Category Archives: Personal Training

The principles of exercise


I was wondering what to write about this week when I went out for my morning run…. And 12 miles later, I knew what it would be: the principles of exercise.

No, I didn’t have some kind of epiphany while trudging around Bramhope and Adel in the rain, it’s just that by the end of the session, I was blowing out of my backside, which reminded me of what is probably the most important principle: ‘use it or lose it’.

It’s just two short months since I ran Spartathlon and in the lead up to that, I was probably in the best running condition I’ve ever been in – 100-mile training weeks and knocking out 40-mile runs in one go – but there I was this morning, struggling to complete a distance less than a half-marathon. That’s a long way to fall in just two months.

Even worse, psychologically, I’m finding it hard to push myself further, which means I’ll probably lose more fitness unless I can pull myself out of the rut: In short, training less has led to a vicious circle of declining fitness that I need to arrest.

We’ve all been there: We take a week or so off for any number of reasons: a cold, a big event, stress at work or whatever. Suddenly, getting back on the horse gets more difficult the longer it goes. The snooze button seems more attractive than a run… “Start again on Monday” we promise ourselves… but when Monday comes we find another excuse.

There’s no easy way to reverse the trend either, if you’re suffering from similar. You simply have to grit your teeth and force yourself to start again, though there are some techniques that can help.

  1. Tell yourself you’ll feel better after. I absolutely promise you that barring injury, you always feel better about yourself after exercising. There are biological reasons for this such as the rush of endorphins you get from exercise, but also psychologically, the fact you’ve beaten a demon will get you smiling.
  2. Set yourself a goal. I keep banging on about this, but goal setting keeps you on the straight and narrow. If you exercise to just maintain a base level of fitness, that’s fine but you are more likely to find a reason to stop than if you are exercising to achieve a specific aim. Think of what you want to achieve and set a marker. It could be a 10km race, dropping a percentage of body fat or beating a 3-minute step test result * But find something to aim for and go for it.
  3. Use visualisation. Where do you want to be in five years time? Exercise and good diet have been proven countless times to help people stay healthier, feel better and ultimately live longer. Think forward to where you want to be, then think of the alternative. Keep the ‘good’ image in your mind. Make it another long-term goal. Focus on it and use it to spur you on.

There may be other ways that work for you… but (and this is not a plea to come to classes or take up PT sessions) make sure you stay active. By sacrificing an hour of hard work NOW you could be adding years to your life, ultimately staying healthier and more active for longer.

The six principles of exercise

While, I’ve only focussed on one above, here are the six principles of exercise *

The Principle of Individual Differences – we are all different and therefore, we should find exercise programmes that are bespoke to ourselves. This doesn’t mean you have to go and employ a PT (but it would be nice if you did!!), but you should at least be trying things for a couple of weeks, and if they aren’t working for you change them.

The Principle of Overload – a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for your body to adapt to training.

The Principle of Progression – there’s an optimal time where that overload will make a difference. When you hit it, you need to increase the overload.

The Principle of Adaptation – the body will adjust to increased physical demands (and to decreased ones for that matter). In short, practice makes perfect, but it’s also why you might get muscle soreness when you first start a programme for the first time in a long time.

The Principle of Use/Disuse – your muscles will get stronger (hypertrophy) with exercise and atrophy (weaken) with disuse. It’s important here to remember muscles are not just about building big biceps – probably the most important muscle you have is your heart, and by doing cardiovascular exercise, you can improve the performance of the heart and lungs.

The Principle of Specificity – exercise needs to be specific to the kind of sport you want to excel at. For instance, if you want to excel at a sport where there are lots of changes of speed and direct, training for it by running long distances is probably not the way to go. That doesn’t mean running long distances would be bad for your overall fitness, but you would not be performing sports specific training.

* Three-minute step test: Check your heart rate and note it down. Find a step and step on and off vigorously for 3 minutes. Check your heart rate again and record it. Keep doing regular aerobic exercise for a month and take the test again. See if your heart rate at the end has improved.
** Wilmore, J.H. and Costill, D.L. Physiology of Sport and Exercise: 3rd Edition. 2005. Human Kinetics Publishing.


Why you should keeping a health and fitness diary

If you’re serious about improving your well-being, you really should be keeping a health and fitness diary.

The big health news this week is that finally a study has proved what many in the fitness industry have been saying for years: there’s no one-size-fits all diet (and funnily enough, no one-size fits all exercise plan either).

