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How to Lose Fat

There's so much been written about this.  We're cutting straight to the facts, so if you don't find something here that you'd expect to find, then the scientific evidence for it is weak or absent.  So, this is just about the facts.

Exercise

A combination of strength training and High Intensity Interval Training is the most effective for fat loss.  Strength training helps you to build muscle which means that you'll be burning more calories at rest, and ensures that as you lose fat you have a better body shape due to the lean muscle you've built.  (Strength training also helps with bone density and improves glucose tolerance, reducing your risk of diabetes.)  However, there's an argument for lower intensity longer duration cardio (plodding along on the treadmill / in the great outdoors / on a bike), as you can do cardio for much longer periods due to its lower intensity, thereby burning more calories.  So, our advice would be to do a mix - and remember, we are all unique; what works really well for one may not be quite right for the other.  Also, do what you enjoy the most; that way you're more likely to stick at it in the long term.  But, if you're not getting the results you want you may need to consider introducing something else OR (more likely) you need to consider what you're eating and drinking!

Nutrition

Widely accepted as more important than exercise, what (and when) you eat has a massive impact on whether or not you'll lose that fat.  As commented on before, nutrition is overly complicated by many "authorities", and the advice should be simpler

When to eat:  Eat more when your body most needs it.  Immediately after exercise is the best time to eat the most, and if you're going to consume High Glycemic Index foods (sweeter things), post exercise is the time to do it.  Don't eat a big meal if you're going to sit around or go to bed soon; chances are higher that you'll convert some of it to fat.

What to eat: well, it's easier to say what not to eat - foods with a high Glycemic Index (particularly those with the highest GI; like cakes, biscuits, donuts, fizzy drinks that are predominantly sugar).  These foods are associated with weight gain and tend to have a lower nutritional yield i.e. for the number of calories you consume, you get very little benefit in terms of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes etc.

The reason we get you to monitor your fruits and veg consumption on Fitladder is that they are so good for you, and so under-eaten by the vast majority of the population.  Being high in fibre you can eat a lot of veg, feel full up, but not actually absorb a lot of what you've eaten (meaning it passes through you and appears out the other end!).  It's important to eat as wide a variety of veggies and fruits as possible; colour is a good clue - try to mix the colours as you'll get different nutrients from different coloured fruit and veg.

A balanced intake of foods means that you would get enough of everything to keep you in peak health.  Most people worry too much about protein, and (particularly if you're a meat eater), end up consuming way more animal protein (meat and dairy products) than needed, often along with quite a lot of animal fat, which has been linked to all sorts of diseases (especially heart disease and bowel cancer).  Eat no more than 500g or 17oz of red or processed meat per week.  You may be surprised to hear that you can get all the protein you need from plants, nuts, legumes, and that there are many competitive athletes who don't eat any animal products at all.  As we've commented before, nutrition is a complex area, but concentrate on eating more fruits and veggies, and if in doubt consult a qualified nutrtionist.

We'd love to hear your comments on or frustrations with fat loss...

Avoid Rubbish Resolutions

It's that time of year when - fueled by alcohol and good intentions - millions of people will make resolutions they know they have little chance of keeping.  It's like a nasty habit - you just can't help doing it, even though you know it'll do you no good in the long term.

New Year resolutions will only "work" if you're clear about the goal, what the benefits will be to you; and clear what plans must be made and what actions must be taken and celebrated.  This is really the science of successful goal setting.

1. Be Specific

It helps to have a specific measurable goal; "I'm joining the gym" - great, so what?  What about "I'm joining the gym and will have a Fitmark of 580 by April 1st."

2. "See" the Benefits

Write down how you'll feel when you achieve your goal "When I have a Fitmark of 580 I'll be slimmer, have more energy and feel fantastic".

3. Plan

"First, join the gym. Second, go to the gym Monday and Wednesday after work and Saturday mornings early; I'll walk at lunchtime at work on Tuesdays and Thursdays."  Seems like a pretty thorough plan, but really, it's just skimming the surface...  Go way beyond this simple plan - nail the detail.  What will you do to ensure you'll go to the gym on Mondays and Wednesdays?  "I'll leave my gym kit by the front door the evening before so that I pick it up on the way out on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I'll leave work by 5.30pm to go straight to the gym." "I'll put my trainers on before I go to the canteen for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

4. Act and Celebrate

When you succeed in completing the actions you've planned, give yourself a mental "pat on the back"; celebrate that small step on the road to successfully reaching your fitness goal.

Alternatively, check out these tips on How to fail well.

Good luck (though luck should have little to do with it!).  Let us know in the comments what your resolutions are for the New Year.


7 Steps to Avoiding Temptation

Avoiding temptation is critical to many people wanting to cut down on bad habits.  "Temptation" can be a one-off or it can be a "bad habit".  If you want to cut down on a bad habit, you must have already identified what the bad habit is e.g. eating a muffin after lunch on workdays.  There's a recipe for cutting down on bad habits, and by working to that recipe and strengthening your self-control, you'll find that the "one-offs" are easier to say "no" to when they occur.  So, let's concentrate on the "bad habits" and trust that you'll be strong enough for the random temptations that you come across in life.  Self-control gets stronger the more your exercise it; that's why it's so hard for many of us to get started, but why some super healthy people seem to have no difficulty saying "no" to the sweet trolley!

The 7 steps

1.  Detail the habit

Saying "I'm going to cut down on sweet foods" or "I'm going to cut down my cigarettes" is too vague and too easy for you to get out of.  It's important to describe exactly what it is that you want to avoid or decrease.  e.g. "I won't eat a muffin after lunch" or "I will reduce to 10 cigarettes a day".

2.  Identify the trigger

Work out when you are likely to commit the sin. e.g. "I tend to buy a muffin with my lunch" or "I'm most likely to smoke when out with friends, or when stressed".

3.  Have an "If..... then....." plan

Stopping doing something is much harder than replacing it with something else, so create a plan that ensures you replace the bad habit with something else which isn't bad for you.  e.g. "If I'm buying lunch, I'll buy a fruit salad to have after" or "If my friends leave the pub for a cigarette, I'll text my wife."

4.  Prepare

If there's something that you can do now to make it easier to avoid the bad habit or to replace it with a good one, then do it now. e.g. set a reminder on your phone for 5 minutes before lunch time reminding you to buy fruit salad at lunch; take your mobile phone to the pub.

5.  Rehearse

It might sound crazy, but it's well worth running over in your head the scenario that you'd like to be prepared for, imagining yourself successfully replacing the bad habit with another one.  Rehearse several times.

6.  Celebrate

When you successfully replace the bad habit with another one, take a moment to yourself to celebrate - this could be giving yourself a mental pat on the back, clenching a fist and hissing "yessssssssssssss" to yourself - whatever works for you.

7.  Repeat

The more you work on replacing bad habits with other habits, the stronger your self-control will get, the easier you'll find it to tackle other bad habits, the more easily you'll deal with unexpected temptation - and the more you'll hit your health and fitness goals!

Please share your own experiences with avoiding temptation in the comments section.

PS  You could also work on improving your working memory.

Two simple steps to getting and staying fitter

Surprise!  For many people getting fitter isn't that hard - but staying that way has proven impossible for many.  So, there are really two steps here -

1. Getting to a level of fitness that you're happpy with

2. Staying that way. 

Many people make the mistake of concentrating on the first step, without giving much (if any) thought to the second.  This is the main problem with dieting .  Relapse is the norm, so you need to plan to avoid it.  To do this, let's start with the second step, rather than the first.

Step 2

If you're going to get fitter and stay fitter, begin with the end in mind.  What does being fitter and staying fitter look like to you?  Will you be a regular exerciser?  If so, what kind of exercise and how often?  What will you be eating at meals, and what will you have in between mealtimes?  Without planning the second step, there's a very good chance you'll go back to your old ways and end up unfit again, so really think hard about the second step, before taking the first.  It's often really valuable to write this sort of thing down.  Maybe draw a picture of your future self, with a description underneath of what your eating, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption will be like.  Remember, this has to be sustainable, healthy, and be a lifestyle that you can see yourself enjoying. 

Step 1

Bridge the gap.  Look at where you are now, and where you'd like to be.  Make a plan to take small steps towards your future self.  This is why we ask you to record eating, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption on Fitladder; these are the 4 "health behaviours" that most contribute to poor health in people in "developed countries".  When it comes to taking steps in habit changing , small is beautiful; don't try to take huge strides forwards - it usually ends up a disaster, with you back at square one.  Focus on the next small step that takes you closer to your ultimate goal - don't try to reach the goal in as few steps as possilbe; move your Training Level up gradually on Fitladder.  It was probably a long slow slide to where you are now - what makes you think you can reverse your bad habits in a month or two?  And when you do slip a little, don't run yourself down and make it a bigger deal than it is; view it as a small slip - nothing more .   Keep taking those small steps towards your ultimate vision.  Why not share your vision here in the comments section?  And remember to celebrate those small successes on the way to your future self!

