Exercise of The Month: Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are without doubt one of the most popular all round exercises you can perform without any equipment. They look pretty simple, yet they are a killer! I love them. They are a full body plyometric exercise that you’ll feel working all over. Not only do they hit just about every muscle they also work the core and raise your heartrate, giving a great cardio workout.

Mountain climbers place significant muscular emphasis upon the butt/hips and thighs. Due to the repetitive nature of the exercise they are great for building strength and endurance in the lower body, but you’ll also begin the feel it in the arms and shoulders too. It’s a favourite warm-up exercise for track athletes as well as sports team as it gets the blood pumping around the body quickly.
mountain-climbers
Getting the mountain climber exercise correct depends upon form. Getting your body angle wrong means that you won’t see the kind of results you should from the effort you put in. Ensure that your weight is distributed evenly between both hands and feet and keep your hips low (bum down!) throughout the exercise trying to ensure that your knees virtualy touch your chest on their way forward. Keep your arms straight and hands directly below the shoulders. Now you’ll feel the burn!
mountain-climber-exercise

Beginners can modify the exercise by placing their hands on an elevated surface rather than the floor and they can also perform the exercise  with a shorter range of motion, so that the knees don’t reach the chest. Advanced exercisers can use an unstable surface to rest the hands on such as a medicine ball, bosu. This will add greater stability challenge to the core muscles or you can even try adding a push up before each rep. Other variations include mountain climbers performed using TRX straps to suspend the legs off the ground – this is a really tough version!

Fitness Selfies – Inspirational Or Just Depressing?

In the last few years there seems to have been an explosion in the use of fitness-selfies (or gym-selfies). Looking online there are millions of pictures of healthy, muscular and toned individuals (of all ages) who are happy to post their pictures of themselves in their gym gear on social media sites, particularly on Instagram or Pinterest. The prevalence of smart phones means it’s a piece of cake to snap and post in an instant. Of course many of these people are happy to post their pictures because they’ve achieved a toned and muscular physique – a body to be proud of. The idea behind some of these fitness-selfies is no doubt to brag, but in fact for many it’s to act as inspiration. If I can achieve this, you can too.

fitness-selfie
I have to say I’ve come across a few of these gym selfies online and actually felt slightly more inspired to work that little bit harder in the gym. Is there just something about looking at pictures of people who look  like regular folks, but who clearly have achieved great physiques, quite inspirational? Or do they harm or dent our own self-esteem? Do they inspire others or just discourage us?

Certain psychologists say that these fitness selfies can actually harm those with low self-esteem or low self-image issues. There’s also the view that some people posting these selfies may themselves be becoming obsessed with their self-image, never quite happy with how they look and always striving for perfection. This in itself can of course be equally harmful.

There is no doubt that self-photos are useful when it comes to fitness. Personal trainers regularly take photos of clients as they progress throughout their fitness program. Week 1, Week 6, Week 12 and so on. But the reason they take these pictures is that most of us don’t notice changes to our own bodies on a day to day basis. We don’t notice gradual changes in our bodies. It’s only when we look over photos (side by side) that we can see how far we’ve come. Think of it as a log of your progress.

So what’s your thoughts on this. Have you ever taken a fitness selfie? Are these fitness-selfies you see online, images that inspire you to get in shape or do they simply put you off? Do they motivate you to want to get fit or do they make you feel slightly depressed? I want to hear your views.

