Category Archives: Uncategorized

Enjoy the process, don’t fixate on the goal

Goals are important. They are hugely important when it comes to achieving anything of value:





Without a goal or set of goals in any given venture, you can’t achieve much of anything.  A clearly defined goal allows a clear path to be followed and progress to be made. The challenge, I believe, is in setting a goal that scares you a little, that isn’t easy to achieve and that pulls you out of your comfort zone enough to create a change that lasts.

I also believe that the process of achieving that goal is  possibly the most important part of the whole thing.

When I started at the gym I work in, I had a mighty deadlift of 140kg (about 308lbs i think) for 3 reps. I was reasonably happy there but I knew I wasn’t anywhere near what can be considered strong in deadlifting circles. I wanted more. So I set myself a target of 200kg, not sure if I could manage it or not and I gave myself a year to get it. So I broke it down to smaller steps, adjusting my programming to find what worked for me and what didn’t,  worked hard and eventually got it.

Once I hit it though, it was, dare I say it, an anticlimax. No balloons, no celebrations, no high 5s from everyone in the gym. It happened and now I’ve just hit 225 on my way to 250kgs.


What I did get from training for that target number was more valuable:

The sense of achievement was minimal, but the lessons learned on what works and what doesn’t have been huge.

Knowing that bad training sessions happen once in a while but its not the end of the world and you bounce right back the next week.

Sometimes you just need to take a week off.

You can always push beyond what you think of as your limits.

That the process of achieving is often more important than the end result because the lessons learned can be used to fuel your journey towards other goals.

People often seem to get caught up in a final result, an ideal body, a perfect weight, a performance measurement or whatever but never give much thought about what it is that gets them there or, at any rate, on their way there.

Without getting too philosophical about the whole thing, learn to enjoy the training process, test your limits, take a week off from heavy lifting now and again, celebrate milestones and have some fun with it all.

Enjoy the process

Stay strong



Tagged , , , ,

4 simple changes to improve your health, fitness and body composition

This Thursday past I was lucky enough to get a trip to a special FitPro event put on for Virgin active Personal Trainers. An awesome opportunity to hear the top speakers of the weekend event presenting to us and to get a preview of the full event. Unfortunately I won’t be at the main event but I intend making sure I do next year!

My favourite speaker of the day was John Berardi of Precision Nutrtion, I intend doing the PN certification when it next rolls around in September so I was pretty excited to hear him talk.

Amongst other things, metabolic flexibility, what is the best diet, diet adherence (long story short – every diet works, adherence and metabolic flexibility being the key to success…more on that later in a separate post!)

Today I want to share what the guys at PN have found to be the most glaring deficiencies in the 30000+ clients they have coached.

The most common nutrient deficiencies that are seen are:

  • Water
  • Essential vitamins and minerals
  • Protein
  • Omega 3 fats

Energy, appetite, strength and endurance, and mood all depend on getting enough of these essential nutrients.When you are deficient on any or all of them things start to break down and you feel crappy. Fixing these 4 areas will quickly have you feeling better, gaining mucsle and dropping body fat.

Your 4 steps are as follows:

1. eat more protein-rich foods to help support and grow lean body mass:

2. drink more liquids such as water, milk juices, teas etc as improved hydration improves performance and recovery;

3.take in more essential fats (through the use of fish oil); and

4. eat more foods rich in the vitamins and minerals needed most, or take a good multi vitamin.

In the case of number 4, I would always recommend that you get those vitamins and minerals from whole foods, but as your diet is likely deficient in these anyway, then a multivitamin takes out the guesswork and ensures you hit you targets!

Now trying all these things at once is a recipe for failure, studies have shown that trying to start or change 3 habits at once has a success rate of all 3 being successfully changed or started at around 10%, 2 habits 35% and if you do 1 habit at a time, your success rate is around 90%.

Pick  the one you can do the easiest and start there, after a week of success with that one add another, building your good habits slowly and ensuring success.

4 simple steps to better health, getting started is really that simple.


Stay healthy!


Supplementary, my dear Watson…

I thought that this week I would have a look at my top  5 supplements available to help your progress, recovery and general health.

