0800 040 7526
You may have seen some funny looking tubes lying around in the gym. Some may have grooves and lumps on, some may be smooth, but they are all foam rollers. A foam roller is basically a type of massage tool that you use with your own force and/or bodyweight to massage and “roll” tight parts of your body. A bit like a rolling pin and some stale dough (for stale dough, read tight bands and lumps of muscle), a foam roller will increase blood flow and circulation, as well as help your body breakdown scar tissue and adhesions in the muscles and connective tissue – those nasty knots that can limit your range of motion and lead to repetitive strain injuries. But how to use a foam roller?
Foam rollers have several advantages over traditional sports therapy methods and physiotherapy. It’s cheaper – you do it yourself; you can direct the point of massage with more accuracy as you are both the practitioner and the patient; it’s cost, time and space efficient; it will help to ease knots and tight bands or muscles. It can be (very!) painful, but that just means that you are doing it correctly.
Whatever muscle groups you’re working, don’t forget:
A lot of tension in these muscles can lead imbalances around the hip and knee, leaving you at risk of injury. The TFL, if overly tight, puts excessive strain on the ITB (see below) and can cause a knock-on knee problem.
How to do it:
The roller is a great way to work a tight IT band, which is really hard to stretch on your own and usually causes the common runner’s problem ITB syndrome, where the ITB rubs on the lower knee joint in running and other activities.
How to do it:
Excessive tension and knots in the quads can lead to pain at the back of the knee and can have a surprising effect on the lower back. The quads are often overused when your glutes and hip muscles aren’t working properly.
How to do it:
Place your elbows on the ground underneath your shoulders and roll the whole body of the muscle slowly.
Excessive tension in the calf can cause pain further up the around the knee, but can also lead to injuries and tears of the achilles and MTJ (muscle-tendinous-junction) where the calf joins the achillies tendon.
How to do it:
Have fun (!) now that you know how to use a foam roller!
The benefits of squats – some might promote the benefits of swimming; others might be big running fans. Then there are those that do lots of sit-ups every day. All of these activities are good for us, but there’s one exercise that’s better than them all – squats. Here are some of the benefits of squats.
You can do them anywhere. You don’t need a gym, or expensive equipment. You don’t even need shoes. You can do squats anywhere.
There are lots of different kinds. Jumping squats will add some cardio to your session. Really slow squats will be really safe and difficult. Holding wall squats are great for skiing. Squats are versatile and can incorporate want different aspects of fitness, from cardio to strength to flexibility.
Further reading on the benefits of squats can be found here – and also why squatting to full depth is important.
One of the biggest myths in fitness is that you can spot tone. This means that you can exercise a particular muscle or area and then lose fat and tone up in that one specific place. Thus, if you adhere to this “spot tone” theory, lots of sit ups or crunches will give you a flat tummy. It is, however, a myth. It can’t be done. Sorry. Sit ups will NOT give you a flat tummy
1 – The body works as a whole system. When we lose fat, we lose it from all over, not any one particular place. “But when I lose weight, it comes first from my face and chest” many women will say. This will appear to be the case, but the less fat you have in a given area, the more quickly it will appear to slim down when you lose weight. As a mechanism, we store more fat around the midriff, bottom and thighs. Less on the face, arms and chest. So as you lose weight, it will indeed appear to come first and fastest from these latter areas, but that’s simply because there is less fat there in the first place.
The body will lose fat from everywhere.
2 – Bigger muscles are more important than smaller ones for fat loss. By doing sit ups we can tone the abdominal wall. But, if we are consuming more energy than we expend, we will still be increasing the size of the “fat suit” that covers up that tummy. So despite any toning from the sit ups, they will still be hidden under a layer of fat. To reveal the abs we must instead focus on removing this “fat suit”. We all have a six pack. That’s the way our abs are shaped. We must all have abs, or we wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. But only through loss of fat will they be revealed. To reveal them, we must expend more than we take in. Exercise-wise, the best way to expend the most calories is to work the biggest muscle groups. The bigger the muscle exercised, the more energy it will need every day.The abdominal wall is a relatively small fascia of muscle. Working it won’t burn that much energy. So, rather than endless crunches, we need to work the large muscle groups like the legs, chest, back and shoulders. So pull ups, push ups, squats and shoulder presses will do much more to reveal and flatten the tummy than sit-ups. With correct nutrition – see below!
