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The Right Question - keys of progress to lifting after 40.

In the fitness world most people seem overly focused on one thing:

What the exercise plan consists of.

Nearly every single question I see comes down to sets/ reps/ exercises. It’s a shame that those elements make the least difference in changing someone’s health and fitness, especially for those of us past 40.

The number of click bait articles I see aimed at a crowd who should know better is ridiculous. “Top six ab exercises for over 40s”, “The 4 best leg exercises for older athletes”, and “The 4 best tabata workouts for over 40s” are all horrible ideas.

The trap of the fitness industry is this – we want to sell you exercises because we have entire gyms filled with expensive equipment. If we make you believe that this weird contraption over here does something you can’t replicate at home then we have you halfway signed up. If we make you believe that you can’t get in shape without this battery of expensive cardio machines then we’ve got you.

Not only do we want you to believe in the need for our fancy equipment we need you to believe that we have a secret workout plan that will melt your fat away in 3 x 30min sessions you can at home (and then fold away the equipment under your bed). We’re going to lie and swindle you out of your money because this thing right here in my hand is the secret, the magic beans, the answer to all that ails you. No one else could provide you with this because no one else has my magic beans. And only someone new who no one has ever heard of could have those magic beans because if the experienced ones had the magic beans they’d have worked for me by now.

But it’s all a lie. And you, dear consumer, have not only been duped for decades but you’ve allowed it to happen. Instead of searching for people with a proven history of success you’ve held onto your hope that this time, finally, you’ve found the secret. Except we all know that there are no secrets. Most people’s fitness hopes are the equivalent of buying a Powerball ticket every week. Yes, it is possible to hit the jackpot. People certainly do. Except the odds of winning Powerball in Australia work out to be about 1 winning ticket every 7500 years (provided you buy 50 games weekly, 50 weeks a year). So you have a chance to win once every 1000 lifetimes.

And that’s how it is with fitness. People making desperate plays in the hopes of somehow getting that winning ticket this time.

So let’s fix that.

I don’t like to make assumptions based on feelings or fads. I make my plans based off numbers. Cold, hard, undeniable fact. So let’s look at some facts:

1) Most First World countries share an alarming trait – roughly 70% of the adult population is overweight or obese. It’s 1-2% different from country to country but the UK, Australia, Canada, and the USA all share a figure that is roughly the same. That means that the single most important thing anyone should be focused on is diet, not training.

Believe it or not the reason for this is simple – it has nothing to do with aesthetics. It has to do with heart attacks and the other 3 leading causes of death. The first 4 of the leading causes of death can all be controlled via diet and exercise, with diet being more important as being overweight is a major factor in poor health.

I’m sure this comes as no surprise to all the mature readers but you can’t get away with the poor habits from your 20s and 30s. No more weekend long binges. No more junk food daily. It just doesn’t work anymore if you want to stay at a healthy bodyweight. How many of you reading this have felt like you were working hard in the gym but it’s not even obvious? You catch up with a friend and they don’t even say, “you look great, are you working out?”  Perhaps it’s time to start working just as hard in the kitchen and getting rid of your childish poor habits?

For a mature trainee, let me ask – if you are what you eat, why would you choose to be cheap, fatty, and unhealthy?

2) Given most people, even ones who work hard at their fitness, won’t train for much more than an hour a day 6 days a week, is it really the exercise that has the most impact on health or is it the rest of your lifestyle that makes up the remaining 162 hours?

If you want to be fit and healthy then you need to adopt the habits of people who are healthy and fit. Those habits do not include daily junk food, daily alcohol, or late nights. They include water, lean proteins, salads, early bed times, limited screen time, and ample quiet time to destress. These are not once a day things. These are every day things.

Like the Powerball ticket idea when it comes to training we can apply the same here – those who binge drink (classified as more than 5 drinks for men and 4 for women), eat junk daily, and rarely perform exercise are the ones you will find going on sudden “detox diets” in the hopes of magically fixing in a few days damage caused over months or years. Contrast that to the lifelong healthy lifestyle of someone gave up all their self-destructive childish habits and figure out which one do you think will live a longer, healthier life?

3) Before we worry about sets, reps, and how much weight to lift in the gym the first and most important muscle to work is the heart. Again, heart attack is the number one cause of death in over 44s for both genders not having a weak deadlift. While strength training is important for a variety of reasons it comes in a very distant second place to training that makes the heart strong and healthy.

Any trainer who isn’t targeting your heart in this three-pronged manner of diet, healthy lifestyle, and cardio training is doing you a great disservice.

So instead of asking your trainer about whether he uses kettlebells or barbells ask him what kind of diet he wants you to follow. Ask his recommendations to clean up your lifestyle. Ask him about his understanding of cardiovascular training and health. Only once you have those nailed down should you even worry about the magic beans of the actual training program.

For anyone wanting to fix these issues once and for all – to finally not just feel good but look good too – you should consider the entry programs available on this site. For men, the 28 Day Challenge is unmatched for the results it gives. For women the 12 Week Challenge is the only women’s training plan that doesn’t just address the above issues but honours the fact that your hormone levels and body composition are very different to men’s and require a different approach (which is why the Women’s Challenge is 12 weeks and not 4). Don’t be fooled by the term “entry programs”. It has taken me nearly 30 years of experience to be able to create and deliver these programs in such a concise and actionable format. Many very experienced mature aged trainees make incredible progress on these plans because they actually address the most important factors and don’t allow people to try to fake their way to health and fitness.

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Spicy Tuna Burgers

One of my favourite recipes…

For the tuna cakes:

3 cans of chunk light tuna (in water)
½ cup white onion, chopped (you can substitute these for 3 green onions too, or, as I do, simply use /12 white onion)
1½ tbsp. Cajun seasoning
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes 2 egg whites
½ cup old-fashioned oats (can substitute w/ panko – this is the best option for binding) 1 tsp. hot sauce (Sriracha is the best)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

For the sauce:
For the sauce, you can use a store-bought remoulade. Just make sure to pay attention to the serving size (in this case, it was 1 tbsp./serving). Sauces can quickly add more calories than you think – in addition to sodium – so it’s best to measure them out.
1. Open cans of tuna. Place in a strainer and with a fork press some of the liquid out.
2. In a medium bowl, combine tuna and remaining 8 ingredients and mix well.
3. Form mixture into 6 equal patties.
4. Place in the fridge for about an hour so they can set up.
5. Using a large skillet, spray with cooking spray and cook tuna cakes over medium heat about 3 to 4 minutes on each side (you just want them to be golden brown).
Serve with sauce on top or on the side.
Nutritional Information:
Calories: 200
Fat: 1 g
Carbs: 14 g
Protein: 30 g
Serving Size: 2 cakes Servings: 3

Some notes:

You can use 2 eggs instead of egg whites and it’ll hold together better. It’ll change the macro information slightly though.

Cook off the onion first. For details on how to dice onion go here –

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Real World Conditioning

It’s good to be strong. It’s good to be fit. It’s awesome to be both. Most workout plans are really good at one or the other – either size and strength or fitness. Very few deliver on both.

The reasons are actually pretty simple – people think of “fitness” in a single way. It either means something like a MetCon type workout or maybe some prowler pushes for conditioning, or it means mindlessly slaving away at low intensity for hours on an elliptical machine for cardiovascular fitness. But there’s actually four different types of work required to get both a big gas tank and a big engine. And, if we want to really be strong, fast, and durable we need legs that can withstand any and all punishment.

Let’s quickly look at the different energy systems and what they do:

ATP/ CP system – max power output is approximately six seconds. Think an all-out sprint or 1RM. That’s the ATP system in action. Because ATP replenishment is slow – roughly 3 minutes for full replenishment – these sessions feature short periods of near maximal output and lonmg rest periods.

Glycolytic system – 20 – 40 seconds. The glycolytic system is the one that makes the muscles burn and is represented by a 400m all out run. A lot of training ends up using this training zone but gains here are very hard won and limited. This is mindless but fun sweating that often doesn’t produce an improvement in line with the effort put in.

