds like a lot, but it is not when you put this into perspective. If you take 6lbs of fillet steak (basically muscle) and were to evenly divide and stretch it out over your entire body you would probably notice very little difference, particularly when you consider that 6lbs of muscle would theoretically burn an extra 300kcal per day (on top of the calories expending actually training those muscles).  It is therefore reasonable to say that the average woman, who gained 6lb of muscle over the course of 6-12 months and had an average amount of body fat, would actually lose weight.

 

To build muscle you need to achieve some sort of mid to long-term calorie surplus. If your diet reflects that of the average middle aged Instagram yoga mum consisting of hummus, birch water and Special K, and you are dieting in a calorie deficit, you just cannot expect to see any kind of significant muscle gain. If you feel you are getting too big, you are either just eating too many calories or your perception of yourself is skewed or altered by that of another person’s comments or your own perception of how you should look (another post to come on this soon).

 

Go into any commercial gym and you will find a load of guys training every day, pumping weights and struggling to gain any significant muscle mass.  These guys have literally 10 x as many anabolic hormones as the average woman yet they still struggle to gain muscle mass despite a tremendous amount of work and commitment to their training and nutrition. In fact if men could gain muscle mass as quickly as most women feel they could gain muscle, then all men would be walking around looking like the love child of the Incredible Hulk and Arnold Schwarzenegger!!

 

For those very few women who legitimately do carry significantly more muscle mass than average, they almost certainly fit one of more of the following criteria:

 

  • Have high levels of body fat which make them appear even more muscular. This is especially true in sportswomen competing in strength and power events in which excess body mass has no detrimental effect (e.g. throwing events or weightlifting/powerlifting events with no upper bodyweight limit).
  • Are taking anabolic steroids or medications which accelerate muscle mass.
  • Naturally have a larger frame and were always more muscular than usual.  This minority respond really well to resistance training and look fantastic as long as they keep their body fat levels in check!

 

It is important to remember that the top female strength and power athletes you see on the television are not a valid reflection of the effects of weight training in women.  The ladies you see competing in the Olympics in the shot put are right up in the top percentile of genetic predisposition for being big and strong.  Performing heavy strength training, throwing heavy objects and consuming a large number of calories is also a full time job for them.  Increasing your protein intake while maintaining a healthy daily caloric intake and performing 3 well-balanced weight training sessions each week will not turn you into an Olympic shot putter!

 

Women who lift regularly:

 

  • Look amazing
  • Feel great
  • Feel strong and independent
  • Feel healthy and mobile later in life
  • Handle insulin better and have better insulin sensitivity (possibly the most important factor in disease prevention of all kinds)
  • Hold a sense of accomplishment. This idea that Women are helpless and need a man to do all the lifting and heavy work is utter bull crap! We have multiple female athletes and everyday women who can perform 10+ pull ups, deadlift up to 2x their bodyweight and push 150kg Prowlers at bodyweights under 60kg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Elitas Fitness Oaklands is the Best Gym in Chichester Part 1

Welcome to part 1 of a short series of posts I am writing to show you why Elitas Fitness Oaklands is the best membership gym in Chichester.  Hopefully by the time you have read this series you will understand fully what this gym is about and why it is the perfect place to train for real results.

 

The gym is located in Oaklands Park, just to the north of Chichester town centre.  The park is a great setting, especially in the summer months, and there is a large free car park.  In this first part I will be focusing on the equipment in the gym.

 

Our gym equipment was all carefully chosen by us to provide everything required for optimal training.  We were not looking to maximise profitability of space or entice people in with gimmicks they do not need.  As a result, we have everything needed for training for fat loss, muscle and strength gains, rehabilitation and sports performance.

 

The first thing to notice is our provision for barbell movements.  The most bang-for-your-buck exercises are barbell movements – squats, deadlifts, presses, rows etc.  These exercises recruit the largest areas of muscle mass and are the easiest to progress with in terms of strength.  Although we are a small gym with a strictly capped membership, we have four full power racks.  Your average commercial gym will provide one rack (which is probably a half rack, limiting exercise selection, variation and safety) for over 2,000 members.  There are no 45 minute waits to be able to squat or bench press here!

