High-Intensity Circuit Training: The FAST-FOOD of Fitness

High-Intensity Circuit Training: The FAST-FOOD of Fitness

High-Intensity Interval Training is all rage right now. I have come across stacks of tabloid articles and television programs recently espousing the virtues of HIIT training, and for good reason.

There is good evidence to show that training in short bursts of high intensity can yield all sorts of wonderful benefits towards our metabolic health, body composition and fitness markers. My colleague, Hunter Bennett, wrote a great article on this topic that you can read here. This has lead to the creation of Fitness Franchises and individual businesses that focus solely on the HIIT principle.

In my opinion, such businesses offer fitness training to the masses much in the same way that Fast Food Chains delivers nutrition. Cheaply, poorly, and with an unacceptable level of health risk to their patrons.

So what’s the problem, hater?

There are a few, but I will focus on the two major ones that I commonly see:

1) The lack of pre-exercise screening and assessment.

Before you start training at a fitness centre, the staff (who should be adequately qualified) are required to take you through the ‘Adult Pre-Exercise Screening Tool‘ so that the appropriate level of exercise can be prescribed for you based on any metabolic or physical risk factors you may have.

This is in your best interest as if you have a health concern, either diagnosed or undiagnosed you should ease your way gently into an exercise program. This process is a basic requirement for all accredited Fitness Businesses. If you have started training and you have not been adequately screened using this questionnaire I would be highly concerned about the people you have trusted with your health. They have let you down.

Following the metabolic screening questionnaire, we at iNform believe a thorough evaluation of Movement Competency should be completed, so that you can be prescribed exercises that you are able to complete safely and effectively.

Again, if you are thrust into a High Intensity Circuit class without anyone assessing you movement capabilities (and adjusting your exercise recommendations accordingly) then you have been put into a situation that carries an unacceptable level of injury risk.

2) Overly complex, diverse and advanced exercises.

The evidence to support the use of HIIT style training is derived from studies that generally use quite straight-forward forms of exercises- such as sprints on a stationary bike or rower. Or they use pretty simple resistance exercises such as squats, push-ups, bicep curls etc. Also the groups used in these studies tend to be quite homogeneous- males or females aged 18-23; type-2 diabetics; post-menopausal women etc etc.

So we have simple, yet vigorous exercises being prescribed to a group of ‘similar’ people (with unsuitable people being screened out in the participant selection process) to determine the effect of HIIT training over a period of time.

This does not sound like your average HIIT class- where you might find a 18y.o Netballer; a 48y.o. Accountant; a 32y.o. mother of a 9-month old baby, and god knows who else. Surely if you are putting together a session for a group as diverse is this, in the best interests of the participants you would be more conservative with your exercise selection than those conducting the studies are!



So what should you do?

This article probably comes across as discouraging towards group based HIIT classes. That wasn’t my intention. Rather than discouraging, I hope this article can help you make informed choices about who you trust to guide your exercise programming. If you are thinking of undertaking some HIIT training, here are some things to look out for:

  • Do qualified staff screen you for metabolic risk and movement capability prior to entering you into a class. If the answer is no, DO NOT TRAIN THERE!
  • Are the exercises require a lot of jumping, throwing, swinging etc. If the answer is yes, BE CAREFUL!
  • Do your joints hurt during and/or after the exercise session? If so, THIS IS NOT WHAT WE WOULD CALL GOOD SORE!
  • Did the staff conduct a thorough one-on-one evaluation of your metabolic health and movement capacity- then prescribe exercises that were appropriate to you level of fitness and capability with a view to gradually build intensity? If the answer is yes, THIS SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE WORTHY OF YOUR TRUST! 


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Should I Workout When I’m Sick?

Should I Workout When I’m Sick?

Should I workout when I’m sick?

You would be amazed how often I hear this question. At least once a week I will get a message from a client who are feeling a little under the weather. Saying that they are unsure if they should come in and train, or not.

