Monthly Archives: August 2021

How should men and women train differently?

To answer the question, they shouldn’t.

It’s a question that doesn’t get asked as much these days as previously but it is still worth exploring.

Typically a woman will say, “I don’t want to get big muscles”. Not all women say this because some actually do want them but it is a legitimate concern for some.

The reason is a misconception that arose way back in the day when women bodybuilders were regarded as representative of what happened when women used weights and/or went to the gym. These women were used to promote gyms and using weights and weight machines in a bid to engage another market segment namely females.

Of course we know that these women bodybuilders were just like most of the men in that drug use was pretty common so the likelihood of significant synthetic hormone manipulation was high. So just like the fact most men could not achieve the increases in muscle size the male bodybuilders could it was the same for women. And still is. The reality is the incredible sizes male and female bodybuilders reach are due to a lot of training, discipline, knowledge, nutrition and at the highest level, a lot of drugs.

This is in stark contrast to what fitness coaches like myself do with clients both men and women.

This is Fha (left) and Kate. Kate mostly did yoga and was amazingly flexible but she carried excess fat. She also battled a life-long facial acne problem. We met in the gym we both trained at and I began giving her tips on her training routine plus helped her with her diet. Eventually I wrote her a program and she followed this for 3 months. Kate dropped a lot of fat over that 3 months and she has become a lot stronger with personal record lifts in the deadlift, squat and bench press. Her acne problem has just about disappeared as well an added bonus to her much cleaner dietary habits.

Fha has dropped 5kgs in about 4 months. Fha has been attending my outdoor group sessions and in the gym she has been doing more basic lifts with heavier weight and lower repetitions. She has also adopted a different approach to her nutrition using intermittent fasting and like Kate, tidying up her diet.

Both ladies train hard but take a flow approach to training in that some days you empty the tank and other days you fill it up!

In other posts I have elaborated extensively on the impact training has on our endocrinal system. Training (exercise), nutrition and rest/sleep are all very important components to the balancing of how our body functions in our natural chemical balance.

Once we as men and women take onboard and practice good habits in all 3 areas we will gain balance. The result of this is we will shed fat and gain muscle and more. This includes strengthening joints and in the case of Kate her skin reacted very positively as well.

3 easy nutrition tips for weightloss

Back in the day I was training in a gym on Orchard Rd in Singapore and I knew nothing. I literally followed what others were doing and the mantra at that time was body-part split training.

There was a big Australian guy, Tony Rizzo, he was strong, he was an international level masters bodybuilder having represented his home country many times. I got to know Tony and we’d often have a coffee together before or after training. These coffee sessions were great for me as I picked up plenty of pro tips and as regular readers will know, despite being very unsure that bodybuilding is truly a way to “get fit”, something I have explained in great detail elsewhere, there are parts of this sport that do crossover to the more functional concepts of getting fit. In searching for Tony on the net I came across this video. This video was taken around the time Tony and I were both living in Singapore –

My mate Tony at the World Championships

One area especially that bodybuilders offer some very hard won expertise is in nutrition. Tony got very grumpy when preparing for competition as all he ate for 6 weeks day and night was chicken and broccoli. All he would drink was car battery water (as it’s distilled). This regime was nutritionally not great for several reasons but it did help him (and many other bodybuilders) lose weight quite rapidly.

Most “diets” will aid weight loss as they’re usually calorie restricted meaning that in a 24 hour period the individual will be using more calories than they’re eating resulting in the body using stored fat as a fuel. This basic concept is not lost on most people but it is flawed in a few different ways.

Primarily calorie restriction will take most people quite a long time to lose weight. A bodybuilder that is already in reasonable shape uses this to trim up.

Also bear in mind that your training does not provide the weight loss that many think it does. You cannot out-train a bad diet. I’ve said this before.

Therefore the first tip for weightloss is the best form of calorie restriction and that form is #1 intermittent fasting.

Only eat in your window and that is either 6 or 4 hours so that means your fast is 18 or 20 hours. Don’t be concerned that you will go into “starvation mode” or some other urban myth, all of which are regularly propagated by people that don’t have any real understanding of the way the human body has evolved and is meant to function. Having daily mini-fasts is as close to how our bodies have been required to function for thousands, 10’s of thousands and perhaps millions of years.