3 – Wrong rep range. So, you’re doing all the right exercises as above. When you remove the fat suit you would like to have nice ridged abs under there. So you do endless sit ups. These will help to make the tummy muscles good at endurance, but not make them bigger. To make them bigger you need to do less reps at a greater level of difficulty. Ideally this is 2-5 sets of abdominal exercises where you fail (can’t do any more) at 10 reps. The same goes for the compound legs, back, chest and shoulder exercises mentioned above. The larger and more toned they are, the more lean muscle mass you have. Like a bigger engine in a car, these large muscles will demand more energy all day, every day. Smaller muscles (like biceps and abs), not so much.
4 – Nutrition, nutrition nutrition. To reveal the abs we need to lose fat. The only way to lose fat is to expend more energy than we consume. Thus eating and nutrition are much more important for a flat tummy than sit-ups. All the exercise in the world won’t reveal your abs or remove your fat suit if you are eating more than you expend, and eating poorly at that. Only through creating a deficit, and eating healthy foods low in starch and sugar (that cause fat storage) will we get a flat tummy. Sit ups at this point will be like trying to fix a house by dropping bricks on it from a helicopter.
5 – HIIT. In the overall calorie stakes, high intensity interval training will help to burn the most energy in the least time. Rather than train slowly for a long time in the “fat burning zone”, we need to up the intensity. This will burn more energy, helping to create the all-important deficit, so you lose fat and get a flat tummy.
6 – Poor posture. By folding forwards in the midriff and hunching the shoulders (exactly what we do in sit-ups) we are encouraging poor posture. Part of any good personal training program should include a postural assessment and correctional exercises. Repeatedly bending forwards hundreds of times every week (doing sit-ups) encourages shortening of the tummy, chest and shoulder muscles while lengthening the musculature in the back. This will, over time, lead to rounded shoulders and poor posture.
So if crunches are no good, what should I do? Compound strength training exercises, done reasonably hard with a good weight is what you need. Obviously if you are a beginner then you will need to learn moves like barbell squats and dumbbell bent over rows with a light weight at first, but once you have mastered the basics, moves like chest presses, barbell squats our deadlifts, bent over rows, barbell clean and press will aid muscle growth, upping the metabolic rate. Eat well, with low sugar and starch, create an energy deficit most days (with the odd treat day), and you will burn only fat. Burn enough, and build enough muscle, and your 6 pack will be revealed!
Those of us over 40 know that staying fit and trim seems to require a lot more effort than it did when we were in our 20s. It becomes especially hard to maintain any semblance of a flat tummy. For those athletes among us, training hard for long sessions over most days of the week seems to bring only limited gains; it can actually make us feel lethargic and tired. But read on and learn how to stay fit over 40.
New research by a Welsh Doctor is beginning to show that less is more. Previously fitness and conditioning coach for both the Welsh national rugby team and top 12 club The Scarlets, Dr Peter Herbert is now an exercise physiologist and director of the human performance laboratory at the University of Wales. Deceptively young looking for his age, Dr Herbert’s fit physique is not down to the usual long distance cycling or marathons usually taken up by middle aged men in midlife crises. His toned biceps are instead down to a scientifically proven regimen that is more minimal in approach.
Having taken up indoor cycling and rowing after retiring from rugby coaching, Dr Herbert found that hours and days in the gym training hard seemed to be achieving only diminishing returns.
Science has long known about the slippery slope of health past 40. A man’s maximum heart rate drops by a beat a minute per year after the age of 30; the heart’s capacity to pump blood comes down by 5-10% per decade; an average of 90g of lean muscle is lost each yer past the age of 40 (this decline is greater for women). After 50 these losses accelerate – a 15% drop in testosterone per year means that the male body loses up to 500g of lean muscle per year. This adds up – someone in their 70s doing no exercise will typically have ⅓ less muscle mass than their former 25 year old self.
Intrigued by recent findings showing the benefits if HIIT (high intensity interval training), especially for those previously sedentary and/or with diabetes, Dr Herbert started experimenting with shorter, but less frequent workouts. Using himself as a case study, Herbert cut out all long training sessions, putting a limit of 30 minutes on all lighter paced exercise. He then did just one, near maximal session per week on an exercise bike. Remarkably, his fitness improved.
“Within a couple of months I performed better in cycle races and I felt stronger” he says.