Beta-testing - again!

Hey, so sometimes you just have to suck it up and try again...  Due to early feedback, we've decided to put the site back into beta-testing mode.  Don't worry; all you folks who have already paid up will receive a refund - we don't want to accept payments until all the feedback we're getting is positive.  We're listening to you (thank you for your suggestions ;-) ) and the next much improved version of Fitladder will be out around the middle of January.

BUT, this is a great opportunity for you to encourage friends, family and colleagues to jump onto Fitladder and try all the functionality for free/gratis/on the house!  Make the most of it.  Take all the different fitness tests, set a goal, ask your Personal Trainer to join up and be your coach (or if you are a PT, ask all your clients to join for free!).  The goal setting is where a lot of the benefits of the site lie - it's not so much about how fit you are now, as it is about how to get fitter!  Thank you all.

Gavin and John

Exercising inside or outside?


Whether you exercise indoors or out probably depends on a number of factors, but here are some to think about...

Proven Additional wellbeing benefits of "doing it outside"

There's a good deal of evidence that exercising outdoors carries additional mental benefits .  "Exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression" (Environmental Science and Technology journal).  Exercising outside (in daylight) also helps you make vitamin D which is important for mood and bone health.

Friends / company

It's important to many people to be part of a team when they exercise - this may be achieved indoors or outdoors in classes (think bootcamps and aerobics/spinning classes).  Exercising with others helps to maintain many people's enthusiasm - you often feel you're going to let someone down if you don't turn up.

Enjoyment in the activity

If you don't like it, it's tougher to stick at it.  Read our previous blog on how to make exercise fun .  Some people love working out with weights or other bits of kit that are only found in gyms; that's great for those that enjoy it.  For some that's a fate worse than death, but they love skiing or playing football - outdoors activities.

Weather

There are folk who just love running in the rain; and there are others who detest it and would rather be sweating it out indoors on a rowing machine.  Weather can be a big deterrent for some.

What are your fitness goals?

If you're trying to improve body composition or aerobic fitness, there are loads of things you can do indoors or out.  If you want to improve your muscular power, many people would think a gym is necessary.  But there are plenty of bodyweight exercises you can do outdoors that will increase strength and power.  Check out our previous blog post on "Gym memberships - are they worth it? ".

Outdoors is usually cheaper

If you're just walking or running, it pretty much costs nothing, as you'd need shoes and kit for indoors too.  Even if you're going to outdoor fitness classes, the chances are they're cheaper than joining a gym - gyms have to pay for their equipment and space, cleaning etc etc.  There are budget gyms, which may work out cheaper than some outdoor bootcamps, but each offers a different experience.

If we were going to offer advice, it would be "do outside and inside".  You'll go through phases when you don't enjoy running as much, or swimming, or going to the gym, or walking in the rain.  It's good to be in the habit of doing a number of different things indoors and out, so that if you just don't feel like doing one of them, you have an easy alternative.

He shoots... he scores!!

Scoring a goal on the football pitch is fun.  So, why isn't achieving every day goals or fitness goals nearly as much fun?  Let's look at what's good about scoring in a sporting context to find the important factors.

It's hard, but not impossible

If scoring a goal was easy, there'd be no sense of achievement.  The sportsman often has to overcome opposition as well as act out a set of well rehearsed moves in order to score.  If you go into a match with no hope of winning, it's definitely no fun.

Competition

By competing against others - and winning - there's a great sense of triumph when you score the goal.

Victory is well defined

Scoring a goal / winning the shot / putting the ball in the hole are all clearly defined goals.  This makes them easy to identify and therefore makes it obvious when to celebrate.

The game has small victories

If you had to play for 14 weeks to score a goal on the football field, football wouldn't be very popular.  There are loads of little battles (and victories) in most sports events.  This keeps you going in the game.

So what?

It's really important to apply these principles when goal setting for your health and fitness. 

Define victory - what are you really aiming for in the long run?  When will the "game" be over?  How long are you going to give yourself to reach your goal?

Who can you play with?  Playing solo is much tougher when it comes to fitness improvement and behaviour change.

Make it a worthwhile challenge, but not impossible.  If you're not at least 80% sure you can do it, then think of an easier challenge.

Define some small goals in your game, and celebrate them.  Knowing the steps to take to ensure you are victorious is vital.  Celebrating them when you achieve them is also reeeeeally important in keeping you going.  Celebrations also help you to establish new habits.  So, if one of your goals is to walk home from work 3 times a week, celebrate when you remember, and celebrate when you've done it.  This could just be pumping the air with your fist, or clenching your fist quietly while saying "Yes!!  I'm a winner!" quietly to yourself.  Always celebrate these small victories - it will keep you going.  It's like winning points in a board game, or on an Xbox/Nintendo/other...

Fitladder will be further "gamified" in the New Year to help keep you on track and enjoying getting fitter.

Please tell us what else you think is important to success in goal setting, or add comments below.  Thanks.

Motivation Map

Motivation isn't hard to find, but it's easy to lose too, isn't it?  Why is that?  When the pain or the gain is immediate we are well motivated, but if it's some time in the distant future, it slips down our list of priorities and often completely disappears from view.  If you get up in the morning and hear that it's going to be a sunny day, you may or may not put suncream on; but if you're out in the sun and experience a burning feeling you will move out of direct sunlight immediately.  Experience would have told you in the morning that the burning feeling would come without the suncream, but you just didn't feel strongly enough motivated to slop on the suncream.  Mistake!  People know that smoking increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and dying younger, but they still smoke.  What's going on?  You'd think that would be a strong motivator for giving up smoking; put aside the addiction issue, and you're still left with a lack of sufficient motivation which seems odd.

If a Personal Trainer gives a client exercises to do, and the client knows the exercises will benefit her, why doesn't she do them?  She was motivated enough to seek out a PT, so the motivation was there.  But it turns out the timing is wrong.  The reason is that motivation isn't constant.  In fact motivation goes up and down all the time as other things compete for your attention.  When the client made an appointment with the PT, her motivation was high; when she's rushed in late from work, tired and hungry, her motivation to exercise and eat well is low - she just wants an immediate fix to her frazzled state... a nice glass of wine.  The motivation for good health behaviour is low, so asking her to do anything that requires any great effort is always going to fail.  This is where the motivation map comes in.

Your motivation is definitely going to be low at some points  - accept it and plan for it; create your own motivation map.  Know that you need to plan ahead so that when those difficult stressful times occur you've already got some easy steps you can follow that ensure you will do something healthy rather than something unhealthy.  So, when your motivation is high, get your fridge filled with fruits and veggies and all things healthy.  If there's a risk you're going to have a long day at work, then ensure you've got a good healthy meal already prepared in the fridge so that all you have to do when you come in is open the fridge and pull out the grub - and leave yourself a post-it next to the light switch by the front door - "good food in fridge"; you'll appreciate your own humour.  Steps have to be easy when your motivation is low or swamped.

When you're lucky enough to have high motivation take full advantage of it - phone the PT and book a series of sessions; throw all those bags of crisps in the bin; make an appointment to see the sports therapist to finally fix that sore knee.  Work out when your motivation is likely to be at its lowest point, and do things now that will make it easier for you to do something healthy when your motivation dips.

So, 3 points

  1. Motivation goes up and down
  2. When you're feeling strong and your motivation is high, do the hard stuff e.g. chop up veggies, phone the PT
  3. When you're stresed and distracted do the easy things that you've previously set up for yourself e.g. chomp on celery and carrots (rather than crips)!

We'd love to hear what you think of our blog posts - would you like help in any particular area?  Use the comments section or connect with us on Facebook.

Fitness Improvement Challenge

It's coming... not long now... get ready... on your marks...  The New Year fitness buzz is almost upon us again.  Will you be re-joining a gym, taking up running again, starting that swimming regime, enrolling in zumba classes?  Whatever you resolve to do, the chances are that you've done something similar before and it hasn't worked out in the long-run.  All those good intentions disappeared by February or March.  Well, here's a solution - Fitin14 !

Our fitness improvement challenge will run on the Fitladder site, one starting every month - and the first one kicks off on 15th January.  All you need is a Personal Trainer (PT) so that you can benefit from:

  • A before and after fitness test, which will demonstrate actual improvement in your level of fitness (Standard , Quick or Gym Test)
  • 14 weeks of training - instruction provided by your PT
  • Support from Fitladder, keeping you focused on your day to day behaviours
  • The element of competition - compete against friends/colleagues to see who can become the Biggest Improver
  • Support beyond the 14 week challenge

It's necessary to have a PT registered on Fitladder to conduct your Fitmark test for you - this guarantees that all the participants have been tested to the same standards, and that there's no "manipulating the figures" going on :-) 

84 people participated in the first Fitin14 which ran from January 2011 for 14 weeks (that's why it's called "Fitin14" - clever, eh?)  From that challenge, at the end of the program 90% of participants increased their physical activity levels by more than an hour per week, and 40% by more than 2 hours per week.  75% were motivated by having a score for their fitness levels.  The main reason given by those not increasing their activity levels, was lack of ongoing motivation.  Our Fitladder Fitin14 addresses all the elements that people struggled with mostly - especially the lack of ongoing motivation.  So, if you want to keep one of your New Year's resolution, sign up to Fitladder, and get your PT to run a Fitin14 for you and your friends, family and colleagues.  By the way, in that first ever Fitin14 the biggest improver increased her Fitmark from 465 to 771 - a massive improvement!

