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Last Friday I had my arse handed to me on a plate.
I joined in the gym's boxing class, hoping for a fun way to end the week and get a sweat on.
The session usually ends with body sparring, which is just a bit of moving around and throwing shots to the opponent’s body. It’s pretty knackering without any real worries of injury.
Just a giggle.
Until I partnered one chap who suggested we throw in some light head shots.
I had a gum shield in and couldn’t really see how I could say no.
My gloves were up and ready. I watched him like a hawk, ready to spring with my lightning reflexes and cat like guile.
In the meantime he hit me in the face.
How could this be? My gloves were surely protecting me tightly.
Even so he punched me in the face again.
Apparently the position I imagined myself to be in, wasn’t the position I was actually in.
My gloves were low and I basically had a target painted on my face and large neon arrow that said “hit here”.
Luckily I wear glasses that disguise my black eye a little…..but not enough to prevent some long term clients getting to have a laugh at my expense come Monday morning.
Sometimes a bit of physical feedback goes a long way in making us realise that maybe we weren’t doing things as well as we’d previously thought.
This can be very true when it comes to exercise.
You can be doing an exercise for years (literally) and be missing a slight nuance that transforms the entire exercise.
One adjustment can immediately switch an exercise from a run of the mill, thinking about what you’ll have for dinner type of affair, to one that makes your eyes twitch and your head appear as if steam were about to burst through the ears.
And it’s not until you actually feel the change in the exercise that you realise there was anything wrong with your old technique.
As Exhibit A, I present for you the Single Leg Deadlift.
It’s a fantastic exercise for developing hip and ankle stability, hamstrings, glutes and a strong link between hip and opposite shoulder.
When performed well.
It’s a surprisingly technical exercise. The movement looks really simple, but there is so much stability required that many people start following a compensation pattern without even realising it.
There are a few common errors that crop up again and again.
Let’s check out the rear view.
Here you can see a lack of lumbopelvic stability - or in other words the lower back and hips not stabilising very well.
The pelvis tilts towards the side of the working leg, so that the shoulder and hips are running in opposite direction to each other.
The body weight also shifts over the supporting foot rather than staying beneath the hip.
This is all part of the body yelling that it doesn’t feel stable and trying to finds ways to solve this problem.
When it comes to the side view I’ve got to put my hands up and admit that the video probably doesn’t give the clearest demonstration, but the problems are usually again all down to a lack of stability and control.
The body can pivot over the supporting leg, almost like it’s balanced on a fulcrum, rather than getting the feeling of getting “back” into the hip. Finding a position in which the glutes actually feel like they are being loaded.
The upper back will start to round forwards. The movement will often start with the upper body bending forwards, rather than the upper and lower body working in sync with each other.
So what do you do?
Sometimes, the person may just not be ready for this exercise yet and need a general increase in strength and core control.
But often, it’s a case of helping the body to get into the position you’re aiming for. To give the brain and body some context as to what the hell it is you’re trying to achieve.
Enter the Bench Supported Slider Single Leg Deadlift or as I like to think of it, the BSSSLDL.
(Hmmm, perhaps the name needs working on).
How much better does that look?
Where did I pinch it from?
Tony Gentilcore, a strength coach who’s blog I’ve been a big fan of for many years now.
What does it do?
Well it mostly seems to make people pull funny faces and get a little twitch by their eye as their glutes fire and fatigue in a way that may have never done before.
(For once I’m not exaggerating).
It also helps to guide the body into the perfect SLDL position. The brain and body start to get some all important context for the exercise and begin to learn how to own the position.
Using a val slider to extend the leg allows the hips to stay level, if they start rotating the foot will move of the bench.
Hold a light weight or medicine ball (I’ve been using a 2.5kg plate) to reach forward as the hip extends really helps to get the feeling of sitting back into the hip and getting the glutes to fire.
Things often start to click into place as you get to feel where the stress is meant to be and what it’s like to have your body move through that plane of motion.
Keep this in your workouts for a few weeks, then see (and feel) what the difference is when you return to traditional SLDL.
If you don’t have a slider then a towel will do, or even popping your shoes off and letting your socks help you to glide.
Just make sure you give the bench a good wipe after as your fellow gym goers may not fancy lying down in your toe jam.
Before my daughter was born I was chatting with one of my best pals (who was already a father) about what the whole parenthood thing was like.
The phrase he used was “it’s rewarding”.
That’s a phrase that on the surface sounds really nice, but when you look at it a bit deeper basically sounds like someone saying “it’s really challenging”.