And — like most things in the health industry — it depends.


Should I workout when I’m sick?

I get it.

You have finally gotten into a solid training routine. Finally gotten in a couple consistent weeks of exercise. Your feeling good, seeing progress, and making change.

And boom — disaster strikes.

A head cold, a runny nose, or even a mild cough.

But are these enough to stop you from working out, or should you just push through?


The “above the neck” rule

When it comes to working out when sick, I tend to stick with what is known as the “above the neck” rule.

This rule simply suggests that if you are strictly experiencing symptoms above your neck, then you are probably fine to exercise. This means that if you have a head cold, a stuffy nose, or a mild earache, you are good to go.

However, if your symptoms extend below the neck (think a chest cough, fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea) then you might want to give it a miss.



How do I know for sure?

Now, while the above the neck rule does provide a simple way of telling whether you should workout or not, it isn’t always 100% accurate.

See, when you are sick, your body is working overtime to get better. It needs extra energy to support your immune system, and often extra rest as well. With this in mind, it is important to remember that exercise places your body under more stress that it needs to recover from.

This can obviously impair your ability to heal.

As a result, even if all your symptoms are above the neck, there are still times when you might want to avoid exercise. These include:

If you fall into one of these categories, give your session a skip and get some rest.



But what about my gains?

But what about my gains?

One of the most common reasons people want to keep training (even when they are sick) is because they don’t want to lose their fitness.

And I get it.

I mean, you have spent all this time training diligently, and now its all going down the toilet — right?

Well, not quite. See, you will be happy to know that it actually takes a decent amount of time to lose fitness.

In fact, if you stop exercising completely, you wont start losing strength or muscle mass until around your third week without exercise. Similarly, it is unlikely you will see any loss of endurance or aerobic fitness until after your second week without exercise.

Note here that I said if you “stop exercising completely”.

Positively, if you can even get in one training session per week, your loss  of strength and fitness will be attenuated significantly. This means that if you have a day where you are feeling good, you can sneak in a light session to avoid any losses of fitness occurring.

In short, you have nothing to worry about!


Take Home Message

Should I workout when I’m sick? Well, I think we have answered that question pretty comprehensively.

In my mind, adhering to the above the neck rule is a great place to start. However, if you are simply not feeling up to it, or exercise makes your symptoms worse, then you should probably give it a miss for now.

And no, you don’t need to worry about losing all your gains, because that wont start to happen until week 3 without exercise — so make sure you take some time to recover if you need it!

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Free Weights VS Machines: Lets Decide Once and For All

The debate that has raged for centuries, free weights VS machines. Only one can leave this battle alive (or can they?), so lets find out who wins!

I don’t know if you spend much of your time listening to people debate about fitness on the internet, but I do.

Sad, I know — but I really cant help myself.

Something that I realised while I was trawling through fitness forums is that people love to argue about insignificant stuff. I mean, really, who cares if you eat paleo or ketogenic? Intermittent fasting vs. eating breakfast? Three sets of 10 repetitions or four sets of 8 repetitions?

Hint: it really doesn’t matter.

I mean honestly, as long as it works for you, then who cares?

But one debate that comes up all the time is free weights vs. machines.

It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, you will find people screaming at the top of their lungs that one is better. On one side you will have the free weight enthusiasts, stating that their way of training is more functional. On the other, you will have machine-lovers swearing that  their way of training is better for joint health and muscle growth.

But is this really the case?


Free Weights VS Machines

So, free weights vs machines? Is one way of training really better than the other?

Well, like most things in the health and fitness industry, it depends.

I know, I know — what a boring answer.

But that doesn’t mean its not true.

See, when it comes to exercise, and specifically weight training, there are really no bad exercises. Almost every exercise can serve a function, it just needs to be used in the right context. And this obviously holds true for free weight exercises and machine based exercises.

It is just a matter of where and when.


