’TIS THE SEASON TO BE GLUTTONOUS
How to survive the festive party season with your waistline intact
The Fairytale of New York, the ultimate Christmas party singalong tune, tells the tale of a man suffering from over-indulgence on Christmas Eve, reflecting on yet another year of missed opportunities. As gym-goers, the Pogues classic should be a timely warning about celebrating a year of health and fitness achievements with a month of full-blown, unadulterated gluttony.
To avoid another year of regret and ruined dreams, and to ensure your physique stays more runner bean than Christmas pudding, follow my 7 tips on how to survive the festive party season.
“I have always said that I have zero tolerance for anyone convicted of using or facilitating the use of performance-enhancing drugs” Lance Armstrong
Many years ago, after reading the book Its Not About The Bike - My Journey Back to Life, I reached the following conclusions:
1. Lance Armstrong is a living …
How to train like an Olympian
As the curtain fell on the London Olympics and Paralympics competitions, everyone was asking the same questions. Just how did Michael Phelps succeed in becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time? How does Usain Bolt always cross the finish line first?
Cynics will suggest that these athletes are born to be champions, that somehow their genetic makeup propels them to be successful at a particular activity from birth. It’s true that you will never be a world champion high jumper if you can handstand under a horse. Height is a crucial factor in this sport. While genetics play a part we have tendency to exaggerate their influence. What separates the Farahs, Franklins and Fraser-Pryces from us mere mortals is the effort they put into their training, the countless hours spent in meticulous practice and the specificity of their goals. While many of us will arrange exercise around our daily routine, for elite athletes training is their daily routine. Everything else becomes a distraction.
While only a small percentage will ever reach the heights of regional or national level in a sport, never mind Olympic level, there are lessons we can learn from elite athletes. Whether you aim to reach these extremes or you simply want to improve how you look and feel, we can implement the following strategies of successful athletes to dramatically improve our results.
Decide what you want to achieve and when. Write it down. Set yourself a realistic and specific target taking into account your current condition and schedule shorter-term goals that will be milestones you can tick off along the way.
You must be brutally honest with yourself and understand the reasons behind your goals. Why are you going to the gym? Understanding the rationale why you want bigger arms and a 6-pack will help put your efforts into context. Motivation stems from rationale. Olympians are motivated to train to be strong and fast by their burning desire to prove themselves to be the best in the world. Do not hide from your rationale. Understand it, embrace it and use it.
The gym-routine killer. We all get tired, we all get sore, we all get busy, we all have distractions. This is something you have to accept and plan around. Use whatever encouragement you need to train when obstacles are in your path. Remember when you wanted to marry Donnie from New Kids on the Block? Somehow by hanging his poster above your bed it made the prospect seem more likely, no matter how unrealistic. I had John Barnes above my bed (for different motivation!). If you want to fit in a size 8 dress then buy one and hang it up where you will see it everyday. Ashamed of how you look in holiday snaps? Stick them to your fridge door.
Olympians often talk of the sacrifices they have made on their journey to success. To get to the top they must be selfish. Your time at the gym is typically the only hour of the day which you focus all your energies on self-improvement. Make the most of it. Indulge yourself.
Olympic athletes treat food as fuel. They eat and supplement what is necessary to maximise performance. An athlete will gauge the success of their nutrition by analysing training statistics, competition and recovery and will use trial and error to optimise their eating. Likewise, we should experiment and keep a food diary to find out what works best for each individual. Obviously certain basic nutrition principles are universally accepted but confusion arises from the myriad of miracle diets and supplements suggested by “experts”. Food should not be seen as an obstruction to your goal - it is a vital component to getting you where you want to be. Change your mindset to eating well to enhance performance and the results will come.
The video shows double-gold winning Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte training in the run up to London 2012. While his sport relies on perfect technique and repetitive movement patterns, Lochte uses the off-season to train his body using large compound exercises through multiple planes and using a variety of equipment. Mixing up exercises like this ensures he improves his global strength out of the pool and maintains his motivation during extensive training cycles.
While variety is the spice of life, there are times when you need to focus on specifics. If you play a sport, as you approach competition, you need to train your body through the rehearsed movements of that sport. In-season training should also take this format with reduced intensity (weights) and density (volume). If you have postural issues, then you need to concentrate on strengthening weakened muscles and inhibiting (stretching) over active muscles. A bodybuilder will concentrate on creating symmetry in their physique as they prepare to take the stage. If you ski frequently typically you will develop an imbalance between strength in the quadriceps with weakness in the hamstrings. Concentrating on developing hamstring strength in the gym will help prevent injury due to this imbalance and keep you on the slopes for longer.
