Monthly Archives: March 2015

Increasing your comfort zone, bit by bit.

Comfort zoneEach side of the square is influenced, and influences, the others. As strength improves, so does conditioning (or work capacity if you would prefer to think of it on those terms), nutrition needs to improve to support both, as does recovery.

Strength is the easiest improvement to make if you are new to training, with early improvements in strength largely coming from getting better at new movements and your body becoming more efficient at performing them. This is why, as you get stronger, adding strength becomes a slower and slower process.

Nutrition supports everything. Without good nutrition, recovery is inadequate, muscle building is poorly supported due to insufficient protein intake and conditioning is tougher without the fuel to drive it. Get this side of the square growing and the rest becomes easier.

Recovery ties in closely with nutrition and allows the adaptions training forces, to happen. Adequate sleep, rest time between sessions, massage, foam rolling and mobility work, as well as good nutritional habits, all help you recovery from the stresses of day to day life and training and allow good things to happen.

Conditioning is the “just want to get fitter” part of the equation. What most people say to me when I ask them why they are training is, ” I want to get fitter.” Part of the goal setting process, is to start to define what that means. Most think it’s getting better at plodding out miles on the treadmill with no intention of actually using this to run a race because the long boring run has been pushed as how to get slimmer. Whilst low intensity is a valuable tool, it doesn’t really help with what many people actually mean by getting fitter. The ability to get through your day, lifting, carrying and moving for the whole day without feeling like your gonna keel over from exertion.


For each of these sides of the comfort zone square, progress has to happen, some are easier to deal with than others, but the process for each is the same.

Making small improvements consistently, will over time, add up to massive improvement.

Strength gains come from a few extra reps over the course of your sets, or a couple of extra kilos on the bar. For example, you have 3 sets of 12 on a goblet squat at 16kg. First time at this weight, you go 10, 8,8, the next time you go 12, 10 8. The next time it’s 12,12,10. Thats almost a 33% increase in volume on your first attempt, and you are now at the top of required rep range and the process begins again at a higher load.

Conditioning improvements again come from the same process. I remember a new client starting with me, really strong but no real conditioning base, the first attempt on a simple conditioning circuit took them to pieces and we had to break it down to an easier version. Gradually over time, the loads used increased, more reps per round were added, and more rounds were added until conditioning levels improved to the point where anything can be thrown at this guy and he handles it as he has the base to support it.

Recovery is a tough one for a lot of people to get to grips with. The more is better idea of being in the gym all the time must lead to better results is widespread, unfortunately this only ends up with a lot of people being unable to maintain the impossibly high amount of gym time and then inevitably dropping off completely. 3 – 5 sessions per week for 45 to 60 minutes each is enough for most people to achieve 90% of the goals they have. Endurance event training will take more time each week due to the nature of the event.

Improvements in sleep quality and length, as well as the other tools mentioned above all will help in this area, make small improvements in 1 area at a time and make them habits.

Nutrition is the big one. The area most people struggle with. The over reliance on processed foods, serving sizes that are too big, poor ratios of protein, fat and carbs, all result in poor energy levels, shoddy recovery and weight gain. I could do a whoel series of posts on this topic but for this one, I’ll give you 3 tips to improve your nutrition:

  1. Eat protein at every meal. Higher protein intake supports better protein synthesis, resulting in higher metabolism, better body composition and better satiety, making you less likely to snack due to hunger pangs.
  2. Cut down on cardboard carbs. That is anything that comes in a cardboard box. These tend to be highly processed carbs with little or no nutritional value. Great for filling you up, but with the lack of energy demands, these carbs just get stored for future energy demands that you are unlikely to provide, and they get stored as fat. Swap the processed carbs for whole food sources, which will provide vitamins, minerals and fibre which will mean the sugars are processed differently and as a whole will be of more use to your body and it’s functions.
  3. Monitor your total calorie intake, at least for a while. You’ll probably be surprised. In order to drop body fat, you have to be in a calorie deficit. It’s a simple matter of calories in versus calories out. (Except there is more to it than that, but at it’s heart, this is what fat loss comes down to, again I could do a series of post on this topic…) You don’t need to track forever, but until you get a handle on the amount of calories that work for you, are at a a maintainable level in the long term, tracking is a must in my opinion.

Again small changes, maintained over time, are the key to success.

The simple rule to making these changes is this:

Be consistent, and do a little better than last time.

Stay strong,


7 rules for getting the most out of your gym sessions!

Getting the best out of your training sessions isn’t always easy, but follow these rules and it’ll be a little easier.

1. Focus

You’re in the gym to get some work done. Sure, you have a bunch of people you want to chat to, but that’s for after. Right now, you are in training mode. Don’t be an asshole about it, but get your work done!