Let us know what you think about the Fitin14 idea in the comments below, and ask any questions you like.

Sweet Success!

Success can be sweet, but it can often go unremarked and that’s a shame.  If you’ve worked towards achieving a goal, celebrating is your right!  In fact, it’s even more than that, celebrating small successes is what will keep you motivated to set another goal and go for it.  That’s why games are so addictive: aim to achieve something, win a reward, aim for the next thing – without the reward (points, trophies etc), the game quickly becomes dull.

So, the release of Fitladder was a good occasion for us to celebrate at the weekend.  We know the website can be even better than it is now, but it’s still worth enjoying ourselves in recognition of the achievement, and then dusting ourselves down and getting on with the next improvements we have planned for Fitladder (no name changes!!).

What about you?  Do you celebrate milestones and achievements?  Whether it be your first walk to work, the biggest number of times you’ve cycled to work in a week, or your highest Training Level on Fitladder – it’s worth celebrating.  And if you’ve a friend who’s achieved something, then help them to celebrate – give them a “pat on the back / high five” whatever works for them.  By the way, it’s important that the celebration is appropriate and doesn't nullify all your hard work e.g. 8 pints of lager after achieving a Training Level high!  That would only lead to regret and relapse – nothing to celebrate there…

Congratulating others and helping them celebrate can be one of the most rewarding feelings for you too – it’s a form of giving, and is likely to make you feel pretty warm on the inside.  So, don’t hold back – make sure to congratulate friends, clients, colleagues on their achievements.  
Congrautlation/celebration is to success what laughter is to life – not essential, but it makes it a lot more fun!
 

Dietary Dilemmas

Atkins, Beverley Hills, Cabbage Soup, Dr Hay, Food Combining, F-Plan, Low Carb, Macrobiotic, Paleolithic, Raw Food, Vegan...  The list could go on and on.  Choosing which "diet" to follow could give you a tension headache.  But let's start with the concept of a "diet" first.

"Dieting" definition - To eat and drink according to a regulated system, especially so as to lose weight...
If you google "does dieting work", on the first page of results there are roughly the same number of "yes's" as "no's".  By asking "does it work", what we're really asking is - does it help the dieter to lose weight and to keep it off in the long run?  Unfortunately many dieters yo-yo.  Why?  Because it's a "diet".  Most people who diet view this as a temporary state, and that once they've lost the weight, they can slowly re-introduce some of the foods that they've cut back on.  This is a fundamentally flawed approach.  It is essential to find eating habits which you can continue with in the long run i.e. for the rest of your life.

IF you're going to stick to this approach to eating forever, it would help if you knew what are truly healthy foods; what's unhealthy about your current diet (so what you should eat less of), and if possible to find a way of enjoying eating the healthy stuff, and a way to make it less likely that you will lapse back into your old dietary habits.

"What's definitely healthy?"

Government bodies and scientists in the West agree that the majority of western people don't eat enough vegetables and fruits.  These veggies and fruits should be eaten as close to their natural state as possible (raw), and the veggies should outnumber the fruits. 

"What's definitely unhealthy?"

Highly processed foods.  Anything with high sugar or salt content; food or drinks.  Chances are that if it comes in a packet or bottle with a whole list of ingredients, then it's probably got quite a lot of sugar, salt or both - check it out.  These foods predispose to weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.  We also know that many people in the West eat more animal fat than is good for them, which is why governments encourage us to eat less meat.

"Isn't it more complicated than that?"

Yes, but the chances are that eating more veggies and fruit, and cutting back on highly processed foods and drinks and animal fats will do you good.  If you eat more veggies and fruit, you'll have less room for the other stuff!

"What else can I eat?  I can't survive on just veggies!"

There are loads of other foods... beans, lentils, rice, fish, pasta - By the way, try to get wholemeal pasta and wholegrain rice; they have much more nutritional value.  The "white" varieties have been robbed of much of their nutritional content and just give you "empty calories".

I know it's complicated, but remember, the change needs to be a permanent one.  Take small steps rather than launch into a big change that just isn't sustainable for you and is bound to result in you slipping back into your old ways.  Please share your thoughts on dieting - successes and failures!

Does Your Personal Trainer Motivate You?

When we first started to develop a fitness measuring tool, we wanted to be sure that people were truly interested in their physical fitness.  As part of this process, I tried to research why people use PT's; the search turned up very little to answer this question directly, other than a small study group .

The main reasons in this small group (29 women) were described as follows...

"Clients' incentives for seeking a personal trainer originated from the negative effect or frustration associated with their failure to achieve fitness/physical appearance goals"

and

"Additionally, they sought personal trainers to maintain their motivation once in an exercise program."

So firstly people are most interested in how fit they are (predictor of longevity) and how they look; knowing that they struggle to maintain their motivation they then look to PTs for help.  So, having a Fitmark can help to reassure people that they are indeed getting fitter (which will also help them with physical appearance).  Also a PT must help to keep people motivated ; if the PT fails in this then he/she is truly a waste of money - it's that simple.  

So... PTs are sought out to help people with "Look and Longevity", and MUST help with motivation.  Motivating clients is pretty straight forward when they're in a session with their PT - but what about the rest of the week/month?  If you're a PT, do you call/text/email your clients?  How often?  How do you help to motivate your client when she's about to eat another cream bun?  There's a lot of science in the field of motivation and changing behaviours, but in practice, it takes a lot of work doesn't it?  Fortunately, that's what Fitladder is built to help with; based on the science of health behaviour change, it keeps users engaged in the daily changes required to get the results (change in Fitmark) that they're looking for; and it's as easy as signing up - the website does the rest!  We'd love to hear your comments on this post, and on Fitladder when it comes out later this month.

Has the Olympics motivated us?

Did you find the olympics motivated you?  The evidence suggests that thousands of people were at least motivated to get up and have a go.  Sports clubs all over Britain were inundated with potential junior members.  Is this because we all saw our kids as potential Jessica Ennis's?  And what about us?  The adults?

Well, it turns out that mega sporting events don't lead to an increase in adult participation - perhaps because we compare with 20 year olds and realise we're never going to make it, so why bother...?  But perhaps we're comparing apples and oranges.  I am not a heptathlete or a rower, so it's unlikely that I'll become one.  It turns out that big sporting events (and the heroes performing in them) do motivate lapsed sports people to have another go.

So what if we started comparing like with like, instead of feeling inadequate by comparison with our Olympic heroes?  Where can we gain inspiration from these "super-humans"?  Perhaps by realising that they wrestle with the same fundamental issues as all of us who'd like to get fitter.  Just like us, they need to train harder and smarter, eat well, and avoid the demon fags and not overdo the booze!  Amazingly there are top sportsmen and women who have the odd sly puff on a cigarette (and worse!)..  And of course, there are plenty of news stories around of sports stars overdoing it with alcohol too.  Many of them also have been criticised for not training hard enough, and the great Usain Bolt has not been shy to admit that he doesn't fancy "stepping up" to 400m as "training hard isn't really my thing"...

So, on Fitladder we hope we can encourage sports stars - past and present - to enter their own daily health behaviours (physical activity levels, nutrition, smoking and alcohol); that way we can all compare our own "Training" with our heroes.  I'm not going to run the 100m in under 10 seconds, but I fancy my chances at having a higher level of Training than the great Usain, at least on some days!!
What about you?  Can you train harder?  Harder than Wayne Rooney perhaps... but harder than Bradley Wiggins? 

It won't happen to me


Smoking significantly increases your risk of cancer, stroke, heart attack.  Physical inactivity increases your risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, some cancers.  Poor nutrition increases risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancers, stroke etc...  And yet, for some reason we believe "it won't happen to me".  WHY is that???

It's called "optimism bias" and scientists have talked about it for a long time.  "Oh no", you're thinking, "here he goes again with the science stuff."  But honestly - it's fascinating.  Somewhere in human evolution we got to the point where we could conceive of our own death - we knew that come what may, we would die; not all animals are aware of this (or at least I don't think they are in a "thinking way").  There have been some pretty depressing lines written about this, but I think Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" takes the biscuit for me - "The paths of glory lead but to the grave" (Thomas Gray 1716-1771).  