And if your body goes into starvation mode after a few extra hours not eating then your body needs some serious readjustment! Unfortunately the reality is the general population at large is too over-fed and in being so resting insulin levels are too high which will eventually lead to Syndrome X (aka insulin resistance syndrome) and then full-blown diabetes.

It is a sad reality that in many western countries high percentages of populations eat far too much food and this over-consumption leads to many “lifestyle” diseases.

This leads us to the next tip, #2 eating less food.

Most people can cut their food intake by HALF and still function quite adequately. I usually recommend people do this for 2 weeks prior to embarking on an intermittent fasting protocol. It’s a really simple exercise, just eat and drink what you normally would do and that includes alcohol, desserts, cakes, snacks etc. Go ahead still eat them but only eat and drink half. Same with any other foods you eat, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit etc.

Weigh yourself before and after the 2 weeks – you may find something mazing has happened!

Finally the last tip, #3 once you begin your fasting protocol eliminate as best you can rice, noodles, pasta and bread.

The more you eliminate these foods the faster you will lose weight. Only you know your ability to have discipline around change. If you’re typically undisciplined then try not to make too many changes as this will be unsustainable. The more discplined the more you should try to effect change. The only caveat to tip #3 is if you eat wild/black rice and some darker breads. Dark coloured carbohydrate even the processed types usually have a lot of good quality micronutrients and with this the insulin response can be different.

White coloured carbohydrates are usually indicative of what is described as foods with a high glycemic index (GI). These foods usually set off an immediate insulin response, insulin being the hormone that once in the blood turns carbohydrate into usable energy. This is all ok but the problems begin occurring when the amount of energy present in the blood (known as glucose or simply, blood sugar) and the amount of energy stored in the liver in the form of glycogen are maxxed out. Our bodies have this wonderful way of storing this excess fuel and it is called fat.

By reducing white carbohydrates you will significantly lower the chances of storing fat.

Usually people will then ask me “how do I get my energy if I am not eating carbs?” This is a good question but it also demonstrates a lack of understanding of what are carbohydrates. All fruit and vegetables are sources of carbohydrate. Before modern man began making bread and pasta and beating the nutrients out of rice to turn it white we relied heavily on these foods for our energy – we can still source awesome levels of energy from these foods and why tennis players will eat a banana during a professional game. Professional sports teams also have large fruit platters in the changing rooms after games to enable the players to replenish glucose and glycogen stores using high quality food sources.

In summary by using the 3 tips above you can go a long way to getting right on top of your weight management. Get to it!

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Sitting down workouts

My Grandad on my Mum’s side had a quick wit. Known as Jack he was a bit of a legend to me, he had some old war tales which as a kid growing up in New Zealand had a lot of adventure and mystery about them.

We would sometimes watch football together and he’d make some fairly accurate and usually not very complimentary comments about the players abilities. By all accounts (usually his) he was a pretty decent left winger and played at a high amateur level in the south of England. So he had every right to be judging them!

One of the best sports quips he ever made and one that has remained with me for life was during an Olympic Games or possibly a Commonwealth Games while cousins and me and my brother were watching New Zealand win a gold medal in rowing and he said, “New Zealand only wins events where you sit down”.

New Zealand Rowing Eight – GOLD medal, Tokyo Olympics 2022 (2021?)

We were so disappointed in realising he had a point! Over the years New Zealand has won many medals in rowing and canoeing, cycling, equestrian and sailing and not many other sports. Ok so we have had some runners, our hockey teams go ok (famously beating Australia at the Montreal Olympics to win gold) and swimmers (but maybe they’re worse, they’re lying down!) but generally my old Grandad’s candid and slightly barbed point was fairly accurate.

The reason I am talking about this is due to what these athletes need to do to prepare for their events. They need to condition themselves physically for a sitting event. It would of course require some sitting stuff but also a lot of exercises where they don’t actually sit. Training for their event would mean over time and as the event nears, more specific training around the actual activity would occur. You may be familiar with the term periodisation and this applies to all sports preparation and generally the exact type of training work done in the event increases as the event gets closer.

