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

 

Shoulders and T-spine Health

Opening up the shoulders and Thoracic spine

Hey everyone coach Ev here, following on from my previous blog, I said I would write a blog on how to free up the shoulders and thoracic spine.

Many of us have developed bad habits that have led to restrictions in our movement ability in our shoulders and t-spine. My experience of coaching has shown me that those who play hurling or rugby usually have greater shoulder and t-spine mobility in comparison to Gaelic footballers and soccer players. And those who sleep on their shoulders often have a huge imbalance in their shoulder mobility when both sides are compared. This could potentially lead to an injury over time which may vary from minor muscle strains to more severe disk issues etc. Almost all of the exercises below can be done at home and can hugely help in creating a little extra mobility.

T-spine

Side lying windmills

Get a foam roller and place this under your top knee whilst lying on your side. Bring your knee to 90° angle. Start by having your hands together with your arms straight. With your top hand, use your thumb like a pencil and draw around your body as you exhale. Keep your thumb in contact with the ground at all times. Your top shoulder will drop towards the ground during this process. Also keep your knee in contact with the foam roller throughout the movement. If you have never completed a movement like this before you may feel ‘popping’ or cracking in your t-spine and this is normal.

 

Bretzel

Whilst lying on your side, bring your knee to a 90° knee angle. With your top hand, grab your lower ankle and with your lower hand, grab your top knee, take a deep breath, on the exhale press your top shoulder back towards the ground. As with the side lying windmill, you may hear or feel a ‘popping’ sensation in the t-spine.

 

Quad t-spine rotation

Whilst in an all-fours ground position. Press your hips back and keep a neutral spine. Grab the back of your neck with one hand, fix your eyes to that elbow. As your externally roatate your arm outwards, keep your eyes on your elbow and maintain the neutral spine.  As with the 2 previous exercises, you may feel ‘popping’ in your t-spine if you have poor mobility.

 

Shoulders

Wall slides

Sit into a quarter/half squat against the wall, press your lower back into the wall. Place your hand and elbow in conatct with the wall, run your hands and elbows up and down the wall. This may be difficult if your mobility is very restricted. Throughout the movement keep your lower back in contact with the wall. A good cue for this is to keep ribs down.

 

Bench shoulder flex

For this you'll need a bench/chair and a dowel. Start with your knees dircetly beneath your hip, a dowel held by both hands behind your head/neck and your elbows at shoulder width on a bench. Take a deep breath, on the exhale press your hips back while keeping your elbows in contact with the bench.

 

Shoulder rotations/dislocations

For this exercise all you will need is a dowel/band/rope. Initially I would recommend for someone with poor molility to start wth as wide a grip as possible. Keeping your arms straight. Rotate over your head and backward. As you progress narrow your grip.

For those with severe lack of mobility I would recommend starting these execises at home on top of any training they may already be doing. 2-3 sets of 6+ reps is a decent rep and set range to start with. And remember, when it comes to mobilty and flexibility work, quality over quantity.

As always, if you have any questions, call in and ask or pop us a message here at PFP.

Thanks,

Ev Hennessy B. Sc

 

 

My top training and nutrition podcasts

As we head towards September, I know lots of you are renewing your health and fitness goals and getting remotivated after the summer months. One of the questions I've been asked loads is for some podcast recommendations - so today I'm going to go through a few of the podcasts I'd recommend, especially if you want to expand your nutriton and training knowledge.

1. Sigma Nutrition - https://sigmanutrition.com/

One of my go-to podcasts for evidence based info on all things health and lifting related. Hosted by leading Irish expert - Mr. Danny Lennon. 

2. The Strength Athlete - http://thestrengthathlete.com/

A powerlifting/strength based podcast for those who are interested. Great evidence based info on training, nutriton, technique and sports psychology. 

3. Precision Nutrition - http://www.precisionnutrition.com/

Covering a wide and intersting variety of topics, Precision Nutrition is a great podcast for expanding you nwoledge inrelation to nutrition, health and fitness. 

4. The Guru Performance - https://guruperformance.com/

Hosted by Laurent Bannock and featuring a wide variety of expert speakers on everything in sport and exercise science. Often delving into the latest science and research on a topic. 

Give any of these podcasts a listen and let me know how you get one. Also, if you've come across any podcast gems please let me know...I'm always looking to add more to my playlist.

Thanks,

Nigel

 

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

 

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

The Great Protein Debate

Protein is gaining a lot of attention these days – so much so that marketers are desperately jumping on the bandwagon and throwing “a source of protein” on pretty much everything that you can eat – an example below shows a desperate attempt at it. (Image provided by Joseph Agu @ Elite Nutrition Coaching). 

 

Our bodies use protein to make some fundamental molecules – like enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and antibodies, as well as helping build muscle and replace and repair damaged cells, meaning our bodies don’t function all that well without adequate protein.