The aerobic system – contributes more and more to total energy from about 75 seconds onwards. Even for events as short as a 2000m row, which is completed in around 7 minutes by most males, is 87% aerobic. [1] In other words, if you want true all day fitness you’re going to need a strong aerobic system. I’ve seen plenty of WOD monsters who can crush short 20 minute workouts be ruined by having to repeatedly put out all day long during selection type events.

Now we’ve covered how your body makes energy there is a fourth factor to take into account – muscular endurance. There are plenty of people who tell you that maximal strength work in low rep ranges will give you better efficiency. The problem is that for some tests, like a military push up test, a higher bench press won’t translate into greater push up numbers. Having a big squat also won’t help you pack march 20km either. You’re actually going to have to develop some local muscular endurance, which means some higher rep training. Having said that, I’ve also seen too many great runners who can go all day but fall to pieces when they have to carry something heavy. Muscular endurance is better termed strength endurance and it bears remembering that you first need some strength before you worry about the endurance part of that equation.

The main factors to consider:

We want to avoid the ugly middle ground as much as possible.
For legs that can truly tackle all tests we need a combination of power, strength, and strength endurance.
There still needs to be longer, low intensity, steady state work that teaches the body how to be strong and durable, helps us recover, and builds that big gas tank.

It may seem at this point that you should just add more intensity more often to get the desired result. However, the opposite is true, especially for athletes concerned about maintaining muscle mass. An all HIIT routine led to a 3.7% drop in body mass (and this was in elite endurance athletes who don’t have a huge amount of extra muscle to begin with).[2] What they found was that in a single week of six sessions the training time for best results were broken down like this:

2 x 60min HIIT sessions.
2 x 150-240min low intensity sessions (that included 6-8 5s maximal sprints).
2 x 90min low intensity sessions. (<80% max heart rate).
If you add all that up what you get is about 22% of the week being HIIT and 78% lower intensity. The down side is that while this training was effective for increasing VO2max and time to exhaustion I’m also sure that most people don’t have 11 hours per week to focus solely on the various elements of energy systems work without taking into account the strength endurance protocol.

So how do you create a plan that provides for this?

The easiest way to get the low-level work in is walking. Not loaded walking like with a pack. Just walking. A recent study by Song et al found that, “A short walk in a forest can have significant physiological and psychological effects on middle-aged hypertensive individuals. Compared with walking in the urban environment, walking in the forest environment significantly increased parasympathetic nerve activity and significantly decreased heart rate. These results are consistent with those from previous studies that examined physiological responses to a forest environment in young adults. HRV responses are often detected during relaxed states such as during rest, a massage, or after performing yoga. Therefore, we concluded that participants who walked in the forest were in a physiologically relaxed state.”[3]

Why is this so important? Because high intensity training can burn you out mentally and physically quickly. In the original Tabata study all participants said they wouldn’t repeat the protocol because it was so draining. Given it only lasted six weeks and our plan needs to be one we can use for years we need something that is more sustainable. Charlie Francis, Ben Johnson’s legendary sprint coach, had this to say about CNS fatigue, “CNS overtraining is caused by high intensity work occurring too frequently in the training cycle, in too high a volume in a single training session, or by the attempt to introduce high intensity work too rapidly into the program when residual fatigue still exists. Symptoms of CNS fatigue include loss of performance or technique, frequent cramps, involuntary trembling or shaking of the muscles after a workout, flickering eyelids, loss of concentration, sleeplessness, and general malaise”. So we probably want to avoid that.

The reason why the low intensity work features so prominently in these plans is because it has a calming effect on the nervous system. The best way to think about HIIT style training is that it represents the icing on the cake. Low intensity work is the cake. If you really want a great end product you better make sure you have some cake to put your icing on.

So goal one of the program is a daily 30 minute walk, five days a week. On the 6th and 7th days, when you presumably have more free time and flexibility a longer one-hour walk is required. That gets us four and a half hours of low intensity work per week, which means we can spend between 50 and 60 minutes each week on our anaerobic and strength endurance work. I can’t stress enough that the walking is the most important part of this entire program. Without it the high intensity work may be too much and you’ll soon find yourself sick or injured.

The following sample program gives an idea on how to set up the time each week as best as possible for maximum return. The conditioning protocol used hits the entire body extremely effectively – you’re likely going to find muscles, particularly around your abs, that you haven’t ever felt. I’m not kidding when I say that I’ve had clients suffer extreme muscle soreness for days the first times they’ve used these protocols.

Because the repeat sprint protocol is so hard on the body, and the primary source of running injuries is a body not prepared for the length, frequency, or speed of a session you should follow the following 4-week break in plan to running:

Sprint length – 50m.
Frequency – two times per week.
Rest – 3mins between sprints.
Sets – 10

Week 1 – 30m
Week 2 – 25m
Week 3 – 20m
Week 4 – —

Rather than try to start from zero and hit maximum speed straight away in week 1 you’ll smoothly accelerate up to top speed over 30m and run the last 20m hard. In week 2 you’ll accelerate a bit harder and build up to top speed over 25m before finishing hard over the remaining 25m. In week 3 it’ll get a bit faster still and you’ll be at top speed within 20m and then blast the final 30m flat out. In the 4th week you go as hard as you can right from the start for each sprint.

Workout plan:

To make the body strong enough to withstand both the rigours of running as well as make it truly strong and fit, our training plan needs to cover multiple fitness qualities. To cover multiple fitness qualities in a single week means that a conjugate training template is needed. The short version of this is that we want to cover speed/ power, max strength, and strength endurance, in that order, in a single week. They are placed in that order because as fatigue mounts up the ability to work with true power decreases so it makes sense for speed and loads to decrease as the week progresses before a rest on the weekend to rejuvenate.

After every sprint strength session perform 150-200 reps of abdominal work. I suggest picking 5 exercises you like and working through 3-4 sets of 10 for each in circuit fashion. Given the size and strength of the spinal erectors it is critical that abdominal strength be developed and maintained at a level that allows effective counter-balancing of spinal erector strength.

There is a caveat to this type of work – you can’t begin this plan until you’ve gone past the beginner stage for conditioning. The beginner phase is two years of 300+ hours annually of low intensity endurance work. That’s 6 hours a week for 50 weeks a year for 2 years to get past the beginner stage. If you are sitting there thinking that perhaps you’ll never get to this workout then you are right – this is not a beginner workout and most people are absolute beginners when it comes to conditioning work. You don’t walk in the gym and start trying to lift as heavy as possible on day one and you don’t earn sprint conditioning on day one either. Spend the time to build the base. You may find, as most of my clients do, that they don’t really need anything beyond the base layer anyway. I have only a handful of clients now who are ready for this type of work and they have been with me for years. If you attempt this without having built the base adequately you will get hurt, or your fitness will actually go backwards.





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The A Game

Recently on social media I saw a post by Craig Liebenson, a well known clinician, regarding comments made by Mike Boyle, a well known strength coach. The summary of Boyle’s comments are that more people should train at a higher intensity. His argument is that most people have never trained hard enough and that they’re wasting their time on lower intensity work.

This is absolutely untrue and anyone who has actually spent a lot of time training people will know why. I know Mike has a great history with college athletes but as his business and reputation has grown he has moved from college strength coach to PT business owner. I doubt very much he is getting up at 5am to be there for his 6am members and run them through their workouts. In other words, like many training gurus online, he is out of touch.

Many people train for many different reasons. Perhaps the most common is aesthetics/ weight loss with performance in a recreational activity somewhere in the mix. However, if we’re being honest with ourselves the most important reason anyone enters a gym is health. To be healthier so that they can live a longer and more fulfilled life. To see their kids and grand kids grow up and to be a good role model for them. Health comes first. If you don’t believe me, try training for a marathon with a broken leg. You need to be healthy before you can worry about anything else.

If I could speak to the trainers in the room for a moment – you want your clients to get the best possible result right? Because you know that if you give them both what they want and what they need you’ll have a client long term. Here’s the thing… 70% of adults are overweight or obese. Of children aged under 19, 60% are expected to be overweight or obese by the time they reach 19. It has become common for people to be well beyond a normal BMI range.