Now recently I have noticed more people using sitting equipment in their workouts. In fact I have witnessed it for years and was probably guilty of doing it myself. I guess “working out” sitting on your arse is a whole lot easier than working out standing up, right?

So why really would we (do we) sit down to train? Is there any benefit? Ok so on a spin bike or better, an Assault Air/Erg type bike sure, I can understand that but the recumbant bike – the true lazy-arse style of training. I am going to sit back, stretch out and………..exercise? Really? Hahaha. And yes the rower, the Concept 2 sure. In small doses as far as I am concerned is ok, unless you are really prepping for a rowing event.

But seated back rows, seated overhead presses, seated bicep curls (that’s a beauty!), lat pulldowns, pec-dec etc etc what is the point of doing these? Yes you can absolutely isolate a muscle but so?

Once again I arrive at purpose. What is the purpose of your training? If it is function (fixing an old injury or being better at your sport), or if you want to get leaner, fitter and stronger there are far more functional ways of doing this than sitting down to train.

Sitting negatively affects posture by switching off core muscles that we would prefer to be switched on while training. We really want our body to work as a single unit, recruiting maximal muscle tissue (this increases calorie expenditure as well) and joints means our body learns to work as a single unit, something that has direct transfer to most sports and athletic events.

If you’re going to sit down while you exercise or train, go all the way and get a gold medal for it otherwise stand up, it’ll work a whole lot better for you!

Training in your 40’s and 50’s+ IS different – why?

I just ticked over another lap of the sun (at least according to astronomers) and into being nearer to 60 than 50 – gulp.

To celebrate I ran some intervals with some friends and they didn’t go easy on me, not that I’d expect them to but they’re all older guys too, 49, 56 and 61. I should have taken a picture, we’re all in pretty darn good shape putting a lot of younger men to shame but I was too wiped out to think of doing that.

Then yesterday I hit the gym and did some accessory work, strengthening my piriformes and knees using 2 awesome exercises I have recently begun doing. The knee exercises especially are amazing using a slant board and a small range of motion I can hit the VMO muscle, the vastus medialis oblique which is key in maintaining knee stability and strength. I play a lot of tennis and need my knees so this exercise is now done weekly.

Then I did some bench presses. You could say I earned the right to do the #1 beach muscle exercise by doing the accessory work as well.

I squeezed in 2 hours of tennis doubles (played at a decent level) with a lot of running, reactions and as heavy a serve as I coulds muster.

And today with some friends we did a lovely training session in the park, with bands that included some overhead presses, deadlifts and woodchops. We then ground out a 15 minute EMOM of squat jumps, mountain climbers and push ups – a great few days in the 56 for me!

Tomorrow to earn the right to do my backsquats I will do some accessory work on my quadratus lumborum (QL), a deep lying muscle in the lower back I injured many years ago and which I still need to strengthen weekly. I will also do some Nordic Curls which are awesome for athletic development. One of the world’s most dynamic sportsmen is a guy called Tyreek Hill, he plays for the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL, watch this video to see what a Nordic Curl is and see if you can do any yourself!

I will add that I cannot do these the way Tyreek does them. I basically fall to the floor trying to resist gravity as much as I can before pushing myself back up to the start position. I have never seen anyone do them like Hill does in any gym I have been into. Come to think of it I rarely see people doing them at all. Not sure why when if they are done by this incredible athlete why aren’t we all doing them?

I also do hip thrusters regularly as again, any man or woman engaged in sport at whtever age should be doing these in the gym, an amazing exercise to create dynamism in the hip/glute complex, I would think all sports require this. Maybe not darts. Or chess. Not sure.

As we age we need to be doing things differently. If we’re playing sport or doing triathlons then it’s even more important we take care of our bodies by doing accessory work that strengthens joints, maintains their mobility or stability and improves performance of them. This accessory work can also help with ongoing maintenance (prehab) and even help rehabilitate areas that have been covered up and/or neglected.

When it comes to sport performance then we also need to work differently to when we were younger. Training output needs to be managed much more. When young we can train like machines all through our 20’s and even into our 30’s. Sadly and mistakenly for many in their 40’s and above, this point is not realised or if it is, accepted. The even sadder thing is you can maintain great performance by working smarter.