I find having earphones in and my training playlists on and turned up (combined with my generally grumpy look, honestly I’m smiling on the inside…) usually stops most people talking to me. I also use my warmup to get “in the zone” and ready to go.

2. Be consistent.



Training once a week just isn’t going to get the job done. It will help minimise loss to an extent but inevitably there is going to be a drop off in all areas of fitness. Your body reacts and adapts to the stimulus you provide, regular training allows you to increase the input (load/reps/ sets) to get better output (muscle gain/ recovery/ strength/ body composition). Once a week isn’t enough, you should be aiming for a minimum of 3 solid sessions a week.

3. Follow a plan.

How many people do you know or see in the gym with a plan in their hands to follow? I’d guess at about 5%. You know what? That 5% will make more improvements in strength, muscle building, power development or any other measureable area than the other 95% combined. A well thought out plan, building towards a goal or goals, will  lead you through the minefield of mindless wandering bullsh!t you normally see in the gym.

Find a plan, follow it.

4. Aim to set a PR in at least 1 area every single session.

It doesn’t have to be a massive increase in your deadlift or squat, just aim to improve somewhere in the session. You managed 3×8 on your goblet squats last time? Great! Go for 3×9 this week. Building gradually to whatever you top of the rep range you are working to. I generally prescribe rep ranges for that reason, it gives you an opportunity to build from a minimum rep total to a maximum at which point you are ready to increase the load and repeat the process.

5. Listen to your body.

Most of you know the difference between pushing through tired and achy muscles, and trying to push through actual pain. Do the first, don’t do the second. If you feel the second, back of, get it checked out and come back ready to go.

That doesn’t give you an excuse to quit all together. Most of the time with an injury, you can work your way around it, still get a great training effect and aid the healing process. Just don’t be a dumb ass about it!

6. Get smarter about recovery.

Results don’t happen during the training sessions. The results happen in between the sessions, during your recovery time. This is your rest time, time to work on your mobility, get out for  a walk, get a sports massage, whatever else you like to do outside of training.

Tempting as it is, don’t squeeze in all your sessions back to back at the start of the week and go out and have a wild weekend, then go again at the start of the week again. You don’t have enough time to recover between sessions and get the best out of the later sessions.

Spread them out, no more than 2 in a row, at least a day in between. Don’t over think it.

7. Stop comparing yourself the the guy or girl across the room.

You’re in the gym training for you. That’s it. not to compare yourself to Billy Biceps or Brenda Buttcheeks. Youre build is different, your training stage is different, your goals are different. Comparisons will do nothing for you.

I realised this a while back and am reminded often, there are plenty folks in the gym who outperform me on a daily basis, I could worry about not being as strong/ fast/ explosive/ able to down a protein shake as quick as them, but I am stronger and in better shape than i was 6 months ago, so that’s all I care about. And it’s what you should be focussing on too.

stop comparing



Ab solution Part 2

In part 1 of the ab solution we looked at a few anti extension exercises that can help give you the strength and control you need in one of the directions your abs work in. In this section we will look at the rest. (Part 1 has now been updated to include video demos of the exercises, go check it out, again!)

The ability to resist rotation through your torso is as important when it comes to protecting the spine as being able to resist bending movements. Keeping your hips and ribs pointing the same direction and having your torso move as a single unit also helps with power transfer and stability. Rotational power (think golf/ tennis/ throwing etc) is also improved by the increased strength of your obliques from being able to resist movement.

Anti rotation exercises

Pallof press – keep your knees slightly bent, quads and glutes tight and your shoulders back and down. You should be able to keep your elbows in close throughout, not have them flare out wide.

Antirotation hold – Simply holding the end point of the Pallof press, resisting the pull of the cable or band, and keeping your hips and ribs facing forward.

Band alphabet – Building further on the hold, the alphabet increases difficulty by having you move your arms in a controlled way  (writing your name, spelling the alphabet etc) whilst maintaining rib and hip position. Much more challenging than it looks…

Anti lateral flexion (side bend)

One sided loaded carry – Loading up one side of your body and either holding position or walking for distance or time is great for building strength through your obliques, as well as hip stability and grip strength. Go heavy but try to keep your torso vertical throughout.


Loaded carries shouldn’t look like this…



Waiter walk – Similar to the carry above with one teeny little tweak…the weight is above your head. Not for those with dodgy shoulders but great in helping to develop some shoulder stability in those who can get into position with no pain. Prepare for your abs to be well and truly tested!

While these are my favourite ab exercises and I find most clients benefit from keeping it simple, there are a huge number of variations on these, go experiment!

Stay strong





Abs, abs glorious abs!

Whether your goal is a rippling 6 pack or just a strong core that can withstand anything thrown at it, these exercises can help you get it.