This gain triggered more studies on high intensity low frequency workouts for those over 40, not just for health and fitness but also to avoid niggles that become more common as we age. In one study, published in the American Gerontology Society Journal, Herbert recruited 20 hardcore veteran athletes from their mid 50s to their mid 70s who were training for competitive rowing, squash, cycling and triathlon events. He got them to stop training daily and follow his plan. A drastic reduction in training volume meant only one near maximal session every 5 days doing 6-10 30 second sprints on an indoor cycle. On days off exercise was allowed, but only “active recovery” in the form of 20-30 minutes of gentle aerobic activity.
The results were conclusive; there were large gains in VO2 max (maximum lung capacity), body fat dropped and leg strength improved by an average of 15%. This last gain was particularly significant, as leg strength has been linked to heart health and longevity in recent studies. The “fit-HIIT” also boosted levels of testosterone, meaning reduced loss of lean muscle mass.
Herbert says: “every 5 days I work to 90% of maximum capacity and then tick over, burning calories with gentle exercise”. He recently won bronze at the World masters Cycling Championships, and says he feels stronger and fitter than ever.
How does it work?
If you are new to exercise then some pre conditioning will be needed. Doing maximal intervals when coming from nothing isn’t advisable. This could be:
Week 1: walk 8-10 minutes a day (brisk pace)
Week 2: Walk or cycle 10-12 minutes a day
Week 3: walk or cycle for 15 minutes a day.
Week 4: walk or cycle for 20 minutes a day
Week 5: alternate days – day 1 – 20 minutes of cycling or fast walking. Day 2 – 4 minutes of walking or slow cycling with 3 minutes of faster cycling or jogging.
Week 6: alternate days – day 1 – 20 minutes of cycling or fast walking. Day 2 – 3 minutes of steady walking or cycling followed by 1 minute of faster running or cycling. This minute should be between 65-75% of flat out.
Then you’re ready for FIT-HIIT!
Days 1-3: 20 minutes of steady state jogging, rowing or cycling
Day 4: 20 minutes of very gentle aerobic exercise with 10 minutes of stretching.
Day 5: either 6 by 30 second sprints (flat out) with 3 minutes of comfortable recovery OR 6 by 20 second sprints with just 30s of gentle recovery for the more advanced.
Women who are older but have strong legs will do better when it comes to ageing of the brain, shows a study of more than 300 twins.
Researchers at King’s College in London showed that leg strength is a good marker of whether a person is getting enough exercise. In turn these levels of exercise have a strong link to brain health.
The study, published in the journal Gerontology, suggests that exercise releases chemicals into the brain that help to boost cognitive power in the elderly. Scientists tracked the health of over 15o pairs of twins aged between 43 and 73 (at the beginning of the study). Leg power was measured at the start of the study using a specially adapted gym machine. Brain power was then assessed using computer-based tasks that tested both memory and mental processing skills.
10 years later at the end of the study, the brain tests were repeated. The twin with greater leg power (and thus an assumption of greater overall fitness) had better cognitive power than the weaker sibling, even with other lifestyle factors that might usually increase chances of dementia.
Alzheimer’s Society director of research Dr Doug Brown said the study added to the growing evidence that physical activity could help look after the brain as well as the body.
“However, we still don’t fully understand how this relationship works and how we can maximise the benefit,” he said.
Lead researcher Dr Claire Steves said: “When it came to cognitive ageing, leg strength was the strongest factor that had an impact in our study.
All exercise is good for you, just about. Unless you plan to do 10 marathons back to back (this will make your knees hurt) any activity you do that elevates your heart rate and is more than sitting will bring lots of health benefits. Walking, for example has been shown to be hugely beneficial for health (physical and mental) and disease prevention.
But not all exercise is useful if you are trying to lose weight. Some exercise can actually make you fatter, if you have bought into the myth. We see this all the time; a client signs up for a yoga class. Now, we’ve nothing against yoga, it’s a great way to exercise both mind and body. But most types will not significantly increase your metabolic rate or burn enough calories to help you lose weight. So if you go to yoga and then reward yourself with a cake upon return, it may actually make you fatter.
So what is the best exercise for weight loss? Here are the big 6.
Why these won’t make you thin:
Yoga: A typical yoga session burns just 130 calories, or the same as a brisk walk. We’re not saying it’s not good for you, just not the best for fat loss.