And that’s the thing about common. We begin to call common normal. They are two very different things. 70% of adults being overweight is common. It is not normal. Science has spent a great deal of time figuring out what is and isn’t normal for the human body and we have mountains of research on millions of people that points to a rough size and shape that we should all be. However, as portion sizes have grown and snack foods have become more palatable and harder to resist then it has become more and more common to see people massively overweight.

So if we’re being honest as fitness professionals the most important thing we can offer someone is not higher intensity training. It’s fat loss. Because obesity is a leading cause of death. Not only are the high blood pressures and high cholesterol counts that come with it deadly but being obese has also been linked to 11 different types of cancer. If you’re not addressing this with your customers, turning a blind eye to the obese elephant in the room, you are doing them a tremendous disservice. The number one service we should be aiming to provide is how to exercise and eat consistently to ensure a healthy BMI is reached and maintained.

In weight training, higher intensity means one thing – heavier weights. Heavier weights need to be lifted with a thing called the valsalva technique. It is a natural breath holding mechanism we have to stiffen the core and allow us to lift heavy things more safely. Do you know what holding your breath does for your blood pressure? It sends it through the roof. If you’ve already got high blood pressure you may as well start each set by playing a round of Russian Roulette if your training involves heavy loads and breath holding. Sooner or later those odds won’t be in your favour and you’ll have a stroke.

Looking at the top three leading causes of death – heart and circulatory disorders, cancer, and respiratory disorders – I hope it’s easy to see a theme where exercise may be concerned. The heart and lungs are easily trainable through cardiac output training, which looks nothing like higher intensity weight training. Cardiac output training is usually set at 30-90 minutes at 120-150bpm, which are levels that are easily met by just about everyone. For people who are fans like I am of the Maffetone method you’ll see that MAF sits pretty comfortably within that range for most people. While the link between the heart and lungs is easily recognised when it comes to cardiac output training it may seem that cancer is the odd man out. As I said before, being overweight has been linked to 11 different types of cancer. These include breast (post-menopause), bowel, kidney, liver, endometrial, ovarian, stomach, oesophagus, gallbladder, pancreas and prostate (advanced) cancers.

In the fitness industry these days it’s all the rage to push higher intensity sessions, particularly if you offer those on a reduced time frame. It’s far more common to see people advertising 3 x 30 minute sessions of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) than it is to advocate walking for an hour a day. I get it – people don’t like to exercise and are time poor so many fitness businesses would rather lie to you than try to sell you something they know is more effective. And, doesn’t it sound more reasonable that if you work harder more often than not you’ll be in better shape?

Actually, the converse is true. As it turns out there is no real gain to be had beating yourself senseless week after week. As it turns out far greater gains in fitness can be had by doing easier sessions than harder ones. This scientist, Seilor, did some studies on a lot of athletes over a period of decades and what he found may surprise you. He found that the best athletes in the world spent roughly 80% of their training time below 70% intensity. The remaining 20% they did indeed work hard but as total volume went up, and more and more time was spent at these lower intensities of 70% and below, their results improved. Training volume was dictated by sport more than by anything else with runners having the lowest total training hours per year and cyclists and rowers at the high end, with swimming in between. (That’s quite normal as running is far more stressful on the body than cycling or rowing so it’s not that the athletes don’t want to train more it’s that they can’t as their recovery needs are higher).

At higher heart rates the heart never is never able to fully fill before it is forced to pump blood around the body again. That’s a problem when it comes to developing a bigger, stronger pump. To force the heart to become bigger it needs to hold as much blood as possible for an extended period so that the tissue adapts. Only at these slightly lower intensities in the 120-150bpm range does this happen. Higher intensities do not see this adaptation take place. Nor, interestingly, is it possible from strength training despite the rise in heart rate during training.

At this point people will say that strength training is different in how it forces change in the body and that higher intensities are needed. Well, it’s not. We have one CNS and it responds to stress the same way regardless of whether you go for a run, lift some weights, or fight off a tiger. When your body is stressed all it cares about is survival – that’s why it’s called fight or flight mode. We only improve physically – whether that be dropping body fat, running faster, or lifting more weight – when we are in the rest and digest side of the nervous system. And Russian research on lifting shows this to be true as well with elite lifters averaging 72% intensity year round. So again, regardless of whether we’re talking about strength or fitness this 70% number seems to crop up an awful lot.

So that’s for elite athletes, but what did his research say about recreational athletes like you and me?

Interestingly enough there aren’t many studies done on recreational athletes. But a recent one by Esteve-Lanao showed that recreational runners performing 4-5 sessions per week and totaling 6-10 hours of work benefit with the same polarised training effect as elites do seeing an improvement in their 10km run times at the 7 and 11 week marks. I mention this because what normally happens at this point is that people hawking HIIT will suggest that people don’t have 15+ hours per week to train like an elite athlete and that HIIT is a far better way to get the best bang for the buck in terms of training. That is completely untrue as the science shows.

And where does this leave something like walking – the lowest intensity activity you can do and still call it exercise? As it turns out walking has a lot of good stuff attached to it, and features heavily in my 28 Day Challenge as a corner stone of health based training. Recently, this article here described what happened to a man who spent a month walking all day long. He spent 29 days walking 486 miles along the Colorado Trail. The end results are quite interesting. The summary:

  • Body fat dropped from a healthy 13% to an amazing 5%.
  • Resting heart rate dropped from 48bpm to 40bpm.
  • Blood sugar dropped back to within normal ranges, cortisol decreased, testosterone doubled.
  • He went from burning 66% fat/ 34% carbs at 110bpm to 91% fat/ 9% carbs. At 145bpm he went from 52% fat/ 48% carbs to 70% fat/ 30% carbs. His lactate threshold went from 153bpm to 168bpm.

What does all this mean? Well, he lost body fat and increased performance massively solely by walking for 8-10 hours a day. As an older guy I would love to double my testosterone production while simultaneously nearly halving my cortisol production and body fat.

Here’s the thing about lower intensity training that all the salesmen who are out of touch miss – it’s healthy for you. Higher intensity training raises cortisol. That’s one of the markers typically associated with being stressed. If you’re in your 40s or beyond, with kids, a stressful job, and you’re like 70% of the world and you’re overweight, guess what…? You’re already stressed. The body can only ever adapt to so much stress at once and if you’re up to the eyeballs in stress your chance of increasing fitness is zero. The best thing you can do for yourself is to remove stress and lower intensity training does this. It’s not uncommon for guys in the 28 Day Challenge to drop 4-5kg in a month because of a focus on correct eating and stress reduction. The training is actually incredibly easy – because the focus is on stress reduction so the body can adapt. We make zero effort during the Challenge to stress the body more. Suggesting that an overweight, stressed out, father of three, who is the sole bread winner should come to the gym and smash himself with higher intensity may as well be suggesting that the best thing for him is to let a pro boxer beat his brains out. What he needs is a figurative fitness hug so his body can drop some of that stress and actually adapt to training. In general, in today’s world, people need stress reduction in their training, not stress addition.

If we’re all being really honest with ourselves in this health first training paradigm then what we should also be admitting is that we want daily activity, not sporadic activity. There are plenty of studies that show 10,000 daily steps to be a cut point for health and weight control. There are likewise many studies to show that daily activity is far healthier than sporadic 2-3 times a week hard gym sessions. Again, in the fitness industry there is a split between trying to advise people what is best and what is easy to sell. Many sadly choose the latter, although probably have far less money stress than I do. I doubt the guy who invented P90X worries about money.

The reality is that if you asked a trainer which they’d prefer – a client who trains 2-3 times per week or one who does something every day, I know what their answer will be. Only a fool, or someone with something to sell, would ever tell you that less is better. And the way exercise works is that we adapt to it. One of those adaptations is decreased muscle soreness. So my guy who does something every day will actually suffer less muscle soreness than the person who trains intermittently. Watching people at this time of year try to make change in the gym it is easy to see how discouraging muscle soreness can be to the untrained. I would rather have a client finish a workout and have zero muscle soreness so they could come back the next day than be so sore they need to take a few days off to walk normally again. Because at the end of the day my client who trains 6 times per week will have 300 hours of exercise at the end of the year. Meanwhile your client doing HIIT is going to have 100-150 hours. And who do you think is going to be in better shape? And forget just the first year. As I tell the guys in my 28 Day Challenge it’s not about this month or even this year. This is a game we’re playing for the next 40 years.

