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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Older trainees and exercise frequency

by Pete Ryan

This one is going to annoy you in some respects.  I will tell you right from the outset that there are not an ideal number of times per week, duration or intensity to train at.  A lot depends on things like exact age, outside stress, other activities that will affect how many times a week you train and how long those sessions last. I can sum up the ideal in one sentence though and from there we can look at options.

The amount of times a week you can stick to and the time you are willing to put in each session is the ideal...

That answer probably nearly made you throw your phone/laptop through the nearest wall! I know that is a really aggravating answer, but that is the stark truth.  I can give you the perfect workout for you, but if you are not willing to do it, then it is an inferior workout to hitting the whole body once for 45 minutes a week. If you can stick like glue to once a week, but do your ‘perfect’ workout for 2 weeks and then never do it again, which is the best?

Being honest with yourself

Let’s start with being honest. You may have decided that working out 4 times a week is perfect to maximise your muscle gains, but will you actually turn up for every session? I am not talking about now, but in 3 weeks, in 3 months or even in a year or more? What about when you have that room to decorate, what about when you need to get those tax returns done, what about when the stress at work means you are feeling burnt out?  If you can, then fine, but if you can definitely get 2 sessions in per week, but would struggle with 4, then 2 would be your ideal.
I will start with something many people will find very controversial, my opinions on age and training.


Let’s cut to the chase on this one.  I find it hard listening to a young guy talking about how older people should exercise.  They may have some experience in that area, but they do not live with the issues getting older brings.  I am sure many younger people have insights, but I prefer to get the opinion of older coaches and personal trainers. For the record I am over 50 and have had injuries and issues that many older trainees have been through.
My belief is that older people need to do more than their younger equivalents.  I know, that is not the common view point.  In fact most coaches suggest that older athletes do less, but hear me out and make up your own mind.

Most older trainees are less interested in competition and more interested in training longevity, plus most older trainees have previous injuries (because we too were once young and very stupid!). So, our goals are often not maximum lifts, but heavy weights done for sets, encouraging hypertrophy (muscle growth) and fighting off old age. To do these lifts we need much more time warming up and doing mobility than the younger lifter doing the same exercises.  An older person may need to warm up and mobilise the shoulders and elbows for 10-15 minutes to hit a press, we may also need to move our bodies a lot more to maintain flexibility and strength throughout the range of motion of an exercise. So, we may spend a greater proportion of time doing mobility, bodyweight movements and preparing our bodies for the workout than a younger person. 

So whereas a younger person may have:
  • ·         5 minute Warm-up
  • ·         45 minute workout

An older person may have:
  • ·         20 minute warm-up
  • ·         40 minute workout

So as you can see, the older person will be moving their body for longer than the younger person.
As you age the whole idea of use it or lose it becomes much more immediate.  The older you become, the quicker it is to lose the ability to do an exercise and the harder it is to gain new skills or regain lost physical abilities.  If you do not practice skills regularly, then they will disappear, so if you are like most people who hit the gym and do not wish to lose any skills you have acquired over the years, then you will have to practice skills a lot more often than when you were younger.  The sheer mass of abilities you want to keep also force you to be doing physical activity a lot more.   Let me hasten to add that you may do these outside the gym.  You could practice a range of bodyweight movements at home (Planche, L-sit, pull-ups, push-ups, headstands, handstands, sprinting...the list goes on), but these all have to fit into your weekly/monthly, schedule if you wish to keep these abilities into really old age. Also most of these need some sort of warm-up to avoid injury.
So, as you can see an older trainee may need to spend more total time working out as they need to warm-up in a thorough fashion and practice physical abilities more often.

What this does not mean is working out balls to the wall every day, or anything like that.  I do believe that older people should do something physical everyday.  This can be as simple as some push-ups and pull-ups at home, or going out and sprinting for 10 minutes, rope jumping on the porch or 30 minutes mobility, but everyday something should be done.  Coach Dan John has a saying: 

If it is important, do it every day

For the older athlete this is especially true.  If you need to improve your squat, then squat every day.  This does not mean go to max every morning doing a back squat.  Simply add bodyweight squats into your warm-up, or just knock out some squats every day.  Even ditch your chairs and sit on a cushion on the floor, so if you want to get up or sit down, you are forced into a full squat. For the older athlete holding a barbell, a single kettlebell or dumbbell overhead and squatting adds unique challenges, using weights that stress the back a lot less, or get an Ironmind Hip Belt if the back is an issue.  As an older trainee you need to get creative working around the limitations your body imposes.

