An Alternative to HIIT training

HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training has become very popular over the last few years. By training at a high intensity with appropriate rest intervals, HIIT allows people to reap many of the same cardiovascular benefits of traditional cardio in a fraction of the time.

There are many HIIT protocols and perhaps the most famous of these is the Tabata protocol. In the original experiment, after a 10 minute warmup on a stationary bike subjects performed eight 20 second intervals of maximum effort followed by 10 seconds rest. This was done four times a week along with one 30 minute session of steady state cycling and two minutes of maximum effort intervals, all of this totaled 88 minutes a week. Another group did steady cardio on the bike for an hour five times a week for a 300 minute total. After 6 weeks, the Tabata group had 1.5 times the VO2 max gain of the other group.

If you’re interested in learning more about the great benefits of HIIT and many workout ideas, have a look at the excellent One Minute Workout by Martin Gibala on our books page.

However, HIIT training isn’t for everyone as some people don’t enjoy the intensity required.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like this intensity and would like an alternative to HIIT or want to try a different protocol that can deliver similar benefits and even outperform HIIT in some ways, without the gut-wrenching effort, then we’d like to introduce you to Peripheral Heart Activity or PHA workouts.

PHA alternates upper and lower body exercise in a circuit with no rest between exercises. A lot of cardiovascular and muscular improvement can be attained with PHA workouts without the trainee feeling devastated afterwards.

PHA was popularised by Bob Gadja who was a Mr Universe in the 1960’s, rather than weight train as many others did where they chased the ‘pump’ through fatiguing one muscle group at a time, Gadja believed much more in conditioning the body both muscularly and in a cardiovascular sense.

A PHA approach using a bodyweight workout could be something like:

6 Push Ups

10 Reverse Lunges Left Leg

4 Chin Ups

10 Reverse Lunges Right Leg

Do this circuit 2 to 3 times.

If you wanted to use the Modest Equipment set up, you could try

10 standing dumbbell press

20 bodyweight squats

4 Pull Ups

Alternating Step Ups

8 push ups

10 reverse lunges, 5 left leg then 5 right

Again, do this circuit 2 to 3 times.

To progress these types of workouts, you could choose to either add circuits or add reps/weight. Better yet, use both methods of progression. Start with reps/weight and when that becomes too intense, reduce the reps/weights by 20% and add a circuit, then begin again.

Finally, a word of caution – we advise you to master our standard workouts and remind you that the numbers specified above are just suggestions, remember our guidelines that you shouldn’t exceed ‘8’ on your intensity scale.

Many advocates of PHA, say that the target is to get a good workout in but to finish feel refreshed rather than devastated i.e. you aren’t trying to chase fatigue as with many other workout protocols.

If you decide to give this alternative to HIIT a go, let us know how you do.

 

Time Poor Training – Practical Weight Loss Tip 4

There are countless diet experts with various recommendations online, some of them are true experts and some maybe not so much. There’s advice around on everything from:

          What to eat: everything on the continuum from vegan to wholly carnivore

and

         When to eat: intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, have breakfast/don’t have breakfast.

We think that some of this advice has taken on the characteristics of ideology and is more about putting down others’ views rather than looking simply to help people.

We’re not dietician’s or nutritionists and won’t pretend to be. So, we’re just going to share some recommendations over a few posts that we believe are easy to understand and easy to implement.

Just to be clear the idea is that you implement one of these tips for a short period of time and then when you’re confident it’s in place, start to implement the next one. Using this slow steady approach you will reap great benefits.

Our small, practical pieces of advice so far have been don’t eat between your main meals, don’t put something in your mouth unless your mouth is already empty and use a smaller plate.

Our fourth practical weight loss tip is put away all electronic devices for the duration of your meal.

This one is a challenge we know. We’re all quite dependent on our devices these days whether it be work or leisure related. When we do not have our phone with us or have a TV to watch, we feel lost and anxious (although we would argue that having a mobile device actually causes us more anxiety than its absence but that’s a discussion for another day).

If we do put the device away, we will immediately have a stronger connection with our food and a better awareness of how much of it we are consuming. With this increased awareness we have a much better chance of registering when our appetite has been satisfied as opposed to unconsciously taking mouthful after mouthful because you have to get through the meal in front of you.

You’ll notice too that this habit is very compatible with the habit of not putting something in your mouth unless your mouth is empty i.e. you’ve swallowed the previous mouthful. It is much harder to be aware that you are rushing your food if your attention is being taken by social media or emails from work.