So who is in better shape at 60? If we say they start worrying about their health at 40, they’ll accumulate 20 years of training. My guy has 6000 hours of health and fitness activity. Your HIIT guy has 3000. My guy is literally twice as fit and conditioned as your guy despite never having to been destroyed in the gym – as if he has another 20 years of training on top of what your guy has accomplished. Let that sink in – in the same period of time I gave him an extra 20 years of training in comparison. I have gradually, and easily, over time gently nudged my guy’s fitness ever forwards. Meanwhile you’ve savaged him with beating after beating to try to get him there, knowing all along that it is a fruitless endeavor, because volume trumps all eventually.

Circling back to cardiovascular training at low intensities and stress we also need to understand that lower intensity aerobic work has a stimulating effect on the nervous system. It removes stress. If we picture our typical client – over 40, overweight, stressed, and needing to change surely we should be picking a training method that will help him fix all that as fast as possible? And lower intensity, high volume and frequency, continuous output aerobic training is it. It will teach the body to more effectively utilise stored fat as a fuel, burn more energy than any other form of training (especially if really overweight as the body is forced to carry a greater load), and lower stress in the body. While strength training is an important part of the overall fitness equation, if I have to pick one gift in the gym for my client I will pick longevity and health always over anything else.

If you’ve skipped to the end hoping for me to sum things up succinctly, here it is:

  1. Most people are stressed and overweight.
  2. Leading causes of death are more likely influenced by being overweight and having a weak set of heart and lungs so training should reflect that.
  3. Adding high stress workouts to a system already under pressure won’t make things better in the long term.
  4. Higher intensity isn’t actually the most beneficial form of training – for strength, fat loss, or cardiovascular improvements – and will likely slow down progress at best, or cause eventual injury or a health issue at worst.
  5. A focus on intensity and performance neglects what should be a health first focus.




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Running technique 101

As someone who spends every day watching people move and then trying to get them to do it better I am always amazed at the illogical approach many have to exercise. If I asked someone to make me a three-course meal, who had never cooked before, and told them that all they needed to know was how to turn the oven on I’d be laughed at. But somehow when it comes to exercise many people think that all they need to know is how to tie their shoes up and they should be fine from there on.

And the problem with running is that it is supposed to be a natural, instinctive movement – something we’re all born with. But we’ve got the movement skills of a six-year old.

I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say something similar to, ‘How you run is how you run”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Running well is every bit as technical and detailed as any other form of exercise. From foot placement to hand position to how to breathe there is beauty and artistry in running well. Taking the time to do it well will have a reward just as big as improving your squat technique or pronouncing words correctly in a new language.

But, and there is a big but, there is no evidence at all to show that all these supposed “technique” coaches you can now find are actually doing any good. In fact, there is research that shows that altering a runner’s natural stride and form actually slows them down and makes them less efficient.

Lydiard hinted at this in a famous article featured in Sports Illustrated in 1962 where he said, “Forget about form. If a joker throws his arms around, that’s fine, so long as he is fit and relaxed. Then he runs smoother and easier, and form takes care of itself. We want the chap who can run for two or three hours and come back looking as fresh as he did when he went out”.

The thing that separates the best runners in the world from the rest of us is their ability to hold form while running. This skill is hard won over many years of pavement pounding and is one of the main reasons why you don’t see many great young runners in distance events. But the fact remains that the elite have spent many years perfecting their form just the same way a boxer learns the ins and outs of the fight game. As they’ve developed higher and higher skill levels they display this by racing faster and further.

A good runner is one that has learnt what it takes to go fast. When was the last time you went out the door with the sole intention of figuring out how you run and how to make it better?

Before any discussion can be had on training plans, pacing strategies, or which shoes to buy we need to first look at how to run. It sounds so simple, but trust me, it’s not.

My friend Rob de Castella, a former world champion and world record holder, knows a thing or two about running. During one of our conversations about running he gave me the simplest truth I have yet heard.

“Running is about kicking the earth as hard as you can on each stride”.

The physics is simple – the harder you push the earth, the harder it pushes you back which results in forward motion – Newton’s third law in action. But usually people are so distracted while they run that they may not even have realized this is what is happening. Perhaps they’re tuned out by listening to a favourite track, or they’re looking at the scenery to distract themselves from the pain they’re feeling, or maybe they’re busy thinking about how they need to tackle a problem at work. If I can give you one piece of advice immediately to carry through all your training from now it is to eliminate distractions from your running. Focus on making every step of every run more perfect than the one preceding it. Tune into your body and don’t be distracted by your iPod.

Running form discussions are usually derailed by minutiae. One minute some guy stumbles out of the desert saying he’s just been hanging out with some amazing barefooted Indians who are powered by chia seeds, and the next a Russian guy is talking about energy return, while at the same time there’s a guy in a lab coat telling you that the most important thing is the gravitational effect of Mars on earth’s atmosphere and if you time your running to coincide with the alignment of the planets that you’ll be faster.

The problem with a lot of the commentary on running technique is that most of it is based on personal experience. But in today’s world of information overload all of a sudden we have access to a nearly limitless supply of personal experience, albeit by other people.

But let’s make this as practical and based in science and biology as we can. After all, despite all of us on the planet being different, we share the same biology, so what works for one body will largely work for another.

Underneath the body are the legs. While the mass above the legs is largely non-functional mass in relation to running, the legs need to serve a variety of functions from support to shock absorption to force generation. And during each stride they’re performing all these actions at once. Underneath the legs is the ground, and as we said before, we need that so that we have something to kick against to provide propulsion for us.

Running is best described as a series of one-legged hops done in rapid succession.

Propulsion and lift off: When you push off.

Recovery: When you pick your leg up and extend it.

Impact and braking: When gravity brings you back into contact with the ground and friction halts your forward motion.

While we could break out here and discuss enough scientific research to make your head spin the most important take away is that your legs effectively act like springs throughout your run. “Tread lightly” takes on a whole new meaning when you start to consider the impact these forces have on your performance.

Many running coaches will try to shoe horn you into their idea of universal good form. Given that we are all built slightly differently, and that limb lengths, weight distribution, and even previous injury will change the way we run trying to achieve some textbook ideal for form isn’t going to work. Not only that but it will likely lead to injury.

I’m not sure perfect form exists in relation to running for most of us. With individual discrepancies in limb lengths, heights, and even body composition most of us will never move like an elite runner. Trying to shoe horn your body into someone else’s mechanics can be a fast path to injury. That being said there are some consistencies that hold true for all of us that can be worked on.

The Head. Good posture remains the same regardless of where you are or what you are doing. A neutral spine has a head position that is the same whether you are sitting, standing, or running. If your head is pushed forwards because you spend all day staring at a screen or slumped in a chair you’ll carry that same head position when you run. Because the head is so heavy it needs to be counter balanced somewhere else in the body. What happens is that to counter the weight of your head going forwards you tend to push your butt out behind you. This leads to a break at the hips so that you are never actually standing tall as well as heel striking.

With the head held in a neutral position you should be able to look at the ground at a point about three metres in front of you while simultaneously being able to scan for low branches.

The Shoulders. Good running involves little in the way of upper body rotation. In fact, the entire reason for moving your arms is to counter rotation to keep the upper body still. One of my pet peeves is people trying to run with what looks like military posture. If you try to run ramrod straight you won’t be able to use your arms effectively. The shoulders should round slightly, not enough to cause rounding of the upper back, but enough that the arms can swing freely.

The Back. While the back shouldn’t be held ramrod straight, as if you are a soldier standing at attention, it shouldn’t have excessive curve to it. An excessively curved back is a sign that some strengthening is needed to maintain posture while running. Without good posture you won’t be able to effectively counter all the forces created while running.

