Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Tabata 'Miracle'

It's a miracle. You can get fit in 4 minutes a day with this brand new way to exercise. It was on BBC Breakfast yesterday. It's in the Daily Mail today! It's brilliant. It's fantastic. Who-hoo!

Except... (because there's always an except) it's not new. It's been around for a long time. High Intensity Interval Training was studied by Professor Izumi Tabata in 1996 and this method grew up around that study, based around ultra-intense exercise for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeated 8 times.

Except... ultra-intense means absolute maximal effort for each and every interval. Have you ever worked out so hard your legs have given way beneath you as you left the gym? Have you ever been unable to get off the bike through sheer exhaustion? Have you ever felt like you've wanted to vomit a little bit? That's the kind of effort you need to put in. Still interested?

I'm not completely against this type of training - but it's about balance, and knowing why you're working out the way you are. It's about going to a gym/running outside/doing an exercise video and working your hardest. People who go to a gym and cycle at 60 rpm for an hour are in a rut and never going to achieve their goals - they are barely working out, they can talk happily to their friend on the next machine, wear flawless make-up, not sweat. These are the people who tabata will most appeal to (4 minutes, is that all?), but they are the least likely to be able to carry it out.

If you go back and read my second sentence you'll see it said  you can get fit in 4 minutes a day. Fitness is highly subjective. For me, fitness means being strong, being able to run away from danger, and being able to run around for an hour with my kids without keeling over. It means that I know I want to lift heavy weights, and I need to do at least 30 minutes of cardio.

For you, fitness might mean speed and explosive power - in which case tabata would work well. For the Daily Mail article above, it appears to be about losing weight, as that's really the only comparable statistic that's mentioned.

The most important thing that seems to be missing from all the current band-wagon articles is that it shouldn't be the only method for exercise. Mix up your programme. Tabata twice a week, 20-30 minute endurance cardiao work, circuit training, strength training...

There are plenty of articles on the internet, discussing this topic much better than I can, because I don't have the facts and figures that other people have studied.

Try this: Google 'Tabata' and 'Tabata Myth'
and make your own mind up.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Blogging from A- Z...

I have edited this post to say that I am no longer taking part in the challenge. Over the last couple of days I've had a few visitors as a pre-lim to the challenge, so I think I might still be on the list (although I can't find my link, so I'm not sure).

I wish everyone who is taking part in the challenge the best of luck!

So far my little blog has 15 followers - 15 fantastic followers, but a small number nonetheless.

This time last year, my writing blog was quite small too. I signed up for the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge and found lots of new followers, and lots of new people to follow.

So I thought I'd give it a go with this blog too. It means I'll be posting almost every day of April, excluding Sundays. So although I'm being very random with my posts at the moment, this should give me the kick I need to get this blog up and running properly.

I have no idea, at the moment, I'll have a theme, but knowing fitness as I do I'll just be happy if I can find topics for all the letters. I might have to make up a few of my own... although I know a great Z I can use. You'll have to wait...

Have you signed up yet? Are you planning to?
I'll be back with a fitness topic in a couple of days time!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

How to lift 3lbs

Sitting in work the other day between clients, my thoughts turned to Tracy Anderson. They do this every now and then - bizarre, I know. For those who don't know, Tracy Anderson is personal trainer to Gwyneth Paltrow and (previously) Madonna, amongst others. If you google her name you'll come up with a host of things about her - good, bad and ugly - but I'm not going to jump on any bandwagon.

One of Anderson's main teachings is that no woman should ever lift more than 3lbs for fear of bulking up. This is a clever use of words, if nothing else!

Firstly, most women fear bulking up (some even cite it as a reason not to exercise at all), although it's impossible without a lot of work and a lot of eating (here's a post I wrote last January - worth reading just to understand how you don't accidentally bulk up).

And secondly, the term bulking up means different things to different people. Personally, when I see Anderson herself, or Paltrow, I see women who are thin but without much shape or definition - however you might look at photos of Paltrow and see your dream body. My dream body would be this one. I would not want to aim for this.

See, we're all different, but when the term bulking up is used in Tracy Anderson's context, we all become fearful!

I'm not going to use this post to knock her Method (although it's been suggested the diet she recommends only provides 700 calories a day which is beyond dangerous, especially with the one/two hour exercise per day she suggests.)