Modern processed food is designed to be hyper palatable, to give ourselves a real chance of recognizing when we’ve had enough, we need to  removed distractions that take all of our protection.

If this seems like too big of a challenge, we would urge you to at least try it with your evening meal, a time when most of us would normally be in less demand from our jobs.

Talk to you soon.

 

Being Less Plugged In

When you compare our life to 30 years ago, before the advent of the web and mobile devices, a lot of things took a lot more time. Simple things like finding a product review, figuring out a journey time or making a booking were all slower processes.

Now, researching everything is easier and quicker whether it’s for leisure such as movies and books or you’re looking for reviews on something as mundane as a household appliance.

Staying in touch with people is a lot easier now too, friends who might have moved away for work or study are only a Facetime or Whatsapp away.

The worlds of news, sport and entertainment are at our fingertips too and we have access to the thoughts of millions of people on the events of the day. There’s a constant information flow and a perceived need to keep up with that flow.

Similarly with work, whereas in years gone by people might wait for queries to be answered, now everyone expects instant feedback. “I called you!” frequently means, “Why didn’t you respond more quickly?”

Without a doubt there are huge benefits to this ‘connectedness’ in terms of time and convenience. However, it’s clear there are also costs.

Beyond the well-documented mental health issues of social media, we have the psychological stress of feeling that we have to keep up, that we can’t disconnect even briefly. There are even physical changes such as ‘text neck’ and ‘smartphone thumb‘.

What we’d like to suggest are a few ways to being less plugged in to electronic media for certain parts of the day which will improve health and consequently fitness.

First, and most importantly, remove electronic devices from the bedroom. Rather than your phone, tablet or laptop, read a book or a magazine for 15 to 30 minutes. It’ll be much more conducive to winding down properly and getting quality sleep.

Secondly, during main meal times, place all devices in another room for the duration of the meal. This will allow you to relax, be present and better enjoy the food and the company.

Thirdly, if you’re on email in your work, find a window in the morning and afternoon to turn off the mail package. You’ll find your productivity goes up and stress down as you’re able to focus on tasks at hand.

Lastly, consider removing social media apps from your phone and forcing yourself to use them through the web browser on the phone. Putting barriers in place has been shown to reduce usage.

Time Poor Training – Practical Weight Loss Tip 3

There are countless diet experts with various recommendations online, some of them are true experts and some maybe not so much. There’s advice around on everything from

What to eat: everything on the continuum from vegan to wholly carnivore

and

When to eat: intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, have breakfast/don’t have breakfast.

We think that some of this has taken on the characteristics of ideology and is more about putting down others’ views rather than looking simply to help people.

We’re not dietician’s or nutritionists and won’t pretend to be. So, we’re just going to share some recommendations over a few posts that we believe are easy to understand and easy to implement.

Just to be clear the idea is that you implement one of these tips for a short period of time and then when you’re confident it’s in place, start to implement the next one. Using this slow steady approach you will reap great benefits.

Our first practical weight loss tip was to ignore the fallacy that we should eat a lot of small meals a day and don’t eat between your main meals.  and our second was don’t put food in your mouth unless you’ve fully chewed and swallowed the previous mouthful.

Our latest piece of advice is use a smaller plate and put your utensils down frequently .

We know, we know this sounds almost laughable but hear us out.

On the first point, the size of the average dinner plate has grown consistently since the 1960’s when it was 800 calories to 1,000 calories in the ‘80’s to 1,600 calories in the 2000’s to around 1,900 calories today – that’s almost two and a half times the size from the initial plate.

If you factor in the increased frequency of meals which we talked about in our first diet tip you have a perfect storm for gaining weight, bigger meals more often. So, we’ve already advised on reducing the frequency of eating and once you’ve done that i.e. say you have managed to stick with the habit for a few weeks, this habit can build on that.

If you even reduced the size of the plate to that used 10 years ago, you would be cutting calories by 300 a day. This assumes you stick with just one serving but this should be easier given your slower more mindful eating. To further build on this habit, if you successfully ingrained the 300 calorie smaller plate, you could then try to reduce it a bit further.

Putting your utensils down, means once you have put the food into your mouth, put your knife and fork down and enjoy your food, it’s just a simple additional tip, feeding into the previous tips but combined together these simple tips act like compound interest.

Anything, no matter how small, that gets you connected to the food you’re eating will all contribute to the weight loss outcome you want.

Designing your own Home Workouts

There are quite a few home workouts on the site which range from using a small amount of equipment to no equipment  at all. They’re good for everything from fat loss to muscle building and they can be tailored to fit the time you have available.