So, knowing we're going to die could be pretty debilitating, and this is the scientist's argument.  If we just faced the knowledge of our impending death as a cold hard fact, many of us would be unable to function day to day, so our brains evolved an "optimism bias".  

So this optimism bias is useful to us, but NOT if it means we indulge in damaging behaviour thinking that "it won't happen to me", when the evidence is strongly stacked against us.  People cycling without a helmet appear to believe that either they will never fall off their bike, or if they do, that they will never bang their head on a hard surface - that isn't rational; it's being optimistic.  And this kind of optimism can get us into a lot of trouble - or even lead to early death!

Of course optimism bias can be useful in dealing with stressful past events; how many people are able to "look for the silver lining in the cloud"?  For instance following a loved one's death, or hearing the news of a nasty diagnosis, or that your team lost again.  This is where optimism again can be useful.

So, I'm not against optimism (far from it - my glass is always half full), but sometimes you also need to take a cold hard look at the facts, before popping another cream bun in your mouth!

Fitladder improvements

To elaborate further on what Fitladder will bring you... 

Your own branded Fitladder site

For PT's, fitness companies, gyms and employers we can create your own Fitladder site, with your branding.  Your members can elect to be "visible" on the main (global) Fitladder site, or not.  This means members can play on your branded site AND on the global Fitladder site, making it easy to interact with friends and family wherever they are - which helps with that usually difficult issue of habit-changing !  Remember, health habits are "contagious", so the more people you know that are playing the game, the easier - and more fun - it is for you to change too.

Do a "Quick" Fitmark Test

You'll be able to take a shortened Fitmark test in 5 minutes, consisting of the two most important components of fitness - body composition and aerobic fitness.  This means you can get a quick result to start with and then do the bigger full fitness test when you feel like it.

Choose a "coach"

Having a "coach" is normally the preserve of professional athletes, but on Fitladder you can select another user to be your coach.  Having someone to cheer you on, and to whom you will be accountable makes it much more likely you'll stick to your goals.

Have your own Fitladder

The people you "follow" will be added to your own Fitladder so that you can see at a glance where everyone sits.  This could be demotivating if you find yourself at the bottom of the ladder, so make sure to add people who have a lower Fitmark than you :-)  And most importantly make sure you support them!!

More on the changes in another post...

cheers

Gavin

Fitmark becomes Fitladder

 

Big news!  Thank you to all our early beta-testers; and thank you to anyone who's given us feedback so far.  As I discussed in the last blog How to Fail Well , it’s important to know when to change direction.  Fitmark.me is not providing the “user experience” we had hoped for, and will soon change to Fitladder.com.  Your reasons and our solutions follow...

Fitmark is too much about the score
A fair criticism; many of you said – “I got my score, so what next?”  Fitmark.me has not made it easy for you to know what to do.  Fitladder will be much more obviously about a progression – get your score, compare with others on the Fitladder (the people you “follow” will appear on your own personal ladder), and then get fitter.  Getting fitter was really meant to be the point all along, but Fitmark hasn’t conveyed that well.

I don’t know what I’m meant to do on the site
A designer’s nightmare – a site with lots of functionality (at no small expense) and users can’t see how to use it.  As above, Fitladder makes it much clearer what’s on the site, with a more obvious progression (we even have a “Rules of Play” page), a more extensive menu bar for easier navigation, and the name itself should convey (we hope) that it’s all about getting fitter.
The new site will make it much clearer that you can

Find out how fit you are
Compare with others (on your ladder)
Get Fitter - with the help of personalised goal setting, motivation building, and monitoring your “Training” (which consists of physical activity, nutrition, smoking and alcohol consumption).


I just want to know how to get fitter
This was brilliant, straightforward feedback.  Of course you do – this just reminded us that the Fitmark scoring system should not be centre stage.  The scoring system gives you a useful reference, and confirms whether you're getting fitter or not.  Fitladder.com will be about the journey and the people around you who help to motivate and inspire you (we hope to have some pretty inspiring people on the site).

We actually conceived of the Fitladder name (and the concept behind it) over a year ago, before we started the first website build.  However, sometimes you just have to try something to see how it works before changing direction.  We’ve been pretty focused on creating an “industry standard fitness test”, and allowed that to cloud what we’re really all about – providing you with the tools you need to get fitter. 

The site also acts as a platform for Personal Trainers to help others to stay focused on their health and fitness goals - and any PT or gym wanting their own branded version of the site can have that too...  Just email gavinr@fitmark.me (the fitladder domain isn't up just yet).

We aim to make the switch to Fitladder in October, but we'll let you know when it happens, and the old Fitmark.me domain will just "point" at the new domain, so don't worry, we won't lose you!

Whether you contributed to early feedback or not, please let us know what you think of the changes in the comments below.  And always feel free to let us know :-)  The site is there to help you!!

Cheers

Gavin 


How to fail well

I'm talking about failing with regard to a goal or project that you've undertaken with the intention of completing it; and specifically a goal that you've set to do with improving your health and fitness.  Usually goal setting is long-term stuff - I'm going to lose 20kg by July 1st; I'm going to run the New York Marathon; I'm going to do physical activity 5 days a week.

These types of goals are very praise-worthy, but they also come with a lot of pressure attached.  We all know that to be able to run a Marathon in 4 months time, we're going to have to train frequently and quite hard - harder for some than others :-).  Unless you're super special (or you've taken on board all our lessons on goal-setting ), it's very likely that you are going to have your share of failures, setbacks and relapses along the way.  There's an art to failing well in these circumstances.  Many people adopt the attitude displayed by thoughts like "I've missed my training the last 2 days so I may as well write this week off and start again next week"; or "That donut I had after lunch has blown my diet today so I may as well have desert after dinner as well, then I'll start again tomorrow, or maybe next week".

Having a setback or relapse is totally normal, but just make sure to regard it as a temporary thing, not an inevitable trend which excuses you from getting back on track.  The art of failing well is in accepting that you've failed in this one small thing - but that's all you've failed in.  You've lost the battle - but you're sure as hell gonna win the war!  Look how far you've come all ready.  "I went the whole of the last two weeks sticking to my training schedule - one bad day is not gonna throw me off track."  Failing well means knowing that you aren't perfect, but that you are so much better than you used to be.  Pat yourself on the back and come back fighting.  Remember, "Victory belongs to the most persevering" (Napoleon Bonaparte).

However, as Zig Ziglar said "When obstacles arise you change your direction to reach your goal, you do not change your decision to get there."  So failing well also means that you may have to accept that you've failed in your strategy - set yourself the wrong course, or the wrong timescale. 

So failing well can mean that you accept small failures and regard them as just that - not the end of your hopes; and failing well can mean that you accept that your plans were ill-conceived and you'll have to make a better plan this time.  Failing well does not mean giving up, unless the goal is going to do you or others more harm than good - a complex issue we're not going to get into here!

Please excuse me this one last quote from Winston Chruchill "Never, never, never give up."

cheers
Gavin

5 tips for those who hate exercising

Do you hate exercising?  Or know someone who hates the idea?  Or you're in favour of it in principle, but just don't enjoy it in practice.  We've listed our own 7 reasons not to exercise previously, but if you've read that post you'll see it creates a pretty compelling argument in favour of exercise.

So, what to do if you just hate it!?  Or even just can't be bothered...

1. Pretend

Did you know that the act of pretending to smile causes a release of chemical messengers in your brain that makes you feel good?  The same for pretending to laugh.  Self-improvement gurus will also tell you that if you want to be a big-shot you have to behave like one and hang out with other big-shots.  So, if you want the health benefits of physical activity, but would like to shoot Sunday morning joggers (presumably cos they remind you of your own unhealthy ways), do the unthinkable and join them.  And smile!

2. Find the least offensive exercise

If you rack your brain, you may find that there are some kinds of physical activity that offend you least - start with these because enjoying exercise means it is much more likely that you'll stick at it. 

3. Challenge yourself

If enjoying it seems beyond you, then use another motivator; challenge yourself.  Many people have achieved great things against the odds.  The odds are stacked against you if you don't enjoy it; so use that as a personal challenge.  Create your own headline "Despite hating exercise, he went from couch potato to half marathon in 12 weeks."

4. Help others

Raising funds for a charity that means a great deal to you is a great way to keep your motivation up and establish that exercise habit.

5. Join others

If you hang out with others who are into exercising, it's more likely you'll stick at it.  Behaviour is "contagious".  Not eveyone who exercises is a fitness freak.  There are loads of people just like you who find it hard to get into it and stick at it.  Find your tribe and enjoy the camaraderie.

Are you a natural exercise hater?  Have you turned it around?  Are there times when you'd rather stay in bed?  What techniques do you use?

Cheers

Gavin

How to make the most of your Personal Trainer

Personal Trainers can be great for your health and happiness (they're connected), but they can also be a waste of time and money.  What is it that separates the great ones from the mediocre and the downright rubbish ones?