Anderson is helping people who are looking for purely aesthetic results - she's picking on women who are insecure and want very quick results - whereas when I train myself and others, I train so that when I'm 80 I'll still be able to carry my own shopping bags, walk up stairs, and get up out of a chair without several different aids. All of this (assuming you are in good health) should be more than achievable, it should be expected.

To ensure that I lift weights heavy enough to build muscle (no I'm not bulky!) and maintain the muscle I have. At my age this muscle should be naturally and slowly decreasing - when muscle decreases, your body needs less calories, if you eat the same as you did ten years ago you'll start putting on weight. I am doing everything I can to prevent that

The weights in my gym are in kilograms - 3lbs is equivalent to roughly 1.4kgs.

This is what I lift:

  • Bicep curls: 6kg
  • Tricep extentions: 4kg
  • Dumbbell chest press: 8kg
  • Dumbbell bent over row: 10kg
  • Leg press: 85kg

In the grand scheme of things, these are still light weights - certainly not enough to give me a Jodie Marsh-style body. My aim this year is to increase all the weights I lift.

I like the fact that I can lift boxes of books, sofas (with help), pick up my 8 year old (still). If you limit yourself to lifting 3lbs, you will eventually not be able to do very much at all and you will stay relatively weak and (in my opinion) a little shapeless. You won't be lifting enough to build muscle and gradually it will start to decrease - meaning you'll put on weight, and I'll be carrying your shopping bags for you!

Here are some things that weigh more than 3lbs:
  • A bag of potatoes at the supermarket
  • Your Sunday roast
  • Your recycling/rubbish bag
  • Your baby
Have you heard of/tried the Tracy Anderson Method?
Do you think I'm being harsh?
How do you work out when you go to the gym?
Do you use weights, or stick to cardio?

Friday, 18 January 2013

Guest post: Jade Varden

Today I'm happy to introduce Jade Varden, my first guest post on this blog, to talk about her weight loss... 

The Day I Realized I’m Fat
By Jade Varden

I guess I was working my way toward becoming fat for a while, but didn’t really notice. I kept rotating my pairs of blue jeans to find bigger sizes. Then I switched to sweatpants with stretchy waistbands. Eventually, I woke up one day and realized that none of my clothes fit me anymore.

I was fat, and I was immediately worried. When had this happened? Why had this happened? I was exercising up to twice a week, for Heaven’s sake! So I went straight to the doctor that cold February day, and firmly told him I was going to need a full workup – check my hormones, check my blood, check it all. Clearly, something was physically wrong with me or my weight wouldn’t be so out of control.

I grit my teeth through every test, and waited patiently (well, in this version of the story) for the physician to return.

“What’s wrong with me?” I was anxious, and sweating, and on the verge of bursting through my sweat pants.

“Absolutely nothing.” He put my file down and turned to look at me. “Other than the weight, you’re in perfect physical health.”

“What about my hormones? I don’t have some sort of imbalance? I read on the Internet that a hormonal imbalance can cause unexplained weight gain.”

“Your hormones are perfect.”

“Well…why am I so fat?” I demanded desperately. My confusion was genuine. I’ve never been exactly happy with my weight, and I’ve always been a bit on the plump side, but after I stepped on the scale that day at the doctor’s office I knew without a doubt I was well past plump. I was fat.

“How many calories are you eating per day?” He fired right back.

I didn’t have an answer. I mumbled something about how I don’t count calories, but “I watch what I eat.”

He told me to stop watching it, and start counting it instead. So I left his office that February morning, and I went out to get myself a notepad and a pen. And I started to follow his advice…by eating 1200 calories a day.

Becoming a Thin Girl

Now, let me make this clear. I visited my doctor, and he suggested that I drop my daily calorie count to 1200 until I lost the extra 50 pounds I didn’t need. For many women, 1200 calories a day is just enough to sustain life. If you eat fewer calories than this, you will become anorexic and you will slowly starve to death. Even eating 1200 calories a day is dicey business…as I was on the brink of discovering in February, 2012.

I went over on the first day, up to 1350, and immediately felt like a failure. I could have just given up after that day, and buried my face in a jar of peanut butter instead. But I had come to a point in my life where I decided I was done. I was done with being fat, I was done with being plump. I was done with worrying about my weight. I was going to learn how to control it.

I was going to become thin.