So, you could follow any of these or you could choose to design one of your own home workouts from scratch and in this post, we’ll give you some pointers on what you need to consider if you’d like to do this.

The first question you need to ask is what’s your goal and, if you have more than one, what are their relative importance to one another. For example, you might prioritize losing weight but may also want to improve cardiovascular health.

If your aim is to lose weight or improve cardiovascular health then we’d suggest resistance training in a circuit fashion is the best approach whereas if you solely wish to build muscle or improve your maximal strength at the expense of all else then straight sets are probably preferable. Just to clarify, straight sets are where you do all sets of one exercise before moving onto the next exercise. A circuit entails doing exercise 1 then exercise 2 then exercise 3 and so on and, when you’ve completed all exercises, you start with exercise 1 again and repeat until you’ve completed the target number of sets.

The next decision would be to choose the specific exercises and their order. A good rule of thumb for exercise selection (which we didn’t create) is to have a knee-flexion movement, a hip-flexion movement, a horizontal push and pull and a vertical push and pull. We’d also recommend you prioritize exercises which use the greater number of muscle groups and then perform exercises for single muscle groups e.g. a squat or a kettlebell swing would be performed before a bicep curl or a calf raise.

When choosing the exercises, an important question has to be, “Do I have any injuries or legacy issues that I need to take into account?” For example if you’ve an issue with your knee such as patellar compression syndrome then a reverse lunge is probably going to be easier to sustain than a traditional lunge.

Lastly, for now, we’d urge you to be realistic in deciding how much time you have. There’s an expression doing the rounds at the moment “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” and while it’s a bit of a cliché , we often see people wanting to have the perfect workout e.g. it hits every muscle group with every exercise they know every single day, improves endurance, burns body fat, build muscle and takes 2 hours.

This simply isn’t realistic for most people. Maybe you can only fit in 10 to 15 minutes a day or perhaps you can do an hour but only twice a week. Let your life schedule be your guide. There’s no point in turning your life upside down to accommodate an extreme exercise routine you won’t stick with it. Go for something sustainable.

We’ll follow up with another post soon on further considerations when you’re designing your own home workouts.

 

Home Workouts – Training in a Sustainable Way

It’s a common occurrence. Things are going really well with your home workouts and you decide to ‘take it up a level’. Soon after you either suffer an injury that incapacitates you or you get to ’burnout’ where you simply stop exercise because the burden is too much to face.

You’ll hear us repeat many times on this website that the road to fitness should be a slow, gradual process and not a breakneck race. If you look at our Guidelines you’ll see that we advocate aiming for an intensity of ‘8’ which should feel like pleasant exertion rather than all-out devastation.

To expand on this a little, what you need to aim for is enjoying the times of exercise, looking forward to them for their restorative effects. You should just be able to immerse yourself in your home workouts for however long you have set aside, be that 5 or 50 minutes, and finish them feeling better than when you started.

In order to find this enjoyment we suggest, you have to be operating in a space that is only ‘comfortably uncomfortable’. This is what an intensity of ‘8’ feels like – a perceptible strain on your muscles and/or cardiovascular system but nothing that feels like it will wipe you out.

Only when you’ve been at a certain level long enough, so that it feels like you ‘own’ it, should you increase one of the dimensions of intensity e.g. add a rep or two to the sets, add a set, increase the duration by five minutes or increase the weight minimally. Then when you repeat the process and eventually feel equally comfortable with the new level you can think about increasing intensity again. Essentially your ‘8’ has dropped to a ‘7’ or even a ‘6’ and to increase enjoyment you are increasing intensity.

This may seem like an overly, slow and cautious approach but we can guarantee that over the months home workouts using this approach will result in more progress than going hell-for-leather. Think of it as compound interest, small increases over time compound on one another to add up to something surprising.

Remember, if training or exercise is something you look forward to then you’ll keep coming back for more and it’s in this repeated exposure that the ‘magic’ happens.

Time Poor Training – Practical Weight Loss Tip 2

There are countless diet experts with various recommendations online, some of them are true experts and some maybe not so much. There’s advice around on everything from

           What to eat: everything on the continuum from vegan to wholly carnivore

and

           When to eat: intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, have breakfast/don’t have breakfast.

We think that some of this has taken on the characteristics of ideology and is more about putting down others’ views rather than looking simply to help people.

We’re not dietician’s or nutritionists and won’t pretend to be. So, we’re just going to share some recommendations over a few posts that we believe are easy to understand and easy to implement.