You

It may seem odd to point the finger at yourself, but the first important consideration is you.  What do you hope to get from using the services of a PT?  Slimmer, more muscled, a tighter ass, fitter (it's not at the top of everyone's list), a new friend?  Be specific about what you want so that when you first meet and go through their initial consultation, you're ready when they ask you "What are your goals?"  If you're not ready with an answer to this question, your new PT will not know how to help you - he/she will have to guess what might make you happy in the long run.

Goal Setting

If your new PT doesn't ask you "What are your goals", then they may not be a great PT.  If you're looking for a Return on Investment from a PT then it doesn't get simpler than this.  Your PT must define, along with you, what your goals are .  They should be recorded and referred to regularly.  Ideally once a month you should review progress towards your goals, and if necessary change your training program to reflect progress or lack of progress.

Measure Accordingly

Whatever the goal, the PT must measure your progress towards it.  So, if it's to get slimmer, measure your waist; if it's to gain muscle, measure specific points; if it's to become stronger, measure strength (or power? - worth thinking about the difference).  Ideally, measurements should be taken under exactly the same conditions each time:  ideally the same time of day, same length of time since your last meal etc. 

Make it Fun!

If it's not enjoyable, are you really going to keep it up?  Spending time with your PT should be fun , and doing the programs should strike the balance between challenging, fun, and good old hard work.  Are you someone who enjoys routine or loves change?  Routine is dangerous in exercise as your body can easily get "used to" exercise and cease to benefit as much from the same program.  So, it's important your PT updates your program, but not so often that you totally lose track of what you're meant to be doing and how to do it.

Work Your Way

Are you into technology (there are fitness apps that can help)?  Do you like to start slowly and build up?  Do you like to "feel the burn"?  Whatever your preferred way of working, your PT should be able to adapt to it.  If not, there are plenty out there who will.

Great Knowledge

Depending what your goals are, the knowledge your PT needs to have will vary.  If you want to get slimmer, nutrition is a really important area (as it is if you want to gain muscle).

Great Customer Focus

Remember, you're paying; so at the end of the day, you're the boss!  Your PT is there to help you achieve your goals, not the other way around!

Making you Feel Good

Your self confidence is important.  If your PT doesn't make you feel good about yourself, it may be time to think about a change. 

What other things do you think are really important in a great PT?  Add your thoughts in the comments.

Cheers

Gavin and John

Are Fitness Tests a waste of time?

Fitness Tests are a waste of time (and money) under any of the following conditions...

  • They are wildly inaccurate
  • They don't give you a comparison
  • They don't test what's important to you
  • They are only done once

Accuracy of Fitness Tests

It's vital to follow the testing protocol (the instructions provided by a developer).  Deviating from the protocol will mean that your test result is not accurate.  It also means - if you deviate from it in future testing, or even stick to the protocol - you will not be testing in the same way.  Lack of consistency in testing means you can't track any progress with any degree of confidence.  The protocol has been developed for a reason - what makes you think you know better than the developer?  Tip - when doing your Fitmark Home Test, always use the same set of stairs.

The test may be rubbish of course; it's important for a developer to ensure that the tests they offer are valid for testing whatever it is that they say they're testing.  Fitmark tests are definitely valid as they have been selected by our Professor of Exercise Physiology after a thorough review of the research literature; however, the Gym Tests are more valid than the Home Tests (but require specialist equipment and supervision).

Comparisons are important

If you take a test, but have nothing to compare with, how do you know how fit you are?  The Fitmark scoring system is based on "normative data"; that means that all these tests have been conducted many times before with thousands of people, so we know (for any age 18-65) what is good, bad or average.  This is why we can give you a score that reflects your level of fitness for all 5 components relative to anyone in that age range.

Testing what's important

What is important depends on what's important to you; are you fitness testing for a specific sport, or are you simply wanting to be fitter because of the health benefits it brings?  The American College of Sports Medicine and other international and national fitness bodies have spent years deciding what is important in terms of fitness in relation to health - they recognise 5 components of physical fitness, which all have an impact on health to varying extents.  Your Fitmark is weighted more heavily towards the most important components - body composition and aerobic capacity; but it does take account of the other 3 components, some of which may be more important to your performance (particularly sports performance) e.g. muscular endurance is important in many sports, flexibility is important in climbing, dance... and of course in everyday activities.

Track Progress

What is the point of only taking a fitness test once?  Sure, it gives you a snapshot of your fitness, but is that what you want?  Most people want to improve their fitness levels - or at the very least maintain them.  Many gyms test new members, but fail to follow up a couple of months later, and again 2 months after that.  Also, different gyms and Personal Trainers offer different tests - how can you hope to track your fitness across your life without a consistent test?

What experiences have you had with fitness tests?  We'd love to hear your comments.

Gym Memberships - are they worth it?

I guess that depends on why you joined in the first place, and whether your reasons have since changed.  I'm sure the below is not an exhaustive list of reasons to join a gym / have a gym membership, but perhaps it'll stimulate you to think about it.

I want to be fitter/healthier -   Is it working?  Are you any fitter than when you joined?  How do you know?

Getting fitter/healthier at a gym is more sociable -   Have you made friends, found a good person/crowd to workout with?  Does that help to keep you motivated?

To get professional support -   How good is the Personal Trainer?  Does he/she help you find your own motivation and set your own goals?  Do you "gel" well with him/her?  Are regular fitness tests used to monitor your progress?  Do you have an exercise program that progresses over time?

They have equipment I need -   Do you really need equipment to get fitter? There are loads of body-weight workouts on the web - check out one of my favourites from Nerdfitness

They have a variety of facilities/classes -   Great reason; variety is important physically and mentally.  Do you use the classes?  Essentially, are you making use of the variety available, or are you paying for lots of facilities you never use?

Easiest place to exercise with built-in childcare   Another practical and good reason If you can't get someone else to look after the little one(s), it's difficult to find time for yourselfCheck out working out with baby .

To exercise in a safe place -    Great if it gives you the peace of mind that you need; that's vital if you have a history of medical problems.

I like to pose   I'm not writing this for you!

What other reasons do you have - please use the comments box.  Ultimately it's up to you to weigh up the benefits against the cost.  But don't let your gym membership cost you more than it benefits you; there are so many ways to improve your fitness, without paying to do it.

cheers

John and Gavin

Eating for dummies

Nutrition is a maze.  There is so much information on what to eat for optimum health, what's bad for your health, what amounts you can safely eat, which diets are proven to work, which diets have caused substantial side-effects etc.. that most of us are completely dazed and unsure which direction to move in.

It would appear that the "scientists" can pretty much prove anything as good or bad depending on the question they ask and the methods they use to prove/disprove the point.  At Fitmark we're opting for the simplest, most practical approach to nutritional guidance.  Hoping that by making it simple to start with, it's easy for you to get on board and make some healthy progress.  First, let's look at the USDA's guidance...

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/images/MyPlateImages/JPG/myplate_green.jpg 

Balancing Calories

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions. 

Foods to Increase

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks. 

In the UK, the Food Standards Agency uses the "Eatwell Plate"

 

We have looked at both of these plates, and asked what are people most often eating too little of and what are they mostly eating too much of, compared with the guidance.  Most people eat too few fresh fruits and vegetables, and too much processed sweet stuff!  The health benefits of fruits and vegetables (plants) are universally accepted, and yet so often people concentrate on whether they are getting enough protein via meat, fish and dairy.  It would be very rare for people nowadays to be protein deficient.  It may amaze you to know that there are international athletes who train and compete purely on a plant-based, wholefoods diet.  They get all the nutrition they need from plants, legumes, grains, nuts, pulses.  The point being that too much emphasis has been given to the other things on the plate at the expense of good ole' fruit and veg.  One of the benefits of fruits and vegetables is that they contain a lot of fiber which helps to keep the contents of your guts moving along, and much of it is not absorbed by you (the cellulose), meaning you can eat a lot, feel full up, and still not absorb a lot of what you've consumed.

The dangers of sweet and processed foods (often overly salty) are also widely accepted - do they make up too much of your daily intake?

And don't get me started on diets!!!  If you think you can eat like that for the rest of your life, go right ahead, but otherwise think long and hard about dieting.  A 2007 review of 31 different studies published in the American Psychologist (Mann et al), concluded that diets don't work and that they are one of the strongest predictors of future weight gain i.e. going on a diet is a risk factor for future weight gain.  Also, that repeated dieting can lead to all sorts of health problems - notably cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and altered immune function.

So, when contemplating changes to your food and drink intake - just concentrate on doing better , rather than making massive, unsustainable changes.  And eating more fruits and veggies, and fewer processed and sweet/salty foods (and drinks) would be a good place to start - and try not to overcook the veg - the closer to raw the better!