Exercise of The Month: The Kettlebell Press

I have been using kettlebells for quite a few years and really love them. I don’t think there’s anything better for developing upper body and in particular shoulder strength and stability. One of my favorite exercises to perform is the kettlebell press. If you’re familiar with shoulder presses then you already know the exercise. In fact many may argue that dumbbells or barbells do the exact same job for the press as the kettlebell. But in fact they don’t – quite. The kettlebell is in itself an unbalanced load when in the shoulder press position. This allows for a more natural and indeed a more fluid movement when pressing, which doesn’t place stress on the joints in the same way as an overhead press with say a barbell. Equally the kettlebell with this instability, ensures that you engage your core, giving you added benefits which are often lost when using other alternatives.
kettlebell-shoulder-press
The kettlebell press forces us to adhere to good biomechanics, engaging our core and moving fluidly. We can start off with a lighter kettlebell of say 4kg and then can easily progress as we start to develop our shoulder and tricep strength. One of the things I like best about the kettlebell press is the variety.
kettlebell-press
There are literally hundreds of ways you can alter the kettlebell press to add variety including, for example, the see-saw kettlebell press, kettlebell clean and press, alternating kettlebell press, kettlebell military press, one-arm kettlebell press and even a squat kettlebell press. In fact the list goes on. The variations are really limitless which is one of the reasons this basic exercise has so much to offer.

How To Beat The Winter Bulge

Every year there comes a moment when many hitherto committed exercisers sit back and let it all go! That time seems to be the Christmas holidays. It’s understandable when December arrives to become busy with so many other things – exercise may well become less of a priority than usual. Whether you’re running around doing last  minute shopping, making travel plans to visit relatives or just enjoying the office party, it’s a good idea to try to keep some form of exercise going. With nutritionists claiming that the average person’s calorie intake on Christmas day is over 3,000 calories, it’s easy to see how we can all start bulging in the wrong areas. Try adopting some simple strategies now so you don’t have everything to do come January.
winter-workout
Make An Appointment At The Gym
If you make an appointment for something and put it in your diary, most of us are more likely to stick to it. So rather than putting your normal workout routine on ice over the festive season, try to set time aside. A great way to make sure you keep your appointments is booking in to see a personal trainer. I’ve already booked several sessions in over December and January to give me a kick-start and to keep me focused.

All Activity Counts
If you’re taking time off work to spend at home, try to do more than just eating and sitting. Most of us lead rather sedentary lives for the weeks leading up to and following Christmas. Get outdoors, take on some diy, rake and bag up the leaves or sweep the snow (trust me this can be back-breaking work!). Alternatively grab a fitness DVD or the kid’s computer console and try a game of tennis – something all the family can enjoy.

Start Counting Your Steps
The best way to beat the Winter bulge is to keep moving. Grab yourself a stepometer and make sure you start wearing it each day. When you awake set the counter to zero and then try to work up to a certain number of steps. A reasonable daily target throughout the holidays would be 6,000 steps a day. It’s very achievable if you plan exercise each day. You will have to regularly get off the couch to reach this goal. From several stair climbs to a walk around the block. Think of ways you can add extra steps. How about walking to the grocery store rather than  taking the car. Just try to move more and sit less.

Involve The Whole Family
Exercise doesn’t have to be an individual pursuit. Enlist the help of family and friends and evidence shows you’re far more likely to stick with it., Ditch the television and take the family out for a winter walk. Why not got ice skating – the kids will love it! We always enjoy taking the girls for a family walk this time of year in the countryside. We end up finding a pub at the end of it for hot chocolate and sandwich.

Choose Healthier Foods
We all indulge a little over the Christmas holidays, myself included. But unless you don’t want to faint when you step on the scales on the first of January, take heed. Food choices are key. Try to listen to your body and stop eating when you’re full. Most of us will eat to excess and then complain at how bloated we feel! Don’t do it. Reduce your intake of high calories snacks and also limit your alcohol to just one or two glasses of wine at dinner. Avoid second helpings of everything and these small changes can make a considerable difference to keeping your weight balanced.

Strive For a Fitness Goal
One of the best ways to stay focused over the Christmas period is goal-setting. Sign yourself up for a race, a 5k run or some other sporting event in January. This will psychologically keep you more mindful of what you eat and how active you are. It gives you something concrete to aim for and is proven to stop you from over-indulging. Many gyms are quiet during December and they often offer cut price deals and membership options the weeks around Christmas. Get in early and sign yourself up for some spin classes or Zumba!