Free Weight Exercises

Free weight exercises describe any exercise that has you moving an external load (or your own body weight) through space. This means exercises that use dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells all fit the bill.

As a rule, free weight exercises closely replicate the movement demands placed on the body during athletic tasks (think jumping, running, and sprinting), and task of daily living (think walking up stairs, and standing up from a seated position).

As a result, they generally have better carryover to these more functional tasks. Moreover, they may also have the potential to improve stability to greater extent that machine based training, as their performance has a stability demand.

Too add another layer to this discussion, I want to talk about looks for a second. As many of you know, most of us don’t only train for functional gain. Many of us train for aesthetic reasons too.

This means building muscle and losing fat — which exactly where people will tell you machine based exercises are king.

However, there is evidence clearly demonstrating that literally any form of resistance training can cause muscle growth. And yes, this includes training with free weights. With this in mind, I would argue that when it comes to training for appearance, it is much for a muchness.

So free weights must better, right?

Hold up for just a second.

See, free weights do have some potential downfalls.

First and foremost, most free weight exercises are quite demanding from a technical perspective. This means that they do require you to have a significant amount of strength, stability, and motor control already available before you can complete them safely. This automatically means that they may not be the safest starting point for everyone.

Secondly, while this pains me to say it, when it comes to free weight exercises, there is a slightly higher risk of injury associated with their performance. I mean just think about it for a second. If you are performing a squat with 100kg on your back, your margin for error is much smaller than if you are performing a leg press machine with 200kg — even if the weight is greater.

Now, just to be clear — this risk can be mitigated by making sure you execute every repetition with near perfect form. But sometimes technique does break down, and that is when injury risk is increased. And this risk is undeniably greater with free weight exercises.



Machine Exercises

The rise of the machines!

Lets face it — to come to a decision, you need to hear both sides of the argument (especially when the answer is somewhat ambiguous…).

I have spent a little bit of time outlining the pros and cons of free weight exercises. Now I am going to go ahead and do the same with machine based exercises.

The first thing I want to touch on is the fact that like any other form of resistance training, machines offer a great method of increasing muscle size. In fact, they offer one key benefit over free weights as they can allow you to isolate individual muscles to a greater extent. While this may not be important to everyone, it does mean that if you want to spend a bit of time developing a specific muscle, then machines provide a great way to do so.

Secondly, while they may not have as much carryover to functional tasks as free weight exercise, they still have the capacity to devlop muscle strength — and this is important. See, many people will step foot into the gym for the first time, and not have the strength and stability available to perform free weight exercises effectively. With this in mind, machines provide the perfect way to build tissue strength and joint stability that will allow you to perform more complex free weight exercises in the future.

Think of them as the perfect stepping stone to more functional movement tasks.

Finally, something that I have already mentioned above is the fact that machine exercises are less complex than free weight exercises. While some people might take this to mean that they are ‘less functional’, I prefer to think of it as ‘they are easier to perform’. In this manner, they may actually be a safer alternative for people who are new to a gym setting.


Free Weights VS Machines: And The Winner is…

So, free weight VS machines? Who is the ultimate winner? Is one really better than the other?

Well, in my mind, not really — so I guess they both win?

Seriously, despite what internet trolls will have you believe, both free weights and machines can have a place in your training program. They both have pros and cons, and both offer benefits in certain situations. So use them as required, and don’t feel guilty for doing so!

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Know Your Role. Play Your Role. Laura Hodges Stance On Performance In Parenthood.

Laura Hodges has pretty much done it all in Women’s basketball, through unheralded returns from injury to World Championships. So it seems an appropriate career challenge for her to consider returning to play less than a year after giving birth for the first time!

