Train, Eat, Sleep

When it comes to improving sports performance, strength or fitness, as well as reducing body fat, most athletes and coaches are very aware of the importance of a good training programme. There’s also a growing recognition of the importance of…

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Old Skool

It is human nature to constantly seek ways to improve our standard of living. Over the centuries this has led to invention and innovation in the areas of medicine, architecture, engineering and agriculture.

In the last twenty years the rate of change has increased at a mind-blowing pace, and technology is now moving so fast that phones and laptops seem to be out of date within weeks of being purchased.

The health and fitness industry has also been affected by this continuous evolution. It feels like we are bombarded on a weekly basis by claims that somebody has discovered the “ultimate” diet, exercise programme, or weight-loss supplement.

There have undoubtedly been huge improvements in training and nutrition strategies, especially at elite athlete level, but I sometimes feel that the constant search for the Holy Grail of weight-loss or training leads us to overlook what has worked in the past and will still work today.

In order to get better results for my clients – and because I’m a bit of a training/nutrition geek – I read lots of books, articles and research papers and attend many seminars and training courses. While most of the subject material is the very latest research, I also like to go “Old Skool” every now and again and read about methods that were employed by previous generations.

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My Favourite Things

There is a story that is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and which may or may not have actually happened. However, as a parable it works well and is a very good example of practicing what you preach. The fact that it addresses the issue of excessive sugar consumption is also very helpful to me.

Allegedly, a mother brought her young son to see Gandhi because she wanted the Mahatma to tell him to stop eating sugar. After hearing her story, Gandhi sent them away and told them to come back in 2 week’s time.

2 weeks later the mother and son returned, and Gandhi said to the boy: “Stop eating sugar”. The mother was a bit annoyed at having to make 2 journeys to hear this basic instruction and asked him why he could not have said this to the boy 2 weeks ago.

Gandhi replied “Because 2 weeks ago I was eating sugar”. Even if the story is not 100% accurate, I believe that if you “Talk the Talk” you have to “Walk the Walk”.

Today, I’ll go through some aspects of training, nutrition, motivation and lifestyle that have worked for me over the years but, most importantly, I am using them now.

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This morning as I was looking for some inspiration for this week’s article, I noticed that the latest social media sensation is something called the “Dadbod.”

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it was apparently popularized by an American student called Mackenzie Pearson in a post on website, and it refers to a male body type that is “a nice balance between a beer gut and working out”.

According to Pearson this particular shape says to her that “I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.”

And the good news for all the lads out there that enjoy similar nutrition and training habits is that according to Ms. Pearson, girls love that look. So, it appears that all the time that you’ve spent attempting to develop a rock-hard six-pack and bulging biceps has been a complete waste of time.

Apparently, the reason this look is irresistible to women is because they feel less intimidated standing beside a lad carrying a few extra pounds of flab, and obviously he’s going to be more fun to cuddle.

But it seems there’s some long term strategic planning going on as well. Pearson reckons that women map out their future pretty early in a relationship and don’t like too many surprises. So they feel more comfortable dating a man in his twenties who already has the body of a 45 year old!

Needless to say this opinion has sparked a fair amount of controversy and it has thrown up allegations that society has double-standards for what is considered physically attractive in men and women. There have also been a number of comments on how it portrays women and their preferences for an “ideal” partner.

I believe you could spend a long time and waste a lot of energy trying to argue about the ethical, moral and socio-psychological implications of body-image in general and the Dadbod phenomenon in particular. So rather than get too deep or heavy, here’s my take on the subject.

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Own Goal

In recent weeks I’ve written about various ways that you can help to improve your motivation to train more often and improve your food choices. The reason I spend so much time on this subject is because I believe that it is the biggest factor that prevents people achieving their health and fitness goals.

As a good example we only need to look at the annual New Year’s Resolutions Madness. In the 1st week of January, thousands of people across the country sign up to weight-loss programmes and take out gym memberships. By the 1st week in February most of them are back on their couches, munching away on snacks and watching tv. And they’ll probably stay there till around the 1st week of January the following year.

There are a lot of reasons that this happens: some people can’t make the time to train due to work/home commitments, others find that they don’t enjoy the experience, while some will quit due to the fact that progress is slower than they were expecting, and they feel that they’re wasting their time.

And in most cases there will have been no specific goals. Or else, there were goals that were not suitable to the individual.

The whole purpose of a goal is that it should be big enough to motivate you, but small enough to be achievable. But most importantly, it must be relevant and actually mean something to you. There’s no point jumping on the bandwagon and deciding that you have to run a marathon because everybody you know is doing it, or that you have to be 2 dress sizes smaller because all the “Health & Beauty” magazines say you should be.

In cases where goals or targets are imposed on us, there’s a natural tendency to rebel, or at least to not put in the required effort. Goals that we freely choose ourselves tend to work far better.

