How to improve your conditioning levels...

Hi everyone, Donogh here from PFP. In this blog I am going to focus on how to increase fitness or conditioning. We have wrote quite extensively in the past via blogs or on our social media about various ways to improve strength through differing methods, exercises or rep schemes, so now it’s time to talk about conditioning. This is quite a broad topic that I will try to make as simple as possible but due to the vastness of the topic, I will split it into 2 parts.

When training to improve conditioning, you are effectively training the heart. You are trying to train the heart to be able to pump blood around the body fast enough to maintain the activity you are doing (walking, working, training etc.). When designing a conditioning programme, coaches need to know the ultimate goal of the person. In this blog, the focus will be on the person who is looking to improve their lifestyle.

When training to improve conditioning, you are effectively training the heart. You are trying to train the heart to be able to pump blood around the body fast enough to maintain the activity you are doing (walking, working, training etc.). When designing a conditioning programme, coaches need to know the ultimate goal of the person. In this blog, the focus will be on the person who is looking to improve their lifestyle.

Improving your conditioning, much like improving strength, can be done in a variety of ways. The first thing that you need to ask yourself is what exactly you want to improve. Do you want to improve it to play your sport? Is it to improve your quality of life? For example, you struggle to do everyday tasks due to a lack of fitness.

In this scenario, it is likely that adding conditioning exercises at the end of a structured weights programme will help them. We would recommend a form of high intensity interval training. This will usually last up to 15 minutes with interspersed breaks throughout some high intensity exercise, for example: prowler pushes.

Here at PFP, we try to incorporate weights training into all programmes as we believe this is the most efficient way to lose body fat or gain muscle. Increasing your conditioning levels can have a direct impact on the amount of weights training you can do. If your heart is capable of pumping blood around your body at an efficient rate, it will allow you to recover optimally between sets.

If weight training isn’t your thing, and you still would like to improve your conditioning levels, a combination of low intensity steady state training and high intensity training can be a good way to reach your goals. This could be done by going for a brisk walk, slow jog, consistent speed cycling or rowing where you can keep a steady heart rate at around 120-140 beats per minute (this will vary depending on age and fitness levels). Perform this steady state training for 20-60 minutes to improve your hearts ability to pump blood around the body.

 Note: The time above varies quite alot again based on age and fitness levels, you could also go longer than an hour.

Combine this training with some sort of high intensity training on different days with exercises such as burpees, sprints, jumping jacks, mountain climbers etc. for a better conditioning regime that will provide the heart with a different stimulus to improve its function. Try following a time on, time off ratio where you do more work than you rest, for example: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off.

Hopefully, after reading the above you’ll have a bit more of an understanding on how to improve your conditioning levels. If you are looking to improve your conditioning for sport, stay tuned for our next blog.

Thanks,

Donogh

 

My top tips for gains..i.e. Hypertrophy

Your training is going to plan and you want to dial in your nutrition to make some GAINS! If your goal is to gain lean muscle mass, you'll know that getting calories in can be hard at times, especially hitting that protein target. 

  • First thing is liquid calories..easy to get in, easy to digest. Things like milk, smoothies etc. can be had on the go and don't require any planning. With your smoothie, through in a scoop of protein or two, berries /banana /avocado, nut butter, ice, use milk as your liquid to increase cals and protein. 
Image via pinterest

Image via pinterest

  • If you've no intolerances then you can up your intake of grains, especially on days when your carbs are higher.  
  • Don't leave majority of your calories until the afternoon/evening, for me it works well to spread it out throughout the day. If I leave it too late, it can impact on sleep and just leave me feeling a bit sluggish.
  • Eat protein in the morning - I find if I eat a good bit of protein in the morning then it's much easier to hit target for the day. It can happen quite easily that you don't have much protein in the morning, especially if you just have something like oats, and really it's like fighting a losing battle, on the protein front, for the rest of the day. So try include eggs, turkey rashers, protein in oats, salmon on brown bread, protein smoothie, greek yogurt etc. in your first meal. 
Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

  • Don't be too fussy about food sources, sometimes you just have to get the calories in even if it's not the most nutrient dense food. 
  • And my last tip is don't increase your calories too quickly - to reduce the chance of putting on fat tissue you need to be very controlled in your pace of increasing calories. 

Low calorie treats - my top 5!

Calories in versus calories out is the most important element when it comes to fat loss, everything else - macros, supplements, training, sleep etc. - comes after this. The bottom line is that if you eat excess calories (be it from veg, chicken, pizza, protein shakes or chocolate!) you will not lose body fat. Simple. 