The Arms. The arms should hang in a relaxed manner from the shoulders. It’s all too common to see runners with their shoulders shrugged up near their ears and wonder why they unduly fatigue when running. The goal of running is relaxed economy and the arms play a big role in that. In distance running the arms swing from a point just outside the body to a point almost in the centre of your body, in line with the bottom of your sternum. As one of my triathlon coaches once said to me you should think of flicking your nipples as you run. As you speed up the arms will move in a straighter line so that they travel more parallel to the hip instead of this slight cross-body action.

The arm action itself is not one of pushing the arms forward, but pulling back and letting it relax on the way forward. It is the elbow drive backwards that pulls the opposite knee up and forward, so focus on elbow drive backwards, rather than on arm swing forwards.

The arms themselves will be held at about a ninety-degree angle at the elbow on the backswing. As the arm swings forward this will close. The main thing to remember is to stay tight and compact without wild swinging motions of the arms that waste energy.

The Hands. The hands should be loosely clenched as if holding a small stick in each hand. One well-known triathlon coach, Brett Sutton, even makes his athletes run with M&M containers in their hands to enforce this. They are easily spotted even years after moving on from him as they all run with imaginary M&M containers in their hands with thumbs suspended midair over where the top of the container would be.

The Wrists. Every time your wrist bends or the hand flops around you are wasting energy. Like with the back we don’t want joints held rigidly but there needs to be some firmness. Think of making the body like a young tree branch – springy and bendy, yet firm enough to give structure. If, on the other hand, we make the joints rigid and hard like an old branch, we become stiff and inflexible, unable to generate the kind of bounce needed to run well.

The Pelvis. Many people spend their days in what is called anterior pelvic tilt – that is with the pelvis rotated forward. While this may be your natural stance it is not ideal for running. This position is often due to overly tight hip flexors. This over tightness needs to be addressed otherwise the thigh is not free to extend backwards on each stride. For many people slightly rotating the pelvis forward will simply bring them back into neutral. A good test for this is that if you push your hips as far back behind you as you can (imagine Beyonce twerking to get this position) you’ll feel your abs are disengaged. If you begin to pull your hips towards your rib cage you’ll feel your abs start to engage. At the point where your abs are lightly activated you are now in a good position to run where the leg can swing freely underneath the body. The pelvis and the back must be working together to allow you to “run tall”.

The Legs and Feet. Before we discuss how the legs and feet operate we need to differentiate between “ground contact” and “landing”. Merely having your foot on the ground doesn’t equal having all your weight on it.

Percy Cerutty believed that running should be a free and uncomplicated movement. Work on relaxation before you worry about speed or distance – think easy, light, and smooth. We’ll get to fast eventually, but to start with let’s work on those three. One of the biggest benefits of running slowly is having the mental space to work on the dynamic relaxation required for running. If you can’t run relaxed and economically at 6min/ km you certainly won’t do it at 5min/ km or 4min/km.

So where do we begin? Tony Benson has this to say:

“First we need to practice getting the landing right. Start by jogging on the spot and feeling the natural landing position. As long as you keep your body vertical you will stay on the spot. If you want to move forward simply push your butt forward (don’t arch your back) so you are leaning from the heel not the waist and you will move forward (actually you will accelerate forward) naturally. Now find a straight line (i.e. as on a track) and start running along it. Have someone check your landing. Your right foot should cover half the line when it lands and your left should also cover half the line on landing. If your feet are not landing in this way or your heel is ok but your toes are pointing out you are not landing under your centre of mass. If you are landing in this way the outer edge of the foot will make contact first because the foot has a natural tendency to hang that way when relaxed while the backward pulling action will automatically align the foot into the correct position. The landing will also be relatively light because the foot is not landing all at once.

If you are landing correctly the foot, lower leg and thigh will have been swept backwards at the time of landing because if your landing is not active the heel will hit first and the braking effects that accompany a full heel landing will occur.

To be successful in achieving a correct landing position you will need to develop the power to be capable of applying a millisecond of downward force as the lead arm is pulled backwards. The corresponding downward drive of your opposite leg then causes your body to rise. This means your foot has more time to swing back into a position directly under your body.

Landing under your body means your foot spends less time on the ground than if you land on your heel with the foot out in front of your body because you do not spend unnecessary time pulling your body forward to get into a position to push off into the next stride. More importantly if you have ever been told to “lift your knees up” or to “run tall” ignore these poorly stated directives because, as per Newton’s law, to focus on lifting the legs will cause the hips and indeed the whole upper body to drop”.

Running is every bit as technical as any other activity you can find. It is not a matter of lacing your shoes up, sticking your head phones in and tuning out the rest of the world while you mindlessly plod around the streets.

Make an effort to make every step better than the one before it. Focus on posture, breathing, hand position, how you carry your arms, footfall, and most of all turnover. Your goal as a runner is to keep the body as a stiff spring to make it an efficient energy return device. A large part of that is a high cadence of around 180 steps per minute as it gives you an increase in stiffness for no extra physical training. There is nothing else you can do that can make you 100% better at running instantly. There are many free metronome apps available for phones these days. I suggest downloading one so you can use it in training to monitor your cadence. It is free speed and injury resistance.
Spend some time focusing on not how fast you run but how well. Make every step better than the one before it. The increase in economy will help you run faster for longer than before.

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Body fat facts for over 40 men

The world has changed. In particular, it’s gotten an awful lot fatter. Australia is now 70% overweight.

Let that sink in for a moment. 7 out of 10 people in this country are now overweight. In fact, it’s become so common that we no longer even recognise what someone should look like versus what they do look like.

Now, we’re all men in here so let me give you a few home truths… Do you want to know what happens when you get overweight?

Firstly, as you add visceral fat (that’s the fat around your organs, not just on your belly) you increase your risk of diabetes, and hypertension. Just so you know, for Aussie men diabetes is one of the top ten killers so we probably want to avoid that if we can. Hypertension is linked to a few of the other top ten so it would be good to avoid that too. This is why your doctor freaks out when your blood pressure is too high – because it leads to things that can kill you.

But it’s not just an increased risk of these things that creates a problem. It also leads to this thing called metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is the name given to the combination of visceral fat, low muscle mass, hypertension, diabetes, and insulin resistance. And metabolic syndrome is linked to low testosterone levels.

Why would you want high testosterone levels? Well, because the following are linked to low testosterone levels:

  • Erectile dysfunction and lowered sex drive
  • Fatigue
  • Back Pain
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • High cholesterol
  • Lowered sperm count
  • Man boobs
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Insomnia

And all this just from having been overweight.

I’m not going to suggest that every single guy who is overweight has low testosterone levels but given there is already a decline from age 35 onwards it’s a safe bet to say that if you’re in your forties and overweight there may not be much lead in your pencil. And I don’t know about you but I’d really like to still be able to get busy between the sheets for as long as I can.

So let’s call a spade a spade. Go here and check out recommended weight ranges for your gender and height. If you want to add another layer of detail to your findings you should also have a waist measurement under 94cm. (I’m going to add as reference that at 186cm/ 88kg my waist measurement is 86cm and my BMI is 25.4. Last time I had my bodyfat levels measured they were 11% but that could be up or down 1-2% currently).

If you fall outside of those ranges there is a fair chance you will also have low testosterone levels.

So what do you do about this…?

The first step is to lose some goddam weight. Just because everyone around you has accepted being overweight doesn’t mean you have to. Losing weight not only will help you look better but it’ll make you feel better too from inside out. I’m not talking about shallow vanity, although there is nothing wrong with that, but instead I am talking about sleeping better and being a more active partner because you suddenly feel like a younger man again.

How to get started on this path?

Exercise and diet are the two most important tools in your arsenal. If training is the spark that ignites fat loss then diet is the fuel that keeps it burning hot. It is possible to lose some weight with hard training and a poor diet but those gains will be small and short-lived. For long-term, sustained weight loss, as well as a healthy lifestyle, you need both.

Given that diet is the number one issue people face I’ll share with you the guidelines we use with our own clients based off Precision Nutrition’s system.