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Do What Works For You

There are a number of sayings that remind us that there is a repetitive nature to world events and also to what goes on in our own lives. It’s often been said that “History Repeats Itself”, “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same” and also that if you hang onto your old clothes for long enough, eventually they’ll come back into fashion.

Numerous boom times have been followed by economic downturns, oil prices peak and drop down again, and there are always wars going on in some part of the planet.

So how can we use this fascinating insight to help you get fitter, stronger or leaner?

I believe that for many people, there are also times of Boom and Bust in their fitness and nutrition programmes. You may have noticed that you’ve had times when everything went almost perfectly for you: you felt motivated to exercise on a regular basis, and even though you might not have had cravings for cabbage soup, you were probably happy to maintain a mostly healthy diet.

So if we can do it sometimes, why can we not do it all the time?

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Everything Counts (In Large Amounts)

Almost everybody is familiar with the story of the sinking of The Titanic. While it’s obvious that the collision with the iceberg was the main factor in the tragedy, something that is often overlooked is that there were a number of other significant factors which contributed to the huge death toll.

A recent tv documentary highlighted some of these issues. Among them were the fact that there were not enough lifeboats, and many of the lifeboats that were available were not filled to capacity due to inadequate crew training, and poor management of evacuation procedure.

There were a series of poor decisions made prior to the collision including the one to maintain full speed going through an ice field, and the one that led to radio contact being lost with the closest available rescue ship. It’s also speculated that the decision to steer away from the iceberg caused far more damage than if the ship had struck the ice head-on.

Question marks were also raised over the quality of steel and rivets used in the construction of the hull, while the lack of binoculars being issued to the look-outs was also a major issue.

So what has all that got to do with you and the current state of your health and fitness? Well, in much the same way that many of us are looking for the Magic Bullet that will solve all our problems, we often think that there is just one cause of all those same problems.

And while it’s true that there is usually a major limiting factor or Red Flag, the reality is more often that we have a series of smaller events that contribute to the overall result. In the case of ill health or excess body fat, it’s not just 1 unhealthy meal or 1 “Duvet Day” that causes the problem. It’s a combination of regular poor quality food, lack of exercise, excess stress levels and inadequate sleep and recovery.

However the good news is that the situation can be reversed relatively simply. Sir Dave Brailsford, the General Manager of cycling’s Team Sky and former Performance Director of British Cycling, is credited with popularising the concept of “Marginal Gains”.

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Taking Control

I received a higher than normal amount of feedback from 2 of my recent articles which highlighted how energy and motivation levels (especially my own) can be reduced to almost non-existent levels.

Many people mentioned that they felt as if the article was describing them. And when you think about it, that’s not really all that surprising.

Regardless of our current jobs or careers, we’re all doing our best to earn a living while trying to have an enjoyable family and social life as well. It’s a normal part of life that this balancing act, combined with the inevitable unforeseen circumstances that come along with it, will put us under some physical and mental strain every now and again.

However, being constantly “stressed out” is NOT normal and doesn’t need to be accepted as if it is. Not only is it not normal, it’s actually very dangerous.

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Stress & Sleep Management

Stress has got a bad rap over the last few years. Stress will NOT kill you, but an excessive response to it might. We all need a certain amount of stress in our lives. The problem arises when we constantly trigger our natural Fight or Flight response.

Over the years, my clients that have had most difficulty in losing body-fat have been those who were most stressed-out. Their elevated stress levels were working against them on two fronts. On a hormonal level, their raised Cortisol levels caused them to store more body fat around the abdominal area, and also suppressed the release of muscle-building hormones.

From a behavioural standpoint, these clients tended to skip meals, and when they did eat, their food choices were poor: fast food and sugary snacks. They usually also ate too food much at night.

If this sounds familiar to you, then try the following, to help keep you more balanced, and allow you to recover from your daily work and training regime.

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The Recovery Ward

As a general rule I’ve found that many people who want to get fit or lose weight will focus almost exclusively on their training – and to lesser extent- nutrition programmes.  However, if your recovery programme is also managed carefully, you’ll find that you’ll reach your goals far quicker and enjoy the process at the same time. The 3 items that will help you do this are your Post-Workout Recovery, Managing Stress Levels and Establishing Regular Sleep Patterns. Today we’ll focus on ways to recover from a tough workout.

One important thing to understand is that training makes you weaker. The point of training is to give your body a reason to get stronger, and this will only happen in the period between exercise sessions, if your body is allowed to adapt to the demands placed upon it. And that means adequate rest and nutrition.

It’s been said that the most successful athletes are not the ones who train the hardest, but those who recover from training the most effectively. Likewise, I’ve found that my most successful clients are those who regularly use effective recovery strategies.

When you train hard, you deliberately break down muscle fibres and impose a stress on all the systems of the body. So, your body interprets exercise as just another stress that needs to be managed or else it will have negative consequences. The following items will ensure that you recover physically from training:

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