Bodyweight exercises – they may be “old school” but they’re still the best!

An article on the BBC News website caught my attention this weekend, “Short bursts of intense exercise ‘better for weight loss‘”. The article went on to quote Dr Michael Moseley (whose articles I often feature in this blog), “In 2012, I tested three lots of 20-second high intensity workouts on an exercise bike, three times a week. My insulin sensitivity improved by 24%. In the programme, we again saw very impressive results with younger, unfit people …”

Committed Metafit fans will know that just three sessions of this HIIT workout a week can effect similar impressive changes to your body over a short space of time, using just simple core and bodyweight exercises. So what is it about these that make them so effective?

What are bodyweight exercises?

They are strength training exercises that use your own body’s weight to provide resistance against gravity. Bodyweight exercises can enhance a range of abilities including strength, power, endurance, speed, flexibility, coordination and balance. Exercises that use pushing, pulling, squatting, bending, twisting and balancing, such as press ups, burpees and squat thrusts are common bodyweight exercises. Those of you who are old enough to remember the “Superstars” programmes of the 70s and 80s will no doubt remember the infamous gym challenges involving squat thrusts and the parallel bar dips – two examples of tough but effective bodyweight exercises.

Did you know? One of the best things about bodyweight exercises is that you can do them in your own home as no other equipment is required.

What are the best bodyweight exercises?

There are many variations on standard bodyweight exercises, many of which we use in our metafit workouts, often introducing a jump or lateral movement to make the move more plyometric and harder, but the core group of exercises remains the same. Here’s “Mr Metafit” himself demonstrating just how some of these should be performed:

Squats and squat jumps. This exercise works all of the muscles in the lower body including the quads, glutes and hamstrings. It also provides an extra kick for the core as you need your deep abdominal muscles and back to keep your torso upright and perform this exercise correctly.

Press-ups. Working all the muscles in the lower body including the quads, glutes and hamstrings whilst also providing an extra kick for your core strength. Metafit press-ups use the full range of movement – your chest should touch the floor as shown below. It’s perfectly acceptable to drop to your knees to perform this move, just ensure you are still using the full range of movement to be effective.

Burpees. Yes, our favourite exercise! Combining cardio and strength into one, the burpee is a complex, total-body exercise that will work your upper and lower body at the same time with a strong focus on the core. (That’s why we love them so much!). Adding a tuck jump at the end makes the move more plyometric and even tougher!

Squat thrusts. Similar in many ways to a shortened burpee without the final jump phase, this tough and oft hated exercise (I wonder why?!) is a good all-body move, concentrating primarily on your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes. This exercise is often poorly performed so it’s important to work on correcting your technique to ensure you gain the maximum benefit.

Lunges and lunge jumps. Again, often incorrectly performed, a true lunge should take the back leg to a 90° position, just off the floor. It targets the quadriceps and the glutes most intensely, but also hits the hamstrings, calves and core. Technique is important here as poorly performed lunges can lead to injury. Stepping lunges are just as beneficial if you prefer to take out the jump or if you have knee issues.

Mountain climbers. This exercise combines the difficulty of a plank with deep core stabilisation and alternating knee drives towards your chest. It benefits muscular and cardiovascular fitness by increasing strength, flexibility and blood circulation. Mountain climbers require you to engage your upper arm muscles, as well as your core and your legs.

Extended plank hold and plank variation. One of the best exercises for core conditioning, improving posture, supporting your back, enhancing overall movement and co-ordination and toning your abdominals. In addition to standard planks in Metafit, we also use “hot hands” and “pomel jumps” as great and effective variations on this core exercise.

Hot hands. With a strong core, you should be able to perform these as still and as SLOWLY as possible, almost like you are in slow-motion. This exercise is actually much tougher than it looks, and if your core isn’t strong you will find you tend to rotate throughout the body, particularly the hips, when you lift your hands – this is what you must aim to try and avoid.