  • Eat four good meals a day
  • Eat protein with every meal
  • Eat vegetables and/ or fruit with every meal
  • Carbohydrates only after training
  • Drink zero calorie beverages
  • Eat healthy fats
  • Eat from a wide variety of sources
  • Eat whole foods, not supplements
  • Be prepared
  • Break the rules 10% of the time

It’s still possible to eat too much like this, so how much should you eat? As a good rule of thumb take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 12-14 for a baseline number. Use 12 as the multiplier if you have a sedentary job and don’t do much physical activity and use 14 if you’re a bricklayer who does BJJ four times a week. As an example:

I weigh 88kg (193lb). And I’d say I’m active but my job is still mostly not doing much other than watching people exercise. So I’ll use 13 as my multiplier. That gives me 2500 calories a day as my base number. But that’s to stay where I am right now. If I want to lose weight I need to eat a little less and move a little more. I suggest a 10% reduction in your base number to allow for a slight energy deficit and force some relatively painless fat loss. That gives me a 2250 calorie ceiling each day.

What’s that look like for food? Here’s a recent day where I ate slightly over at 2330:

  • Breakfast 3 eggs and 2 pieces of bacon
  • 180g of fillet steak and a small handful of almonds
  • 180g mince meat and 2 pieces of bacon
  • Protein shake made with mixed berries and water and a small handful of almonds
  • 150g chicken thighs, 2 cups mixed vegetables, cooked in 1 table spoon of coconut oil

This was obviously a very low carbohydrate day as I didn’t have an opportunity to train that day so avoided them as much as possible as per the rules above. But you can’t argue that I didn’t eat much food despite deliberately restricting my intake.

Here’s another day with a few more carbs in it to fuel training. This day was only 1940 calories so I was a fair bit under for the day:

  • 3 eggs and 2 pieces of bacon
  • Protein shake with mixed berries and 1 banana
  • 150g chicken with 2 cups of salad
  • Protein shake with mixed berries and a small handful of almonds
  • 150g chicken, 1/2 cup cooked basmati rice, 2 cups mixed vegetables

Again, you’d be hard pressed to argue I didn’t eat enough despite not even cracking 2000 calories for the day. And this was on a day I trained twice – one BJJ session for 90 minutes and a second 40-minute long cardio session.

The message here is clear:

Low testosterone sucks and it’s a byproduct of being overweight. If you want to be one of the rare 3 out of 10 still able to service your partner for a long time then drop some fat. The best way to do that is with a combination of a solid diet plan like outlined above and via a combination of both resistance and aerobic training methods. If you’ve been overweight for a while this won’t be a short journey. I had a client who took nearly a year to shift 40kg of fat. But slowly slowly, week by week, he lost a little more and then a little more. He stuck to the plan. He stayed active. And now he’s a better dad, partner, and has done some things that only a few years ago he never thought he’d be able to do. He’s loving life and his partner is loving the new him.

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The number one fitness activity for over 40s

Man has spent centuries on packaging the world into a neat space with a roof, lights, and climate control. We tell ourselves that we are advanced, evolved beings because of this. But we’ve got it wrong.

The modern fitness world has spent billions of dollars developing machines and advertising these to you in order to keep you fit and healthy. But they’ve got it wrong too.

After sleep and food, which is in the next chapter, walking is the single most beneficial thing you can do for yourself.

A twelve-year study in1998 by Hakim et al found that men who walked less than a mile per day died at a rate double that of those who walked at least two miles per day.

A 2015 study by Zhao et al found that for men without critical diseases found that Walking ?2 hours/day was significantly associated with lower all-cause mortality. For men with critical diseases, walking 1-2 hours/day showed a protective effect on mortality compared with walking <0.5 hours/day.

A ten-year study in 2015 by Dwyer et al showed that increasing your step count to 10,000-steps/ day lowered risk of death by 46%.

A nearly ten-year study in 2013 by Williams and Thompson found some amazing things relating to walking:

Walking slower than 24.19 minutes/ mile (equivalent to 400m during a 6-minute walk test) show the highest risk of death from cardiovascular disease, heart failure, and dementia.

The risk of dementia increases 6.6% with every extra minute per mile. That is to say, that the slower you walk the more likely you are to develop dementia. During their test they found that the slowest walkers had a nearly three times more likely chance of developing dementia than the fastest walkers.

An decrease in min/ mile pace led to a 2.4% greater chance of cardiovascular disease, a 2.8% increase in risk for ischemic heart disease, a 6.5% greater risk for heart disease, and a 6.2% increased risk for hypertensive heart disease.

  •  If you’re not sold on walking yet there’s another factor to consider. Vitamin D is an important hormone in our health. Low levels of Vitamin D can lead to:Depression
  • Increased risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis
  • Muscle aches and weakness
  • Periodontis (bone weakness relating to tooth loss)
  • Birth defects

Vitamin D deficiency has also been found to be highly associated with obesity. That also means that it can be a pre-cursor to diseases that stem from obesity such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

Do you know what the number one source of Vitamin D is? It’s the sun. This is one of those things where modern gyms have almost got things right but then failed right when it counts. They provide a way for you to increase your walking daily by having treadmills available but they’re inside and under a bunch of fluorescent lights that don’t help you get any Vitamin D. While I understand that sometimes a treadmill is useful – like if it’s cold, dark, snowing, or possibly unsafe to walk the streets – then it’s a great way to add some walking to your day. However, if it’s not cold, dark, snowing, or unsafe it’s probably bet to just walk outside so we can maximize the benefits and absorb as much Vitamin D as possible.

But the benefits of walking don’t just stop with Vitamin D and mortality rates. On a short-term basis walking can help to counter regular daily stress. When paired with sleep it becomes a powerful one-two punch to allow you to turbo charge your recovery.

How can adding more movement to your day help, you ask? Surely everything has a recovery cost? In most cases that is true. Loaded walking, such as farmer walks or rucking, definitely has a recovery cost. However, unloaded walking has a recovery benefit. It’s like moving meditation when it comes to lowering stress hormones in the body and gently coaxing us back to a more recovered state.

For instance, a 2007 study by Morita out of Japan found that walking in nature led to a decrease in stress response and emotions. They measured heart rate variability, blood pressure, pulse, and cortisol as well as subjective measurements of comfort, calm, and relaxation. They found a significant shift in HRV towards the relaxing (parasympathetic) side of the nervous system. Walking calmed the nervous system down. In a world filled with stress, instant messaging, and lack of sleep walking definitively calmed the body down.

This was backed up with a 2017 study by Di Blasio et al that found that post-menopasual women had a significant lowering of cortisol provided they walked daily. Those who walked sporadically did not see any significant reduction.

But we’re still not done with walking…

One of the things I always do is benchmark. I take notice of what the best in an area do and try to emulate it. When it comes to being lean and muscular bodybuilders have it right. Forget the excessive drug use and being as big as a house. At its core bodybuilding is about having a lean and muscular physique – something I am sure many would want.

If you ever spend time with a bodybuilder you will notice one thing when it comes to their cutting phase – there is never any HIIT work. None. Zero Zip. Zilch. Nada. The reason is simple – it is too costly and can actually result in decreased muscle mass. Bodybuilders have intuitively grasped the elements of recovery necessary for muscle growth and, in an effort to always optimize growth, spend the rest of the time doing the minimum they can to get the best result. And that result comes from low impact, easy effort cardio. In other words, they will go for a slow walk.

If you’re a 200lb/ 90kg male you’ll burn roughly 400cal/ hour walking. That may not sound like much, and in relation to many other activities like running (~700-1000cals/ hour) it isn’t. However, remember that walking lowers stress, allows you to absorb Vitamin D, and helps you live longer, so maybe all exercise isn’t about the calorie count. But even with all that taken into consideration, if you walk for an hour a day you’ll burn 2800cals/ week (400 calories x 7 days). One kilogram of fat has 9000 calories. That means that an hour of walking a day will help shave one kilogram (2.2 pounds) off your waistline over a three-week period. That amounts to 17lb/ 8kg over the course of a year – and all with no actual food restriction to achieve it. Who wouldn’t like to lose 8kg of fat over the next twelve months?