I could rattle on about Laura’s four (yes four) Olympic Games as an Opal; her national representation at three FIBA World Championships; her feats as a youngster in the WNBL; her pioneering pathway into the WNBA; her superstar status across European Leagues and so on…

As a more average but still hard-working member of society however I have drawn as much inspiration, and perhaps more transferable relevance, through observing her return to professional basketball this time around. Also a returning iNform client, Laura was initially challenged through the retrieval of her historical data.

This time, the challenge was far less about comparison of physical metrics, and more around the psychological parameters of reframing mindset, perspective, expectation and prioritisation.

Far be it for me to give any real insight on the trauma of childbirth, but I feel safe in saying this amazing human feat tends to change a few things for a while! For an athlete of Laura’s calibre, or indeed for the more corporate type ‘athlete’, it creates a dynamic equilibrium between survival, heightened personal demands, and maintaining high performance, requiring a deal of mental toughness quite unlike most other workplace challenges. Here’s a snippet of some of the lessons this recent experience has brought to me:

Set and commit to refined expectations

It’s so easy to look back and compare yourself to what you used to do. The problem is this doesn’t help when the state of play has changed with evolved pressures, different responsibilities, and perhaps even those outside your immediate circumstances heaping past expectations back onto you.

This has been an opportunity to identify a realistic, achievable and appropriate set of performance goals  balanced between circumstance and professional ambition. With a commitment to these, the pressure from peripheral expectation is effectively managed.

Create a hierarchy of priorities and get the big rocks right

I was always drawn to the big rock/little rock analogy that speaks of prioritising the stuff that really matters. There are many ‘little rocks’ in high performance and leadership that may be perceived as useful, but ultimately not vital in driving achievement.

New stages in life will benefit from evaluative, and perhaps collaborative choices, to consistently put your valuable time and effort into the things that truly matter; and it’s ok for these things to look a little different from week to week and month to month!



Take some perspective on your perspective

Competing demands can distort one’s view of their effectiveness and achievements. It can be useful to regularly reflect on what you are comparing yourself to and why; what metric you are using; and whether this is the best standpoint for you at the time. Engaging this process lets you refresh and remember your values to keep you ‘in check’ throughout changing circumstances.

Laura is under no illusions. While winning another WNBL contract is a great achievement in itself, this one comes with a changing of the guard for her. She has recognised the opportunity to forge a new role, and will apply her world class standards to play this out in a team for benefits that exceed her own individual performance this season.

If you are looking to recover some of your own balance in life, iNform’s professional exercise approach will support you in establishing an effective way forward.

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Why Bench Pressing Hurts Your Shoulders (And What You Can Do To Fix It)

Why Bench Pressing Hurts Your Shoulders (And What You Can Do To Fix It)

If you have ever wondered why bench pressing hurts your shoulders, then look no further. We have put together the perfect fix!

Ah, the bench press.

What can only be described as one the of the most popular exercises on the planet.

Because, you know, who doesn’t want a ‘strong’ (read: large and muscular) chest?

Hell, I am pretty sure between the ages of 16 and 18, the bench press was the only exercise I did on a regular basis. Every Monday and Wednesday night after school, you would have found me out in the shed, listening to some Blink 182 (the angsty teenager that I was), and repping out some bench press.

Good times.

Well, until they weren’t…

See, after a good chunk of time, my shoulders started getting a little bit niggly.

Nothing terrible mind you — the pain would go away after a couple of sets — it was just a bit annoying.

So I persisted with my training, and I ignored it completely.



And who would have thunk it, but over time it got worse.

The pain went from being a minor niggle, to a persistent ache. Then, after a couple more weeks, it progressed into a sharp stabbing pain in the front of both my shoulders. To make matters worse, it no longer only hurt when I bench pressed, but during any other exercises did as well.

This meant no chin ups, no push ups, and devastatingly, no bicep curls.

I was literally forced to take a break from weights training (well, had I actually done any lower body training I would have been fine — but i didn’t…).

Fortunately, after a couple of weeks the pain went away. But every time I tried to bench press, it flared up immediately.

So, in the end, I stopped completely.