 

 

SONY DSC

Watson Power Racks

 

We also have calibrated Eleiko bumper plates.  This means firstly that our 10kg and 15kg plates are the same large diameter as our 20kg plates, allowing members to safely deadlift with loads lighter than 60kg (a 20kg Olympic barbell with a 20kg plate on each end is the lightest weight that can be set up in most commercial gyms without the bar being too close to the floor).  This also means that our plates weigh what they say they weigh.  Eleiko plates are the gold standard of weightlifting equipment and are the chosen equipment for the Olympic Games.  Cheaper alternatives can be +/-10%!  This can cause real problems if you are trying to make small progressive increases to the weights you are lifting over time (as you should be!).  Additionally, our plates were used by the All Blacks at a training venue for the recent Rugby World Cup, which is pretty cool!

 

Olympics Day 3 - Weightlifting

Eleiko wiehgt plates at the London 2012 Olympics


 
For shoulder health, athletic performance, physical appearance and posture, upper back training is essential (trapezius, rhomboids etc.).  We spend our days slumped over desks: thoracic rounding, scapulae protracted, shoulders internally rotated.  To effectively train this area of muscle you need the right equipment.  We have a number of adjustable cable stations along with an incredibly wide and versatile range of cable attachments, making it easy to perform exercises such as cable retractions, face pulls, single arm rows, external rotations etc.  We also have specific machines dedicated to upper back training: T bar row, seated cable row, lat pulldown.

 

Probably the most important equipment that the majority of commercial gyms leave out is a range of posterior chain machines.  This is because they take up space and require competent coaching to use effectively.  Strengthening the posterior chain, specifically the glutes, hamstrings and lower back, is essential for health and longevity as well as athletic performance.  If you want to run faster and jump higher, this is the most important group of muscles to target.  If you want to prevent or fix injuries and pain then you must learn to use your hips correctly and activate and strengthen these muscles.  We have a glute ham raise, a reverse hyper, a 45 degree back extension and a lying leg curl.  This range of equipment is only usually found in the most elite strength and conditioning facilities and we are providing it to the public at our gym in Chichester along with all the support and coaching required from our team of expert coaches.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will continue to go through the equipment in the gym and how it sets us apart from anywhere else in Chichester and the surrounding area.

 

If you would like to come in for a chat about training then please contact us on [email protected] or 01243 920536.

 

The diet conundrum (part 2)

In the part 1 we addressed the issue of metabolic down-regulation in response to prolonged low calorie diets.  We identified that these diets cause the hormones which burn fat, maintain our health, and regulate systems such as our appetite, lower in response to the stress imposed by eating in this way.

 

In the previous article we used a hypothetical example of a lady who had been dieting consistently for a 7 month period.  After dieting for the 7 months, she ended up with an increased bodyweight with extra fat mass.  Her body also required her to consume fewer calories in order to maintain this heavier bodyweight.

 

I feel that it is important to note that this type of hormonal/metabolic dysfunction is documented in all body types and is commonplace in society. It is normal to find bodybuilders, figure competitors, athletes, models etc. dieting excessively hard prior to a competition or photo-shoot only to find themselves gorging on junk foods after the event. Going from virtually no carbs, low calories, low fat etc. to drastically increasing calorie intake can see these people go from extremely low body fat measurements (less than 5% body fat in some cases) to actual obesity in just weeks and months. This is the reason you see some people get in incredible shape once and then never seem to achieve the same level of conditioning ever again.  This scenario may not apply to the vast majority of us, but the metabolic dysfunction experienced by the lady in our example certainly does.

 

Here are 3 positive steps you can take to reverse the ill effects of prolonged exposure to a low calorie diet. Ladies in particular take note:

 

1>    Train with resistance.

Muscle mass is metabolically active tissue. Active tissue requires energy in order to sustain its function and it is well documented that an increase in just one pound of muscle mass results in an extra 30-50kcal burnt per day with no extra activity or exercise. Add 10lbs of muscle mass to your frame and you will burn up to 500kcal per day extra from doing nothing.