The Personalised Nutrition Project by Professor Eran Segal and Dr Eran Elinav of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science looked at 1,000 volunteers who had their blood sugars checked every five minutes for a week while they ate their normal diet.

They also had their gut flora checked and answered questions about what they ate, their exercise and their sleep patterns.

“The first super surprise was how differently the response was to the same food,” said Elinnav… and the big headlines from the study were along the like of Is this the future of food?, Obesity may be misunderstood and There really is no one size fits all diet plan.

But to myself, fellow PTs and nutrition therapists, that’s no surprise at all.

We are all individuals so it makes sense that our bodies react in different ways to different stimuli, whether that be diet, exercise or our environment.

Even the job you do can have health ramifications – a hairdresser in a busy salon breathing in hair spray and dye chemicals all day will be affected in a different way to a gardener who spends all day in the open air.

And it’s why keeping some kind of a fitness/diet record is so important.

We’ve all been there before: doing what we are supposed to do with a fitness regime or a diet and found it’s had little or no effect – and it’s largely because while we are generally genetically the same, all of our bodies react differently.

Short of doing a barrage of (expensive) tests, the only way that can work for you is by trial and error. And that doesn’t mean flitting from one exercise/diet program to another, but by accurately recording what you are doing … and if it’s not working, tweaking things slightly to see if it has an effect.

Employing a fitness professional should help you reach your goals quicker – a good PT or a nutrition therapist would recognise some of the imbalances and be able to target better the things to change… but this is not a sale pitch, everyone can benefit from keeping a health and fitness diary.

Set yourself a goal, pick a program or diet and record everything you do accurately… and if things don’t improve and they do or you reach a plateau, change one thing at a time and give it a week or two to see what effect it has. By keeping accurate records, you’ll be able to quickly see what’s working and what’s not.

Technology can help too, there are dozens of apps and websites out there now so as MyFitnessPal that can help, making the process easy, accurate and, above all, second nature.


How to squat properly


I’m often asked what is the one exercise move everyone should do and the answer is the  squat. The problem is, so many people do the move with bad technique, so here’s my guide on how to squat properly.

In my opinion, the squat is the one exercise move every one – irrespective of age and ability should do. Alongside the lunge, push, pull, twist, bend and gait (walk/run), it’s one of the prime functional fitness moves.

What are functional fitness moves? The ones that help us live our every day lives and perform regular tasks. To try and explain them better, I always say: “think about getting into a car with a hand bag or a bag of shopping.

You open the car (pull), you lean over (bend) and twist to put your bag on the passenger seat (push), you lunge with one leg to get in and you squat to sit down… That’s six of those moves in one simple task!

So why is the squat so important? Because, it primarily works your quads – those four long muscles that run down the front of your leg. Exercise professionals call them your ‘independence muscles’ – lose use of them and you lose your independence as you won’t be able to get out of a seat.

Other muscles also hit in a squat are your calves, glutes (bum), hamstrings (muscles on the back of your thigs) and your core (mainly lower back), you it gets lots of things firing at the same time.

Depending on whether you use body weight or free weights, it also strengthens or builds some of the biggest muscles in your body – and as muscle is more metabolically active than fat, it means your body will burn calories more effectively.

What’s not to like?

Here’s how to get a basic squat right

Stand with your feet hip width apart, with your feet tracking straight in front you .

Sit back, keeping your back straight and your head up.

Bend primarily at the knees with the weight on your heels.

Go as far as you can, as you get better, you can go further (and then add weights if you wish).

Make sure your knees do not track over your toes as this will leave you unbalanced and you could fall or injure yourself.
Push through your heels and explode back into a standing position.


Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions, 3-5 times a week.

Why group training works

group training

Group training or classes such as Insanity Live! can help spur you to achieve better results in your fitness regime. 

Take a look at the two watches above. They’re photos of the screens of my Garmin watch that help me measure my training performance.

It records tonnes of details: how far and fast I’ve ran, swim or biked, at what elevation and what my heart rate was throughout. The one you’re probably interested in though is on the bottom right – the amount of calories I burn in a training session.

As you’ll see from the above, the session on the right saw me burn 156 calories more than the one on the left… yet it was exactly the same workout, but done on different days.

The reading on the left was while testing Insanity Live! Round 13 at home in my garage gym, the one on the right is from the first time I taught it live in a class.

Theoretically, you might expect the workout on the left to have burnt more calories. When testing the session before taking it live, I do it first as though being taught by another instructor, plus when I teach live, I often break to check people’s form and offer corrections while the rest of the class is still working.