Up until a couple of years ago that is, when I reintroduced it back into my training.

But this time, I did it in a much smarter way. I also made some other changes to my weight training routine to make sure that the pain that I experienced stayed away for good.

And now you can do the same.

So, without further ado — why bench pressing hurts your shoulders, and what you can do to fix it!


Your Technique Sucks

When it comes to pain during a specific exercise, your first point of call should almost always be technique. To put it simply, most exercises have been performed pretty successfully for hundreds of years.  As a result, if you are experiencing pain during an exercise, it is much more likely that the way in which you are performing it is the issue, rather than the exercise itself.

In my mind, this is one of the core reasons as to why bench pressing hurts your shoulders.

Now, just to be clear — I am not saying that some people cannot have certain restrictions that will make a certain exercise challenging for them — because they can.

But the fact is, these restrictions often impair the ability to perform and exercise with good technique. It is this which then leads to pain and discomfort. Ill give you an example of this further down.

So, the bench press.

What does good technique look like?

Well, there are a few things you want to make sure of:

  1. Head, upper back, and bum are all making contact with the bench.
  2. Feet are behind your knees, with your heels being firmly driven towards the ground.
  3. Your lower back and thoracic spine are in a state of extension (yes, an arch is fine).
  4. You have your shoulders blades pulled together and driven down towards your back pockets.

While this may look slightly different on an individual basis, it should all result in something a little like this:

Image result for bench press cressey

Image source: Tony Bonvechio at http://bonvecstrength.com


But what about neutral spine!

Now, before you blow a gasket and start screaming about ‘neutral spine’ — hear me out for a second.

First and foremost, having extension throughout your thoracic and lumber spine allows you to keep your shoulders back and down. This is a position that ensures your shoulder blades sit firmly on the bench in a retracted position (meaning that they are pulled together). This is extremely important, because it keeps your shoulders in a nice neutral position (rather than rolling forward), which enhances safety.

Moreover, this stability increases your ability to produce force at the shoulder joint, giving you a nice stable platform to work from. If you cannot maintain this position, then you lose shoulder stability, which results in less power and impaired safety.

Not good.

Secondly, for the most part, lumber extension really only becomes problematic when it is placed under excessive shear force. So although this position does indeed require a large amount of lumbar extension, the amount of shear force that it is under is extremely low — meaning that it really poses no issue.

And I would also argue that the load on the spine during a bench press is markedly less than the load placed through the shoulder joint — therefore ensuring a safe and stable shoulder position takes priority.



You Need More Mobility

I mentioned above that some people will indeed have restrictions that impair their ability to perform a bench press with good technique. I should also note that this is becoming increasingly common, because these restrictions are predominantly driven by sitting.

Yep, all that time stuck at your computer is doing a whole lot more than just hurting your eyes — it is also hurting your posture.

Image result for bad computer posture

See, when you spend a lot of time stuck in a single position, your body starts to perceive this position as  ‘normal’. This means that certain muscles will tighten to ensure that this position is maintained indefinitely. While this is ideal for working at a computer, it is less so for performing most exercises. And when we consider the rounded shoulder position it reinforces, you can see why it is particularly bad for the bench press.

Those muscles that typically become tight in response to sitting include:

  • Pectoralis major and minor
  • Latissimus dorsi

Within this, your thoracic spine can also become stuck in a rounded position, where it loses its ability to move freely.

This means that stretching these tight muscles and increasing the range of motion you have available at your upper spine is paramount to ensuring good bench press technique.

My favourite exercises that achieve this are:

If you can perform these as part of your warm up (or even better, every single day), then it will make a world of difference!



You Lack Upper Back Strength

What do you mean I have a weak upper back? Isn’t the bench press a chest exercise?

Well, in short, yes — but it is also a whole lot more than that.

Remember above when I said good bench press technique requires you to keep your shoulder blades back and down? You know, because this keeps your shoulders in a safe, neutral, and strong position?