 

Add onto this figure the calories burnt during the exercise required to build that muscle and you can start to see how somebody’s body composition can dramatically improve with less time investment and less restraint when it comes to eating food

 

Many women may be concerned about looking bulky or muscular and this is a regularly posed question but this is rarely ever the case. In fact, many women find themselves sporting smaller waists and much smaller figures despite actually gaining bodyweight from increased muscle. Not only that but muscle will add shape in all the right areas such as curving and shaping the buttocks, adding shape to the thighs, narrowing the waist and slim lining the upper limbs. If you are a weak-framed, obese individual and you lose weight without improving muscle mass then you will become a shapeless smaller version of your fatter self, only weaker.  That is all that will come of dieting if you are not intelligent with your training. It is important to note that your body fat should determine your categorisation as obese, not your total bodyweight like some are led to believe. In the view of many medical/fitness professionals you can be categorized as obese despite being underweight.  These kinds of people may look okay to you or I when fully dressed but strip off the clothes and underneath is a flabby, shapeless figure. Aside from mere aesthetics this presents some very real health issues and an all-round increased likelihood of suffering from everything from cancer to heart disease.

 

Gaining muscle or maintaining muscle whilst dieting is an absolute priority. Fail to do this and you will never look or feel great.   Squatting, deadlifting, split squats, pressing, rows, pull ups etc. will help you look and feel great. Your aim should be to train 3 times per week. Never be afraid to go heavy if your form and mobility are on point. If in doubt hire a coach to show you how to structure and perform these exercises and you will be far more likely to achieve the results you are after.

 

 

2>    Slowly increase your calorie intake

 

If you have found yourself eating very few calories and still struggling to lose any bodyweight you will need to get yourself back up to a good starting point for fat loss. Failure to do this will pin you into a corner and you will rebound as nobody can continue to deprive themselves of food for any significant period of time. If you have been restricting calories for a long stretch of time, even if you are in great shape and very lean it is important that you push your calories upwards at a slow rate. For most this should be no more than 50kcal extra per week. If your weight starts to creep up then it is time to slow the increase.  If it remains constant or even drops then you can be a little bit more aggressive and incorporate a little more in the way of total calories. Individuals who have undergone liquid-only diets or very extreme calorie-restriction diets (such as -500kcal per day) can be so metabolically “damaged” that it could take an increase of just 10kcal per week for as long as 2 years to get back on track without their health or body composition suffering. This is a very real and unfortunate issue. I find it incredibly irresponsible of people to market and promote such diets and even worse for it to be recommended by a doctor, yet this is something I see nearly every week and it is incredibly frustrating. Despite literally thousands of hours of experience, consults and sessions I am yet to see an individual experience long term success from this sort of diet.

Go slow and track your body composition, failure to do so is just guess work. Once you get your calories back to a higher point then you can start to then reverse this to start losing body fat.

 

 

3>    Do not go low fat

 

When dieting to extreme levels or omitting carbohydrates from your diet the biggest mistake people make is to remove or drastically reduce dietary fat. This is the worst thing you can do because eating fats will spare muscle protein.  When body fat levels drop, certain sex hormones (such as testosterone and oestrogen) can drop off.  This can lead to a decrease in vitality, low sex drive, sluggishness, mood swings, depression, infertility etc. When this happens and your motivation drops, you are going to reach for comfort foods and back away from your training and that is when the weight piles back on. Not only this but a drop in these sex hormones will lead to poor performance in your training, your sleep will worsen, your metabolic systems will slow, you may feel constantly unwell and depressed.

 

Interestingly enough your entire brain is made of fat, as is your CNS.  Most of your major hormones are fat soluble and every cell in your body is coated in a fat membrane. Nature supplies fats in many whole foods such as meats, nuts, milk, fish, seeds, avocado etc. yet we as a nation seem hell bent on removing it from our diets. We have been eating these foods for centuries and have never had an obesity issue as we have now.  When lowering calories or carbohydrates fat intake should actually increase. Aim for 3 servings per day from coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, oily fish, grass fed meats, avocado, full fat dairy , ghee etc. Fat is satiating, nutritious and vital for health. The only fats you should be avoiding are peanut oils, vegetable oils, margarine and hydrogenated fats found in biscuits, cakes, breads, breakfast bars, ready meals etc.

 

Eat the right fats and watch the body fat drop!

 

The diet conundrum (part 1)

 

This New Year, millions of individuals will set out determined to finally shed the fat and improve their health. Most people feel like they need something radical, or very different to what they are currently doing in order to see sufficient progress. The harder the effort and the greater the struggle the greater the outcome, right? Not quite!

 

Unfortunately most of us will look to dropping the weight by undertaking diets whose main component is to reduce and slash our total daily calorie intake to a very low level. For many individuals their total diet resembles that of an anorexic, prisoner of war during a famine, born without tastebuds. Every calorie is meticulously counted and any slight deviation is akin to murder.  This is doomed to fail from the start and here I hope to explain why.