Fat Busting Myths Exposed

There are few Industries that seem to propagate as many misconceptions and false truths as the weight loss Industry. From misquoted research to simple marketing spin promoted by big businesses, it seems that we’re constantly awash with new ideas and concepts and it can be difficult to decipher fact from fantasy.

Over time it seems that some weight loss concepts have stuck despite the fact that they actually remain complete myths.  Here are some of the most commonly held weight loss myths:

1) If I exercise hard enough, I can eat what I like
This is not true. You simply cannot out-run a poor diet. Let’s put this into perspective. Running on a cross trainer at a moderate to high intensity level for an hour will burn around 500 calories. That’s equivalent to a small 100 gram bar of milk chocolate for an hour of hard exercise. Unfortunately many people believe that just an hour or two of moderate to intensive exercise a week will enable them to eat whatever they want and still see the weight just slip off. It won’t. Exercise will help to offset some of your daily calorie consumption from food, but it won’t give you carte blanche to eat whatever you like. In order to achieve weight loss you need to still make sensible changes to your diet in conjunction with your exercise plan.

weight-loss-myths

2) Drinking a cup of green tea each day will help with weight loss
Highly unlikely. Whilst green tea does contain flavonoid phytonutrients which have been shown to accelerate metabolism in studies on rats, it seems they may have little effect on humans. In a study carried out with two controlled groups of human subjects, one group consuming green tea daily for 3 months and a group that consumed no green tea, it was shown that the green tea drinkers lost, on average, just one tenth of a pound more than the group that consumed no green tea. There are also some experts who believe that consuming large quantities of green tea could be detrimental, as it can effect your body’s ability to absorb iron.

3) If I don’t eat after 6pm, I’ll lose more weight
Not true. Putting on weight or dropping weight, is dictated by the total daily calories that you consume not when you choose to eat those calories. If you regularly eat 4000 calories, but all before 6pm, you’re still going to out on weight. Equally if you regularly eat only 1000 calories a day, of which 500 calories are eaten after 6pm, you’re still going to lose weight. The time of day you consume those calories is irrelevant.

4) Artificial Sweeteners are better than sugar when losing weight
Not necessarily. It’s true that artificial sweeteners contain less calories than sugar, but they are often found in products that are high in fat making their calorie value an irrelevance. Worst still is that artificial sweeteners have been shown in scientific studies to actual increase your appetite, leading to carbohydrate cravings and increased fat retention. It seems that we may all be better sticking with good old-fashioned table sugar.

5) Losing weight using a method that worked before will work again
Often it won’t. Weight loss is complicated and your body adapts quickly to a set of conditions and a certain way of eating. In most cases when you return to a diet that worked for you previously, you’ll find it far less effective the second time around. Scientists believe this is not only due to the adaptation of your body to the new hormonal environment, but also physiological and behaviour factors within yourself that change the second time around. Often trying a completely different diet than the one you did before produces much better results.

6) I can eat as much fruit as I like when losing weight as its healthy
Fruit is certainly healthy but also laden with calories. If you’re goal is weight loss than you need to cut down on your calories and this means reducing sugar-rich foods including fruit and fruit juices. It doesn’t matter that these sugars are natural fruit sugars – they’ll have the same effect for weight gain as eating processed or refined sugar. Remember that there are plenty of foods that are healthy but that still pack a punch when it comes to calories.

7) Cutting out entire food groups is a good way to lose weight
Absolutely not. Certainly not if you’re eating too much from the other food groups. Any diet that revolves around cutting out entire food groups is nothing more than a fad. It relies on lowering your calories simply through the loss of that food group. The popularity of high protein, no carb diets was based not on any magic formula, but simply the fact that it’s very difficult to eat vast quantities of just protein and fat without carbohydrates. It’s carbohydrates that are the comfort food and by taking this from the diet, people naturally eat far less calories that when they previously consumed carbohydrates. A sensible diet should never revolve around eliminating entire food groups from your diet. We need all food groups for proper health and development.