Pilates: According to the American Council on exercise, a typical pilates class did not meet the recommendations for improving basic cardio-respiratory fitness. Even advanced pilates burned just 254 calories per hour, the same as most gentle aerobic activity. Great for core strength, posture and a stable back; not so much for fat loss.
Jogging. The slower you go, the more impact up and down on the knees. The slower you go the less energy used. Cut the time, add the speed.
Powerplate. Just useless. Standing on it vibrating hard will use the same calories as thinking about a big mac.
We don’t all have an hour to get to the gym, exercise and get back, but there is so much that you can do at home. Even with no equipment there are plenty of exercise that will challenge and improve all aspects of your fitness, from strength, bone density, cardio-vascular fitness, balance and co-ordination. Modern studies also shoe that you can get just about all the fitness and health gains from exercise in just a few minutes provided you go at a high intensity.
Here is a little 7 minute workout that anyone can do with minimal equipment (boys – 8-12kg kettlebell, girls 5-8kg). Be sure to do a 2 minute warm up first by doing some step ups, a few squats, and some arm and leg mobilisation (basically fling arms and legs around a few times!).
The 10 minute workout – try to take only 15 seconds maximum between exercises. Try to do as many repetitions as you can on each one (it has to be hard at the end to force adaptive change) and do a brief stretch when you have done 2 rounds.
1 – Push ups (beginner from the knee, advanced full)
2 – Stepping lunge – hold the kettlebell at the chest for greater difficulty.
3 – Kettlebell throw
4 – Star jumps (jumping jacks for beginners)
5 – One arm bent over row (both sides!)
6 – Squat to shoulder press, one arm
7 – Russian twist
8 – Kettlebell throws
9 – Burpees ( beginners use a step, chair or sofa to raise the hands and decrease difficulty)
Although the thought of stepping out for a run might fill you with dread, even on a sunny summer’s day, if you really think about it running is better than sex for a variety of reasons. Here are the top 10!
1 – You can choose exactly when you want to do it. Accessibility is one of the huge plus points for running. You don’t need a gym to do it, or a bedroom for that matter. And unlike sex (the sort we are talking about anyway) it’s just you, so there’s no waiting for anyone else.
2 – You can do it as often as you like. Forget getting turned down, again. With running you can do it 7 days a week, although remember that inprovement needs some recovery, so at least a day of rest per week would be a good idea.
3 – You can do it pretty much anywhere, without getting arrested. Again running wins over most other forms of exercise on availability, cetrainly including bedroom antics.
4 – You will burn more calories. The weight bearing nature of running and the sheer impact and shock of it burns more calories than almost any other form of exercise. Especially the type that you get lying down. Obviously the faster you run the more calories you will get through.
5 – You will improve bone density. As above, the weight bearing nature of running and the loads involved means that your body is forced to adapt, including maintaining strong bones.
6 – You can post photos of yourself doing it online. No-one will get upset, even your wife or husband.
7 – No-one will be shocled if you do it in a group. You can even give your car keys to someone else for safe keeping while you do it.
8 – You will get the same, or even more endorphins, putting you in a good mood for the rest of the day. Exercise, especially the higher intensity and weight bearing type, releases feel-good hormones including dopamine and endorphines.
9 – Minimal equipment needed. Unlike fifty shades of grey you don’t need stirrups, hammocks or whips. Just a good pair of trainers and off you go.
10 – It’s actually good for the knees. Forget carpet burns; running, in the vast majority of cases, will improve the strength and stability of your knees, improving connective tissue strength, the strength of supporting muscles, and balance, amongst others.
So even if you have never run before, and feel that it’s not for you, give it a go. There may even be a secret runner in there. If you are a complete beginner or feel you are too heavy for running, just step out and commit to a fast walk. Add in some very short intervals of jogging, build it from there! Remember that running is better than sex.
How quickly will I lose fitness? Just two weeks is al it takes. If you are thinking of taking a week off all activity for the summer, think again. Even this short period of being a couch potato will have a disastrous effect on your muscle tone and fitness says a new study by the University of Copenhagen.
To assess the effects of being completely lazy and sedentary, the study, published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, used knee braces to immobilise one leg of 17 young men (average age 23) and 15 older men (average age 63) for two weeks. The subjects used crutches to make sure that the immobilised leg did no activity at all. The muscle tone and strength was then measured in both groups before the study, after the two weeks off, and then again after a 6 week re-training phase.