When blood sugar levels are low, for example during and after exercise, or in between meals, a hormone called glucagon is released, which causes the liver to breakdown any stored energy, meaning glucagon can help breakdown body fat. Consuming adequate amounts of protein can help increase levels of this hormone.

Recent media reports have tried to suggest that too much protein can cause organ damage or increase cancer risks. These concerns are typically overblown and here are some recent studies to support the fact that protein does not damage organs or cause cancer.

http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-016-0114-2   

http://www.lookgreatnaked.com/blog/new-study-on-protein-overfeeding-a-critical-analysis/

To clarify, people with certain medical conditions may not be advised to consume too much protein, but all excessive protein will do to a healthy person is give them a dose of wallet ache. This has stemmed from the fact that people with kidney issues respond well to a lower protein intake, but this leads to people taking a reverse causality approach, whereby they see that a lower protein intake helps those with kidney dysfunction, so high protein intake must have caused the kidney dysfunction, this however, is far from the truth.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17383270

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17383270    

Protein Intake recommendations

Your daily protein intake is largely dependent on your goals and activity level: Some recommendations will say that 0.5g/lb of body weight is sufficient, but this recommendation is purely based on avoiding a deficiency. Therefore, in order to get the benefits mentioned previously, you need more to thrive!

0.8 - 1g/lb body weight if your weight is stable and you don’t exercise

1.0-1.2 g/lb if your goal is fat loss and you’re physically active

1.2 - 1.5 g/lb if your goal is muscle building and you're physically active

People who are overweight or obese should calculate their daily protein intake based on their target weight as opposed to their existing body weight, as going off your current weight could result in consuming too many calories.

Gaining Weight or “Bulking”

Bulking and weight gain doesn’t require a massive increase to your protein intake, provided this intake is adequate. Muscle growth is affected by protein availability and protein elimination rates, or how fast protein is used up. Muscle tissue is constantly going through a process of breaking down and restoration – training and eating are the biggest contributors that will determine whether or not your body breaks down muscle tissue more or builds it up more – as you can probably guess, if you’re eating more food and hitting your protein intake, then you will sway towards the side of muscle building and not muscle breakdown.

The more calories the body has available to it, the more efficiently it utilizes protein because fewer amino acids are converted into glucose. This means that the added calories are contributing toward more efficient protein use, so there may not be a need to increase protein intake during a “bulking period”, once you are consuming an adequate amount in the first place.   

Moreover, since protein has a high thermic effect, (burns calories through the process of digestion) than carbs and fat, it might not be in the best interest of someone looking to put on weight to consume more protein than they need to, when the extra calories could go towards carbs or fats, which won’t burn up valuable calories in the digestion process.

Thermic Effect of Food in %

  • Protein: 20-35% of calories burned through digestion.
  • Carbohydrates: 5-10% of calories burned through digestion.
  • Fats: 0-5% of calories burned through digestion.

Sources of Protein

Protein sources do not matter much when we are just talking about protein, however, they matter in the context of the overall diet. For example, eating a high calorie protein source means a lot of calories are taken up, calories which could be directed elsewhere. If looking to lose weight, then choosing lean sources of protein can help keep calorie count low.

Protein from both plant and animal sources work just as well as each other in terms of increasing protein synthesis. The amino acid Leucine seems to be a major contributor to muscle protein synthesis – which can be found in eggs, poultry, milk, fish and meat.

Supplementation

People who cannot eat enough protein due to finances, diet preferences, or motivation often turn to supplementation to avoid eating more chicken or eggs! Others, however, seem to think that protein comes only in powder form and in a shaker bottle.

Mainstream media and supplement companies have tried to over complicate protein intakes because it helps sell products. There is only one advantage a protein shake has over protein from real whole foods and that’s convenience.  If you’re stuck for time then a protein shake is your biggest ally, although the new protein milk is a great source of protein plus other vitamins and minerals. 

Don’t feel under pressure to shell out on protein supplements or even stick to drinking them if they cause stomach discomfort (which many people complain of). Try getting your protein from whole sources of food and use the protein shakes for convenience, (if you are going to use them).  Supplementation should only be used if dietary changes cannot be made to meet your protein requirements. It is however, worth noting that consuming protein in the form of actual food can give benefits that supplementation may not be able to provide.

Summary

The debate over “optimal” protein intake is likely to continue for decades to come, as research continues to evolve, however the intakes recommended above are reasonably accurate and pose no health risks to healthy populations. Sources of protein are generally well known, however, be careful of marketers jumping on the bandwagon and read food labels to ensure you know what you are consuming. Use supplements for convenience and don’t view them as a staple. 

Thanks for reading guys - as always if you have any specific questions give us a shout.

Adam

S & C Coach

PFP GYM

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