This guy maybe knew what he was doing...

This guy maybe knew what he was doing...

Today I was at the gym and I saw something which made my blood boil: two guys lifting weights that were obviously too heavy for them, and letting their form suffer as a consequence.

When I say form, what I mean is their posture and positioning, a crucial element of both gaining results and remaining injury free.

As I sat on the bike, watching with a morbid fascination I usually reserve for Discovery Channel documentaries,  I actually had to stop myself from going over and saying something to these berks. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have thanked me anyway.

But this prompted me to wonder where the members of staff were? On each machine in the gym there’s a notice advising you to ask floor staff if you are having any trouble. Putting aside the stubborn pride of most men, surely an instructor should always be on hand to dispense information and keep an eye out for dangerous use of equipment?

On the way out, I mentioned to one of the instructors what I had witnessed, “Ah those guys,” he remarked, “They’ve been coming here for years and we’ve given up trying to tell them what they are doing wrong – they just don’t listen.”

Maybe not quite the right attitude, but in all fairness he did then spend five minutes telling me the main principles of good form so I could write this blog post. Here’s what he had to say:

1. Engage your core muscles – very important for supporting your back, doing this will also help tone and flatten your stomach. And it’s not limited to weight lifting either, when doing cardio you should try to remember to keep your pelvic and abdominal muscles tight. In gym classes, good instructors will usually remind you – on average every other minute to, “Pull your belly-button towards your spine.”

2. Keep your knees soft – locking your legs straight puts a strain on the knees and lower back. If you are standing to lift weights, make sure to keep a slight bend in the knees. An alternative is to stand with one leg slightly behind the other to give better balance.

3. Do not use momentum to  lift the weight – for instance, if you are doing bicep curls, keep your elbows close to your sides and do not use your back to add extra swing. It is far more beneficial to lift a lighter weight using correct form than a heavier weight using other muscles to help you along. More importantly, your back won’t thank you if you keep treating it in this way.

4. Pace yourself – similarly, take your time to fulfil the whole range of movement. A good way of doing this is to count to two or three while on the way out and to at least three on the way back in. There’s no prizes for the fastest, and your muscles will respond better to a smooth, consistent technique.

I still think there should be someone around to look out for people not following these simple principles. The thing is, some people have probably never been told, or have forgotten the information given to them on their induction day, and could do with a refresher. I am fortunate enough to have had some great instructors in the past who ingrained the basics into my head, and I still have to make a conscious effort to “pull that tummy in”!

While we are on the topic of things that annoy us at the gym, I found this humorous article about gym etiquette. I’d be interested to hear what gets your goat when you’re trying to get a sweat on?

Button up: the jeans test is best

Button up: the jeans test is best

Well here I am at the end of week one. As a little addition today I went to a circuits class with my fellow fitness fanatic Rachel Quigley and the pair of us were certainly red faced at the end of it. Whether this was down to the tough regime or the rather dishy instructor I will leave to your judgment.

So how do I feel after seven days of relatively hardcore training?

I have well and truly got the fitness bug back and I am now used to getting up first thing in the morning and heading straight out to the gym. In fact, I feel much more energtic and focused for the rest of the day when I’ve worked out, and on Wednesday when I had a rest day I was sluggish and lacking in motivation at work.

The combination of exercising and eating meals higher in protein has also left me feeling less bloated and as a result the study belly is on the way out already. Results after a week I hear you scoff, but I honestly think it’s true. There of course lies the secret: so much of exercise and looking and feeling fit is psychological.

How can we tell whether we are making real gains or purely imagined ones: the placebo effect if you like?

This is especially relevant for me since I don’t like to measure success through the number on the scales. As far as I’m concerned, weight is just a statistic and not a very good yardstick for improving fitness or shape. I would much rather weigh a few pounds more but have greater muscle mass and therefore appear slimmer and feel stronger.

So what am I using to keep track of my progress?

I’m writing down what I do each day in an exercise log, making sure to include details such as length of intervals, weight lifted and number of sets/repititions. This is good for two main reasons:

1. It allows you to look back at what you did yesterday or the day before and then you can aim to go a little faster, further or lift a bit more. Instead of just thinking you are pushing yourself, you actually will be.

2. It maintains your focus and stops your mind wondering from the task at hand. You know what you’ve got to do and so you will keep going rather than wandering aimlessly from machine to machine without really thinking about it. Think of those guys you see working out in pairs who spend more time talking about what they are going to do and looking in the mirror than doing any exercise, you don’t want to be one of those.

I am also resorting to the female favourite – the jeans test. Over the last couple of months, my favourite pair of jeans has gradually been getting tighter. You know it’s gone a stage too far when you have to unbutton them when driving. Of course I’ve used the age old excuse of “I must have put them on a hot wash by accident,” to make myself feel better. But deep down I know the machine has been set at 40 degrees since I moved in to my flat last September.

Placebo or no placebo, the day I feel comfortable sitting down in those Gap western bootcuts is the day I know my new routine is getting me somewhere. It may not be as scientfic as some would advocate but I’m a firm believer in having goals which are relevant to you and keep you motivated on those days when all you want to do is sit on the sofa and eat a Magnum Temptation (and no, eating one will not make you look like Eva Longoria).

And at the end of the day, who cares if it is all in your head. Anything that makes one feel better about oneself is fine by me.

Break a sweat - tired of doing the same old moves? Interval training is for you!

Break a sweat - tired of doing the same old moves? Interval training is for you!

For those of you who have asked for more detail on the interval training I’ve been doing here you go. As I’ve said before, it’s courtesy of Wesley at Men’s Health, and so far I’m loving it:

Interval Workout

5 minute easy warm up

5 minutes short intervals – break down into 15 secs high intensity, followed by 45 secs low intensity. This should be done on a machine you rarely use, I’ve been doing it on the rower since I hate the damn thing.

5 minutes rest – this seems like a long time but you have to make sure your heart rate returns to its natural resting level.

20-40 minutes regular cardio – do this on a machine you use a lot, and keep up a moderately high intensity throughout. I’ve been using the bike for this one.

5-10 minutes long intervals – break down into 30 secs high intensity followed by 30 secs low intensity and gradually work up to doing 1 minute high intensity 1 minute low intensity. Do this on whatever machine you like. I’ve been using the treadmill.

3 minute easy cool down

I’ve been adding some super sets of weight training on the end for some toning benefits. I’ll talk more about that soon. Let me know if you try the workout and what you think of it.