What we need to remember when it comes to supplements is that they are just that, supplementary. In other words, they are there to increase the levels of the desired nutrient when there is a deficit in your diet. If you can get everything you need from your diet, then supplements are unnecessary, but on occasionally there are deficits in your diet or extra boosts are required and that’s where supplements come in handy.


steroid protein

erm… no.

Whey protein: Protein supplementation is useful when you can’t make your protein intake through a whole food route, needless to say that the whole food option is always best.

Protein needs for a reasonably active person looking to maintain lean body mass (muscle) whilst losing body fat is around 1.5 – 2 g/ kg of bodyweight.

More sedentary individuals would be closer to around 0.8 – 1.2g/kg and if the person has a lot of fat to drop then use the target weight and not current bodyweight to calculate the numbers.

Bcaa:  Branched Chain Amino Acids, a group of 3 amino acids that have positive effects on muscle when taken at the appropriate times. Evidence from studies show an increase in time to reach fatigue and increased fat metabolisation (presumably from the ability to train for longer…)

Daily intake of around 20g is recommended with most of this, ideally, coming from whole food sources, but if you supplement then around 7.5 – 10g 1-2 hours before training will suffice.


Caffeine: Aaah, coffee! At least that is one of the sources, whether it is in coffee, tea or energy drinks, caffeine has the same form. It acts as a stimulant, increasing endurance, strength and general levels of awesomeness.

Long term consumption can lead to tolerances building up and limiting the awesomeness. Not really a supplement as such, but I’ve included it as it is used extensively both as a pre workout and as an alertness tool. If you find yourself doing everything 3 times faster than normal, then you have probably had too much…


Fish oil: The average diet tends to be high in red meats, eggs and dairy and thereby high in omega 6 fatty acids, ideally there should be a 1:1 ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fats in the diet for health benefits such as healthier blood vessels and lower risk of diabetes and decreased risk of a variety of cancers. To balance out the omega 3 and 6 ratio, fish oil supplementation is usually necessary unless you are consuming a high fish diet.

Intake should be around around 1g daily as a minimum, although if you are supplementing as a way to combat muscle soreness, 6g per day is recommended, spread aver the course of the day.


Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin, a micro-nutrient essential for good health. Typically vitamin D is produced from cholesterol synthesised by exposure to UV light from sunshine. Since I am in Scotland and sunshine for any reasonable length of time is rare even in summer time, I always supplement.


scottish summer


Most people aren’t vitamin D deficient but are often below the minimum levels for good health, minimum daily intake should be around 800IUs per day, although supplementation of around 1-2000IUs  per day is recommended.

Stay strong




Tagged , , ,

How strong is strong?

When it comes to strength training, how do you know when you are strong?

I think that too many people get caught up with how much weight is on the bar and don’t consider strength to weight ratio as a tracker of strength gains. Sure, a 100kg squat would be considered a reasonable mark of strength (not power lifter strong, but for general trainees it is a good marker) but what if the squatter was a 110kg guy? Still strong? In my opinion, not so much. How about if it was a 60kg squatter? I’d take a near 1.7x bw (body weight) squat over a 0.9 x bw one any day!

There are a great number of thoughts on this topic, so I thought I would offer my own insights based on my own clients abilities and my thoughts on the general population and the aims I have for the people I work with.

It should be noted that I am assuming a “normal” healthy individual, with no major issues with injury, rehab or other limitations!


Men – Beginner – 0.5 – 1 x BW                Women – Beginner – 0.5 – 1x BW

Intermediate – 1  – 1.5 xBW                            Intermediate – 1-1.25x BW

Advanced – 1.5 – 2 x BW                                  Advanced – 1.25 – 1.75 x BW


Back squat (to parallel):

Men – Beginner – 0.5 – 1 x BW                Women – Beginner – 0.5 – 1x BW

Intermediate – 1  – 1.5 xBW                             Intermediate – 1-1.25x BW

Advanced – 1.5 – 1.75 x BW                             Advanced – 1.25 – 1.5 x BW


Front squat (to parallel):

Men – Beginner – 0.5 – 1 x BW                Women – Beginner – 0.25 – 0.5x BW

Intermediate – 1  – 1.35 xBW                           Intermediate – 0.5-1x BW

Advanced – 1.35 – 1.75 x BW                           Advanced – 1- 1.25 x BW


Bench press:

Men – Beginner – 0.5 – 0.75 x BW                 Women – Beginner – 0.25 – 0.5x BW

Intermediate – 0.75 – 1 xBW                                  Intermediate – 0.5 – 0.75 x BW

Advanced – 1 – 1.25 x BW                                        Advanced – 0.75 – 1 x BW


Hip thrust:

Men – Beginner – 0.5 – 1 x BW                Women – Beginner – 0.5 – 1x BW

Intermediate – 1  – 1.5 xBW                              Intermediate – 1-1.25x BW

Advanced – 1.5 – 2 x BW                                    Advanced – 1.25 – 1.75 x BW


Pull ups/ chin ups:

Men – Beginner – 0.5 – 1 x BW                Women – Beginner – 0.5 – 1x BW

Intermediate – BW x5                                      Intermediate – BW x 3

Advanced – BW x10 +                                      Advanced –  BW x8+

I’ve picked these exercises to give a good range of full body strength measures.

So, where do you fit in on these? What needs more work?


If you have any thoughts on these numbers I would love to hear them, leave a comment below!


Stay strong





In the beginning…

Warm ups, the misrepresented little brother of the the workout. Viewed as not necessary or treadmill for 5 mins is fine, or worse, nothing at all…



5 mins on a piece of cardio equipment is fine if your work out is going to be on that piece of equipment  but your warm up should be representative of your training session, preparing your body for the demands it is about to have placed on it. Furthermore, if you have spent the day sitting on your ass then you definitely need to attack that issue before you train.

      “The warm up is the workout.” – Dan John.

I’m going to out line the basic warm up I have most of my clients do and some alternatives if you need to regress anything.


1. Foam roll – any and all your tight achy bits can be eased out with the foam roller, a tennis ball or a golf ball. Here is a great guide.

foam roll final

2. Kneeling hip flexor stretch – most people spend waaaay too much time sitting, the commute to and from work, work, sitting in front of the TV all have a shortening effect on the hip flexors, as well as a range of other detrimental factors on your health. Step one of the warmup is to start opening the hips again.

3. 1/2 open thoracic spine mobilisation – From your hip stretch, on your right side, move your left foot out to 90 deg and place your right hand down on the floor. Put your left hand behind your head and reach it back and “open” your chest up. Then rotate inwards to reach your elbow in towards your other elbow feeling for a stretch in your lat. Repeat. Don’t let your knee collapse in…

4. Bird dog – gets your core working a little and your glutes firing. Regression – slide the foot out and back along the floor.

5. Prone I,Y,T – Puts the shoulder and shoulder blade through a full range of motion. Focus on the squeeze on the way back in.

6. Push up to downward dog stretch – The push up is a fantastic exercise when done well, when it’s not it looks like your dry humping the floor. Tight midsection, elbows below the shoulder line, don’t face plant the floor… When you get back to the top of the push up, lift your butt into the air keeping your legs straight and aiming to look like this –


Return to the top of the push up position and repeat, gradually trying to work further into the stretch.

Regressions – pushup on your knees, maintain a straight line from knees, through your hips to your shoulder.

7. Glute stretch. This flows straight from the push up combo, bring your right knee up in between your hands whilst in the pushup position, your right foot should be outside your left hand, sit down onto your right hip and ease into the stretch, repeat on the other side.

glute stretch


8. Glute bridge  – Get your glute going a little more, keep you abs tight and lever up onto your shoulders, try not to roll your hips back and curl up in to the top position. squeeze your glutes hard at the top before lowering. Progression, single leg.

9. Squat – up on your feet, basic body weight squat – go! Initiate from your hips, sit back and down, chest up, squeeze your glutes at the top. Progression – squat to stand.

10. Cossack squat – My descriptive abilities failed me on this one.

I hadn’t considered the ankle mobility work possible in the video!

Total time should be around 8 minutes, including foam rolling. everyone has time for that…

Stay strong


Illness, injury and other inconveniences…

Everyone gets ill, injured and otherwise inconvenienced at some point in there training lives.