However, a more likely scenario for hard training individuals is that if you haven’t got your food nailed down correctly it’s very likely you’re going to over fuel slightly. Having a 400-calorie/ day buffer to take care of any accidental over eating might be extremely useful.

From health and vitality to fat loss and cardiovascular training walking is an amazingly powerful tool. We’ve had great success with walking as a species for the last 650,000 years. You need zero equipment and it’s low impact/ high reward. Add walking daily into your week today and you’ll see the benefits almost immediately.

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Top 4 training tips for over 40s men

It’s no secret that training effectively over forty is harder than it was at twenty or thirty. Muscles stiffen up, joints may not work as smoothly as they once did, and it is harder and harder to control your bodyfat levels.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As someone who can barely see forty in the rearview mirror, and will be closer to fifty in just a few weeks than forty, I’m still managing to train well and here are my secrets how:

1. Bodyfat matters

Over the age of forty-four the leading cause of death for men is heart attack. You know how to avoid having a heart attack? Stop over eating, avoid junk food, and get some exercise in. That’s pretty simple, right?

But did you know that higher levels of bodyfat in men lead to lower levels of testosterone? That’s right. Carrying too much fat decreases the hormone that is largely responsible for being strong and lean. And when testosterone is low cortisol is high. And cortisol is linked to weight gain too!

So clean up the diet and add in some incidental activity to help shed the pounds. The human body has been around for a long time and we spent a lot of that time foraging for food. Searching for food is estimated to have taken us 5-8 hours a day and covered a distance of 15-18km. Most of us now sit still for 5-8 hours a day and pat ourselves on the back for three hour-long gym visits each week. It’s no wonder people struggle to lose weight when they’re only moving ~7% as much as we were designed to. So get walking. We recommend at RPT that our clients walk for at least 30 minutes a day, every day.

2. Make sure to lift weights

Lifting weights may well be the fountain of youth if done intelligently. I don’t mean Crossfit nor do I mean power lifting. The overall workout intensity of a Crossfit WOD may raise cortisol levels too high (and remember that can actually lead to weight gain despite you working out) and power lifting can place large stress on joints that may already be showing signs of wear and tear from years and years of athletic abuse.

I just mean lift some weights. There are plenty of studies that show that lifting weights raises testosterone levels in the long term versus sedentary control groups. (Interestingly one study found that strength training increased DHT levels – the hormone that is responsible for male pattern hair loss. Perhaps this is why older guys who still train often end up looking like Bruce Willis?)

Beyond the hormonal response of lifting weights to help you stay younger there is also that strength training will protect joints and, as you get even older, help prevent falls, or damage from falls. Beyond sixty-five a fall that results in a broken major bone (hip, pelvis, or femur) leads to a three times greater risk of death in the next twelve months. Having both the strength to maintain balance as well as some extra muscular padding could literally save your life.

3. Move more, not less

There has been some recent media hype in Australia about activity levels in the over-40 crowd. Sadly, one of our great endurance athletes, Dean Mercer, had a heart attack at 49 and died. Look, no one ever said elite performance was healthy. To gain the type of fitness necessary to succeed at an elite level requires you to step over the line from healthy training to performance training. Because endurance training is about creating a bigger, stronger heart, just like we train muscles to become bigger and stronger it is necessary to stress the heart so that it adapts too. With normal muscles they actually get damaged a bit so that they recover bigger and stronger. Well, the same applies to the heart. Maybe not such a good idea to damage the heart.

But that is for elite athletes to worry about. I’m not talking about going out and running until you see stars and cough up blood. I’m talking about going for a walk outside. Firstly, did you know that low level to moderate aerobic exercise, like walking, has a boosting effect on the nervous system? It’s like therapy for  your body and destresses it while lowering cortisol. Secondly, did you know that Vitamin D deficiency lowers testosterone? Do you know what’s outside? Vitamin D! So walking outside lowers stress hormones, which raises testosterone, it also helps you boost Vitamin D, which also raises testosterone! Winning.

Don’t count walking as part of your exercise for the day though. As pointed out previously walking is something we are engineered to do for extended periods of time, and many features of our body exist because of walking. Take advantage of them and reap the rewards. (And you can tell all your friends how paleo you are by mimicking cavemen by walking every day).

4. Reduce stress, sleep more, cut sugar

I know it looks like I just listed a bunch of things but it’s all the same. Trust me.

Stress raises cortisol levels. Do you know what fuel you use when cortisol is high? Glycogen. Glycogen is what carbohydrate is called when it is inside the body. Rice, pasta, cereal, bread – those are all forms of carbohydrate.

So, you’re stressed. You burn some carbohydrate from the limited stores you have. Do you know what happens next? Because of how clever your body is it signals that it is low in stored carbohydrate (glycogen). And it tells you to eat some carbs. Now, once you’re eating carbs (which are really just various forms of sugar that haven’t been broken down yet by the body), your body is more likely to burn carbs for fuel. So eat carbs, burn carbs. And then, because you’ve burnt carbs your body once again signals you to eat more carbs and the cycle continues…

The best way to stop this cycle is to firstly reduce stress and the best way to do this is to sleep more. Eight hours is the number. Not seven, not six, and definitely not five. Did you know that 18 hours without sleep leaves you with the same losses to motor control that being 0.05% BAC does? That’s right – six hours of sleep a night means you’re effectively drunk. have a think about that the next time you’re behind the wheel of your car on six hours or less of sleep. You are putting your life, your kids’ lives, your partner’s life, and every single person around you at risk because you didn’t go to sleep on time.

Not only is sleep loss associated with loss of motor control but it’s also associated with impaired reasoning, alertness, concentrating, and problem solving. And, to add to the issues, it’s also associated with higher risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, and diabetes.

Lack of sleep, aside from all that negative stuff (as if they shouldn’t be reason enough), also puts you in a high cortisol state. And you know what that does by now right…? You’re going to wake up already stressed thanks to your insufficient sleep, reach for some sugar and start the whole cycle of anaerobic glycolysis (what that burn sugar/ eat sugar cycle is really called) and you’re going to get stuck there until you break that cycle by cutting excessive carbohydrate consumption from your diet and lowering stress by getting more sleep.

If you’re currently getting six hours sleep try getting seven. I know that sometimes it’s impossible to get eight. I know guys who, if they went to bed and got eight hours sleep, literally wouldn’t see their kids all week. But if you go from six hours a night to seven you’re effectively getting an entire extra night of sleep every single week. And who wouldn’t want that? You’ll feel like you’ve had a long weekend every single week compared to what you’re used to.

It should come as no surprise that if you want to be in good shape at forty-plus you can’t get away with the same things you could at twenty or thirty. The game has changed. Your body, and your metabolism, have both changed too. It’s time to grow up, quit (over) eating garbage, get in the gym, and take some time to look after yourself by moving more. as you add activity into your life you’ll also notice how sleep quality improves and it’ll actually help you stop wasting time at night and get to bed earlier.

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Training for Spartan Race

Obstacle course racing (OCR) is growing in popularity year-on-year. With this growth in participation comes an increase in the number of people training specifically for OCR events. However, I often see three big mistakes when it comes to their training. Let’s look at what these errors are and how to avoid them.

The 3 Biggest OCR Training Mistakes

The three biggest holes I notice in OCR training boil down to running, loaded carries, and grip training. These issues are also right up there in terms of mistakes that cost people the most time on race day.

  1. Running

The first and worst mistake you can make is to forget it’s a running race. Don’t look at all the obstacles and think you only have to run half a mile between each and think to yourself, “well, I can run 800m, so this will be easy.” Because if you plan to do well, you still need to run the entire course, which could be as much as half marathon distance (13.1 miles.)

  1. Loaded Carries

At the World Championships held on the weekend, the guys doing the crazy Ultra Beast (30 miles of torture) had to carry two 50lb sandbags uphill. I’ve heard it was absolute carnage with people just dropping the bags and walking off the course. I’ve heard accounts of up to 25% of the field quitting because of that one obstacle.