So why did I burn so many more calories in the group class? It’s mostly down to the fact that when we exercise with other people, like it or not, they act as an inspiration to us, making us work harder, putting more effort in and, ultimately, burning more calories.

It’s a phenomenon you can see in almost every form of exercise. Train for a running race, a 5k, 10k or a marathon – and your pace on race day, when surrounded by tens, hundreds or thousands of other runners, will be much faster than your training pace.

There’s no doubt that having a dedicated trainer, who will tailor an exercise and nutrition program to your goals is the best option when it comes to achieving your fitness goals… but I appreciate not everyone can afford a one-to-one service.

If not, exercising with a partner or partners (I offer group PT sessions for up to 4 people with similar goals) or group exercise classes such as Insanity Live! are an excellent way to motivate yourself to do more.

There’s an excellent article on group exercise and its benefits by the American College of Sports Medicine here if you want to find out more.

Does exercise get any easier?

harder exercise
Does exercise get any easier

One of the ladies who attends my Insanity Live! classes came to me after we’d finished the other day… “Does exercise get any easier?” she asked me. 

She’s not the first person to wonder if that’s the case … and I very much doubt she’ll be the last. The answer is actually a yes and a no at the same time! If that doesn’t help, let me try and explain – by turning the question around: “Why would you want exercise to get any easier?”

Putting glibness to one side, let’s look at what the body does when we exercise. Exercise is work: your heart beats faster, you get breathless, your muscles tire… sometimes you could end a session exhausted.

So why do we do it? Well the human body is incredibly adaptable. Exercise causes the body stress – and the body’s response is to adapt to that stress. Our heart, respiratory system and muscles all get stronger as a result of exercise… so in theory, the next time you exercise it will be easier.

But what happens next if we don’t increase that stress? If we don’t progress the level of exercise, the distance we run, or the weights we lift? Or if we don’t try something else to change things up?(Insanity Live! classes for instance introduce a new set of exercises every 8-10 weeks, just for when the body has adapted to the stress of the previous routine.)

Well the body is so clever, it ends up adapting to the routine. And when its adapted to that specific stress, it becomes lazy and stops making progress.

So ideally, you want exercise to keep getting harder. When it comes to the lady in question, she might feel as though routines aren’t getting easier – and they aren’t.

But that’s not because she’s not progressing – I make sure I challenge her more in sessions now than I did before – and I can see the results: she’s hotter and more tired at the end of a session than what she used to be… and that’s exactly what we want to happen.

You have to keep progressing to feel the benefit.

As an aside, for anyone wondering about how the fitter they become, the more they sweat – that’s the body adapting again. The body is excellent at thermoregulating – controlling it’s own temperature. And the main way is does this is through sweating.

The more we work out, the more efficient that thermoregulation becomes and the more we sweat. It costs me a small fortune in kitchen roll at classes – but it’s worth it to know people are progressing.

Four-week get beach body ready offer


Heading off on your jollies soon and looking to tone up before jumping in the pool? Here’s a four-week get beach body ready offer of intense personal training to get you on your way.

Blimey, your holidays are coming up, you’re off away for a couple of weeks of sun and sand… but the fact you promised you’d get buff for the beach slipped you by … and time’s running out.

Fear not, I’ve put together this last-minute blaster package to get you beach-body ready in just four weeks. And it’s at a cheap package rate too, so you’ve more to spend when you get to your resort.

The package includes:

Full body check, diet analysis and nutritional advice  (worth £60)
One first PT session to get you on your way (worth £40)
A personalised four-week programme to do (on your own) at home or in the gym based on your goals (worth £60)
A final PT session and check up to measure where you are (worth £40)
Free entry to four Insanity Live! sessions on Monday evenings (worth £20) for the duration of the programme.

In short, £220 of personal training for just £99... All I ask is that you are as committed to your goals as I am…

Drop me a line if interested… offer take-up ends on June 30.


Read between the newspaper health headlines


Read the small print before believing the newspaper health headlines

There’s some welcome news in the papers today, after a health minister indicated that in an effort to beat the obesity crisis, the new government is considering taxing companies that produce sugary foods.

It’s a refreshing way of looking at the problem: self-regulation and increased awareness of the effect of such foods on diet have failed to arrest the decline in health standards and the increase in the population’s weight. 

Contrast that news with a headline in the Daily Mail two weeks ago: 

Everything you know about diets is WRONG!
Calorie-controlled diets don’t work

claimed the paper. 