Yep, well that is only managed if the muscles of your upper back are strong enough to maintain that position. And if they are not? Well you can expect to have a hard time keeping your upper back tight.

Your shoulders will suffer as a result.

So, the remedy to this is the sprinkling of some upper back exercises into your warm up, and throughout your other training sessions. These exercises directly train the muscles of the upper back, reinforce good posture, and help you keep a solid shoulder position during the bench press.

The best upper back exercises (in my personal opinion) are:

As simple as each of these exercises are, they can make a world of difference. Try and train them 2-3 times per week, and reap the rewards!


Take Home Message

Despite what many would have you believe, the bench press is a actually pretty complex exercise. So if you have ever wondered why bench pressing hurts your shoulders, it could come down to a number of different reasons.

However, by improving your technique, increasing your mobility, and enchaining your upper back strength, you can cause huge improvements in your bench press. This will not only make you stronger, but keep your shoulders nice and healthy in the process!

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Outlifting Osteoporosis: Is Weight Training Good for Your Bones?

Outlifting Osteoporosis: Is Weight Training Good for Your Bones?

Is weight training good for your bones? Yes, it certainly is — if you implement it optimally of course. So find out how you can!

Over the last couple of weeks I have written a couple of articles describing how and why weight training is good for your joints (check them out here and here).

So I thought I might as well keep that ball rolling and answer a question that comes up more often than you might think: “is weight training good for your bones?”


What You Need to Know About Bone Health

Keeping your bones healthy and strong is pretty damn important.

I mean, if they become weak and brittle, then you are going to be at a much higher risk of incurring bone fractures and breaks.

Now this obviously not a good thing.

In fact, it can be an absolutely terrible thing.

I mean, while a fractured bone will be an uncomfortable experience for most, it can be a literal death sentence for some individuals (particularly those entering their golden years).

So, to put it simply, strong bones = healthy life.


Bone Health and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease is typified by a significant reduction in bone density.

This occurs when your rate of bone production is outweighed by your rate of bone degradation (which i should mention is a normal process). In this scenario, your bones will become weak and brittle, in which you become much more susceptible to breaks and fractures.

Not good…

But here is the really scary thing: osteoporosis affects more than 700,000 Australians over 50 nationwide.

And no, that is not a typo.

More than 700,000.

For those of you playing at home, that’s a helluva lot of people.


Fighting Osteoporosis

Now, the good news is that osteoporosis (and the decline in bone density that precedes it) is not a death sentence.

In fact, there is a growing body of research clearly demonstrating that exercise can have a seriously positive impact on the health of your bones.

And of those types of exercise that appear to have the most benefit?

Well, encase the title of the article didn’t give it way, weight training appears to be king.



Is Weight Training Good for Your Bones?

Amazingly, progressive weight training has been shown to cause steady increases in bone mineral density. Importantly, this occurs in:

  • Healthy individuals,
  • People with diagnosed osteoporosis
  • Those at a high risk of developing osteoporosis

So, by simply weight training a few times per week, you can see some huge increases in your bone health.

This is not only going to significantly reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis in the long run, but will also limit your likelihood of experiencing bone breaks and fractures.


Optimising Weight Training to Improve Bone Health

You now know that weight training is the key to increasing the health of your bones. But there a few things that need to be considered here:

  • Heavy loads appear better at stimulating bone growth than lighter loads
  • Free weights that place load on the lower limbs and the spine appear most effective
  • You need to progressively increase loads as you get stronger, to continually force adaptation
  • Three sessions per week appears optimal

If you manage to adhere to these general rules, you can be guaranteed that you will see some good improvements in bone density.


Take Home Message

So, is weight training good for you bones? Yessir, it certainly is.

If you implement it optimally, of course.

With this in mind, weight training is something that should be performed by all individuals — especially those looking to improve bone health and stave off osteoporosis.

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