 

The real key to fat loss is to position yourself so that you are eating as many calories as possible whilst simultaneously losing body fat and building/maintaining lean tissue. If you can afford to eat plenty of carbohydrates and plenty of total calories on top of a diet rich in protein, fibre and healthy fats, changing your body composition will be an easier and less challenging process.  There is much greater room for manoeuvre and capacity to make changes based on how you wish to look, feel and perform.

 

Our metabolic rate is governed by many factors, most notably from hormones secreted by the thyroid gland, leptin levels and muscle/tissue metabolism. If you were to half your current total calories say from 3,000kcal to 1,500kcal, it is dead certain that you would see a significant drop in bodyweight.  This weight loss would come from a loss of intracellular water, body fat and muscle tissue.

 

Calories in, calories out. That’s all that matters surely? If I eat less then I will lose body fat. Here is an example of how this is not correct.

 

Let’s take a middle aged woman (subject A) as an example.  Subject A is a 47 year old mother of two with an office job and a moderately active lifestyle.

 

Subject A: First day of the diet

 

Height: 5ft 4in

Weight: 14st

Body fat: 40%

Total daily calories required to maintain bodyweight: 2,349kcal

 

Currently daily caloric intake: 2,500kcal (an excess of 151kcal per day)

 

Let’s say that this lady started a typical western diet programme such as lighter life or weightwatchers.

Theoretically, if this lady were to drop her calories from 2,500kcal to 1,500kcal per day consistently for 2 months she would lose a considerable amount of weight and rightly so, as this is a major reduction in caloric intake. Let’s assume that this lady has at the same time decided to take up some moderate exercise consisting of three 1 hour dog walks and one aerobics class per week.  After 2 months her stats may look a little like this.

 

Subject A: 2 months into diet (moderate exercise) eating 1500kcal a day

 

Height: 5ft 4in

Weight: 13st  (a drop of one stone)

Body fat: 36%  (a drop of 4%)

Total calories required to maintain bodyweight:  1,800kcal   (549kcal per day less than day 1)

 

Weight lost: 5lbs of water, 5lbs of body fat, 4lbs of muscle

 

During these two months she was in an 849kcal deficit from her dietary changes and also burnt an additional 1,200kcal per week from her new activities (an extra 171kcal burned per day).

Her total daily caloric deficit was therefore 1,020kcal.

 

 

As you can see, this lady has made some good progress and she is likely to be very pleased with her results. However there are a few issues:

 

1)      Total caloric intake has dropped by 849kcal per day.  This is a big difference and will have been difficult and unpleasant to maintain.

2)      After just 2 months this lady now has to eat 549kcal less than she originally was every single day just to maintain her bodyweight. This is approximately 22% less food than what she was eating before the diet just to stay the same.

3)      The large reduction in bodyweight in such a short period of time will inevitably lead to lean muscle mass wastage.  This will result in her burning approximately 40-50kcal less every single day for every lb of muscle mass lost (i.e. in this instance 200kcal). The loss in muscle mass may also lead to a loss of stability and strength around the joints which could lead to joint pains, back issues etc.

4)      This lady still has much body fat to lose yet calories have already dropped considerably. She now has less manoeuvring space and it is inevitable that she will eat more on some days due to the significant increase in food cravings as the body attempts to rebalance the weight lost.

5)      Hunger levels will drastically rise as the hormone ghrelin increases. Constant hunger will trigger low level stress hormone release, which will increase systemic inflammatory markers and could typically increase body fat around the midsection due to glucocorticoid receptor density in the area and cortisol’s effect on the fat-storing lipoprotein lipase.  Muscle loss is also accelerated as a result

6)      The lady may begin to feel the cold more and feel more tired than usual as a result of a drop in thyroid levels

 

Despite a few issues and hardship, let’s assume that this lady has greater willpower and drive than most and continues to diet for another 2 months. Let’s take a look to see what happens:

Subject A: 4 months into diet (decided to drop calories from 1,500kcal to 1,000kcal and exercise everyday – 3 attending aerobics classes, 3 dog walks and a 1 hour jog at the weekend)

 

Height: 5ft 4in

Weight: 12st 4lbs (another 10lbs lost)

Body fat: 34% (another 2% down)

Total calories required to maintain bodyweight:  1,500kcal (another 300kcal less)

 

Weight loss: 3lbs of body fat, 7lbs of muscle

 

During these two months she was in an 800kcal deficit from her dietary changes and also burnt an additional 1,995kcal per week from her exercise activities (an extra 285kcal burned per day).