How do we work smarter?

Volumes decrease and work intensity is maintained or increased. We use a bit of science to do this in better understanding heart rate and its variability, being stricter around work:rest ratios, being stricter around lifting technique, session planning and rest cycles.

Ultimately it comes down to keeping track of your training and all of the important data that feeds into your health status then taking this and evolving your programming and session planning. Once you dial in the formula that presents itself at the end of this process you have a life-long tool for being a healthier, fitter and better man or woman!

The 3 big lifts for strength

There’s no secrets for anyone looking to gain strength. Pick up heavy stuff, push it, pull it. You have to be prepared to strain, to sweat and to get really uncomfortable because there’s no other way. The process is not forever but you need to do it fairly regularly to begin with.

I can advise you with a large degree of certainty that the pec-dec, leg extension and bicep curl machines are not that desirable when it comes to strength gains. Also using equipment like the Smith machine or even leg press create foundational issues in your program.

The first 3 machines isolate muscles and why a lot of amateur bodybuilders look way out of proportion. The pec-dec also is extremely bad for the shoulders especially the anterior deltoid. Ditto that for the Smith machine that forces the user to move through the pattern it dictates. This is not a very smart thing to be doing. The leg press can be used from time to time but again this is not functional piece of equipment and shouldn’t be used too frequently.

What we should be doing is movement training under load – also known as “lifting”.

I know there’s some readers of my blog that understand how to lift properly. This is very important in that whatever lifts you do, they need to be executed with precision and a level of confidence that is only achieved with practice.

So it’s imperative you don’t go chasing heavy lifts too quickly because you do need to progress steadily.

The single best lift for allround gains and the biggest impact on our hormonal profile is the deadlift. This is because we can lift the heaviest weight with the deadlift. The second lift is the squat and the third lift is the bench/chest press.

These 3 lifts are gold for our training. Why? They build strength in not only multiple muscle groups but also multiple joints. As we age, joint health becomes imperative and loading these joints helps keep blood moving to them, blood bringing with it much needed nutrients. Bones also benefit greatly from these 3 lifts with a positive impact on the density of the bone.

I always advise people to use these 3 lifts as the cornerstone of their work. You can build everything else around these. Initially you go for 3-6 reps at least for the first month to 6 weeks and then do a week or 2 at a higher rep range before going back to the low reps but by then you should be stronger and lifting heavier.

To understand your development here’s a great resource to help you know what weights you should be aiming for. The standards are heavy for sure and most of us will be at Beginner or Novice level but what you’re looking for is consistent numbers across the 3 lifts.

The older we get the more we bring accessory work into the program. I’m keen to get my clients doing Poloquin step ups on the slant board to build stability and strength, weighted piriformis drops and QL weighted side rotations. I’m also a big fan of Nordic drops and for a while now have also been incorporating hip thrusters.

Remember, have a plan, this brings purpose. Sketch out the weeks session and execute!

3 things you’re doing that won’t get you stronger

In my analysis of what people do when it comes to exercise for strength gains I can see 3 key areas that are generally thought to add to gains, when in fact they are probably making you weaker.

The first is the most classic error. Too many repetitions. More is not better. Why?

The answer is in 2 parts. Firstly if you can pick something up and rep it a gizzilion times you are not practising to become stronger. You are not becoming stronger but what you are doing is creating muscular endurance which is fine-tuning your cardiovascular system and your muscles to continue working under load for longer periods – that’s it. This is not stronger.

Secondly and most importantly you get entirely the wrong hormonal response from high repetition training as it relates to strength. More about this can be found here.

Endless reps may get you tired but as I have stated repeatedly, training isn’t about getting you tired it’s about making you better.

Get tired running down shots at tennis and smashing down your new, stronger service. Get tired running all day in your soccer or get tired making big hits in your rugby. And get really tired as you sit down at the 19th hole after your best round of golf, ever!

There are times when you will get tired in the gym but that is never every time!

To get stronger you work in rep ranges up to a maximum of 6, sets of 4, 5 or 6 and with at least 3 minutes between sets.