Just to be clear the idea is that you implement one of these tips for a short period of time and then when you’re confident it’s in place, start to implement the next one. Using this slow steady approach you will reap great benefits.

Our first practical weight loss tip was to ignore the fallacy that we should eat a lot of small meals a day and don’t eat between your main meals.

Our second, easy to implement practical weight loss tip is don’t put food in your mouth unless you’ve fully chewed and swallowed the previous mouthful.

Essentially, we are aiming not to bolt partially chewed food down.

It sounds simple, maybe too simple to have any net effect?

Well, think about it this way, if it takes you 45 seconds to completely chew and swallow a mouthful of a particular food and you put the next mouthful in after 35 seconds because you’re in a rhythm then you’re eating almost 25% faster than we’re recommending.

We know that people typically eat quite quickly in modern life. The faster you eat, the more you’ll consume before the 20 minutes or so it takes your mind to register you’ve had enough. Wouldn’t it be nice if our meals were a counterpoint to our otherwise stressful and hectic lifestyles, a chance to slow down and take some time?

Besides the significant benefit of eating less overall, the fact is that a lot of people suffer from digestive issues which over time can impact health in a number of different ways, including but not limited to weight gain. If you chew your food more thoroughly, you’re actually doing your digestive system a huge favor by reducing the burden on it because the saliva in your mouth acts to begin the process of breaking the food own.

So, try this more relaxed way of eating for a month or so and see the benefits it yields.

Home Workouts – The Power of Circuits

Obviously with a title like Time Poor Training, this site values the efficient use of time above all else which is why we place such an emphasis on circuits for our home workouts. Often, but not exclusively, our programs structure the workouts in a circuit structure. They ask you to go through exercises in such a sequence as to continue to constantly work the overall system (at a safe level) while giving the individual muscles time to rest.

We believe this optimizes toning or muscle gain (whichever you are after) while keeping the workouts to a reasonable length. Many people will say circuits are only good for cardio-vascular development. They’ll argue that 90% of all weight workouts follow a straight set structure and, that, therefore is the best design to follow.

But is this true?

We’re not aware of any studies that test circuits against straight sets in terms of hypertrophy (the process of building muscle). Particularly circuits like ours where we advise the person to move comfortably between exercises. So, we ask if the notion that circuits are sub-optimal for hypertrophy is really just something taken to be true because it’s been repeated so.

Some proponents of straights sets will cite studies/meta-analysis that say you need to rest completely between sets, sometimes up to 4 minutes or at most do a superset of antagonist muscles. But conclusions like this are simply varying the time between straight sets, not evaluating straight sets against circuits.

Then, some of the most advanced muscle building techniques advocated by top trainers actually require minimal rest between straight sets e.g. myo-reps and rest-pause sets.

One of the most respected bodybuilding experts of the golden age, Vince Gironda, advocated moving quickly through sets, sometimes with as little as 10 to 15 seconds between sets of the same exercise.

So, faced with these conflicting theories, who is to say that a properly structured circuit within your home workout which gives you a decent amount of rest between 2 sets for the same muscle group but keeps you moving overall isn’t optimal.

To support our argument we’d point to athletes who play field sports such as rugby, soccer and Australian rules – yes some of these athletes spend time in the weight room but even in past decades, these aerobic and anaerobic (depending on position) sports usually produced toned/muscular athletes.  For an even more direct comparison, look at a lot of recreational Crossfit athletes who often utilize circuit style workouts and have superior physiques.

As we said at the outset, time is of the essence for most people. If we don’t figure out a way to be efficient with time then we just won’t bother exercising at all. Circuit-oriented home workouts deliver this requirement and besides being good for your schedule they also deliver a cardiovascular conditioning benefit. Cardiovascular health and muscular strength are two of the most important physical qualities, particularly after our twenties.

So, feel confident pursuing a home workout circuit-based  training program knowing that it will deliver for you.

Time Poor Training – Practical Weight Loss Tip 1

There are countless diet experts with various recommendations online, some of them are true experts and some maybe not so much. There’s advice around on everything from:

What to eat: everything on the continuum from vegan to wholly carnivore

and

When to eat: intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, have breakfast/don’t have breakfast.

We think that some of this advice has taken on the characteristics of ideology and is more about putting down others’ views rather than looking simply to help people.

We’re not dietician’s or nutritionists and won’t pretend to be. So, we’re just going to share some recommendations over a few posts that we believe are easy to understand and easy to implement.

Just to be clear the idea is that you implement one of these tips for a short period of time and then when you’re confident it’s in place, start to implement the next one. Using this slow steady approach you will reap great benefits.

