The Plateau

  At some point in time most people who have tried an exercise or diet plan will have experienced something along the following lines: The initial part of the programme which is characterized by great enthusiasm and a lot of…

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Prevention and Cure

When we start a training programme, there’s a reasonable expectation that the result of our efforts will be improved fitness, energy and a reduction in body fat levels.

However, things don’t always go according to plan and there will be times when illness and injury will slow down or even halt our progress.

At times like that, it can be very frustrating to have to take a break from training – especially when you’re enjoying it and starting to see some positive results. When this happens, it can sometimes be hard to get back the motivation that got you started in the first place.

On the basis that an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, we can look at some ways to help prevent illness and injury.

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Weight Training Made Simple

There are many reasons why people do not reach their health and fitness goals. But even among those people who make the effort to train regularly, there is one big factor that is preventing them from achieving the results that they seek: the intensity of the workout. Or, more accurately, the lack of it.

If body composition or improved athletic performance are your goals, there’s absolutely no doubt that in order to reach them, you are going to have to work hard.

But that’s only one part of the solution. You also need to work smart by using a well-designed training programme that will allow you reach those goals.

Let’s look at intensity first. The usual caution always applies: when you begin a new programme, you need to start at an intensity that you can manage and only increase the intensity as you become stronger. You may also need GP clearance if you’ve any illnesses or injuries.

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The Perfect Programme

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week” – General George S. Patton.

There are usually only 2 reasons why some people don’t succeed in seeing results from a regular exercise or training programme.

They either have a good plan but don’t stick with it, or else they are disciplined in their training, but unfortunately they are following a bad plan.

Of the reasons listed above, I believe that not following a good plan is the number one cause of not reaching strength and fitness goals.

I mentioned in previous articles that there is a tendency in many of us (myself included) to seek the quick fix or The Magic Bullet. Good examples of this are the latest supplements or “superfoods” that magically melt away fat and allow us to eat as much as we like of all our favourite goodies!

In the training world we have programmes like 5 or 6 or 7 Minute Abs (the shorter, the better) that will have us ripped, toned and looking like Greek Gods and Goddesses. Or better still, machines that vibrate and do all the work for us!

Even when we’re prepared to actually commit some time and our own physical effort to getting in shape, it can be mind-boggling with the amount of options that are available. This amount of choice can lead to what’s known as Paralysis by Analysis. In other words, while looking for the best or Perfect Programme, we actually end up doing nothing.

In order to try and simplify things a bit, I‘ve put together a list of guidelines that can help make your plan simple enough to follow, yet good enough to work.

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Avoiding Injury

Last week we saw some of the effects of over-training and also how to avoid them. Today we examine why proper technique and equipment are so important and also why your training programme needs to be tailored to both your goals and your posture.

Training-related injuries tend to result from either a direct trauma caused by heavy knocks which are usually seen in contact sport, or else they can be caused by bad programme design.

There’s not much you can do if you’re unfortunate enough to catch a bad tackle or fall awkwardly, but you can certainly ensure that your training regime is not the source of your injury.

The problem with a lot of training programmes is the fact that they are unbalanced and they tend to overwork certain muscle groups and totally ignore others.

If you go to the free weights area of most gyms you will see lads do endless sets of chest exercises, usually in the form of bench presses. You will also tend to see a lot of bicep and abdominal exercises being performed.

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Regardless of the goal, the result of regular training should mean that you become stronger, fitter and more energetic. You can also expect to feel improvements in your stress levels and general sense of well-being. For some people, however, that is not the case.

One thing that ought to be understood is the difference between muscle soreness and injury. As has been mentioned here previously, physical activity places stress on the body and in turn the body adapts to that stress and becomes stronger as a result.

Under normal circumstances an individual will experience DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) for anywhere between 24 and 96 hours after beginning an exercise regime, with the “discomfort” usually peaking between 24 and 72 hours post-exercise.

For those people who are new to training this can be a scary experience. But it’s important to realize that it’s entirely normal, and that as you train more regularly, you’ll experience it to a far lesser degree.

However, as many trainees will tell you, it never completely goes away and nor should it, but controlling it is a delicate balancing act and depends very much on the individual concerned. If the workout is too difficult, the DOMS effect may prevent you from being able to train for up to a week. But, if the training session is too easy it will not encourage your body to grow fitter, stronger and leaner. Experience and proper instruction will ensure that you get the balance right.

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Mix It Up Part 2

Today we’ll look at 2 popular forms of training and how we can get the most from them. Please remember to consult your GP if you are starting an exercise regime for the 1st time or if you have any illnesses or injuries.

Steady State Cardio (SSC):

Walking, jogging, and cycling outdoors, as well as indoor cycling, rowing and treadmill work fall under the category of Steady State Cardio training. This is the type of exercise that most people have done at one stage or another and it has many health benefits.

For complete beginners, 2-4 sessions per week of SSC will definitely help to burn some body fat, while also helping to improve the function of the heart and lungs and reducing the risk of diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. That’s the good news.

Unfortunately as a weight-loss tool, SSC has a very short shelf life. I’m sure you know somebody (it may even apply to you), who started walking or jogging a few times a week and were delighted with the weight loss. However, that was 3 years ago and although they’re doing the same training they haven’t lost a gram since. So, what happened?

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Mix It Up Part 1

Last week we looked at the basic principles that need to be applied in order for a training programme to be effective. Today we’ll look at 2 methods of training that you can use to get leaner, stronger and fitter.

For the majority of people who are looking to lose body fat and improve strength and fitness, most exercise or training programmes will fall under the following headings: Weight Training, High Intensity Interval Training, Group/Class sessions and Steady-State Cardio. People will generally have a preference for one particular method, but in terms of improving body composition, a combination of 2 or more of the above will get best results.

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Get Moving

While a healthy, nutritious diet is probably the most important aspect of achieving permanent fat loss, there is no doubt that regular bouts of structured exercise are also necessary for achieving body composition goals.

However, for many people, the whole area of exercise and training can be very confusing. I’m often asked about how to train in the “fat-burning zone”, or for exercises that will magically remove excess fat from abs/thighs/bums.

You may have heard it said that you can’t “spot-reduce” fat. From an exercise point of view, this is largely true. It means that spending your time doing countless sit-ups does not guarantee that you’ll lose the spare tyre around your mid-section. You may end up with a very impressive six-pack, but unfortunately it will still be hidden under layers of blubber!

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