So today I'm back with my own favourite low calorie treats - things that I eat that will fit in with my calories and taste great. If you're counting macros you can easily scan your treat into your tracker (e.g. MyFitnessPal) in the morning and that way you've accounted for it and you can make it fit in with your daily calories. If having a small treat everyday helps you stick to your calories/macros goals - then why not? You will still see results...so happy days!  

 

 

1. Curly Wurly

A favourite of mine coming in at only 115 calories. Especially good when they are kept in the fridge. You can easily fit this into your day if you fancy a chocolate treat at night. This definitely won't break the calorie bank. In fact, I've been known to fit 2 of these into my macros /calories on any given day. 

 

oppo ice cream.png

2. Oppo ice-cream

A recent discovery of mine - I found them in Supervalue on the Abbeyleix road in Portlaoise - and if you're an ice-cream lover then look no further. I bought the salted caramel flavour - it is 100% unreal! And I've heard good things about the other flavours too. For half a tub of the salted caramel ice-cream it was about 190 calories - compare that to something like Ben n' Jerrys or the likes. Calories wise, Oppo, are a great option to have in the freezer. 

 

 

3. Aldi Whirlz

Another ice-cream option - a bit of a pattern here! :) These come in at  49 calories each. 

4. Jelly

These jellies are only 10 calories each. Great on their own or paired with something like Glenisk yogurt. Really can help curb a sweet craving if you've no major calories left. 

 

5. Mini trifles 

These mini trifles can be just the thing to hit that sweet craving. At 145 calories, they are not too hard on the macro front either! A handy thing to have in the fridge for those days when you just need something sweet.

And there you have it..a few of my favourite low calorie treats. Any ones I left out? Send me on your recommendations if you've made any good discoveries.

Nigel

 

 

 

Lower back pain? 5 core exercises that may help!

Hi everyone, it’s Donogh here, I’m delighted to have recently joined the team at PFP as strength and conditioning coach.

At some point in your life you will most likely have suffered from lower back pain. I want to talk about my 5 go to exercises that helped me eliminate the lower back pain that I suffered from for quite a few months.

Before I get into it, I know low back pain can come from multiple sources but I also know the main source of low back pain is often from either a weak core or a poorly controlled core. I have a background in sports injuries and so have helped many people get over back pain, most of the time fixing the core helps.

I designed this core circuit for myself but have since given it to a lot of my clients and with proper technique it has reduced pain in every instance and eliminated it completely with a few. These 5 exercises cover every direction of movement and targets each of the main muscles of the core. The idea behind it is to learn how to switch on the core repeatedly and to teach the core not to allow movement in the trunk while other movements are occurring – this is called anti rotation. Anti-rotation for me is a crucial part of creating an efficient core. Whether you’re a footballer bracing for a challenge or a block layer shovelling cement, your back will not like the pressure of constant twisting. Learning how to control the core and getting it strong at limiting movement in the trunk will prevent back pain.

Everyone who is a member in PFP will know these exercises and those of you that aren’t a member (shame on you!) should know them too. There is nothing fancy to it but it’s about consistency and challenging all areas. Too often I see people training core either with poor technique (which can put added pressure on the low back) or not training the entire core.

The first thing everyone must know about the core is how to properly switch it on. If you can imagine having a beer can under your rib cage and trying to squash that can with your ribs, you will have switched on your core. Every core exercise should be done “squashing a beer can”.

The 5 exercises are done in a circuit for 3 sets with a 1 minute rest after all 5 are done.

The exercises are:

1.       Plank

2.       Side Plank

Everyone knows what a plank and side plank are but not everyone can perform them correctly. I would suggest videoing yourself doing it to provide visual feedback or to ask a qualified trainer how to do it. If you were to look at someone doing a plank they should be completely straight (like a plank). A lot of people do planks for long reps (60secs), what I suggest is more reps but shorter time (6x10sec with 1 sec between reps). You still get the 60 seconds of work on your core but instead of long shakey reps, you instead teach your body how to go from a relaxed state to an engaged state in the core. I have found this method helps more with low back pain because throughout the day we go from a relaxed state to needing our core (picking an object up).

Key Points for plank and side plank

·         Squash can

·         Body in straight line

·         10 seconds on 1 second off, 6 reps

 

3.       Deadbug – The deadbug is my favourite core exercise, it teaches core control while moving the limbs. This closely mimics running and if done properly can take a lot of pressure off the low back. It also teaches coordination between arms and legs which some can find challenging. To do this exercise correctly, lie on your back, drive the back flat into the floor, squash the beer can and allow no movement from the trunk for the entire exercise. With straight arms point your hands to the sky, bring your knees up towards your chest with your hip and knee angle at 90 degrees. I perform 20 reps per set, 5 dropping the right arm behind your head while dropping your right leg straight down to the ground. Repeat on your left. I then perform opposite hand to leg on each side. Each of these challenges the core in different ways and provide great stability.