This blog isn’t going to be an ode to parenthood, although for the sake of clarity (and in case my daughter stumbles across this in 10 years time) like every parent (I imagine), it has been challenging and I wouldn’t swap a second of it….perhaps….
But the challenge of keeping little people happy and alive often creates situations that lead to a bit of excess weight gain.
The type of weight gain that leaves you scratching your head, poking your tummy and wondering just how the hell that happened.
Was it there yesterday?
Cos this stuff happens under the radar, the kind of things that wouldn’t make it onto a food diary, or that the brain has a really good cover story for to completely justify it to your logical, rational self.
Let’s take a closer look and see if you recognise any of these in your day to day life.
I had a mate who, on a night out/party, would move from table to table, drinking the last bits of any unattended/finished drinks.
Not the classiest of habits but he was usually pretty merry by this point anyway.
This little manoeuvre was known as mine sweeping.
Now, I’m not suggesting parent people do exactly this - mainly because they don’t get to go out out so often and they know the only thing worse than a hangover, is hangover with little people jumping on you wanting things, all day.
No, the mine sweeping you might do is with plates of food.
The little person doesn’t eat all their grub.
Are you going to let it go to waste? I know I’m not.
I’ve even sat there with the pink Peppa pig spoon rather than get some fresh cutlery (why make more washing up?).
Is that going to be recorded in My Fitness Pal, or even remembered at the end of the day?
Hell to the no.
I remember the perfectly sized portion that was on MY plate.
It’s very possible these little minesweeping missions can add a substantial calorific amount over the course of a week.
What to do - stay aware for a week of anytime that you do this, or get the urge to do it. Take a photo of each little mini portion you add on and review it at the end of the week to see if it is a big deal.
Who Are Those Snacks Really For?
It’s fun to make life fun for children.
What simpler way is there of doing it than treats.
Having a kid is a great excuse to have things in the house that just don’t go hand in hand with trying to lose weight.
Both my wife and I really enjoy healthy eating. Added to that our daughter is allergic to dairy and nuts (she’s treated by an allergy hospital and we have to carry an epipen) so most kids treats are out of bounds for her anyway.
But we still have a little treat tin, with mini packs of biscuits. Biscuits which she can’t yet open herself.
So every time I open a packet there is usually a dad tax imposed, as in I pinch a couple for myself.
The one that used to get me was her cereal.
Man I love cereal. I love really big bowls of cereal.
There was a time when I’d be up when everyone else was in bed and find myself pouring a nice big bowl for myself. This would be most evenings.
Just a bit of fun, who’s gonna notice the difference?
I’m not saying in isolation this is the end of the world.
But I know personally that if I’m letting myself of the hook with this one then I’m probably doing the same in other areas of my life.
As the saying goes, how you do one thing is how you do everything.
What about sunny days….isn’t it nice to let them have an ice cream? Well, you can’t let them have on their own.
Or what about going shopping?
Do you decide to buy them treats and subconsciously choose which ones based on what your favourites are?
Ah I Really Deserve/Really Bloody Need A Drink
It’s been a hell of a day.
The tiny dictator child has had one of their more “challenging” days...but now they’re asleep.
The house is yours, the sofa is yours and what you really need is a lovely glass of wine (or a beer).
If this happens every now and then….then all I suggest is you sit back and enjoy every moment of that drink. But if it’s more like most nights than that’s definitely something worth paying attention to.
It’s very easy for drink and food to be used as an emotional crutch.
Something to cover over the cracks when you’re feeling less than stellar.
I’m not a psychologist or mind set coach but I know from personal experience that when food or drink choices become very at odds with my health goals then that’s a symptom of something bugging my thinky box and I need to pay attention and figure out what that is.
I Don’t Have Time/I’m Too Bloody Knackered
Ok I feel like I may be on thin ice with this one as it would be very simple to come across a little holier than thou or preachy and that definitely isn’t the aim.
What I really wanted to do in this blog post was simply highlight some issues that you may not have even noticed yourself.
Usually when we start to spot things ourselves we can start finding our own solutions, but this one isn’t exactly subtle.
If you’re knackered you’re likely very aware that your knackered and don’t need someone on the interwebz to make you suddenly realise it.
If you feel like life is constantly on fast forward and non stop it may seem very counterintuitive to try and fit something else in. Especially when that something else is energy demanding.
But exercise, when performed at the right level will actually provide feelings of having greater levels of energy and reducing stress levels.
If you feel really crushed it could be a good option to choose activities that focus more on calming the nervous system, using the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” nervous system.
In this scenario yoga could be a good option.
My wife loved going swimming or maybe just taking a stroll somewhere scenic.