Important Footnote:
It goes without saying that good technique is imperative to complete all these exercises well - it will not only help to prevent any injury or issues developing but also ensure you gain the maximum benefit from the exercise. There is no substitution for performing these exercises under the guidance of a qualified instructor - it's almost impossible for a beginner to be aware of their technique without proper instruction and correction.

Want to find out more and experience the whole range of bodyweight exercises? Why not come and join us for a Metafit session and discover how just 25 minutes can change the way you think about exercise? It could also change your life!

Fibre – the latest “superfood”

Fibre – yes I know, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world but a major study has been investigating how much fibre we really need to be eating and has found there are huge health benefits when we eat more.

  • It reduces the chances of debilitating heart attacks and strokes as well as life-long diseases such as type-2 diabetes.
  • It helps keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels down.
  • It’s cheap and widely available in the supermarket.
  • It makes us feel fuller and can help digestion and prevent constipation.

The researchers for this study, based at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, and the University of Dundee say people should be eating a minimum of 25g of fibre per day. “The evidence is now overwhelming and this is a game-changer that people have to start doing something about it,” one of the researchers, Professor John Cummings, has told BBC News.

The NHS recommends we should increase our fibre intake to 30g a day as part of a healthy balanced diet. So what does 30g of fibre actually mean?

To increase your fibre intake you could:

  • Choose a higher-fibre breakfast cereal such as plain wholewheat biscuits (like Weetabix) or plain shredded whole grain (like Shredded wheat), or porridge as oats are also a good source of fibre.
  • Go for wholemeal or granary breads, or higher fibre white bread, and choose wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice.
  • Go for potatoes with their skins on, such as a baked potato or boiled new potatoes.
  • Add pulses and legumes such as beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, soups, curries and salads.
  • Include plenty of vegetables with meals, either as a side dish or added to sauces, stews or curries.
  • Have some fresh or dried fruit, or fruit canned in natural juice for dessert. Because dried fruit is sticky, it can increase the risk of tooth decay, so it’s better if it is only eaten as part of a meal, rather than as a between-meal snack.
  • For snacks, try fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes and unsalted nuts or seeds.

Did you know? A small handful of nuts can have up to 3g of fibre. Always choose unsalted nuts, such as plain almonds, without any added sugars.

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How a personal trainer can help you get fitter, FASTER!

Welcome to 2019 – it’s that time of year again! Are you looking for extra motivation to reach a particular goal? Perhaps you simply don’t like the gym environment? Or you need support coming back to exercise after a long break?

Whatever your current physical condition, fitness levels or personal goals, one-to-one sessions with a dedicated personal trainer can help you to focus on the things that matter:

  • To set realistic but challenging goals,
  • To track your physical progress,
  • To improve your health and wellbeing,
  • Increase your energy levels,
  • Change your body composition,
  • Discover extra motivation and confidence.

Personal training is about breaking the barriers to help you actively achieve your personal goals, and beyond. Here are some of the different ways a Personal Trainer can help you to win your fitness battles:

1. A constant point of contact

A Personal Trainer will provide a constant point of contact to motivate, inspire and support you. Whatever your questions, goals or concerns, your trainer will provide an educated and qualified answer to help you move forward successfully whenever you need them. Having a PT is a great way to make sure you get out the door in the first place! Most people feel more of a sense of responsibility if they have booked an appointment with a PT.

2. A tailored and evolving programme

Your Personal Trainer will create a unique programme that you can follow either with them or on your own. Your PT should consider your lifestyle, any injuries you may have or any concerns before developing a programme to suit your life.

You can reassess your programme at any time if you feel like you’re getting bored or you’d like to challenge yourself more.

3. Exercising using the correct technique

In metafit we have a mantra – quality of exercise not the quantity – technique wins over every time. How you perform exercises can have a huge effect on how effective that exercise is and also on your safety. The worst thing you can do is copy what other people are doing – they may be performing exercises specific to their own requirements that don’t match with your own. Whilst it may look easy to copy what someone else is doing at the gym or on a video, it’s also easy to develop poor technique and that is something that I work hard to avoid with all my clients.

