Archive for July, 2014

A 20 Minute Circuit Training Session

There’s always a time when you’re stuck somewhere away from home or from access to a gym with any worthwhile equipment.  Body weight circuits are a great alternative provided you give them a real dip.

For beginners don’t worry too much about intensity, just work on using the best technique you can and work steadily.

If you are a more advanced exerciser and often do high intensity interval training then this is a great session for you too.  If you can monitor your heart rate make sure you are working in the high intensity zone – 80-90% of your maximum heart rate.  Obviously you won’t start this high, but after a few minutes in this session you should be there, and should try to maintain that level for as long as you can.

What will generally happen at this heart rate is that you will at times become too fatigued to continue.  When this happens, back off the intensity until your heart rate falls below about 75%, take a couple of deep breaths then speed up again.

First of all warm up like this… my generic warm up:

You are now going to work out mostly non-stop for 20 minutes.  It’s a hard 20 minutes but worth the effort.  Each of the following exercises is done in sequence without stopping (except as above) until the time is up.  The exercises are done for 10 reps before moving onto the next.  It’s a good idea to count how many times you get through the circuit to compare with future efforts.

Exercise 1: Sumo Squats 10 reps

Exercise 2: Mountain Climbers  10 reps per leg

Exercise 3: Switch Lunges 10 reps total (5 each side)

Exercise 4: Close Grip Push Ups (you can do modified ones on your knees if you can’t do full ones) 10 reps

Exercise 5: Squat Jumps 10 reps

Exercise 6: Alternating V Planks 10 reps total (5 each side)

Finish with some stretches for a few minutes to cool down.



What Should My PT Sessions Consist Of?

Personal Goals

So what do you need to do to achieve your physical goals?  It’s not such a straight forward thing… everybody is different and your goals are different and so your training should reflect that.

There are particular principles of training that guide your program and your personal trainer should set a plan for you.  What often happens is that the training plan is a little hap-hazard and doesn’t really reflect your personal goals.

Training Principles

The principles of training, if you google them, are different according to who you ask, but there are some that are consistent in the literature.  Specificity, overload (incorporating Frequency, Intensity, Type, Time) , reversibility, adaptation / progression, and variation.  Some of these are more important than others – that is – they directly contribute to increases in fitness and measurable parameters, whilst some are more motivational in nature.

The big buzz these days when I talk to people is variety.  The 22 week qualified PTs are very big on it – and they are so for a reason:  it’s the pop tune of training.  It’s a bit of fun to be doing something different every time you go to the gym… but is that effective training?  How does it stack up against the measurable principles?

Specificity and overload are the big ones.  You must be training specifically for something, and that training must reflect that, and you must be training at the right effort level to get results.


Although this is pretty obvious, it’s not always applied.  Specificity is directly related to your training goals.  If you’re training to improve your distance running you should be running some kms, if you’re playing football your training should prepare you skill wise, stress the range of energy systems required and simulate game situations.  If you’re trying to lose weight then you need to do those activities that maximise that probability – training that increases muscle mass (and therefore increases metabolism) and depletes muscle glycogen.


Your performance in your specific goals will improve only if you incorporate overload principles into your training.  You must train the specific things above using known parameters that will improve your ability to do them.

Frequency – if you’re training to run then you must run most days, resistance training should be 3 or 4 times a week and should repeat those same activities regularly.  The fad for variety defeats this prinicple.  You can’t progressively overload a muscle if you do different activities each session. You need to do the same thing for a period of time until you plateau in terms of weight/reps/sets and THEN change your activity.  Change your program every four to six weeks, not every week.

Intensity – for weights ensure the weight is as heavy as you can do for the reps and sets chosen.  If you can do more reps, increase the weight.  It’s better to be one or two reps short on the last set than to finish easily.  For interval training monitor your heart rate to be 80-90% of MHR towards the end of the rep, and use the right recovery formula.

Type – stick to your goals and don’t swap and change your activities just to make it interesting.  The type of work you do must be specific to your goals as said above.  Variety comes from increasing weights, running or riding faster, seeing yourself improving.

Time – weights sessions shouldn’t go more than 30-40 minutes for standard strength programs, or 20-25 minutes for superset hypertrophy style workouts.  Interval training sessions can be effectively run for 20 minutes at high intensity (80-90% MHR in the reps).  For longer distance running you need to stress the aerobic system for about 60 minutes maximum most of the time.  If you’re training for marathons you’ll need to include a some runs that go for your intended marathon time in the lead up.


This just describes the effect of not training a particular thing.  If you don’t use it you lose it as they say.  Too much variety can reverse the training effects you may have developed in a particular activity.  Do you notice that if you don’t do chin ups for a while they become very difficult?

Adaptation / Progression

I guess this is really just about overload.  As you train a certain thing, you become stronger or better at it as the body adapts to that activity.  That’s the point of overload – it causes adaptation.  Once you’ve adapted you must progress to create the same training effect.  Increase the weight, speed up the run or ride, run faster for longer, etc.  This is particularly so if you’re trying to lose weight if you are to avoid a plateau.


I think this has been misunderstood to some extent, and has, as I said before, become the flavour of the month to the detriment of overload.  We used to talk about periodisation of training instead of variety – that is – when adaptations have taken place and you begin to plateau then change the program.  Normally every four to six weeks you should change the weights exercises or do a different combination of intervals.  The shock to the body of such a change puts you back into overload even if you train the same things but in a different way, for example, if you’re including dumbbell squats changing them to Bulgarian split squats will do the trick.