Now I’ve worked in newspapers in the past and have been known to write the odd sensationalist headline in my time, but this one went a step too far for me. 

The article was about a study by genetics expert Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London. 

Prof. Spector’s study shows that the type of bacteria in our gut can determine how much weight we put on if we overeat. 

One example given is of putting identical twins on high-calorie diets, where they eat an extra 1,000 calories every day and eat the same food.

After six weeks they’ll have completely different changes in weight: Some will have gained as much as 13 kg, others only 4 kg. 

While there’s some obvious merit to the research, which has looked at 11,000 pairs of twins, what the newspaper fails to say in its screaming headline is that this doesn’t tell us to “forget everything we know” at all.

It actually bolsters current thinking: that overeating is a recipe for packing on weight (let’s not forget that 4kg is still more than half a stone after all!), and that some people put on more weight than others if they eat more than they’re supposed to. 

It’s a good couple of hundred words before the article finally admits

“Clearly, calories aren’t the only factor”

Before going on to explain the key ground breaking point of the research: that the type of bacteria in our stomach will affect how much weight we put on – and crucially that modern diets of processed food kill the bacteria that aid weight loss!

Why does all this matter? Well because the danger is that some people will scan that headline (it made the Mail’s front page) in a supermarket queue or at the garage and come to the conclusion that conventional dietary theory – that taking in more energy via food than you use by living and exercising will make you gain weight – is wrong. 

This may then put them off making positive changes to their diet that will be beneficial to their health. What’s the point in eating all if calorie counting supposedly doesn’t work?

What’s even more surprising is that the article came out on the same day as a more shocking report: that the number of strokes in people of a working age is showing a massive increase in Britain. 

The study by the Stroke Association showed that last year, 6,221 men aged between 40 and 54 were admitted to hospitals in England after a stroke – up by nearly 50 per cent in 15 years.

The report admitted that some of the increase was down to a larger population and changes in reporting practices, but experts said growing obesity levels, sedentary lives and unhealthy diets – which raise the risks of dangerous blood clots – all played a part.

Many factors make up for our wellbeing, both emotional and physical – and it would be wrong to suggest that simply exercising more and eating better is a catch-all panacea for happiness. But there are too many studies out there to defy conventional wisdom: you are more likely to suffer from health complications later in life if you allow yourself to drift into obesity.

The next time you see a headline hailing a health fad, be sure to get all the facts before taking what’s written at face value. 

And if you have weight concerns, drop me a line

10 myths about exercising as you get older

Over-80s marathon world record holder Ed Whitlock
Over-80s marathon world record holder Ed Whitlock

Think it’s too late to start exercising? Here are 10 myths about exercising as you get older.

There’s obviously something in the water where I live… because it seems that most people in my village have bodies that ‘work’ younger than their actual age.

Two weeks ago I was given the opportunity to showcase some of my skills at a neighbourhood event at our village hall.

To get people involved and interested, I took my biometric scales along that tell people their metabolic age – the age at which their bodies burn calories when compared to averages for various age groups.

I was surprised at the results. Of the 18 people I tested, all of them seniors, only two showed a metabolic age greater than their years – and then it was only a couple of years over what it should be.

One chap blew me away. He was in his late-70s, had athletic levels of 12 per cent body fat and a metabolic age 18 years younger than he should have.

Living on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales might help – people here do a lot of walking and tend to live active lifestyles – but that is the exception rather than the norm.

According to the NHS, people 65 and older spend 10 hours a day sitting or lying down – more than any other age group. And while it might be expected that people slow down as they get older, there are good reasons to keep on moving for as long as we can. You’ll find some of them as counteractions to the below myths.

I don’t have time to exercise
Yes you do… According to the American College of Sports Medicine, health benefits can be seen from doing just 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. That’s 30 minutes on five days a week – and still gives you two rest days. What’s more, those 30 minutes don’t need to be continuous either, but could be 3 x 10 minute slots a day. Moderate intensity exercise would see you breathing heavier than normal, but still able to keep up a conversation. Things like housework don’t really count unless you are moving things around, but walking to the shop to pick up a paper, doing some gardening, sitting on a chair and standing up repeatedly would all count.

It’s too late in life to make a difference
It’s true that the body slows down as we get older – but thankfully that doesn’t mean it stops. The world record for an over-80s marathon is 3 hours 15 minutes – that’s better than my own personal best, as well as the PBs of  loads of other people I know who run ultramarathons. I’m not advocating you go out and start training for a 26-mile race, but it does show what can be done. A lot of the risk factors we associate with growing old – such as a lack of balance and instability – are actually caused by inactivity.