Her total daily caloric deficit was therefore 1,085kcal.

 

 

This lady has now lost a further 10lbs in the last 2 months but 7lbs of that has come from muscle tissue. This lady is now burning another 350kcal less per day because of this muscle loss. She is eating 1,000kcal a day (1,500kcal less than day 1!) and is hungry, tired and run down.

 

A few things now start to take place:

 

1)      Survival mechanisms up-regulate to preserve fat stores, whilst preferentially burning vital lean muscle tissue for energy. Stubborn fat depositions won’t budge!

2)      This lady is tired and run down and on some days resorts to binging on junk foods to rebalance peaks and troughs in blood sugar and appetite.

3)      Serotonin levels in the brain drop and she is likely to experience depression, low mood and poor motivation.

4)      Thyroid output halves and this lady feels incredibly tired, cold and lethargic. Various tissues which interact with thyroid function are also compromised. This can literally influence everything because every cell in your body can be bound to T3 and T4.

5)      The lack of total calories may lead to nutrient deficiencies so hair begins to dry out, nails crack and skin noticeably worsens. Concentration levels drop and general work productivity and drive plummets. Work becomes hard, days become long and drawn out and mood swings may occur.

6)      Insomnia may kick in so despite feeling tired all the time, sleep becomes erratic and of poor quality. Due to depleted glycogen stores this person is losing water and is regularly dehydrated, leading to headaches and fatigue.

7)      Exercise quality rapidly diminishes and the lady has started to develop inflamed joints, sore knees and a painful back. As a consequence of having little energy and less muscle she is now burning far fewer calories during her workouts

8)       She now has less sex drive than a 90 year old nun.

9)      The thought of continuing this way of living is becoming very hard. Many social occasions involving food become awkward and the idea of leading a balanced life seems impossible for fear of gaining weight.

10)  This lady notices that even small influxes in calories lead to weight gain. Her body is a skinnier, yet fat version or her former self as she has not only failed to gain muscle but actively lost it.

 

This lady is now in trouble and cannot drop calories any lower. She has cornered herself and has nowhere to go but up with her daily caloric intake. She still has much body fat to lose but cannot go lower without endangering her health. If she creeps her calories up she only has to go up a couple hundred calories (not very much at all!) and the weight inevitably starts piling on.

 

 

After another 3 months the lady’s stats may now look like this:

Subject A: 7 months after starting the diet she has inevitably increased her calories back up to an average of 2,000kcal per day. She can no longer exercise as she has picked up various injuries.

 

Height:5ft 4in

Weight: 14st 5lbs

Body fat: 44%

Total calories required to maintain bodyweight:  1,900kcal

 

She is now 5lbs heavier than day one and her body fat is up by 4%.  Her body also now requires 349kcal less to maintain her bodyweight.

 

This is now a worse position than when she started.  She is heavier and carries more bodyfat as well as less muscle mass. If she were to diet again this situation could get worse still and is likely to resemble that of the person who only has to look at a doughnut and piles weight on.  As you can see, the more crash diets you undertake, the harder it will become to achieve the body you want.

Any of this sound familiar?

How do we solve this situation? How can we fix somebody in this position? The good news is that there are ways in which to reverse this damage and there are many healthier alternatives which will lead to long term, sustainable progress.  You have to be smart!

 

Watch out for the part 2 or email [email protected] to arrange a consultation or session to discuss our nutrition and weight loss strategies and programming.

The Importance of Physical Strength

Not so long ago, lifting weights was limited to athletes and bodybuilders.  Developing physical strength was not something that we, the general population, were supposed to be bothered about.  Keeping our bodyweight within a certain range and performing plenty of aerobic exercise is what was recommended to maintain optimal health.

 

More recently however, scientists have identified muscular strength as one of the strongest predictors of mortality available, as well as the dramatic effects of the age-related decline in muscle mass.  Inactive adults have been shown to experience a 3-8% loss in muscle mass each decade.  This decline is even more profound after the age of 50, when muscle loss occurs at a rate of 5-10% each decade.  This is a huge problem for public health because skeletal muscle mass has a very strong influence on many conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.