In summary

If you’re training for weight loss and your PT is doing a different session every time you show up then there’s something wrong.  Your trainer should have a plan for you with short and long term goals and should apply the principles of training to the plan.  Too often ‘variety’ is king.  PTs like to show off with their ability to use every new device know to man – TRX, power ropes, sleds, tornado balls, sand bags and the like and it’s easier to make money if the sessions are more interesting.  If you’re training for the SOG they’re great, but if you’re trying to lose weight they won’t work in the long run.  You’ll lose weight in the first two weeks then quickly plateau.  Your program should be about training aimed at increasing muscle mass and depleting muscle glycogen  – in that order.  That requires adherence to the overload principle which means a certain amount of repetition in your training and usually a weight gain for the first few weeks.

The truth is if you ask your PT what he or she does for training it won’t be the haphazard set of novelty events they give their clients.  They’ll be doing superset weight training and high intensity interval training.



Should I Ice or Not?

We’ve Always Iced!

Icing an acute injury has always been seen as an important way to assist repair. If you follow my facebook page you’ll have noticed that there is a discussion around whether or not icing should go the way of pre-activity stretching – that is – some are of the view that icing interferes with the repair process and we should not longer use it.
But a full understanding of what inflammation is, and how the lymphatic system works paints a clearer picture of the value of icing for acute injuries.

The Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is part of our immune response to foreign invaders. It consists of a network of lymph capillaries, lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, the spleen and a couple of other small organs, the major role of which is to filter lymph fluid and return it to the blood.
Lymph fluid itself is formed from blood plasma, the cells of which are small enough to permeate the blood vessel walls and so they move from within blood vessels into interstitial space between cells where various processes take place. When the build up of interstitial fluid reaches a certain pressure, this fluid seeps into the lymph capillaries through the lymph capillary walls in the same way and travels on through lymph nodes where it is filtered and eventually returned to blood volume.

All of this is controlled by the interplay of pressure between blood flow, lymph flow and interstitial fluid – and this is important to know when we talk about the role of icing for acute injury.

Innate vs Adaptive

The lymphatic system works in two ways – there is an innate reactive role which occurs quickly for sudden ‘breaches’ of the system with a common reactive process, and an adaptive learned response which is slower but identifies invaders it has seen before and applies a more measured response to the threat using T and B cells within lymph nodes and the spleen.

When an acute injury occurs, the innate response takes place. This type of response in non-discriminatory – that is – the same response occurs for a range of acute incidents. This range goes from something like a mild ankle strain to a full double lower leg compound fracture.  The body reacts for the worst possible scenario as it’s innate response – which would be for a compound fracture skin puncture type injury.  Of course the level of response varies according to the severity of the injury, but the process is the same.

Innate in Action

Firstly, when the injury occurs, there is a release of histamines into the blood which causes increased blood pressure, dilation of blood vessels and therefore increased blood flow. As mentioned before, the system works on pressure. In the case of an injury, the increased blood flow and pressure results in increased transfer of blood plasma into interstitial spaces as part of the response. This is inflammation and in the case of a full compound fracture or break in the skin, it’s an essential part of protecting the body from invasion by external bacteria etc, through the skin rupture. Icing in a situation like this should be minimal to reduce pain and blood loss, but the inflammation process shouldn’t be interfered with too much.

However, when there’s no break in the skin, the process will still occur although there is no need for the lymphatic system to be involved where invasion is not going to occur. It’s been well established that this is an over reaction to the incident based on the non-discriminatory nature of the innate reaction to injury.  The increase of blood volume in the area with dilation of the blood vessels causes more blood plasma to cross into interstitial fluid.  The lymphatic system is not able to process the fluid quickly enough, and it pools in the area.  Eventually the amount of lymph and interstitial fluid overwhelms blood flow in the injured location and restricts blood flow preventing the return to homeostasis in the area concerned.

We see for example, that this occurs in lower limbs with sufferers of type two diabetes where the fluid pressure is so imbalanced that blood flow is denied to some toes and feet, and necrosis occurs.

Whilst this is unlikely in healthy people with a joint strain, the process is similar in that the decrease in blood flow in the injured area caused by the increased fluid pressure restricts the healing process.  Blood flow with it’s protein and other elements is the main requirement for repair of injury.  The role of lymph is to remove impurities and so does not contribute to repair.  If there’s no breach of the skin then there’s no role for the lymphatic system in a minor strain.

The Role of Icing

So this is where we ice the injury.  The lymphatic vessels are more prone to dilation and restriction than the blood vessels and will restrict more quickly than them on the application of ice.  Once they have restricted, the pressure changes, the lymph fluid volume will return to normal and the blood pressure, lymph fluid and interstitial fluid balance will be restored.  After a few days, ice is not necessary to maintain the normal balance and other methods to increase blood flow and speed up repair can take place.

How Much Ice?

Ice until you are numb is the rule.  There are views on raw icing or using ice packs, and you can look them up if you like, but packs are safer in terms of preventing ‘ice burn’.  For superficial injuries just 10 minutes with an ice pack, and for deeper larger muscle or joint injuries up to 20 minutes maximum – only until the pain in the area is numbed.  You can do this a few times a day until the swelling doesn’t return – usually 72 hours or so. Then book in for a remedial massage treatment to give the repair a kick start.