Key Points

·         Back flat against ground, squash can

·         Arms pointed towards sky directly over shoulder

·         Knees directly over hips and knee angle at 90 degrees

·         5 reps with same sided movement and opposite side movement – 20 reps total

·         Avoid trunk movement

 

4.       Landmine Rotations – Another exercise that works on anti-rotation by preventing movement in the trunk while movement is occurring. With the bar either fixed in a landmine fitting or in the corner of the wall, pick up the bar and lock both arms straight out in front of you. Drop the bar to one side keeping your trunk steady in one position. The only movement should come from your arms and a little from your upper back. Your low back and hips should stay locked in the starting position. Repeat these 10 times on each side.

Key Points

·         Squash can

·         Movement from arms and upper back

·         10 reps

 

5.       Barbell Rollouts – These can be done band assisted or without the band depending on your ability. Again, squash the beer can while doing the exercise and roll out until your body is fully straight, then roll back to the start position. Rollouts, again, are providing movement while your core fights to stay stable.

Key Points

·         Starting from your knees with or without a band

·         Squash the can

·         Roll out until fully straight but without touching your body off the floor

·         Roll back to start position

·         10 reps

 

So, they are my 5 go to exercises for low back pain. Before doing this circuit, make sure you know how to do each exercise properly. Any questions don’t hesitate to come in and ask.

 

Donogh Flannery

 

Bad Hamstrings?...Our top tips...

Hi everyone,

Coach Ev here again.

This blog post is aimed towards those who complain of having ‘’Bad Hamstrings’’, and who are wondering how they can fix this. 

 

Here are my 4 tops tips for developing and strengthening those hamstrings.

1)      Flexibility

This is a simple one, you don’t need much on this and there are many ways you can work on hamstring flexibility. Here at PFP we keep it simple with toe touch progressions and leg lowers. For the toe touch progression. Start with your knees straight and feet hip width apart, toes elevated (on a rope or small block of wood), and in a controlled manner walk your fingers down your legs, then try with heels elevated. Again, keeping it simple can be most effective. With leg lowers all you need is a band or piece of rope, lie back on the ground with the end of the rope etc wrapped around one foot keeping your leg elevated but knee straight. Raise the other leg to the same to the same angle as the leg being held by the rope. Even at home using static hold stretches can help. However, before a gym/pitch/class session I would strongly recommend using more dynamic movements.

 

2)      Mobility

It may not be your hamstrings that are the problem but rather poor mobility or movement from the ankle or hip. Working on simple mobility exercises can aid in the movement in these joints thus helping the hamstring lengthen. For ankles, I would always recommend a simple exercise known as ‘’knee to wall’’. Where you place one knee on the ground, like a lunge position, keep your front heel flat and press your knee forward. Over time you’ll find you’ll get further and further away from the wall. For hip mobility, the list is almost endless ranging from goblet squats to front foot elevated split squats to fire hydrants and to more lateral squats.

 

3)      Glute Activation

Poor glute activation is often a factor when athletes or gym goes complain of tight or sore hamstrings. Mini bands are an easy and effective method of activating the glutes in a warm up and go a long way to rectifying the problem. Getting a band around the knees and working on walks, clams and side lying leg raises will guarantee those glute are firing, in addition work on glute bridges and hip thrusts.

 

4)      Eccentric Strength

(Eccentric strength has been highly backed up by research as a valuable tool in preventing hamstring strains. Eccentric strength is where you slow down the lowering portion of a rep e.g. RDL deadlift with a 5 sec lowering on a rep and then explode up)

RDLs!! Nordic Curls! And Glute Ham Raises!

Using tempo work for these can put the muscle under eccentric tension. For an RDL or Romanian deadlift, I would use at least 3 seconds eccentricly or on the way down. This puts the muscle under tension whilst lengthening it. Having good eccentric strength aids in reducing your chance of injury but for athletes also helps with deceleration during speed and agility work.

So, there’s my top tips for helping those dodgey hammys. Any questions as always call into PFP or give us a shout.

Ev Hennessy B.Sc

 

How to get the most from your gym experience...

Hi everyone, Coach Ev here at PFP.

Whether you’re an athlete, fitness fanatic or new to the gym life, getting the most from your experience is vital in order to keep you motivated and help you achieve your goals.

So here are my recommendations to help you get the most from your experience.