It’s a fact of life, that just as things are going well and progress is being made, the universe comes along and throws a spanner in the works! When this happens you have 2 options:

1. The “suck it up Princess, get on with it and quit bitching” option, or

2. The smart option.

There will always be a percentage of folks, mostly guys but not exclusively, that go down option 1 and suffer through whatever it is, coming out the other side a little more broken that when they went in. Long term losses in strength and movement quality but at least they kept going. Not so clever.


The rest of us, those that take the smart route, work round the issue and figure out the right fix. This is, in my opinion, the tougher of the 2 options to do since it calls for more discipline and dedication.

So, you have got an issue, what do you do?

Illness: everybody gets a sniffle or worse now and again, to train or not to train, that is the question!

Nobody wants to see a snotty, dribbling mess in the gym, looking like death and coughing and spluttering from exercise to exercise!

If you can’t breathe properly, have a temperature or feel dizzy, lethargic and weaker than a new born kitten, go home. Seriously, go home, have a lemsip and go to bed and sleep it off. Use what energy you have to get better and come back to training when you are ready.

Note: this is not a get out of jail free card for every time you can’t be arsed training. For sickos only.

Injury: sh!t happens. Deal with it.

Unless the injury is catastrophic and potentially life changing in its nature, you can almost always train around it. Barring Dr.s orders to lay off training completely for a short period, there is always stuff you can do to move things on.

Injured your arm? Train legs. Sprained ankle or broken foot? Train upper body, mostly pulling movements and some pressing.

Take the opportunity to work on weaknesses.

I’ve had clients break bones and suffer other injuries but due to their work ethic and commitment still get into the gym and together we figured out a suitable way to work around their issues and continue to make progress. You can too.

Other inconveniences: Life gets in the way sometimes. I know that there are a million and 1 things all vying for your attention and energy. From home life, to work and social engagements, there just aren’t enough hours in the day right? I would argue, no. Given 168 hours in the week, 4 x 45 min sessions make up a total of 3 hours out of the week. Or just under 2% of your week.

Everybody can and should make time for there own health and well being. It might mean getting up a little earlier to get a quick session in before work, or being prepared enough to get a lunchtime session in. Wherever you can, block out some time for you and get it done.

Trust me, you’ll feel better for it.

The 3 Ms of success

Success, particularly long term success, in your fitness is often difficult to achieve. Fat loss, muscle gain, better movement and any other facet of fitness takes time, effort and consistency. Sure, we all know someone who, or have experience ourselves, of short term quick success only to stall, or worse, regress in our achievements.

Even without the quick success, finding the route to our goals is often a challenge, that when success isn’t forthcoming, we view it as failure.

It isn’t. It’s just that you haven’t found the way that works for you. Yet…


i havent failed


I believe that there are 3 ingredients to success in your fitness journey,

Motivation: What is your why? Why do you get into the gym and train your ass off 3 or 4 times per week? If you are a runner, why do you go running? No, seriously, Why…?! 😉

What do you get out of your training? And I don’t mean you get slimmer, or better abz or stronger or any other health benefits you get, but what does that mean for you? Confidence? Accomplishment?

Find your why and you are already set up for success!

Method: How are you going to set about making your why happen? I’m a massive fan of strength training, and if you stick around on this blog a while, that will become more and more obvious! But if going in to the gym, maybe for the first time fills you with terror and confidence is an issue, then that isn’t going to be a good starting point for you, simply because you won’t enjoy going and your consistency will fail. Find what works for you.

Find a good coach or personal trainer and get started with bodyweight. Learn good techniques and gym etiquette , progress the weights steadily, strength will develop, as will confidence, progress is inevitable. If you currently do nothing anything is a step forward with consistent effort!

Means: If you decide on a program that calls on you to travel way out of your way to the most state of the art gym in the area, perform advanced lifts 4 times a week, combined with sprints twice a day 2 days a week, eat 7 meals a day to “boost your metabolism” and worship He who should not be Named on your day off, but you can only spare 4x 45min sessions a week and you’re on a limited budget. Work schedules mean that you can’t eat 7 small meals a day, (who you worship is entirely up to you …) then success probably is gonna be hard to get. Keep it simple, work with what you have, and progress as and when you can and stay consistent.

Success will follow. Guaranteed.

Stay strong


Tagged ,

5 reasons women should lift heavy.