Before getting into the exercises, lets look at what your core is. Knowing what constitutes your core will help get the best out of the exercises that follow.

I’m going to keep this simple, it’s everything between your knees and shoulders. Don’t believe me? Do a short, 10 sec plank with good technique and high intensity and tell me which muscles are being used. Quads, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, lats. All being used to stabilise and hold that perfect plank.

The abdominal muscles themselves act as a bracing system for the torso, helping to create and, more importantly, resist movement. Endless sets of crunches just won’t get the job done…

Your spine is capable of a number of movements, flexion (forward bending), extension (backwards bending), lateral flexion (side bending) and rotation (twisting). Your abs make these movements happen, but more importantly, they resist them from happening. Think about carrying a heavy bag in one hand, your ribcage doesn’t just fall over to the loaded side, your abs on the opposite side engage and hold you in an upright position.

Your rectus abdominis, your 6 pack muscle (or chick pack, or if you have the genetics – 8 pack) attaches to your pelvis and your ribs, effectively tying the 2 together and not letting your top half fall away backwards whilst controlling your rib and hip position.

The exercises:

Anti extension.

Plank: Lying face down with the elbows under the shoulders and toes tucked under, squeeze your glutes, quads and lats (imagine pulling your shoulder blades down towards your butt), then tighten your abs and lift your hips off the floor to make a straight line from heels, through your hips, to your shoulders. Your hips should be slightly tucked as if you are trying to pull your pelvis towards your ribs.

Extended plank: As with the plank but with your elbows forward of your shoulders, more inline with your face. The extended position increases lever length meaning your abs have to work harder to maintain the slight posterior tilt you create.

TRX fall out: The first of 2 “moving” plank options, on your knees in front of the TRX with the straps around 6-12 inches off the floor depending on strength levels. Your body should be in a straight line from knees through your hips to your shoulders, again with a slight tilt to your hips (pulling your pelvis towards your ribs). Under control, fall forward whilst holding the TRX handles, holding the straight body position, going as far as you can under control before pulling back to the start position. Don’t break at the hips!

Ab wheel roll out: A more advanced version of the fallout, using the ab wheel which increases instability and puts you closer to the ground.

Leg lowers. When it comes to anti extension strength, failure happens either at the rib end (ribs flare) or at the hips (hips sag). I like the leg lowering exercise to help develop some control at the hips. Lying on your back, holding on to something solid, roll your hips back until you have a slight backward tilt of your hips, brace your abs, and lift your legs off the floor to around 45-60 degrees, lower them under control, maintaining your low back position throughout. Bend your knees and limit your range of movement if you have trouble holding your hip/ low back position, gradually increase range as you get stronger.

Later this week I’ll post part 2, covering the anti rotation and anti lateral flexion exercises.

Stay strong



Excellence is a habit



Almost regardless of your training goal, your consistency, or lack of, will determine your success. Here are 5 ways to help you get more consistency and become more excellent!

1. Priorities, priorities, priorities. If you want to change your body for the better, then it has to become a priority. There can’t be excuse after excuse as to why you don’t do what you know needs to be done.

Obviously, most people have to work, have family commitments, want to maintain a social life etc but at some point you have to decide that amongst the big priorities,  training and making time for good nutrition habits have a place. Everyone has the same time constraints, we all get the same 24 hours to use as we choose, and it’s not a case of finding the time, you must make the time, otherwise it just won’t happen.

Everyone can find 30-60 minutes, 3 -4  times a week to train, it might be at home, in the gym or outside. Schedule it, then do it.

2. Take some time at the start of the week to plan and buy for the bulk of your meals. It doesn’t take long, and it creates a habit of thinking about what you eat. Creating a meal plan for the week that takes into account your work/ family and social schedule helps you avoid potential pitfalls of getting hungry and reaching for the first, usually crappy, choice that comes your way.

3. Track what needs changed. Think about what you want to change about your diet or body composition, then measure it and see what changes occur over a 1-2 week time frame, assess then adjust as needed. Sometimes the simple act of keeping an honest food and sleep log will help you make better choices and improvements are an automatic result. Sometimes, you need to look a little closer and look for more specific areas that need to be addressed.

4. Remember you are an individual. What works for me, or your best friend or that celebrity in the magazines may not work as well for you. You need to honestly look at what is working and what isn’t. Your diet is great? If you aren’t energised and your body shape isn’t what you want it to be, then I’m afraid your diet isn’t right. Training hard but not getting stronger/ faster/ bigger? Then your training needs adjusted. Finding the right plan may take some experimentation and will undoubtedly end in failure occasionally, but by making adjustments to 1 thing at a time, you can tweak as needed to get the result you desire.

Remember, making time and building good habits that fit in and compliment your lifestyle is the only way to achieve and maintain the fitness and strength levels, and body, you want.


Stay strong