1)      Research

Gyms are not one size fits all. There are many different gyms out there to cater for various needs. Finding the right gym for you is vital for your success. Choosing the right gym can seem like a difficult task. Do some research on them. Check out their website. Make an appointment to come in and chat with the staff about your goals. Some gyms cater specifically for weight training, fitness based classes, personal training, Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting, team conditioning or even pay as you go. (FYI - PFP Gym caters for all of the aforementioned!)  The gym you choose will determine the experience you have. And this really can be the difference between you achieving your goals and giving up. Talk to the staff and get the blunt facts! Find out what each place offers and what qualifications and experience the staff have. 

 

2)      Goals

Set yourself both long and short term goals. Make sure that your goals are SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and  time based. An example of poor goal setting is - 'I want to squat more', 'I want to be thin', 'I want to get fit' - none of these are SMART. How will you ever know if you have achieved your goal? You won't! Goals like these set the individual up for failure and they end up giving up. Good goal setting might sound like the following 'I want to squat 5kg more in 4 weeks time', 'I want to lose 10 lbs in 8 weeks' or 'I want to run 10km without stopping by the end of the year'. Be mindful of your goals. Think about what you really want to achieve. Be realistic. And reflect every so often to assess how you are progressing towards the goal. 

 

3)      Get yourself a diary

A great way to see real improvements is to get yourself a diary. Write in everything you eat and the times you eat at, your work schedule, training schedule and how your mood is from day to day. Yes, I know it’s quite a bit to keep track of, but you’ll clearly be able see if eating certain things impact your mood/ training/ work state. This will help to keep you motivated and it can help to determine any nutrition issues. Another benefit of a food diary is the accountability factor - seeing what you are eating in black and white can be an eye-opener for some people. The fact that you are recording everything that you eat means you are less likely to eat mindlessly throughout the day.  If writing down everything isn't your thing, there are plenty of apps that allow you to record food intake online.  

 

4)      Feedback

Don't be afraid to ask questions when training. A good coach will not only explain how to do something, but will also explain WHY you are doing it. Learn about different exercises and build your own knowledge.  From time to time, your coach may need to alter your program based on your physical capabilities. This is done to ensure that you are getting the most from your training. Be ready for your coach to correct your form - it's not a criticism! Good form is crucial to prevent injury and to make sure you are getting the most form your session. 

So, those are some of my tips when trying to get the most out of your gym experience. Any questions don’t be afraid call in and ask.

Ev Hennessy B.Sc

Personal trainer/ Strength and Conditioning Coach

 

Can exercise help you beat anxiety?

We all know how good working out is for our physical health, so let's start a conversation today about the benefits of working out for your mental health. 

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

Exercise is underutilized as a method of managing and treating anxiety. It has no negative side-effects and it can be free, if you do it at home or outside.

Several studies have shown that there is a very powerful connection between exercise and anxiety. In fact, the coloration between both is so strong, that exercise on its own may be enough to drastically diminish the symptoms of anxiety. 

How can exercise do this?

1. Endorphins - the body releases endorphins when you exercise. These are your body's natural 'painkillers',  and in addition they play a massive role in regulating your mood and relaxing your mind. You know that 'feel good' feeling after a workout ? Yep! That's the endorphins. 

2. Sleep - exercise tires out the body and  can enable those who have anxiety to get a better night's sleep. A lack of sleep, or inability to sleep, makes the symptoms of anxiety worse. Exercise can release all of the excess energy in the body and mind - in fact, high intensity exercise has been shown to tire out the body and the mind simultaneously. 

3. Inactivity anxiety - a lack of exercise can lead to an excess of energy and this energy can be misplaced by the body, resulting in increased tension and stress. An increase in stress levels can exacerbate anxiety. This is very much linked with the above point on sleep. A lack activity can feed into a lack of sleep, and together both of these elements can accumulate and worsen the symptoms of anxiety. 

4. Healthy coping strategy- managing anxiety through exercise is a healthy coping strategy. Sometimes we turn to things like alcohol to manage anxiety. But the consumption of alcohol, as a coping strategy,  will usually have a negative impact on anxiety and will often lead to a worsening of symptoms. Exercise, on the other hand, is a positive means of dealing with anxiety with lots of additional benefits such as improved overall health. If you are in a gym or a group, such as a running group, the camaraderie and friendships can be an additional support in managing anxiety.

So that's it - a brief overview of how exercise can help to cope with and manage anxiety. In the long term, a regular exercise schedule can dramatically alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. If you, or someone you know, is suffering with anxiety, please do seek medial advice - medication is may sometimes be necessary, but exercise can, and should, compliment it.