Gavin and John

Your friends could be slowly killing you

Did you know behaviour is contagious? Just as you can "catch a cold", you can easily "catch" the tendency to eat badly, or sit around on the couch all day.  Such is the social nature of humans that we tend to conform to the behaviours of those around us - even when we know it's bad for us.  This is the reason for marketers showing us an "average person" telling us how white her washing powder gets her whites - chances are that a lot of people subconsciously identify with the woman and fall into line.  How healthily you behave is just as open to the influence of the people around you.  If you're out for a drink, and someone says "another one"? as they set off for the bar, you're much more likely to say "yes", than if they pick their jacket up and ask "you don't want another drink do you?  I fancy an early night".

There's a whole load of scientific evidence of this.  If you want a very readable book on the subject try Christakis and Fowler's "Connected" .  So, how do you turn this knowledge to your advantage?  Here are some ideas...

Try to influence your friends too

Make it a team thing - changing your habits is a lot easier as it's more fun if you're getting fit with others.

Avoid your "bad" friends

This may seem a bit harsh, but if your health means enough to you - and your friends aren't going to support you in that, then you're only making it harder for youself.

Get some new friends

Seriously, hang out where healthy people hang out.  Join a walking club at work; join a gym; join the salad queue in the work canteen and sit with the salad people.

You can do it the hard way (with unhealthy friends), or you can ease your path by hanging out with healthier people.  It's not just the people that you hang out with that influence you - it's the people they hang out with too (we're all connected).  And remember, if you're getting healthier habits this could rub off on the less healthy people in your life.  So don't think we're advocating an "it's all about me" attitude.  Just think - the healthier you are, the more the important people in your life may adopt similar habits to you.  So, instead of your friends slowly killing you, you could be slowly saving your friends!

Gavin and John

Weight Management and The Glycemic Index


There’s a common phrase going around lately and you may have heard it. Even popular weight loss programs have jumped on the bandwagon and tout it as the secret to weight loss.  What they are referring to is the Glycemic Index.

So what is it?

The glycemic index consists of a scale from 1 to 100, indicating the rate at which 50 grams of carbohydrate in a particular food is absorbed into the bloodstream as blood-sugar. Glucose itself is used as the main reference point and is rated 100. Foods with a high GI behave differently in our bodies and those that are rapidly digested and absorbed result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Although the glycemic index was invented originally to help diabetes patients manage their blood-sugar levels, dietitians and weight experts now use it as a tool to treat obesity, reduce cravings and appetite swings, and improve eating habits.

High, Intermediate and Low Glycemic Index Foods

The glycemic index separates carbohydrate-containing foods into three general categories: High GI – 70 or more, cause a rapid rise in blood-glucose levels. Intermediate GI 55-69 – causing a medium rise in blood-glucose and Low GI – 54 or less, causing a slower rise in blood-sugar.  One thing to keep in mind is that you can lower the GI of a food by combining it with a protein or fat.  Both protein and/or fat combined with a high GI food will solicit a lower insulin response in the body, most times reducing it to that of a moderate GI food.

Benefits of Low GI Foods

Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. Low GI diets have been shown to improve both glucose and lipid levels (fat) in people with Type1 & Type 2 Diabetes.  Low-GI foods have benefits for weight control because they help control appetite and delay hunger. Low GI diets also reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance.  Choosing low GI carbs – the ones that produce only small fluctuations in our blood glucose and insulin levels – is the secret to long-term health, reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes and is the key to sustainable weight loss.

Eating mainly low GI carbohydrates slows the release of glucose into your blood stream, keeping your energy levels balanced, and blood sugar levels low.  This means you will feel fuller for longer between meals and avoid sugar highs and lows.  Other benefits include: Weight loss and weight control, increased insulin sensitivity, improves diabetes control, reduces the risk of heart disease, reduces blood cholesterol levels, reduces hunger, keeps you fuller longer, prolongs physical endurance and re-fuels carbohydrate stores after exercise.

The easiest way to eat more Low Glycemic carbohydrates is to simply switch your high GI carbohydrates for lower ones.  For example, eat breakfast cereals based on oats, whole grains and bran.  Choose breads made from whole grains, stone-ground flour and other natural grains. Also, reduce your consumption of white potatoes, white rice and white pastas and choose wild, brown, or basmati rice, whole wheat, vegetable, brown rice pasta and other noodles cooked “al dente”.  Enjoy all types of fruit and vegetables and avoid all products with high fructose corn syrup, such as salad dressing, sweetened drinks, and processed foods.  Soon you will be enjoying all the benefits a Low-Glycemic and Moderate Glycemic diet provides. 

Guest Blog from Jackie Christiansen

Jackie is a certified nutritionist, personal trainer, and national champion figure competitor. She is also a working mother of three who is about to turn 50 years old!  

Weekend Eating Habits


Am I the only one who eats less healthily at the weekend?  On Saturday I managed to decline when offered half of a second chocolate cookie (they're quite big).  I had had enough after the first one with a lovely mug of Earl Grey tea.  But that didn't stop me having more chocolate in the evening and a nice "wee dram" as we call it in Scotland (Whisky and Drambuie - I recommend it).  On Sunday I had a lovely brownie and some more chocolate in the evening. 

Now, I know this is not going to require I move to the next notch on my belt, but it's more than I would tend to have on a weekday.  What's that about?  For me it's about feeling that I work hard during the week, and weekends are for enjoying myself and being less rigid about my eating habits.  For me, it works.  I exercise pretty much 7 days a week, though one of the days is pretty easy stuff, so it's effectively a rest day.  Luckily I don't gain weight, and weigh the same as I did when I was 16 (I know a lot of this has to do with my "other job" as an osteopath which has me on my feet a lot).

So, is "cutting yourself some slack" at the weekend a good thing?  What do you think?  I guess it depends on what is important to you.  If you're aiming to lose weight, then the chances are that you have to strengthen your self-control.  Self control is like a muscle - you have to train it.  If you let go in the early stages of training, you may find it never quite gets any stronger - you're always starting again.  So, I guess if you're trying to stop a habit, you probably need to avoid that habit at the weekends - not just during the week.  If you're like me, there's no reason not to "treat yourself", so long as you're aware that you may be using food as an emotional crutch. 

What do you eat or drink at the weekend that you tend not to during the week?  Share in the comments.

Cheers

Gavin

A Healthy Addiction

Over the years I have watched various people around me become addicted to things that are harmful to their wellbeing in some way or another. The most common addictions have been smoking, drinking, gambling and drugs.

There are a number of reasons why these people and millions alike became an addict. The most common reason is due to social pressures when in their teenage years. Particularly with regards to smoking, where most people start because they felt at the time that they would either look cool, grown up or did it to fit into a specific group of friends. I recall one of my friends when we were around 13, he started by buying a packet of ten B&H just on the weekend and described himself as a “social smoker” and only did it on a Saturday night; within less than a year as you can imagine he was smoking twenty a day and 13 years later he still is. This means that he has spent at least £23,725 on cigarettes at £5.00 per packet a day. This is a low figure - due to increased tax and inflation a packet of twenty cigarettes today costs over £7.00 in the UK.

If these figures sound shocking, brace yourself for the following. I recently met someone who said that his new year's resolution was to stop smoking Marijuana. He was smoking an eighth per day amounting to £20 a day, £560 a month, £7,280 a year.

Possibly the most costly of addictions is gambling. People can easily lose £50 in ten minutes on a fruit machine in a pub, and then lose money whilst they are trying to earn it by gambling on online casinos when bored at work.  Not to mention trips to a casino or a casual stroll into Ladbrokes or William Hill. The gambler loses all concept of how much they have won in total compared to how much they have lost, they will leave the casino with £50 thinking they won but forget that they bought in £150. Or they will genuinely win £200 one night but forget that they lost £400 the night before and £600 the night before that, and always forget that awful night some months back where they lost £3,000 and don’t want to talk about it.

Drinking alcohol. The average person who says that they drink a bit too much will  likely drink something like the following; a few glasses of wine with dinner most nights, possibly have 2-4 drinks with work friends at the end of the day, or maybe a drink with lunch has been common amongst some of my clients, and depending on the occasion Friday and Saturday nights will involve drinking quite an excess amount, and if purchased from night establishments in central London, drink prices can be double that of normal places where a pint costs roughly £4.00. The example above amounts to anywhere between £50-100 per week.

If the above addictions do not in any way apply to you, this one most likely will; junk food. The culture of eating out, buying convenience food and ordering take away is very difficult to avoid today. It is not only difficult to find food that is not processed, fried, full of MSG or sugar but when we find it, it is often quite expensive and not as appetizing as the pub lunchtime special offer on a Cheese Burger, Chips and Peas for £5.95. There is no harm in eating out every now and again, however we now live in a society where many people live on only take away, eating out, or microwave ready meals from supermarkets. The excuse we often hear is that to cook is more expensive than the ‘buy one get one free’ deal at Dominos, quite time consuming and never tastes as nice.