8) If I perform lots of sit-ups I will get a flat stomach
Not true. You can perform thousands of sit-ups every day, but unless you burn the fat that’s sitting on top of your abdominal muscles you’ll never see a flat stomach underneath. Performing lots of stomach exercise will only serve to develop the muscles sitting beneath the layer of fat. In order to burn the fat you actually need to increase your cardiovascular exercise and start making dietary changes to create a calorie deficit.

The Holy Grail : Great Glutes

Lets be honest, as women we all want to have a great behind. Anyway we can make it smaller, firmer or more ‘uplifted’, we’ll try. But it’s an area that many of us, myself included, can struggle with. As females, we naturally store fat in our lower bodies and this means that the butt is often the last place that we lose fat from. For years I looked at women in my gym and realised that those with the best physiques (and the best butts!) were not those spending hours upon hours doing cardio, but instead those that spent time hitting the weights.
squat

It’s unusual to find many women (at least in my gym) in the weights area. Instead they prefer to sweat it out on the cross-trainer or the bike. But this will have little effect on building great glutes. In order to really work your glutes you need to utilise exercises that will hit your glute muscles from every angle and the best exercises are the big compund movements. These form part of my glute workouts and have made such a difference. The best exercises for building a great butt are:-

The Squat: This is by far the best exercise for shaping the glutes. No other single exercise has quite the same effect. In today’s increasingly sedentary society, we all tend to sit too much, either like I am now, in front of the computer, or in the car or just in front of the television. This has resulted in loss of muscle activation in the glutes, hips and hamstrings. Squating can help this too and will really start to engage our posterior. You don’t need to lift heavy barbells either. Simple bodyweight squats can be just as effective.

The Lunge: This is one exercise where I can really feel my glutes working. It’s essential to get the mechanics of the exercise correct, but once you do you’ll find you will start to hit the glutes in a way that is difficult to achieve through any other exercise. You can perform a range of lunge exercises, from bodyweight lunges, to barbell lunges and single to multi-directional lunges. Try varying them up to add variety.

The Deadlift: Whilst this exercise doesn’t specifically target our glutes quite like the first two, they do work our entire back-end immensely and help to encourage better posture. They strengthen our lower back, hips, hamstrings and stabilizer muscles, meaning they can have a positive effect on our glutes. There are many versions of the deadlift from sumo lifts to single legged deadlifts. Try different versions to see what works best for you.
perfect-glutes

A Healthy Diet: Great bodies start with a great diet and you’ll never have a butt to be truly proud of if you eat junk. (heard the phrase junk in the trunk?!). You have to eat a lean and clean diet that will work in unison with your workout program.  Through eating right and focusing on the above exercises I have been able to really make a difference to this hard to sculpt area and you can too.

Exercise of the Month: The Squat

There’s no two ways about it. If you want a great butt, squats are the only way to go! The staple of any workout routine, the squat is an exercise I love. The squat is a full compound exercise that works primarily the muscles of the glutes, thighs, hips and core (especially lower back). It also burns more calories than just about any other single movement making it a great way of toning and burning fat.
Squat-class
What is great about squating is that it is a fundamental human movement that we have been doing since caveman days and it can be performed without any equipment. It builds strength, power and mobility.

One of the long held concerns about squats is that they can damage your knees. However, the reality is that if performed correctly they actually improve knee strength and mobility. You need to warm up first and then stand with feet shoulder width apart with knees centred over your feet.  As you slowly bend your knees, hips and ankles you push your bum backwards, lowering until you reach 90 degrees.

The hardest part of the exercise for newbies is keeping your bottom back. I always try to imagine that I am trying to sit on a chair that is a few feet behind me. This requires allowing your weight to centre on your heels and you to push your bottom back. By doing the exercise in this way, your knees will never extend further forward than the tip of your toes. When you perform it right, you’ll feel it!