Every fibre of your being may feel like it is telling you to sit down and put your feet up, but it’s often amazing to discover how much more you feel you can handle after some exercise.
As for the time factor I want you to ask yourself an important question.
Is it actually true that you have zero time to exercise?
Don’t just jump straight to saying yes.
Think about it and challenge any assumptions you may have.
Maybe you don’t have time to get to the gym, but could you take 10 minutes even at home to do something?
Could you involve the kids in exercise, making it an activity for them as well as you? Get bikes out and ride together, play football together, have races, let them jump up and down during your exercise video? Give them some paints to keep them quiet for 10 minutes?
If there was a million pound prize offered to you to exercise today we both know that you would find time….how would you do it to win a million?
I once read about a CEO who was super busy and couldn’t fit the gym into his day but really wanted to improve his health.
He set an alarm to go off every hour.
Then each hour he took one minute and moved continuously.
Press ups, squats etc.
Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was more than he had been doing and as time passed he found ways to develop it.
All I’m saying is that exercise doesn’t have to look like an hour at the gym with 30 minutes of changing and travel added on. The goal is simply to find the next step that fits your current lifestyle.
Putting everyone else first - feeling guilty
This is a tricky one.
On the surface you’re trying to be a good person. Family life is always going to be a bit of give and take.
But living your life from a feeling of constant sacrifice is a not a good place to be in.
You’ve probably come across the expression that you have to “fix your own face mask first”. Like on the plane safety talks, they always tell you to fix your own mask, as without it you can’t be much help to the people around you.
What happens when you don’t give yourself due consideration?
Negative emotions may start bubbling up. Emotions that get covered up with food or alcohol.
Or you start to take less responsibility for how you feel. After all, it’s now everyone elses fault that you’re not where you want to be.
I’m not saying this is always the case, but it’s worth considering.
Perhaps you feel that none of these apply to you.
Or maybe something sounds familiar.
But really pay attention to your habits and patterns over the next week. So much of what we do on a day to day basis is done out of habit that we barely register our actions.
If you are a parent and weight loss is being a bit of struggle
I don’t know why I’ve chosen twelve points for this list.
I’ve a sneaky suspicion that it has something to do with binge watching Killing Eve over the weekend. It’s probably the first time since the first series of 24 that I’ve watched the “in” thing at the same time as everyone else.
This means I get to feel relatively hip (that’s what the kids say right?) and to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet all I can say is….
“What? You haven’t seen it? OMG what have you been doing?”
Actually that wasn’t as much fun being smug as I thought it would be, right on with the show.
Besides, everyone loves a good list post.
If you’re progress in the gym has stalled.
Or your motivation looks a little like this.
Then check these little pointers of and see if anything rings a bell with you.
1 Are you being honest with yourself?
This one can sting a little, it can be a little bruising for the ego but it’s so fucking important.
I’ve seen so many people over the years, who have been confused about why they aren’t losing weight, getting stronger or hitting their chosen target.
Eventually we realise that they haven’t been close to doing what they need to do. The brain loves to make up stories or just be very selective in how it recalls things.
It can easily remember the salad they had on Wednesday, but forget that they had three bottles of wine and a supersize cheesecake over the weekend.
2 How are you assessing progress?
Are you actually making progress but it just feels really slow? You may be being a little unrealistic in your expectations of what you should have and when.
How are you assessing progress? If your goal is to lose body fat are you using any measurements other than a set of scales? You’ve probably heard this a cagillion times, but scales only tell part of the story when it comes to losing fat.
At the very least you should use tape measurements to see what is happening.
Also are you comparing your current progress to when you were a complete beginner. The strength levels of a beginner improve at a steep trajectory.
Within a month of picking up a weight their strength may have improved by 50% or more on many exercises. But an experienced lifter may fight for a year to get a 1-2% improvement.
3 Are you being consistent?
It’s been said many times, but nothing beats consistency for developing results. Staying aware of what you’re eating day in day out and getting the training sessions in.
Week in, week out.
A common issue is that someone will make an effort for two weeks then slide back to old habits.
Do not try and destroy yourself with a couple of workouts, set a pace that you can maintain.
Consistency trumps intensity every time.
Being consistent also means the weekends. Being an athlete Monday-Thursday then consuming all the calories as a “reward” will just keep you stuck.
4 Are Are you making enough effort?
The body only adapts when there is a strong enough stimulus. Lifting your coffee cup to your mouth every morning doesn’t build your arms because there isn’t enough load. Your body is quite happy that it can lift your coffee cup, there is no reason to change.