Movement (NEAT)

Non-exercise Activity thermogenesis is the fancy term used to describe things you do that burn calories, but are not part of your exercise routine. In keeping with my belief that older trainees need to workout more often, I also believe that the older you get the more important it is to move more often than younger people. Things like walking to the shops, spending 10 minutes after each meal walking (good for anyone who wants to improve insulin sensitivity), just doing physical things becomes more important for the older athlete.  You need to plan your life in such a way that you can be active outside of the gym. Think about it, no matter how hard you workout for 30-60 minutes, it will never, ever overcome being sedentary for 23-23.30 hours every day, how could it? So, plan on regular activity throughout the day.  Anyone can go for a walk for 10 minutes after each meal, just try it.  Eat a meal then walk 5 minutes one way, turn around and walk 5 minutes back, aim at a brisk pace.  If you sit for an hour, get up, stretch and do mobility for 10 minutes, then carry on.  In the long run this will help you achieve your goals.

Picking your movements

Most of the movements you choose should be things you enjoy.  If you hate everything then you will never succeed as you will find any excuse to avoid them.  However, there are some things you know need to be done, you will probably hate these.  These are things you need to do.  Add them at the start, not the end of a session, put the things you really enjoy at the end, so you are more likely to finish a session.  So, if you have a bad shoulder, doing band dislocates, band pull aparts and clubbell swings may be boring for you, but they may be very necessary.  You may need to add in 5-10% of things you do not enjoy doing, but mainly include things you enjoy doing.
Exactly what you do isn’t important. You need to include:

Upper body vertical pushing (overhead press, steep incline press are 2 examples)
Upper body vertical pulling (Pull-up, chin up)
Upper body horizontal pushing (Bench press, push-up)
Upper body horizontal pulling (bent over row, inverted row)
Hip hinge (deadlift variation, KB swing)
Legs (Squat variation, leg press)
You do not need to do these every session, or even every week. Simply rotate thing in and out as often as you like.
Wrap up
I could talk a lot about this, if you are interested comment below. I can discuss routines, methods, diets or go into more details about any related issue if those are of interest to you? 

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Friday, 13 January 2017

Conquering Bodyfat

By Pete Ryan

This time of year a lot of people are on the fat loss hunt. Looking to cull some of the fat they have accumulated over the last few years (or even decades!).  The dream of achieving leanness for some is an elusive goal. So, maybe we should run through one way to achieve your goal. Not everyone is the same, but there are a few basic rules that are common to virtually everyone.
The fatter you are, the easier you will lose fat (at the start).
If you have 25% bodyfat and you are a male you will be able to drop to 20% bodyfat much easier than a male at 20% bodyfat trying to drop to 15%, dropping from 15% to 10% or below will depend on a tough program to reach those goals.
Females naturally carry a little more fat and so if you add 5% fat to each of the above scenarios, then they are about comparable. So, a female with 30% fat can get to 25% with a few changes, while a female trying to drop from 25% to 20% will find things a little bit harder, and usually getting from 20% bodyfat to 15% or under is a very much harder proposition.

Stage 1: A male getting from 25% to 20% bodyfat or a female trying to get from 30% to 25% bodyfat.

A 25% bodyfat male or a 30% bodyfat female is usually considered overweight.  The usual reason for this is a bad diet and/or excessive calories along with a lack of exercise. This fix is relatively simple. Simply pick one or two bad habits and change them. So, stop drinking sodas and switch to herbal tea, find a slightly less calorie dense meal or choose a healthier dessert.  Along with that add a little exercise, like a short 10 minute walk after each meal, or similar.  You do not need anything too harsh to drop this weight normally.  However, if you have stuck with it for a month and the weight hasn’t shifted, simply add in a few more changes and see how that affects your body fat levels.

Stage 2: A male getting from 20% to 15% bodyfat or a female trying to get from 25% to 20% bodyfat.

This is what most people would consider a healthy range. So, your body is most comfortable hanging around these fat levels. To get a change you have to start making different changes to get fat loss continuing.  The first suggestion is to tighten up the diet a little more.  This can be trickier than the earlier fat loss as you may have removed most of the regular foods that are associated with fat loss.  Some people may need to work on portion control (the size of the plate), or really refine their food choices for some of the meals to hit their goals. In terms of exercise I would keep the walking in and add in weight training.  I would use a faster paced workout (once the exercises are mastered), resting very little.  You are not going for lifting the maximum you can, but to accumulate fatigue and ramp up the metabolism if you are interested in a routine to get you started, let me know below and tell me what equipment you have available and I will see if I have time to get a routine sorted out for you.
So, your diet improves again (you are about 70% healthy whole foods and 30% other stuff) at this point.  You can still have that slice of pizza or a glass of wine when you go out for that weekend meal, but much of the time you are eating healthy, mainly whole foods.

Stage 3: A male getting under 15% and a female getting under 20%

This is when you need to dial in your diet and exercise. Many people dropping to these body fat levels are athletes or into fitness.  To achieve this you should keep up everything you have included before, but you should be exercising with weights 3 times a week as well as walking or jogging for cardiovascular health. Your diet will also have to get tighter.  You should be aiming at 80-90% healthy whole foods and 10-20% other food.  So, you do not go without foods that are not ideal, but you do limit them. This might vary from person to person.  One person may need to be stricter than another, but everyone will need some discipline with their diet and exercise to achieve these goals.