So I went to the grocery store, and pretty much bought them out of low-calorie snacks and meals. I learned that yogurt and Jell-O can be decently filling in a pinch, that 80-calorie bread isn’t all that horrible once you get used to it, and that you can even get ice cream sandwiches that are less than 100 calories each. They are small, yes, but when you’re dieting on a strict basis any little treat is cause for celebration.

And I started to eat 1200 calories a day, every day, regularly. I had to buy more measuring cups, because I was tired of washing the set I had four times a day. I had to give up on peanut butter and baked potatoes. I discovered that mustard is zero calories, and made it my favorite condiment. I started putting pico de gaillo – a low-cal treat at only 5 per tablespoon – on everything.

I upped my exercise schedule to four days a week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I started out at 20 minutes per session. I built my entire daily schedule around exercise time, shower time, snack times and meal times. I had to start eating every three hours, because otherwise I felt like I was starving all day. Eating small snacks throughout the day made me feel like I was cheating, even though I wasn’t. A 60-calorie chocolate pudding becomes decadent when you’re on a severe diet.

I didn’t notice any results. That’s right: none. A month went by, two months. I began adding time and motions to my exercise routine, until I was up to no less than 90 minutes per session (yes you read it right – 6 hours a week). But dutifully I kept on eating just enough to prevent starvation, and sweating buckets four days out of every seven. I weighed myself regularly, and eventually noticed the numbers were dropping. My body was a lot slower to react – I guess it didn’t know I was supposed to be on this big-deal diet and exercise routine.

In this fashion, 6 months went by. I woke up feeling tired and grumpy one Sunday in the middle of a hot summer, and reached for a pair of shorts I like to schlep around in when I just don’t care. I put them on and made my way into the kitchen to get something to drink.

The pants fell down around my ankles in the hall. I rushed back to my bedroom and turned on all the lights, then stripped naked to stare in the mirror. At some point when I wasn’t looking, my body shrunk. I started trying on my clothes right then and there, and by the time I’d put on every single pair of jeans in my closet I realized that I’d done it.

I was a thin girl…or at least, I was going to be. Because my program was working. That was in early July, after I lost the first 40 pounds. I increased my daily calories at that point, to 1300, to slow down my weight loss a little. I knew I was nearing the end of my thin girl road, and would have to slowly work myself out of full-on weight-loss mode. I started the diet dramatically, so I knew I wanted to ease out of it a little more carefully.

It was right about that time that other people started noticing my weight loss, too, and commenting on it. This empowered me. I had acted on a plan, I had stuck with the plan, and I’d made it work. By that time, when people asked about it, I told them it was actually sort of easy to lose all the weight. I was so happy with the results, I forgot about those desperate days of hunger and desire. It’s hard to drive past the fast food places that tantalize you with sweet French fry scents, to sit through those mouth-watering pizza commercials that require you only to dial a number before this Heavenly creation is brought directly to the front door. It’s hard to eat 1200 calories a day.

It’s really easy to fall in love with what eating 1200 calories a day can do. I slowly increased my calorie count through the rest of the summer, and devised a more sane exercise routine that I can live with long-term (I still do it four days a week, but now my sessions are 40 to 80 minutes in length). By October 1, I reached my ideal weight.

A year has passed, now, since that day in February 2012 when I realized that I was fat. I weigh 104 pounds, and I eat 1500 calories a day because I have a very sedentary job (I can’t figure out how to jog and write at the same time). On the days that I exercise, I eat extra calories – up to 400, depending on how much exercising I’ve done. After eating 1200 calories a day for so long, I feel like I’m pigging out half the time. And sometimes I’ll have a small treat – a piece of birthday cake, two of those glorious Christmas cookies, a handful of those French fries. But I’m still on a diet.

I’m going to be on a diet for the rest of my life, because I’m always going to count my calories carefully. I’ve seen what happens when I don’t, and I know exactly what I’m eating every day. The simple act of writing it down is cathartic – you’ll either feel triumphant or defeated every time, and it’s a powerful motivator. I’m going to pay attention to the calories I eat and the calories I burn, because I’m thin…and I’m going to stay that way. Now, I know how.