The production of cookbooks has never been higher in the history of selling cookbooks, due to a generation growing up on microwaves, the tradition of teaching our children how to cook is slowly disappearing. Cooking for many has been reduced to pouring boiling water on something, removing a seal and placing in an oven for 20 minutes, putting in a toaster or heating for 3 minutes in a microwave. Most of this food is very tasty, but our taste buds have become accustomed to these foods; the good news is that it is possible to re-educate your taste buds. This addiction compared to gambling is not likely to be as hard on the wallet but it is the most likely factor to lead us to obesity and make us extremely vulnerable to life threatening diseases and chronic conditions.

Many addictions are overcome by replacing the addiction with something else; one will quit smoking by starting drinking and start gambling to stop drinking, and start taking drugs to stop the gambling and so on. The one addiction that is not given half as much a chance as the others, is the only addiction worth having - exercise.

Being addicted to exercise is much better than any of the above and is the cure to the problems that result from them.

Many addictions such as smoking and drinking are used as forms of escapism and a way to relax and release stress; why not release stress in a way that will not be harmful but beneficial to your health?  An hour of Boxercise can do the job, leaving you in a better mood, with increased energy, a sense of achievement, improved confidence and cardiovascular fitness.

Health is said to be one of the most important factors in creating happiness, along with wealth and relationships with others. We cannot live to attain the good life, the balance of these three factors without our health. No matter who we are our health and fitness should be important to us; it is true that when “we look good, we feel good”, we release more positive energy and attitudes, we become more confident, less self conscious and depressed, receive more positive comments and compliments about our appearance from our peers and we feel attractive, healthy and happy.

The gym addict is the one who feels guilty if they didn’t give 100% effort into their session and spends the rest of the day telling him/herself “I’m gonna make up for that tomorrow”, for him/her not going to the gym one day is like a smoker in need of a cigarette. He/She eventually stops complaining when their muscles ache and smiles, for they know that they are going to see progress.

This is the difference between training twice a week and three times a week; three times a week is a lifestyle changing point, and four-five days a week we will reach our optimum fitness level.
To have a Personal Trainer is to add value to your training and to guarantee the results you seek by making a real and serious commitment to achieving them. If you want something done properly you need to hire a professional.

To conclude, every New Year millions of people make a resolution to get fit and the body that they have always wanted, they join a gym, go for two weeks and then stop; by the end of January most gyms are practically back to normal, even in the peak times, with a couple of new faces. People are willing to spend thousands of pounds every year that they may or may not even have on things that are bad for them and that they do not need; why not spend it on something that is good for them that they do need and want by replacing a bad habit with a good habit for a change?

Alex Carson is a personal trainer from London, specialising in Fat Loss. He writes regularly on Health and Fitness topics for various websites as well as his own blog.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexcarsonPT

www.alexcarsonpersonaltraining.com

(C) Alex Carson 

How to fail at getting fitter

Failed exerciser

1.  Aim to be the best

This is a great way to secure failure; aiming for fitness stardom ensures that the first time your training flags or the first time you fall to temptation ("it was a very tasty donut"), you will beat yourself up and reaffirm that you're a total failure when it comes to fitness.

2.  Trust in the power of positive thinking

Counting on positive thinking to get you there will get you exactly nowhere.  While positive visualization is used by the top people in many fields, they also act on it!  Positive thinking alone will simply give you a false sense of optimism.

3.  Take giant steps forward

Going from a couch potato to 5 days a week at the gym is a great way to end up back on the couch with a beer in one hand and a bag of chips in the other. 

4.  Force yourself to do it

Choose an exercise method that you hate; that's a good way to ensure you chuck it in within the month.  Buy a gym membership and stand in a room with people that have less meat on them than your last dinner - does that give you a feeling of belonging?

5.  Keep it a secret

Keeping your ambition to yourself means that when you slip up (as you certainly will), no one will know.  So, it'll be easier for you just to go back to being your old lazy self - no one will cheer you up or encourage you back into it.

6.  Avoid goal setting

Without a stated goal (with emotion attached) you will wonder why you're even doing this to yourself - lack of motivation is a great reason to throw in the towel.

For the alternative approach, check out our successful habit changing  and how to make exercise fun posts.  Share your own failure experiences below...

cheers
Gavin and John

7 Reasons Not To Exercise

There are so many reasons not to exercise; here are just some...

1. Gain Weight

Not exercising significantly increases your chances of weight gain - substantial weight gain depending on what you eat!

2. Get More Heart Disease, Diabetes, Cancer etc..

Not exercising is a great way to increase your risk of developing all the major "non-communicable diseases", many of which are killers!

3. Get Depressed

If you want to avoid being happy, try not exercising.  Inversely, exercising protects against depression and is a recognised "treatment" for it, so just stay at home, avoid exercise and get depressed!

4. Have Rubbish Sex

Who wants a good sex life anyway?  Avoiding exercise can help you to achieve a poorer sex life.

5. Sleep Badly

Sleep's over-rated right?  By avoiding exercise you can ensure sleep is harder to come by and not as good quality.

6. Lower Your Energy

Lack of exercise ensures that your stamina for everyday activities will be low.  Enjoy getting out of breath when the escalator is broken?  Just avoid exercise!

7. Have Less Fun

Exercise is frequently enjoyable - especially with friends and out of doors.  If you would prefer to have less fun in life, just make sure you don't allow your gym kit to tempt you!

Cheers
Gavin and John

5 Everyday ways of measuring your fitness

Aerobic - Stair Climb

This is along the same principles as our Home Test for Aerobic fitness.  Simply climb stairs for a given length of time at a given number of steps per minute and then - after 3 minutes say - take your pulse for the next 30 seconds (you need to climb for long enough to get your pulse to rise and stabilise).  Look for progress from month to month - it takes a while to change. 

Body Composition - Clothes Test

How tightly do your clothes fit you?  Especially round the waist.

Muscular Endurance - Wall Sit

If you want a variation on the push-up and curl -up combination, and want to test your legs' endurance, then the wall-sit may be for you.  With the whole of your back against the wall, and your heels about 18 inches (47cm) from the wall, slide down until your hips and knees are at 90 degrees.  With your hands hanging by your sides, hold this position for as long as you can.

Muscular Power - Horizontal Leap / Broad Jump

It's like a long jump, but from a standing start.  Measure where the back of your heels land.  If doing it on your own, just wet the soles of your shoes.  We don't use it because there's more technique required than for the vertical leap, and the potential for injury on landing is greater :-)

Flexibility - "The Grunt"

Do you find yourself grunting when you bend forwards to pick things up?  Or struggling to tie your shoe laces without grunting?  Chances are that your flexibility needs work (or your tummy may be too big!).  If you want to be precise then there's no easier way than our sit and reach test.

Alternatively to these - and just to make it easier - do the Fitmark home test!!

John and Gavin

How to Make Exercise Fun

"I hate this!!!"   How many people have you heard say this at the end (or beginning) of a workout?  Saying it at the end may just indicate utter physical exhaustion (and for those who push themselves that hard - nausea).  Saying it at the beginning is not a good sign.  To give you the best chance of sticking at an exercise regime, you have to ensure that you don't hate it - at the very least.  But, to give yourself the maximum chance of continuing forever - make sure it's fun!
Here are some tips on enjoying exercise...
Make two lists of things you enjoy - write them down

  1. Active          e.g. walk, dance, play football, run with a friend
  2. Non-active  e.g. cinema, reading, listening to music
The active list is great - choose stuff on there you like to do.
The non-active list - if you're going to keep doing those, then try to associate an activity with each.  e.g. walk to the cinema, go to a dance class before going out with friends, read on a treadmill - you get the idea?

Do it with friends / family
Many of us have a great desire to be sociable (some prefer to exercise solo).  If you're someone who likes being around people, then perhaps group exercise is for you?  Also, if you make a commitment to a friend to meet in the park at 7am, it's far more likely you'll show up than if you are going on your own.
Achievement and Progress

For lots of people they like to see progress and enjoy the sense of achievement that comes with it.  So, track your exercise (and perhaps the improvement in fitness that comes with it).  Set milestone targets - look at our Successful habit changing  post for help here.

Compete against others

If you're the competitive type, then compare with others.  How many times can you get to the gym this week compared with your friends?  How many push-ups can you do? etc..

Support others

If you're of a more caring nature, then you may get great enjoyment from supporting others, which in turn keeps you motivated and enjoying yourself.  So, it may be you want to set up a group - and get a lot out of helping others to exercise along with you.

Please contribute your own suggestions in the comments below..  Thanks

Gavin and John

Succesful habit changing

Changing your habits and sticking to those changes is hard - otherwise we'd all be a lot healthier than we are.  So, what's the best way to maximise your chances of changing successfully in the long run?  It turns out there's a lot of research in this area.  I'm not going to go into the detail - just give you a summary. 

Carrot and stick

Have A Big Carrot

It's really important to have a long term goal - so have a think about where you'd like to be in 2 or 3 years time. 