But if that coffee cup was suddenly made of cast iron and weighed 15kg, your arm would take a different view of things. Signals would be sent saying we need to adapt and get stronger.
Training needs to be uncomfortable, you need to have the feeling of pushing the envelope.
If you’re spending half your workout on a foam roller or bobbing along on the x-trainer catching up on some Netflix, you can’t be surprised if the results are less than outstanding
5 Are you creating tension in the right muscles?
Strength training is about more than just moving a weight from A-B. It’s moving it with the right muscles working.
I remember when I first started working in gyms and I couldn’t understand how you could do an exercise with the wrong muscles…..surely the weight wouldn’t be moving otherwise?
But the body just loves to conserve energy, it still thinks we’re living in a cave with no idea where the next meal is coming from, when there’s actually a 24 hour supermarket around the corner.
But exercise is almost a complete reversal of this. We want the muscles to be worked and fatigued so that they’re forced to adapt.
With this in mind stand by for some really obvious advice that may just revolutionise your training…...perhaps.
If you can’t feel a muscle working during an exercise then there is a good possibility that it isn’t optimally working.
So if you’re doing a back exercise and you can’t feel your back squeezing and working hard then you need to address either technique or the choice of exercise.
6. Are getting training volume right?
This one is especially pertinent if your goal is to add a bit of muscle to your frame.
The most important factor for adding muscle is the amount of weekly volume. In other words, how many reps/sets a muscle is put through over the course of a week.
The newer you are to training, the less volume you require to see results, but the more experienced you are the more volume you will require.
A traditional way of training that many gym goers still use is the good ol’ body part split.
Chest and tri’s on Monday, Back and bi”s on Tuesday, legs on Weds, Shoulders and abs on Thurs……get smashed at the weekend…..
I jest about the last part.
A problem with this is that for many people is that each body part will only be trained one per week, or sometimes less.
Not enough to see results.
Structuring the week so that most of the body see’s action on at least two days will bear greater results.
7 What got you here won’t get you there.
As you improve at any activity you become more efficient at it.
A common conversation happens with runners who have started to gain weight despite their performance remaining steady.
The body will have improved at using fuel. A 5km run at 13km/hour is now easier to do, so fewer calories are required.
Providing challenging stimulus for the body is essential to create improvements.
I need to put my hand up to this one, I have been guilty many times of wanting to make a drastic change of goal and getting absolutely no where.
The program starts with the aim of developing total strength, maybe a deadlift personal best. Within two weeks I start missing the huff and puff of higher intensity cardio and suddenly want to run an ultramarathon instead.
Thereby doing two dumb things.
Choosing a completely contradictory goal and a goal that’s probably far too lofty for the amount of free time I currently have.
This is a simple quote from Dan John but very important.
Keep the goal, the goal.
Chase one thing and actually achieve it.
9. Sufficient protein?
There’s a part of me that really hates talking to people about the importance of sufficient protein intake.
It sounds like such a cliche gymbro conversation.
“YEAH -YOU TOTALLY GOTTA HAVE ALL THE PROTEIN DUDE FOR LIKE THE GAINZ”.
But for any goal that involves transforming the physique, protein targets need to be hit. Honestly, amazing things start to happen with how the body looks and performs when this is adequately met.
It doesn’t mean eating half a cow a day and yes vegan options totally work.
A good starting point is either a palm sized serving of protein each meal (x2 for men) or 1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.
I know, it’s not sexy or exciting
Turn the telly of and get some sleep.
This is when you recover and adapt to all those workouts. Hormones are released that burn fat (yep, you burn fat in your sleep), that help muscles develop.
Lack of sleep will mess up your immune system, memory, libido, increase cravings for sweet things and generally leave you feeling like poo.
11. Do you actually believe in your goal?
Goals need to have some level of emotion to them, something that gives it a deeper meaning to you.
“I want to lose weight cos everyone else thinks I should” is a bit meh as a goal.
“I will lose weight because I told my kids you can do anything you put your mind to and I’m setting their example”, that may just get your arse to the gym on a cold morning.
A goal that is clear, concise, a little exciting and has an emotional resonance is mahooosively important.
I nearly titled this as accountability but to be honest I’m not a fan of accountability.
Whatever you want to achieve is your responsibility and it’s you shouldn’t duck that responsibility by trying to palm it of on someone else to “hold you accountable”.
But having someone to support you is vital.
That could be a member of the family, a friend, training partner or a coach.
Someone to put an arm around your shoulder or kick you up the rear end depending on circumstances.
Having said that here’s a really unsubtle segway - see if you can spot it.
If you’d like someone to help you take the next steps/reach the next level with your training feel free to get in contact via the home page.