Jade after in her
before jeans
Weight: 152lbs (10st 12lbs/68.9kg)
Waist: 36 inches (91.4cm)
Hips: 40 inches (101.6cm)
Jeans size: US 10 (UK 12)

Weight: 104 lbs (7st 6lbs/47.2kg)
Waist: 25.5 inches (64.8cm)
Hips: 29 inches (73.6cm)
Jeans size: US 4 (UK 6)

About the Author

In addition to creating young adult novels for teen readers, Jade Varden writes freelance articles on fitness and fashion. When she’s not crafting mysteries in her books, Jade blogs practical writing tips for other authors. Jade currently makes her home in Louisville, Kentucky, where she attempts to share exercise space with one very insistent cat. Follow her on Twitter @JadeVarden.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Motivating Amy Part 4

I'm finally recovered from the bug I've been suffering from (fingers crossed, touch wood etc), so I'm ready for Part 4. Sorry for the delay - I really hope this was worth waiting for!

Part 1Part 2Part 3

And now...
The biggest mistake that women's magazines make is they suggest using light weights like baked bean tins, and yet still give the reader unrealistic expectations about how this will help them Lose 1 stone in 6 weeks or Get Cheryl Cole's body in 7 days. If you've read any of my other posts, you'll know my answer to that is a big NO YOU CAN'T. 

As I've already mentioned, the key to success with exercising is progression, and using tins means at some point you'll be as strong as you need to be to lift those tins... if you weren't before you started the workout programme, because I imagine you take them out of the cupboard, open them and pour them into saucepans.

So these are my suggestions for improving those initial exercises once they're too easy. You will need: a two plastic bags and things to put in the plastic bags (possibly baked bean tins, but make sure you have more than two!), and an exercise band (link for Amazon, but you can buy them at Tesco and Holland & Barrett amongst others)

For all of these exercises you need to do 12 reps, rest for 30 seconds, then do at least 2 further sets. Once you can do that, you need to find a progression. If you're stuck, I'm always here to help!

1) Press ups - the best chest exercise!

The easiest version is against a wall.

Stand with your hands on the wall, slightly wider than shoulder width.

Bend your arms from the elbow and lower yourself towards the wall.

Push yourself beck to the start position, making sure you're using your arms, not your legs or hips!

Once you can do 12 reps x 3 sets, using your stairs is the next stage (or a chair if you don't have stairs)...

Move down the steps once it gets easy again until your doing the press ups on the floor.

2) Standing rows - using exercise band. If you buy this band, it will usually come with some exercise suggestions. This exercise is usually shown seated, but I like doing it standing because it means your core muscles (link to diagram on T-Nation) have to engage.

Wrap the band around something secure, and stand with your arms straight, one leg in front of the other for stability. Pull the band towards you, making sure your elbows are pointing directly behind you.

This exercise is also possible with a skipping rope. You would wrap the skipping rope around something secure, stand with your feet close to the post, hold the handles of the skipping rope and lean back keeping your body in a straight line (like the press ups above). Then pull yourself back to a standing position using your arms, not your legs.

3) Lateral raises. This shoulder exercise is one where those baked bean tins might come in handy - start with one in each hand, then progress. In the photos below I'm using the band and some plastic bags with tins in them, 2 in each to start with, increasing as I get stronger!

Starting position, hands by side       Raise arms, so they are parallel to floor.    Alternative method!

4) Lunges... ish

Taking the stairs, two at a time, means your glutes (the muscles in the bum) have to really fire. Take it very slowly, and hold those plastic bags filled with food tins or books. A baby also makes a great weight, because they keep getting heavier!!

So, there you go. Hopefully I've given you a few ideas on how you can take exercises from magazines or the internet and tweek them to make them hard enough. The only way to get stronger and build muscle is to lift a weight that feels hard to you. Always try to push yourself a little bit beyond your comfort zone and gradually you'll notice shape and definition. And remember, the more muscle you have the more calories your body will be using, even at rest!

I hope this post was worth waiting for.
Have I missed anything out? Is there an exercise you'd like me to address?
Are these instructions clear enough to follow?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Way laid by germs, and why it's good to read food labels

So all the best laid plans go awry, don't they? Motivating Amy Part 4 is still in draft form as I've been feeling too lousy to complete it - as I mentioned in my last post, I have to pose for a couple of photos, much better than explaining!

I thought I'd search the net for some great links to keep you all buzzing with enthusiasm, but I haven't found very much. All the 'get fit for 2013' style articles I've found are aimed at women, and as apparently women can't lift any more than 2lb weights without pumping up to Arnie-in-the-70s proportions*, there's very little to share with you that I believe in. Which makes me even more determined to get my own thoughts into photo form!