Second thing you’re likely to be doing that is not working for you is what we call touch and go reps. This is where you bounce a bar off the floor doing deadlifts, off your chest doing bench presses or even bouncing out of depth doing squats. None of these actions will get you stronger and possibly will injure you.

Practicing tempo movements with all lifts will create control that positively impacts technique, help you systemise your breathing and provide muscles with time under tension which is the ultimate creator of strength gains. There’s no room for touch and go in a tempo movement.

To get stronger you pause after every rep, reset and lift again.

And this brings us to the third thing you’re probably doing that will not make you stronger and that is you are not locking joints.

The strongest guys and girls at the Olympics are who? The weightlifters. What do they do at the top of the clean and jerk and snatch? They lock out. Why?

Because to be strong you need to use your entire musculoskeletal system which is muscles, bones, joints (and all connective tissues).

There’s a term bodybuilders use called “soft-lock” which is not locking joints like knees and shoulders doing leg presses, squats and pressing movements. They purposely do this to maintain the load of the lift in the muscles, not the joints and this makes good sense for them. They are in the business of bulging their muscles not necessarily becoming stronger. Yes they will likely be pretty strong but not as strong as they would be if they learned to use their joints like a weightlifter does. And nor will they be strong on a sports field or court because they haven’t trained their joints to be strong or resilient.

Locking joints creates athleticism and makes you stronger, too.

Start taking a different approach to your training and get stronger!

Fitness: being lazy versus being resourceful (smart)

What’s the ultimate in lazy behaviour in big box/commercial gyms?

Doing classes.

Closely followed by circling a gym doing random exercises on machines. Followed by random apps that spit out random exercises.

I once started a workout with a gym-owner mate and another guy, it was called the “deck of cards” workout. You can access this app and it randomly spits out and exercise with reps and you just keep doing them……I stopped after 3-4 minutes it was ridiculous!

Why is doing a class lazy? You’re doing it because you don’t have to think about planning a session (or circling the gym doing random stuff). In a nutshell, that’s why.

Remember if you don’t have a plan, you are planning to fail. It doesn’t matter what part of your life you’re applying this too, your employment, love life, your finances, your state of mind. No plan, no result.

As a fitness professional I know quite a bit about programming and session planning. The big names in classes whether its Les Mills or F45 generally, not every time but usually, deliver extremely basic sessions that will make you tired but will generally not improve you. Yes some will lose weight, some will get fitter (and some will get injured) but most won’t get much value out of them.

But at the end of the class participants are usually exhausted and that is what tells them it must have worked. This being the single most misunderstood part of exercise and fitness.

There are however certain conditions in which a class can work. The first condition is the class is small, limited to 6 or possibly 8 people. This permits the coach to spend enough time to actually, well, coach. Classes of 20-30 people or more, the coach/instructor is basically a cheerleader.

And secondly with a smaller class or what’s more commonly known as small group training, it’s possible to use a whiteboard or screen to explain the session in broad terms enabling participants to determine what would be more or too challenging and to get the exercise scaled or changed.

Larger classes often place participants out of their depth in basic exercise competency and/or skill-set and results in these people poorly executing or rushing exercises. This leads to several key issues being firstly injury (an accident or worse development of a chronic long term problem) and also a lack of results.

The primary issue with classes however is you have no control over what you are doing. Sounds very simplistic, right? And it is because if you’re planning to let someone else determine what they want you to do, so truly what control do you have over your preferred outcomes?


But typically your expectation is fat-burn because the class is called “Fat-Burn Zone” or “Fat-Blast” or “Muscle Up” means you will get muscly etc etc. How can someone in a room in for instance New Zealand writing session plans for a global program get a plan right for you? They cannot, it’s very simple.

The only way to get muscle, lose fat or get fitter is plan out something that works for you based on first principles which starts at where you are now. Next where do you want to get to and how will you get there are the subsequent questions. The actual intervention isn’t the easiest thing to determine but there are a lot of resources out there.

I will add a link to my free eBook below as one resource.

I strongly urge you to consider planning your own exercise regime. There is a very high percentage of people out there unsatisfied with their own level of fitness, their weight, how they sleep, how they look in the mirror.

Doing a weekly class could be a part of your plan. But classes can never be all you do.

Take control and plan for success!

This is the link to my eBook