It costs too much
Sure, you can join a posh gym and spend £90 a month in subscriptions, but equally you can join senior classes that might only cost a pound or two. And walking – one of the major exercises we can all benefit from by doing more – costs nothing.

I have a chronic illness
Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers, depression, dementia, obesity, osteoporosis… scientific studies show that sufferers of all the above can benefit from exercise. If you want to stay mentally alert and mobile for as long as possible, exercise can help. The big muscle group at the front of your calves, the quadriceps, are nicknamed your ‘independence muscles’ for a reason – lose them and you lose your independence. Keep them strong by walking, running and doing sit-to-stand or squat exercises.

I might have a heart attack
While the risk is incredibly low, yes you might – but you are just as likely, if not more so, to have one as a result of not exercising. Your heart is made up of muscle – and the best way to keep it strong is to exercise it.

My joints won’t hold up to exercise
Do you suffer from arthritis? If so, studies show that exercising can help relieve the pain. In simple terms, osteoarthritis occurs when small spurs grow from bones that meet at a joint capsule. When you move the joint, those spurs rub against each other and cause pain as they break off. But by moving the joint regularly, the spurs are constantly worn down offering pain release. The biggest problems occur when you stop moving the joint and the spurs grow long and crash against each other.

I might have a fall
Exercise is great for improving proprioception – often called the sixth sense, it’s the body’s natural ability to sense position, motion, and equilibrium. In simple terms, it’s the body knowing where its parts are without you having to look!

Exercise is for younger people
Pay a visit to a gym in your area and take a look at the clientele… most of them will be over 30s and you’ll see people exercising well into older life. People today are living longer and enjoying more active lifestyles because of exercise, not in spite of it. If you feel as though a gym environment is too young for you – look for off-peak specials when the gym is less busy and many people are at work. Alternatively, have an exercise professional draw up a programme for you at home, or visit a senior centre. Look at other forms of exercise too – thanks to TV shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, there are ballroom dancing classes in most major towns and many villages.

I’m worried about my bones or I suffer from osteopenia/osteoporosis
Women are more prone to brittle bone disease than men are – and one of the major factors that can slow down the onset of osteopenia/osteoporosis is weight-bearing exercise. By lifting weights (they don’t have to be large or heavy) you encourage the growth of osteoblasts – cells that build bone.

I don’t want to get too big or look musclebound
And so you shouldn’t if you don’t want to… but it’s unlikely if not impossible that you will ever start to look too big. Increasing the size of muscles is incredibly hard work, requires a lot of dedication, a high-protein (and often high-calorie) diet and would require you to lift big weights regularly. If you’re still concerned, speak to an exercise specialist who can advise on the correct exercises, weight size, sets of exercises and repetitions to ensure you achieve the results you wish.

I have an active ageing qualification and am trained in teaching special populations such as those with diabetes, osteopenia/osteoporosis, dementia and obesity covered by the Exercise Referral scheme.

Insanity training in North Leeds

Insanity training in north Leeds

Looking for an intense work-out class? Insanity training in north Leeds,  Pool in Wharfedale, Harrogate and Otley is here!

What is Insanity?

Insanity is a group session using high intensity interval training (HIIT) techniques.

You work out to your maximum potential for 2 minutes and then rest for 30 seconds, before starting the process again.

Developed by US personal trainer Shaun T (above), Insanity started out as a home DVD programme, but group classes are now here.

No weights are needed but bring bags of energy, a bottle of water, and a towel – it’s a workout that will make you sweat and torch calories like no other. A yoga mat is useful, but not essential.

See my Facebook page for latest classes and don’t forget to take advantage of the block booking discounts

Is it for me?

You should be in reasonable shape to take part, but I can regress exercises to most levels.
If you’d like a taster of what the DVD is like, see the below video


New year, new you discounts

Want to loose a few pounds of the Christmas paunch? I’m offering discounted personal training sessions in Pool, Harrogate, Otley and North Leeds in the month of January.

Until January 31, 2015 block booking costs are:

5 sessions for £150 (save £50)

10 sessions for £290 (save £110)

In both cases, your health check and mini session (1 hour in total) are free.

Unfortunately, block booking discounts can only be redeemed for one-on-one sessions. For groups prices, please see here