Practice and Skill
“Repetition is the mother of skill”. An old adage suggesting the more you do something, the better you get. In reality the best athletes take this a step further. They develop their skill through what is known as ‘deliberate practice’. The difference between winning and losing depends on their ability to shave hundredths of seconds off PB’s. To achieve this they must become experts at their skill. Likewise, if you want to improve your squat in the gym then you must first teach your body to squat effectively before repeating this new learnt skill for multiple repetitions. Expertise follows from the mastery of deliberate practice.
Rest and Recovery
Failure to allow adequate rest or to fuel the body effectively during and after intensive training can result in overtraining. This is often seen in weight trainees who fail to appreciate the importance of pre and post-workout nutrition or do not understand how to periodise their training sessions effectively.
Hire a Coach
If you are struggling then a skilled coach or personal trainer can successfully implement these strategies into your training. Jessica Ennis has a team of trainers and therapists. Even Usain Bolt needs a coach. You may never reach the Olympics but effective coaching can revolutionize your training and catapult you to the next level.
A Marathon Misconception
Anyone who knows me will be aware of my somewhat critical views on marathons. Don’t get me wrong - the principle of the event and the efforts of the runners in both competing and supporting their chosen charities is undoubtedly commendable. But is the reward of competing in such a grueling challenge worth the potential risk?
Around 37,500 runners took part in the London 2012 Marathon. A mixture of professional runners, amateur runners and the group most at risk, the non-runners. I have no statistics to quantify percentages but its safe to judge from even a casual glance that a vast number of participants had not physically prepared themselves adequately for the monumental task ahead. I’m not necessarily referring to physique - running patterns often highlight an obvious lack of conditioning.
Hip bursitis, ITB syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome, anterior compartment syndrome, shin splints, achilles tendonitis, plantar fascitis, stress fractures, muscular/tendon strains and ligament sprains are all painful common running injuries (1). Not to mention the potentially life-threatening heart conditions which can be triggered from prolonged or intense cardiovascular activity. This was brought into sharp focus following the tragic death of a young competitor in this years’ London marathon as a result of a suspected Arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Approximately 1 in every 50,000 participants in marathons or endurance events of over 3 hours will suffer an acute heart attack or sudden cardiac death during or within the following 24 hours of the event (2). However, from autopsies, it has been proven that often the exertion of the event simply triggered an occurrence in individuals who already had an existing heart condition.
Before I continue I must state that I have never entered a marathon, nor have I any inclination ever to do so. Personally I find long distance running dull and it goes against my beliefs on how to maintain a healthy body. I have, however, trained many individuals to successfully complete marathons and likewise dealt with the aftermath of some un-conditioned participants who just thought they would “give it a go”.
The video above is typical of the closing miles of a marathon. If you have ever been a spectator at the finish line you will know it can be a grisly spectacle. At times its like watching a scene from a zombie flick. Hoards of the undead struggling to drag their broken bodies along, seemingly unconscious and groaning in the anguish of each painful step! These scenes should be enough to make any marathon newbies carefully consider their rationale and plan of action.
Perhaps the greatest misconception is that a marathon is a “fun run”. Images of competitors in fancy dress lead some to assume that if Shrek and a pantomime horse can do it then so can anyone! Unfortunately many carry this carefree attitude into their preparations and we see the same numbers of zombies littering the routes each year.
I admit that at times I have pushed myself to the limits of my ability, and sometimes beyond. More than a few times I have required assistance to get down the gym stairs after a heavy legs session! The difference is that I have prepared myself through progressive resistance training to tolerate this level of fatigue. Much in the same way that successful long distance runners train their bodies over many years to effectively handle the stresses of 26.2 miles of road-pounding.
So how do you prepare for a marathon? I believe that an initial assessment should be performed by a skilled exercise professional to highlight any muscular imbalances you may have, before commencing a corrective exercise regime to address these issues. The natural progression is to follow this up with a strength and conditioning program, in combination with a nutritional program, geared towards preparing the body for long distance running. Only then can you safely hit the roads. Traditional marathon training protocols of simply jumping straight in and racking up the miles are outdated, exacerbate any existing dysfunction and can lead to the multitude of biomechanical conditions discussed above. A thorough medical should also be carried out by a physician, particularly if there is an existing or family history of heart or respiratory illness.
Lets face it, for a lot of people a marathon will be the single most physically demanding challenge of their lives. Would you pitch up at your school/university exams or driving test without months or even years of preparation? Marathon preparations should not start and end at the running shoe store. Plan in advance, educate yourself on the risks, condition yourself effectively and develop an awareness of any warning signals your body may emit during training and competition.
(2) Journal of the American College of Cardiology, vol 28, pp 428-431, 1996
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Getting where I am today has been far from easy but it is one of my most rewarding achievements, and my results have given me the confidence to keep pushing myself further, both inside and outside the gym.