The younger study group lost 28% of their strength in the rested leg, the older group lost 23%. For the younger group this gave the leg a biological age of 40-50, and the decline happened in a matter of days.
Although the effects of being completely sedentary, similar to the effect of, say, a torn ACL or sports injury were very marked, even the supporting leg that had not been immobilised lost strength – about 10%.
Head author of the study, Andreas Vigelso, commented that this loss would be similar to that experienced from two weeks off the gym or other structured exercise.
“We measured the whole-body activity level of the participants, and it decreased by 1/3 during the immobilisation period”.
In fact, even if you continue to use both legs for daily movement, but decrease your activity levels you may actually lose more than 10% of your strength.
“If one leg is immobilized, you tend to jump around on the other leg, which trains the leg and counteracts the loss,” said Vigelso. But if you are just being slack, then you do not get this compensatory increase in strength and fitness.
The loss of strength was also accompanied by a loss in muscle mass, but this was predominately in the younger test group, who lost 1lb of lean muscle in the rested leg. The more muscle mass you have, the more you lose in inactivity, which explains why the younger group suffered more then those in their 60s.
“If you’re fit and become injured, you’ll most likely lose more muscle mass than someone who is unfit over the same period of time.” Vigelso commented. From this the study calculated that in a real-world rest from activity, even walking, a reduction in the daily number of steps from 10,000 to 1500 per day would result in a loss of over 1/2 a pound of lean muscle mass in each leg.
How quickly can you get it back? In the 6 week re-training period the study group did cycling and interval training 3-4 times a week, but did not manage to get back to pre-test levels. Although the younger group had regained all of their lean muscle mass, they were still lower in strength. The study concluded that the nature of the training was a factor. Endurance based cycling does not encourage strength, and can actually encourage degradation of muscle fibres. So after a leg injury, although cycling or elliptical training is still a good place to start, some weight bearing strength training is vital as soon as it can be introduced.
Why is it so hard to get the gains back? The simple answer is that breaking down within the body is faster then rebuilding. In an evolutionary response, if the body does not perceive that it needs muscle mass, it will lose it. “We lose muscle mass, strength, and fitness if we are inactive to save energy — it’s an evolutionary mechanism. Your body has no reason to maintain muscle mass if it’s not needed.” said the study author. But when you begin exercising it takes more time to adapt to the new level of exercise.
So the best way to stay fit and healthy is to be consistent, without too many breaks. If you do have to take time off, then the best way to recover strength and muscle tone is through strength training, with any aerobic training being based on short sharp intervals – these will help to boost aerobic fitness quickly while not maintaining lean muscle mass.
Another study released this month shows the powers of exercise for the elderly. Just 1/2 an hour of physical activity on six days a week is likely to add 5 years to the life of elderly men, according to a new study.
The research, published in the British Journal of Sports medicine, found that elderly men who did three hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity spread over the week have a 40% lower risk of fatality than those who did not exercise. The study also found that increasing physical activity was nearly s beneficial as stopping smoking.
The team, from the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences based their study on thousands of men who were born between 1923 and 1932 who were then given health checks in the 1970s when they were all in their forties. The health checks cover height, weight, blood pressure, lifestyle habits like smoking and the amount of exercise that they did. In 2000 those still alive were invited back for another round of health checks, and of these, nearly 6,000 were monitored for the next 12 years – until they reached their late seventies and eighties.
Light vs heavier exercise
Those who did little exercise over the course of the week saw little change in mortality rates – they did less than 1 hour of light physical activity. However, even just an hour of vigorous exercise done over the week showed a reduction in the risk of dying from 23% to 37%.
The more time the subjects did strenuous exercise (getting properly out of breath) the lower the risk of death seemed to be, from 36% to 49% for those doing 6 hours a week. Even the study was “observational”in its basis – only those healthier subjects that were still alive in the first place were studied – the researchers say that the differences in mortality rates for those who were active vs those who did little activity was very striking.
This also correlates with the latest research into exercise, showing that short but vigorous activity (or high intensity interval training) has far greater benefits over longer, endurance based exercise.
So if you have a father, mother, friend or relative who is in their 60s or over, encourage them to get moving and to start some interval training. It’s never too late! The ultimate solution might be some 50+ fitness with a DDW personal trainer.