A Personal Trainer will set a programme that is tailored to you and attend training sessions with you to provide guidance and ensure that you are able to perform the exercises correctly.

4. Clever motivation

People often struggle with motivation after the first few weeks in a gym but a Personal Trainer will help you set achievable goals for each stage of your training.

One of the most common mistakes people make is setting their overall goal without also setting smaller incremental and achievable targets along the way. Achieving these smaller targets will spur you on as you continue your training and will make you more likely to succeed. If one of your goals is to run your first marathon, for example, you might want to focus first on running a 5k, then 10k, then 15k etc.

Your Personal Trainer will be able to break down your goals and monitor your progress along the way, offering helpful and constructive advice if you’re falling behind and giving you praise and encouragement when you’re doing well.

For more information on personal training and your individual needs and expectations, please do contact me for a chat. I offer one-to-one personal training sessions for all clients no matter what your current fitness levels are.

Why exercise is GOOD for your joints

As a fitness instructor I have a responsibility to all my class participants to provide a safe workout environment and to avoid injury wherever possible. Quite often I might hear “lunges are bad for my knees!” and similar comments about other exercises. Sound familiar? It’s a common reason people avoid exercises like running or weight training or some fitness classes. But this assumption that exercise damages your joints has been found to be false. In fact, studies conducted over the past decade have shown that exercise helps to both BUILD healthy cartilage and to build SUPPORT around the joints, keeping them stronger for longer.

 

Building strong cartilage in your joints

Arthritis happens when the cartilage that cushions your joints wears away leaving bone rubbing on bone, which causes pain and discomfort. This isn’t the result of exercise, but of injury and constant low-level damage over time. Research has shown that exercise can actually reinforce cartilage.

Your joints are surrounded by a thin piece of tissue connected to your blood supply called the synovial membrane. This membrane produces the fluid that lubricates your joints. Cartilage has no independent blood supply, so instead, it gets its nutrients from this fluid. When exercising your blood pumps faster around your body, providing the membrane with a plentiful supply of nutrients which are infused into the fluid. What’s more, running and other high-impact exercises, have been shown to force this nutrient-rich fluid into the cartilage, keeping it healthy.

NOTE: Of course, if you already suffer from joint pain, high-impact exercises that aggravate this pain should be avoided, at least in the short term, but there’s plenty of exercises that I can show you that will help to build strength in your joints.

Muscles and ligaments – your joints’ support network

Your knees, hips and other joints rely on a supportive network of muscles and ligaments to keep them sturdy. So exercises that build these muscles and strengthen the ligaments will strengthen your joints, making you less prone to injury in the long run.

Strength training uses weight to gradually build muscle tone. If you’re new to exercise, you should begin with bodyweight exercises, working your way onto weight machines, which provide stability while you train, and then move onto free weights such as kettlebells or dumbbells.

It’s worthwhile asking a personal trainer for advice, particularly if you have specific injuries or conditions.

How exercise can relieve pain in the joints

An added benefit of exercise is it can help to prevent and relieve pain in your joints. Building strength in your joints can help improve your posture and prevent a cascade of injuries as a result, and the more you move, the less stiff and fatigued you’ll feel.

Exercise can also affect your mental outlook, flooding your brain’s receptors with ‘feel good’ endorphins which both make you feel happier and change your perception of pain. You might find that you’re more motivated and that pain becomes more manageable after exercise.

Exercises to strengthen and mobilise joints

It’s tempting to give up on exercise when you experience pain in your joints.  After all, you don’t want to make it feel worse. Here’s a great workout from Stephen Macconville, the Joint Pain Programme Director at Nuffield Health that is clinically devised for use by people with joint pain. These six basic exercises each have a progression and a regression (18 exercises in total), to suit your individual level of fitness.

Feel free to contact me for more details of workouts that will suit you. I offer personal training and one-to-one sessions where we can build a tailor made workout that is perfect for you.