I love lifting heavy things, nothing beats a heavy set of deadlifts or some heavy squats! Apart from the awesomeness factor, there are more than a few good reasons you should be lifting heavy.   Screenshots_2014-06-08-21-24-50 1. If you want a great shape,  strength training will get you it, body fat levels allowing. That generally speaking is why most most people train, with the exception maybe of pro athletes who train to be the best athlete they can be and improve performance and consequently earn more, but even they want to look good naked.  Curves in the right places, low body fat, good definition all come from building muscle.

Ladies, if you want those curves, 3kg dumbbell curls aren’t gonna get you them. Lifting heavier weights challenges the body and demands more muscle be built to better handle the loads the next time.

Muscle = curves.

And no, you won’t get “bulky”.

2. As you get older the risk of osteoporosis increases as does a loss of power leading to instability and falls. Putting your body under load in a controlled way following a structured training plan has been shown to improve bone density in trainees thereby helping to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The associated improvement in power output from strength gains also may help in avoiding stumbles and falls as you get older.

3.  Setting training goals and following a plan to work towards and achieve them is an amazing way to build confidence in and out of the gym.  The real world tasks we all deal with, carrying shopping in from a supermarket trip, playing with your kids, physical activity at work or at home all become easier when you have a good basic level of strength. Confidence blooms as you realise that day to day tasks are “magically” easier.

4. It looks pretty badass 🙂 Screenshots_2014-06-08-21-50-43

5.  I regularly see folks on the gym moving from the 1 piece of cardio equipment to another taking up to 2 hours a night to work up a bit of a sweat. I’ve been seeing the same folks do this over the last year or more and their body shape hasn’t changed 1 bit! Low intensity, soul sucking cardio hasn’t got them any closer to the body they want. Total waste of their precious time.

Now before anyone jumps all over me about cardio bashing, let me say that there is a time and place for steady cardio. Done for the right reasons and at the right intensity it has a place in the training spectrum. However as a fat loss and strength tool its value is negligible. Add in the pounding your body takes, especially in the “run to get fit” crowd and injuries are just around the bend.

45 mins to an hour  of medium to high intensity weight training using weight that challenge you over a variety of rep ranges will build strength, improve muscle tone and get your heart rate sky high. Don’t believe me?

Load up a bar with 60% of your deadlift 1RM and aim for as many good reps as you can in 12 mins.

Have fun 😉

Fitness in 500 words (or less…)

So, I’ll start with a confession…this isn’t my first attempt at a blog. It’s my 3rd. The first was a valiant attempt to track my progress in training and studying and it died a death through poor time management and lack of imagination. The second was a phoenix-like try to restart my blog after starting as a Personal Trainer at Virgin Active here in Edinburgh. Crash and burn. Again.

Third time lucky.

I had the idea of trying to keep my posts shorter (hence the 500 words or less bit!) and forcing me to make sure know the subject well enough to be able to simplify it and deliver to you the best  guidelines I can so you get the most out of your training and nutrition.

da vinci simple



I always figured that given the multiple options for training each movement or muscle group, and the many nutritional strategies, both good and bad out there, that sometimes the best option for most people in most situations that I deal with (general population and in a commercial gym) doesn’t need a complicated, micro managed system to follow. Some clear guidelines on training and nutrition based on sound principles and enough variation in training to keep it interesting and maintain steady progress is, in my opinion, the clearest, simplest way forward.


At its most basic, I believe in training for strength and good movement, and eating for fat loss and muscle gain. There’s no point in having a fancy training program, covering all the variables of sets, reps, tempo, loading, rest periods, in having the most progressive periodisation schemes and a nutritional plan where your macronutrients are planned to the tiniest detail if your lifestyle and out of the gym commitments stop you from actually following through with any of it.

A straightforward program, easy to follow eating guidelines and ample rest and recovery strategies make things a whole lot simpler and easy to follow. Easy to follow leads to easy to maintain which leads to creating good life long habits. This is the route to long lasting changes and a healthier, stronger, more bad ass you!

As I move forward with the blog I’d welcome any comments and questions that anyone reading this may have, you can reach me here via comments or on facebook or twitter and I’ll get back to you asap!

Stay strong