 

I have built a business with a primary objective of making people stronger.  As a by-product of this strength training, my clients improve pretty much all markers of good health.  They lose body fat, improve insulin sensitivity, improve flexibility, reduce joint pain and improve their ability to function in everyday life.

 

Looking first at obesity, the largest component (under normal circumstances) of energy expenditure is resting metabolic rate.  Resting metabolic rate is elevated in both the short term as a result of a weight training session (more so than traditional aerobic exercise!) and in the long term by an increase in muscle mass (or a reduction in the age-related decline).  The likelihood of the food you eat being stored as fat is also massively reduced if you are regularly stimulating your muscle fibres at high intensities.  This effect is even more profound if you eat a high protein diet.

 

Increasing muscle mass and making the tissue more active through weight training is also an extremely effective way to improve insulin sensitivity and prevent type 2 diabetes, an increasingly prevalent condition.  Weight training also provides the mechanical forces on bones required for modelling and remodelling, aiding the maintenance of adequate bone strength and density as we age.  Interestingly, the largest loads experienced by bones come from muscle contractions (tendons pulling on bone) rather than direct external forces (e.g. landing forces), emphasising the necessity of strength and muscle mass in the prevention of osteoporosis.

 

In addition to the specific contribution of weight training and muscle mass to the prevention of certain conditions, there is a more general requirement for muscle mass in coping with immediate illness and trauma.  When the body is in a stressed state, such as following an injury or fighting an infection or cancer, there is an increase in the liver’s production of proteins required for immune function and wound healing.  The building blocks for these proteins (amino acids) are the same as those which make up skeletal muscle.  In severe cases, the requirement for these building blocks massively exceeds the rate at which we consume them in our diets; therefore we begin to breakdown muscle tissue to fulfil the requirement.  So if there is already a shortage of muscle mass, as there is in most sedentary individuals, the chances of being able to fully recover from serious illness or injury is massively reduced.

 

The take-home message is that weight training should not be viewed with apprehension by the general public, especially women and the elderly.  Instead it should be acknowledged and utilised as the exceptional tool which it is in the fight against disease.  In fact, I believe that developing physical strength and lean body mass should be the primary objective of any fitness regimen.

Why Long, Slow Cardio Is Not The Best Way To Lose Body Fat

There is an extremely widespread misconception that the best way to burn fat is to perform long bouts of slow, tedious aerobic exercise.  Go into any gym and you will find countless overweight individuals plodding away on the cardio machines (treadmills, cross trainers, stationary bikes etc.).  If you return several months later, you will find the same individuals doing the same type of exercise with no real results to show for it.

 

Many of these pieces of equipment will even have a little chart on them showing you the “fat burning zone”, an area towards the lower end of the intensity scale.  The idea is that exercising at a low intensity for a long period of time is the most effective way to lose fat.  This is actually a misconception stemming from peer-reviewed sports science research.  The research shows that we burn the highest proportion of fat for energy at low intensities.  What this ignores is the total amount of energy required by the exercise and the amount of energy we burn once the exercise has finished.

 

A smaller percentage of something big can be greater than a larger percentage of something small!  Therefore generally speaking, the harder you train the more fat you will burn.  If we also take into account the additional energy we burn after the exercise, referred to as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) in the scientific literature, we can see that we burn more energy after high intensity exercise as well as during it.

 

Looking now at different modes of exercise, it is actually becoming more widely accepted that resistance training (repetitive exercises using weights, resistance machines, bands or bodyweight) is more effective for improving body composition than cardio.  The research shows that “EPOC” is higher after resistance training than after cardio (in fact, some studies have shown energy expenditure at rest to be elevated for several days after resistance training!).  Additionally, any gains in lean muscle mass as a result of the resistance training will serve to further elevate resting metabolic rate and improve markers of health such as insulin sensitivity and bone mineral density.  Resistance training also has a more favourable effect on our hormonal profiles.  Our bodies release Growth Hormone (a hormone which maximises fat breakdown) in greater quantities following this style of training, whereas long bouts of cardio leads to elevations in the stress hormone Cortisol.  Over time, a chronic elevation in Cortisol leads to fat storage (especially visceral fat, around the belly) and inflammation.

 

Losing weight is not an easy process for most of us.  It is therefore extremely important to utilise the most efficient training protocols possible.  This means ditch the jogging and aerobics and start training with weights or performing sprint intervals.