As always, feel free to get in touch,

Nigel

If you need to talk to someone please phone one of the numbers below:

Aware (Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder & Anxiety)

www.aware.ie
Tel: 1800 80 48 48

National Suicide Helpline (Pieta House)
1800 247 247

Pieta House (Suicide & Self-harm)

www.pieta.ie
Tel: 01 623 5606

Grow (Mental Health support and Recovery)

www.grow.ie
Tel: 1890 474 474

IACP (Counselling & Psychotherapy)

www.iacp.ie
Tel: 01 230 3536

Shine (Supporting people effected by mental ill health)

www.shine.ie
Tel: 01 860 1620

Teenline Ireland Helpline

www.teenireland.ie
1800 833 634

For references and further info please see below :

Exercise for Mood and Anxiety, Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being, by Michael W. Otto, PhD, and Jasper A.J. Smits, PhD (Oxford University Press, 2011)

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201506/sitting-all-day-increases-your-risk-anxiety

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/mindfulness-the-power-thinking-about-your-thinking

http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/treatment/exercising

 

 

Why the site of your pain is not necessarily the source of your pain...

When we have pain, the usual reaction is to assume some sort of injury or issue at the site of the pain and so we normally set about getting treatment to this area in order to eliminate the pain.  

But this may not be the only answer to your problem.

Treating the site of the pain is fine, but the site is not necessarily the primary source of your discomfort. Many people don't know that a dysfunction at one joint can cause over-use at another, and eventually lead to injury.

The body is just like a stack of joints. Each joint has a specific function and if it fails to do its job, then the joint above or below must pick up the slack. This can lead to injury.

So what are the functions of our various joints? The ankle’s primary job is mobility, the knee’s function is stability, the hip is concerned with mobility, the lower back’s purpose is stability and the upper back is mobility.

If you are getting a common pain - such as knee pain, where might it be coming from? There are many potential answers to this, but it could very well be that your ankle or hips (or both!) are lacking in mobility meaning that your knee has had to compensate for this, and so resulting in knee pain. 

I regularly get asked about the difference between mobility and stability with regards to joints - mobility is the ability of the joint to move through a preferably full range of motion; stability on the other hand is the opposite. A stable joint needs to resist motion; not produce it. If your hips or upper back fail to move properly, your lower back will become mobile. So when your lower back is in pain, it can be due to a lack of range of motion in the hips or upper back.

Bottom line is that if you are in pain - STOP. Pain is a sign something is wrong and you shouldn't try to train through it. That's why I particularly DESPISE the sort of quotes bandied about below - they perpetuate the idea that you should be in pain in the gym . Let's be clear - you shouldn't be in pain. Yes, it may be uncomfortable and sore; you may feel 'the burn', but actual pain in any joint or muscle shouldn't be happening!

If an exercise hurts, then don’t do the exercise. With an appropriate gym program you can train the joints to enhance mobility and stability and to then eliminate any joint pain you may be experiencing.  

As always please get in touch if you have any questions  - I'm more than happy to help. 

Nigel

It's too late to start now...

Over the past few days, I've had a few people say that they feel it's too late in the year to start working towards their fitness goals and that they'll start back in January!! 

January!! That's eight weeks away. 

Imagine the difference eight weeks of consistent training and good food choices could make. You could make great strides towards your goal in that time-frame.

But really the thing is that eating right and training shouldn't be something that we stop and start - of course there will be times when we are more dedicated than others - but if they are to be sustainable in the long-term, then your food and training choices should easily fit into your lifestyle. Get rid of all the extremes. 

My advice to anyone who is wondering whether to start a training plan now is to just do it.

  1. Make a start. I know that sounds obvious - but it's usually the hardest part.
  2. Don't jump in head first and do a complete 360 - you'll find that very difficult to maintain. Instead, start off with small changes - go to the gym twice a week, make healthier food choices.
  3. Don't eliminate any food groups - find healthier alternatives if you want, but try to avoid a situation of 'good' and 'bad' foods. Educate yourself on what is in your food.
  4. Take photos - photos will show up progress far better than the scales. 
  5. Find a type of training that you enjoy and surround yourself with like minded people.

So the conclusion is that - it's NEVER too late to start. I guarantee that you will NEVER, EVER regret taking steps to improve yourself and your health.

With Christmas just around the corner, I know that there is a pressure to look your best around this time of year. So fear not - by starting now you will be well on your way to feeling and looking your best by the time the party season begins. But not only that, but you will have the tools in place to continue on your journey and to build on the good habits that you have created.

If you've any questions about training, macros, plateaus  - anything at all - then shoot me a message and I'll get back to you. Or if you need someone to give you a good kick start then I'm happy to do that too!!

Cheers,

Nigel