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Four health hacks that will change your life

Dr Rangan Chatterjee is a physician, author, television presenter and podcaster. He is probably best known for his TV show Doctor in the House and for being the resident doctor on BBC One’s Breakfast Show. Here I am sharing his article that was recently featured on BBC Radio 5 Live where he shares his philosophy about the ‘four pillars of health’: food, movement, sleep and relaxation.

Every part our body affects pretty much every other part. By making small, achievable changes in the four key areas of your life, you can create and maintain good health – and avoid illness. What matters most is balance across all the things you do.

The twelve hour eating window

If changing your diet and cutting foods out seems intimidating, Dr Rangan suggests an easier option: eat all your food within a 12 hour window. “Can you get more benefits if you go stricter? Yes some people might be able to! But I say if you can do 12 hours a day, tick it off, and move on to another recommendation. Try and get that balance.”

He says, “It’s a very simple change that I’ve seen be transformative for people.”

Five minute strength training

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In our busy lives, it’s often hard to motivate ourselves to find time to go to the gym or go for a run, but Dr Rangan says that just five minutes of strength training twice a week can be really valuable.

“Strength training is very much undervalued in society. We talk about moving more and cardio but we neglect that our muscle mass is one of the strongest predictors of how we’re going to be when we age. Lean muscle mass is so important. Yet when we hit 30, we can lose three to five per cent of our muscle mass every ten years and that rate accelerates after the age of 50.”

Spend time in natural daylight

Good sleep is something we often overlook in our lives, but making sure we have enough high quality sleep can make our lives and health so much better. Dr Rangan has a lot of tips for getting better sleep, but one that you might not have considered is whether you’re getting enough light in the day.

Our bodies need to see different light at day and night to keep our internal clocks working. He says people should be especially aware of this in the winter months. “Many people are leaving the house in the dark, getting to work in the dark, being inside all day, and then going home in the dark.”

He suggests taking twenty minutes in your day to spend some time in natural daylight, and you may find that you wake up the next morning more refreshed.

Make time for some ‘me time’

Stress is often a part of our daily lives, and unfortunately, our technology can be partially to blame for this.

Dr Rangan says, “You get up in bed, the alarm is blaring. So you’ve gone from this nice, peaceful, restful slumber, suddenly there’s a blaring alarm clock. You’re looking at your phone, and there’s a whole ton of blue light, and alarm notifications going on…

For many of us, that continues all day and often that’s still going on just before we’re in bed at night; we’re still looking. And so we’ve just got no down time any more.”

His solution is to have at least 15 minutes a day of ‘me-time’. This should be something you do for yourself, that you don’t feel guilty about doing and that doesn’t involve your smartphone. Doing this can lower your stress levels and let you decompress without worrying about your phone.

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The power of the mind – the placebo effect: can my brain cure my body?

This is such an interesting programme that I simply had to share!

100 people took part in a recent trial for the BBC2 Horizon programme: Can my brain cure my body? It was a back pain study but with a twist, the twist being that everyone, unknowingly, was getting placebo. The placebo effect is well studied but at the same time still something of a mystery. (Placebo = Latin “I shall please”). It is an important part of modern clinical trials, where patients are given either a placebo or an active drug (without knowing which is which) and researchers then look to see if the drug outperforms the placebo, or vice versa.

With the help of Dr Jeremy Howick, an expert on the placebo effect from the University of Oxford, the Horizon team, headed up by medical journalist Dr Michael Moseley, set out to see if they could cure real back pain with placebo pills. It would be the largest experiment of its kind ever carried out in the UK, with 100 people from Blackpool taking part.

See the amazing results of this experiment here >>

The University of Oxford's Professor Irene Tracey told the programme that just because a placebo contains no active chemicals, does not mean the effects of taking it are not real.

"The average person thinks that placebo is something that's a lie or some fakery, something where the person has been tricked and it isn't real. But science has told us, particularly over the last two decades, that it is something that is very real, it's something that we can see played out in our physiology and neurochemistry."

Among other things, research has shown that taking a placebo can trigger the release of endorphins - natural painkillers that are similar in structure to morphine.

See Dr Jeremy Howick’s journal publication: Are treatments more effective than placebos? here >>