Stage 4: Once you are there

Once you have reached your goal bodyfat levels, whether this is 18%, 14% or whatever, you have to move towards a maintenance diet.  This does not mean returning to how you ate before, but you do not need to be as strict to maintain as you need to be to lose bodyfat.  You can slacken the diet slightly, but do not forget to eat a large percentage of healthy, whole food. The lower your body fat, the more strict you need to be to continue to maintain that fat level, otherwise the fat levels will begin to climb again.
So consider this when you set your goals.  If you are a guy and you want 10% or less body fat, then remember you might have work to maintain that, while at 15% you may hardly notice any effort at all. Obviously there are outliers, those who find it super-hard to lose fat and those who find it super-easy to stay ripped, but for most of us staying around the 15% bodyfat for males and the 20% bodyfat for females is relatively painless once you get there.
Hopefully this brief guide will give you an insight into how you should approach your fat loss. I will leave you with this saying.  I cannot remember who originally said it, but I’ll paraphrase it below:

Usually you need to wait to receive the benefits from good things and often the immediate result isn’t the most pleasurable.
Usually you get immediate pleasure from bad things, but later there is always a price.

An example explaining the above saying can be working out, or making good food choices.  The immediate result is a hard workout or not eating something very tasty.  The later result is increased healthy and vitality.
You could also just lie in bed instead of working out and eat cake.  The immediate benefit is snuggling down in a soft quilt and enjoying the cake.  The later result is reduced health, tiredness and an increased risk of chronic illness.
So choose wisely.

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Sunday, 1 January 2017

How to start a New Year

By Pete Ryan

Many of us have resolutions.  We think that from 1st January we can suddenly go from our sedentary selves, to introducing a new diet, and a new training short begin a completely new lifestyle. I am sure there is a person out there that can do that, but for most of us that goal is unrealistic. There are several reasons for this, but the main reasons are the influence of willpower and habit.


I see willpower like a bucket.  When you need to do something novel, new or you do not want to do, you have to take a ‘scoop’ of willpower from the bucket.  There is one bucket of willpower every day.  You dip into it to get up early, to wash-up, to get stuff done.  The trouble is the bucket varies in size daily and you need to use that willpower for everything that you need to get done throughout the day. Once that bucket of willpower is used up you will not get much more done that day.  The more stressful the day, the smaller the bucket and the more things you have to do that day, the faster the bucket is emptied, so if you rely purely on willpower, some days you will fail to workout or make good dietary choices simply because the bucket is empty.  Willpower can get you places, but you shouldn’t rely only on that or you will eventually fail.


Habit is the minds way of getting the body to do things that it needs to do.  So, if you always wake up at 7, you will tend to continue to wake up at 7. The trouble is, if you have always eaten badly, the force of habit can drive you to continue to exercise that habit.  If you always eat a burger and fries at 11AM, you will always want a burger and fries at 11AM. 

Putting them together

If you add together the power of habit and the limited reserves of willpower, you can see how and why you fail.  You actually have to use willpower to fight against old habits, as well as try to introduce new exercise and eating habits.
In the end after a couple of weeks of struggling you will find that your run out of willpower, old habits reassert themselves and you are back to your old habits not even understanding why you failed...again?

Making change

People forget that any positive change is a positive, and that you can accumulate changes over time. I believe that making one or 2 changes a month is the best way to introduce your New Years health plan.
Suppose you decide to work out once per week, but stick at it every Wed evening, and have a healthy lunch, every day.  Keep everything else the same this month, but stick at that.  I guarantee that after a month you will look and feel better than you have in years (assuming you have done no exercise and your diet isn’t that great).
Also, you only have to dip into the willpower bucket at lunchtimes, and Wednesday evenings.  Everything else is going with the flow.  After a month, you will see that working-out and healthy lunch eating has become a habit. If you want to make further changes, then you can, but keep those changes small; add an extra workout (say Monday evening), and add a healthy breakfast, then stick at that for at least another month before any more changes are made.

Adding it all up

People forget that changes are cumulative. If you make one change, then add another in a month they will begin to work together.  Very few people can rewrite their entire lifestyle and succeed, but many people can make a succession of small changes and keep those changes happening over the course of years.  Just little things, say you have a soda in the morning and you drop that for an unsweetened herbal tea, you will save almost 1,000Kcal per week! That alone will change your body composition. So, my advice is to plan this New Year as the beginning of a process.  You do not have to succeed 100% from 1st January think of it more in terms of you will still be improving on 1st June, as you keep introducing new ways to improve yourself.
So consider this isn’t a race. In fact it is the opposite. The faster you introduce new things, the more likely you are to overload yourself and fail. Add in things slowly one change at a time and watch the improvements slowly accumulate.
Make this year, the year you break the cycle of New Year failure and start on the road to exercise and dietary success. 

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