Our first practical weight loss tip would be, don’t eat between your main meals.

In her excellent book, The Shape We’re In , Sarah Boseley points out that it was during the 70’s in the UK that the large confectionary companies marketed, for the first time, treats “you could eat between meals without ruining your appetite”. Up to that point parents would tell children to wait until your lunch or dinner if they were hungry because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to eat their dinner and the implication was that  the dinner food was better for you than the snack food. Snacks weren’t the norm.

Once the confectionery companies got people to accept the snacks between meal in principle, however, they had a bridgehead they could build on. If children could eat then so could adults. If you could eat a small bar of chocolate why not a medium bar, if you could eat mid-afternoon why not mid-morning. These snack breaks became the social norm. Sarah points out that we went from a situation where eating a snack on the high street would have been seen as odd, if not downright rude to it being the norm.

Next, came the assertion that more small meals throughout the day was preferable to few large meals intermittently. There was never any scientific basis for this but eventually it just became accepted ‘wisdom’. Again the food companies understood that 5 small meals would grow to 5 medium meals and in some cases 5 large meals.

So, our advice to you, if you find you do snack between meal, is choose 3 or 4 meals for the day and stick to them (3 would be better but 4 may be more manageable at the outset, so just go with that). Look at your daily routine and figure out when the easiest times for you to eat and stick to them. Try it for a month and you will lose weight. It is very hard to eat, in one sitting, what you can eat in two, even if one of those was a snack.

One important caveat to this would be if you are on a medically supervised diet by a health professional that has stipulated you need to eat regularly to maintain some health marker then you should stick to this. But the people in this category will be a very small minority.

If you find during the first few days that you’re having cravings at your normal snack times, try to interrupt the pattern by taking a walk or having water or tea or black coffee.

This first practical weight loss tip is enough to implement initially and we’ll give some more tips in coming posts.

Finding Time for Home Workouts

One of the biggest impediments to people beginning an exercise or training routine is their hectic schedule. Whether it’s your work that requires much more than simply 9 to 5, a busy family routine or one of countless other reasons, we can all feel too time pressed to commit to improving our health and fitness.

The irony, though, is that it actually needs precious little time to get a great return and, if you can commit this small amount of time, all of the pressures on your time will actually seem much more bearable. Home workouts are something that will provide more than just the obvious benefits.

The first step is to think about your daily routine and ask yourself, “Do I have 5 to 10 minutes at least 2 to 3 times a week?” If the answer is ‘yes’ then we’ll give you some ideas to get started below. (If your answer is ‘no’ then you’ve either got some serious commitments or you’re having trouble being honest with yourself.)

Now before looking at ways to increase activity, the first step is to grasp a couple of central principles:

  • Regular doses of exercise no matter how small are preferable to substantial bouts followed by long periods of inactivity or put more simply, 5 minutes three times a week is better than 90 minutes every two weeks. It creates a framework we can sustainably build on.
  • If you miss a planned day, absolutely 100% forget about it, put it out of your mind. It doesn’t matter, the next day you’ve planned some activity just resume where you left off.

If after taking stock of your weekly schedule you found you had a regular slice of time of say 20 minutes or more, twice or more a week when you’re at home, then we’d encourage you to look at our home workouts training programs as there are lots of home workout ideas there. Particular workouts of interest would be our bodyweight or minimal equipment routines to start then our modest equipment routines later.

If you just don’t have that time initially, here are some simple-to-implement ideas:

  • If you work in a multi-storey building, walk a couple of sets of stairs before or after lunch then increase it when you can. Similarly, if you have a medium to large car park do a couple of laps. (Obviously if you can walk in more attractive surroundings do but even the most austere of surroundings aren’t a barrier).
  • Whether you commute by car or public transport, when you get to your house or apartment block, before going inside, do a 5 or 10 minute lap of the neighborhood.
  • Before / after you clean your teeth, sit down on the bed then stand 10 times then catch your breath and do 5 pushups (start with wall pushups if you can’t do one on the floor). Increase this over time.
  • If you’re watching tv then during the breaks do the same thing, sit down and stand up a few times and do a few wall pushups.

Whether you go for one of these options or something else, just work within your capabilities, think of no more than a ‘7’ in terms of effort initially and then when you’ve become accustomed, no more than an ‘8’. The feeling you’re looking for is one of satisfaction from pleasant activity and not one of being devastated. Over time, this ‘7’ or ‘8’ will naturally improve without you having to particularly make an effort to do so.