(*this will never happen, honest, I promise you there's a lot more to 'bulking up' than lifting something that weighs less than your handbag or baby!)

Personally, I've worked out a great gym plan for myself, and it's sitting in my gym bag waiting for me to use it. I've been eating far too much left-over Christmas chocolates and biscuits, we have half a Christmas cake to eat (and another on the way - my mum makes such good Christmas cakes Hubby always makes sure we get two!), and Hubby bought me a Belgian Chocolate Christmas Pudding because I don't like the real thing.

It was only after I'd eaten it - with custard - that I looked at the nutritional information and realised that not only was it a two person pudding, but the whole thing (that I'd eaten!) was a total of 800 calories... Yep, just under half my daily intake if I was working out and not slobbing around feeling sorry for myself!

And that's why it's important to read the nutritional information, not only does it give you the calorie count, it also tells you how much they expect you to eat - and in some cases it's a lot smaller than you think!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Bits and pieces, and hello

Thank you to everyone who's visited since I revived this blog. Please feel free to leave a comment and introduce yourselves - I'd love to get to know you better!

I've had my other blog - about my writing life - for a very long time, and it has lots of visitors every day, so I'd forgotten the amount of work that goes in to setting up a new one!

I'm taking a couple of days rest from the Motivating Amy series because I'm ill, and I plan to demonstrate some exercises for Part 4. How have you found the first three parts? Am I making sense?

As well as having a horrible cold, I'm back to work this afternoon. An air-conditioned gym with music blaring isn't the best place to be when you're feeling bad, but it'll be great to see all the regulars again. My own workouts have been sporadic over the Christmas period - every year I plan to get to the gym at least twice a week over the Christmas fortnight, and I've never managed it!

I have my new regime in my head, all my niggling injuries seem to have be rested and mended, and I'm ready to make 2013 a great year.

Have you made any fitness goals for 2013? I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Motivating Amy Part 3

Part 1
Part 2
(which will also explain why these posts are called 'Motivating Amy'!)

This is one of my favourite subjects, because I like lifting weights. But even if you don't want to go to a gym and fight for space in the free weight area, maintaining and/or building muscle is important, especially when you're dieting.

Here's some maths for you:

A 60kg, 5ft 6 woman uses roughly 1345 calories a day just to survive - heart, lung, kidney, brain etc functions - the important stuff!
Add in a 'light' level of activity - commuting, working in an office, working out a couple of times a week - and this daily requirement increases to 1880 calories.
(Here's the calculator I used but a search of 'calorie requirements' will bring up many others)

So far, so good. I'll assume this woman - I'll call her Amy - is eating 1880 calories because her weight is stable - her calorie intake is matching her calorie output. But she would like to lose weight, and reads about a fad diet  in a magazine which claims 1000 calories a day, plus some strange moves with a couple of cans of baked beans, will help her lose a dress size.

This calorie count is 345 calories less than she needs to survive. Initially her body will rely on body fat and muscle for fuel, but after a couple of weeks (maybe less, maybe more, it depends on the individual) her body will realise it's being starved and cling on to the body fat. Muscle, however, will still be used - it's a rich source of fuel but it also needs fuel to exist, fuel that's very much in short supply. Also, as muscles uses energy for its own purposes it makes sense for the body to get rid of it.

After a few more weeks, Amy's body will have got used to living on 1000 calories (including being a bit more careful how it uses her heart, lungs and other vital organs) and because she is no longer in calorie deficit (ie. her intake is matching her output again) her weight plateaus. Now, either Amy will cut down more calories, or she'll give up the diet because a) it's not working and b) she's hungry and wants to eat proper food again.

Cutting down more will repeat the process I outlined above, but with increasingly serious consequences, so I'll focus on giving up the diet. Amy returns to eating 1880 calories a day, but - BUT! - her body thinks she's overeating by 880 calories because it's been used to living on 1000 calories, and her muscle has been stripped. It takes 3500 extra calories to put on one pound of body fat - which will be about four days!

I hope this makes sense, because it is the reason why NO DIET WILL EVER WORK. Moderation with food and exercise is the best way. If Amy had been maintaining her muscle mass the excess would not have been so extreme when she came off the diet.

Stay tuned for Part 4, when I'll be explaining how to build muscle when you don't
lift weights, or want to lift weights, or have weights to lift!