  • Make sure it's SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time Bound)
  • "Attach emotion" to it.
  • Write it down in the present tense i.e. as though you're already there e.g. "I am 92kg.  I feel fantastic and am absolutely delighted that I can walk for 3 hours without feeling tired or struggling for breath  - July 1st 2014"
  • Say it to yourself at the beginning and the end of every day - really imagine yourself at that point in time, being that person and feeling those feelings.

Collect Lots of Little Carrots

Break down your long term goal into a series of much smaller steps; ideally, daily steps.  You don't have to plan these in advance, but making a weekly plan is really useful.  Think about what you did last week, and make a plan to do better this week.  Focussing on your long term goal through the day can lead to disappointment if you relapse.  Much better just to focus on doing better than last week (a little carrot).  That way, if you have a little relapse, you still have the rest of the day/week to collectt your little carrot.

Write down at the beginning of every day the things you aim to do that day that will mean you're doing better than last week (use the same principles as above)  e.g. "Today, I have eaten 5 portions of fruit and veg, had a 20 minute run, and stretched for 10 minutes."

Have a Big Stick

Turns out that when it comes to avoiding things e.g. that lovely tub of ice cream in the freezer, sticks are usually better than carrots.  So, when tempted, think of all the things you want to avoid health-wise in the future e.g. "I don't want to get diabetes and become impotent" works well for me ;-).  But these sticks (just like the carrots), need to be personal to you.

If you do fall, don't beat yourself up

We all fail at times.  But it's just one little fail - don't make it more than it is.  What's important is getting up and getting back on track; as Custer said "It's not how many times you get knocked down that counts; it's how many times you get back up"  (I know he lost at Little Bighorn, but not for lack of trying!)

"If... then..." plans

Make sure you've thought about the dangerous situations in your life, and create an "if... then..." plan.  For example, if you know you are likely to eat crisps if you go to the drinks party, then have a plan - e.g. "If there are crisps, then I'll stand at the opposite end of the room.  If someone offers me the plate of crisps, then I'll ask if they have any fruit." 

So, in summary

  • Think of your Big Carrot and write it down in the present tense
  • Write down your little carrots daily
  • Have a Big Stick ready to beat yourself with
  • Don't actually beat yourself up if you fall
  • Create some "If... then..." plans

Good luck.  Have you found other techniques that work for you?  Be the first to comment.

Gavin and John

Which Fitness Tests should you do?

Which Fitness Tests should you do?

Well, that depends on what you want to achieve!  The reason Fitmark tests all 5 components of fitness is because they are all important to your health – as outlined in our report “The truth about fitness – there are 5 parts to being fit.  Here’s why they all matter”.

So, if the purpose of the fitness test is to determine your general health – and where you’re future health is most at risk – we would recommend testing all 5 components.  However, if you’re into a particular sport,or you know that there’s a particular health issue for you, then that would dictate which fitness tests you should do.  Here are some scenarios.

I want to lose weight

First, let’s make sure you lose body fat and not muscle.  Also, if you start exercising more, you may gain some muscle (which is heavier than fat), so you might be disappointed not to lose weight – or that you’re losing weight more slowly than you’d hoped.  This is why only measuring body weight, or BMI (ratio of weight to height), is not a good fitness test.   

A far better test is measuring how much of your body is fat.  The best way to do this (other than a very expensive DXA scan), is using fat callipers.  You would need someone experienced to carry out this test on you.  In the Fitmark Home Test, we use a combination of BMI and waist:hip ratio.  Waist:hip ratio is a much better indicator of health than BMI , as your waist is a particularly dangerous place to carry extra body fat.

So, in summary, rather than say “I want to lose weight”, you should be saying “I want to lose body fat”. 

I want to gain muscle

What for?  To be stronger?  To look bigger? To raise your Resting Metabolic Rate so that you burn more calories at rest and can eat more without gaining weight?  There are so many reasons that people want to gain muscle – be clear on yours.

If you want to gain muscle to be stronger, it stands to reason it’s worth testing your strength.  There are a number of ways to do this, and the one you choose will depend on which part of your body you want to strengthen.  The main problem with strength testing is the risk of injury and that in many cases you will need a “training buddy” to help you, and some specialist equipment.

Upper Body

  • Hand Grip Test
  • Bench Press – one rep max
  • 7 Stage Abdominal Strength Test

Lower Body

  • Squat – one rep max
  • Isometric leg strength test
  • Leg extension strength test
(All of the above require equipment and some require a "Trainer".  Perhaps it's better to do a simple power test that doesn't need any special equipment - more on this later.)

I just want to be fitter

As commented on in our launch post , fitness consists of 5 components, so it would be best to test all 5.  So, the next question would be “Why do you want to be fitter?”  If it’s to increase your life expectancy, the 2 most important are body composition, and aerobic capacity.  So, testing these is probably essential.  If you want to improve all round fitness to improve quality of life as well as length of life, I’d recommend testing muscle power, muscle endurance and flexibility as well.  

I want to be less injury prone

Well, this depends on what’s predisposing you to injury in the first place.  Certainly there’s a strong association between poor flexibility and risk of injury (especially to lower back and hamstrings).  So, testing flexibility makes a lot of sense.

But, if you have poor muscle endurance you are more likely to tire and lose control of body movements which increases your risk of injury – especially towards the end of a game, when your body is tiring.

Equally, if your sport is power-based, improving your power lessens the risk of injury, so worth testing this too.  In fact, all 5 components of physical fitness can contribute in some way to risk of injury, depending on your sport.

I want to look better

Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I guess the most important person here is you.  What would you like to change about your appearance?  It’s worth asking why you want to change too?  Maybe everyone else thinks you look just great ;-). 

The obvious one here for many people is testing body composition.  See comments above on “I want to lose weight”.  But having good aerobic fitness suggests you’re taking good levels of exercise, which can also be good for the appearance of your skin.  Arguably, if you have good aerobic fitness, but poor body composition, the excess body fat is almost certainly due to poor eating and drinking habits, rather than lack of exercise.  You’ll only know this by testing both.

Good muscle endurance and flexibility help to ensure you can maintain a good posture, which is really important to appearances.  So, perhaps the only one of the 5 components of physical fitness that wouldn’t make a substantial difference to your appearance is muscular power (although if your idea of looking better is being big and muscley, then your muscle power is bound to go up too).

There are loads of other possible scenarios; please ask for advice on your scenario in the comments section.

Sign up for the newsletter and get a free copy of “The truth about fitness – there are 5 parts to being fit.  Here’s why they all matter”.

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Cheers

Gavin and John

 
 

Fitmark Launch!

Hey everyone,

Welcome to our first blog post. Gavin at the keyboard today. 

So, the purpose of this post is to announce our aims at Fitmark.  Deep breath, here we go...

1.   To create an industry standard fitness test

Hey, because up until now there hasn’t been one! Our Professor of Exercise Physiology, Richard Davison, reviewed the literature (looked at the science research) and chose a fitness test for each of the 5 components of physical fitness (as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine). 
  • Aerobic
  • Body composition
  • Muscular power
  • Muscular endurance
  • Flexibility

He then gave a weighting to each of these to reflect quality of life and morbidity - likelihood of death :-{. The scoring system is age and sex adjusted, so that regardless of your age or sex you can see how you’re performing. The scoring is based on normative data for each of the tests (these tests have been done with loads of people and the results for any given age are known from really bad to super-good – think Lance Armstrong for aerobic fitness).

2.   To give you a really simple way to know how fit you are
This system gives you a total score, combining all 5 components, making it easy to see how fit you really are.

3.   To give you a way to track changes in your fitness over time 
By making the score age-adjusted it’s easy to see whether you’re maintaining, losing or gaining fitness over the years. For example, someone who can do 30 push-ups at age 30 gets a poorer score for muscular endurance that someone of the same sex doing 25 push-ups at age 50. We’ll show you your changes in nice graphs ;-).

4.   To give you a way to compare with others (if you want to) 
Because the score is age and sex adjusted, you can compare your fitness levels with others for the first time. Just connect with others via Facebook. 

5.   To reassure you that the effort you’re putting in is actually paying off 

Anyone who works to improve their fitness can feel reassured that Fitmark will show you whether the work you’re putting in is getting you real changes in your fitness levels. 

6.   To highlight which areas of your fitness you most need to work on and why 
You get a score (out of 1000) for each component of physical fitness, making it obvious which component(s) you most need to work on. We outline why each component of physical fitness is important to your health. 

So, these are the main aims we have at Fitmark. And it’s all coming soon to a website near you!! If you want to be at the front of the queue to get your Fitmark (and maybe the top of the league table!) … 

Sign up for the newsletter  and get a free copy of “The truth about fitness – there are 5 parts to being fit. Here’s why they all matter”.

Follow us on Twitter… 

and share your thoughts and feedback. 

Cheers

Gavin and John