But it’s not just sandbag carries, either. There are often bucket carries at Spartan events – in fact, it’s one of the obstacles you’ll find at nearly all the races. In Australia they use massive 120lb deadballs, which are difficult to pick up with wet, muddy hands, and even more difficult to carry the distance required.

  1. Grip Work

The third mistake, grip strength, is one of those things that everyone seems to think they have enough of, right up until the point they find themselves doing thirty burpees for falling off the monkey bars. In a long race, with rope climbs, Tyrolean traverses, Hercules hoists, loaded carries, and heavy drags your grip takes a pounding. And the fatigue of distance running amplifies how easily fatigued your grip will become.

Here’s how I recommend you train each of these areas to prepare for race day.


Firstly, you need to run. If you aren’t yet at the stage where you can run the distance non-stop, you need to work on that before you worry about how fast you can cover the distance. If you’re using an obstacle race to get up off the couch (the precise reason Joe de Sena founded Spartan in the first place) then please follow my walk/run plan to get started.

If you’re able to run the distance continuously, I’d suggest a plan that has four different runs plus an extra day in it. The four runs are:

  • Easy aerobic
  • Intervals
  • Hills
  • Long run

The extra day is for sandbag or pack work, but done walking. The week should be structured with the long run (up to two hours) on Saturday, with the sandbag or pack work done on the following day. Don’t be shy with the time for the pack day – go up to four hours.

Your legs will be tired after both of these days, so the next run will be Tuesday and be an easy aerobic run up to an hour in length. Don’t push the pace on this run, and don’t worry about hills  – just an easy, flat run to shake the legs out.

The interval run is best done on a track. Something like 20 x 400m on a three-minute-interval will work well. Or 10 x 800m on six minutes. Make sure to warm up and cool down for this one as it will lead to some serious soreness, so give your body the best chance to fight it off.

Finally, the hill run fits well on a Thursday. I like doing this on a treadmill so I can moderate the incline. My favorite hill session is five sets of 1km above race pace at 4-5%, followed by 1km below race pace on flat so you can recover. The average of these 2km is your target race pace. Again, make sure to warm up and cool down before this, and don’t be fooled by this as it is still at least a 12km run.

For running the single best resource I have still seen for most people is my book Run Strong. It contains a lifetime supply of tips and hints on getting better at running as well as a foolproof beginner plan to get you running injury-free for distances of up to an hour.

Loaded Carries

Loaded carries need to be in every training session. If you’re not used to doing them you need to spend considerable time on them to gain proficiency at it. As an example of how efficient you can get at them, I recently had eight minutes to get off an airplane, get to the long-term car park, and then to the pet hotel my dog was at before they shut for the night. I grabbed both my carry-on bag and my girlfriend’s bag (it is easier to be balanced) and took off running through the airport, to the car park, and to the car. This was a ten-minute walk done in three minutes.

Now, I won’t lie, I was spent – my grip was fried, my traps were burning, and my lungs were heaving. But I got it done and we picked up our dog. If you plan to be truly Spartan -ready you will need to build up to loaded running (but that’s probably an entire article right there).

Don’t make the mistake of only doing farmer’s walks with easy-to-handle implements. Use overhead walks, rack walks, and sandbag carries. Load yourself asymmetrically and use odd objects. For Spartan you need to be ready for anything.

For a complete breakdown of all the ways you can and should be doing carries to improve your performance check out my article here on Complete Human Performance.

Grip Training

Finally, grip needs to be addressed. Some grip endurance will be handled with the loaded carries. Some more grip endurance will be taken care of with normal strength work, such as pull-ups and deadlifts. But what you need is high rep work to develop massive amounts of grip endurance – enough to last you the many hours you may be on course. A short set of ten reps isn’t going to do it.

This is a great place for two different types of grip work. High rep swings, both with a kettlebell and with clubbells, will help develop great grip endurance. I’m talking about sets of twenty-plus reps, and maybe even as high as fifty per set. Because clubbells are closer to brachiation than kettlebells are, they may actually be superior for grip development.

The other big thing that is going to develop grip endurance is hanging off objects. If you can vary the grip used, that will work even better. If you can hang off tree branches, stair railings, and the like you’ll wind up with a far better overall grip.

If all you have access to is a pull up bar don’t fret, as you can still change the grip each set. You can fold a towel over the bar to thicken the grip. You can drape the towel over the bar and hold onto the hanging ends. You can hold the bar with hands you’ve deliberately made slippery (putting soap in the hands is a favored strongman grip training method) and do hangs. For more fun, soap the hands and then do some kettlebell swings. Make sure no one is standing right in front of you when you do though.

Focusing on these three things – running, grip, and carries – will take care of your OCR plan.

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Four Pillars of Fitness for the Over 40s

I love it when I get emails from people asking me for a “program”. You know how it goes. They want a deadlift plan, or a triathlon plan, or maybe a BJJ plan. What they never seem to realize is that “programs” are for non-beginners. A non-beginner is someone who has all the most important elements of training nailed down. They eat in a way that is conducive to both recovery and bocy composition, sleep enough, are strong enough, move well enough to be able to perform common exercises, and have a heart that is more powerful than an asthmatic hamster’s. Yet there they are with 25% bodyfat, a deadlift that is barely above bodyweight, no cardio fitness, and they can’t touch their toes.

The fact is that there are only four things you can offer most people, unless they are seeing you for specific rehabilitation. Most trainees, despite their protests, are very much still beginners. As beginners there is no need to prioritize one aspect of fitness over another, as they are all equally poor. These four pillars of training are:

  • Flexibility/ range of motion
  • Strength
  • Body composition
  • Cardiovascular fitness

Here are some basic guidelines:

If you can’t touch your toes you are lacking adequate range in trunk flexion. That means that any exercise like the deadlift or kettlebell swing should be off the menu until this issue is resolved. If you cannot overhead squat with your arms in the air and break parallel while maintaining your arm position you are dysfunctional for the squat. This means that all squat patterns should be off the table until it is resolved. Mobility and flexibility come first always. Failure to develop these will see you getting continually on the injury merry-go-round.

Until men can achieve a double bodyweight deadlift they are beginners at my gym. For females this is 1.5 times bodyweight. Men must be able to do five pull-ups and twenty-five push-ups. Females must be able to do a single pull-up and fifteen push-ups. Men should be able to double press 24kg kettlebells for multiple sets of five, while women should be able to do this with 14kg kettlebells. We also set a minimum standard of 100 reps with a 24kg for men snatching in five minutes and the 16kg for women.

Males with more than 20% bodyfat and females with more than 25% bodyfat stay on fat loss programs, including diet assistance until they reach these goals. BMI cops a massive amount of flack from people yet there is an overwhelming body of evidence to show that a BMI of more than 30 results in a significantly greater risk of diabetes type II, and all the corresponding illnesses that come with being overweight and obese such as hypertension and heart disease. For reference, a BMI of 30 would require me to gain 20kg (45lb). You can use this easy calculator to figure it out for yourself and your clients. (

While cardiovascular fitness seems to have fallen out of favour in the fitness world I will guarantee you that once your clients get even a little past forty they won’t care about adding another 5kg to their deadlift but they will care about the health of their heart. It’s well know that I am a big fan of running but I understand that many dislike running. However there are ample fitness tests available in the gym through the use of rowing machines. Our benchmark fitness test is a 2000m row. Men must meet a standard of less than eight minutes and females nine minutes. If they fail to meet that standard then they have to work on their fitness.

Many people eschew cardiac health these days. Many will flat out tell you that cardio makes you weak, or that gaining strength is more important. The number one killer for men aged over 44 is heart disease. The number one killer for women of all ages is heart disease. In other words, actual cardiac fitness is terribly important if you want to stick around for a while. While those who normally will point the finger and scream about body acceptance and fat shaming will also debate my points about BMI, as stated above, there is massive evidence to show the links high BMI values have towards heart disease. Having your body composition/ BMI within normal values is part of being healthy and minimizing heart disease risks.

By now you are hopefully realizing that nearly everyone fails to meet most of these standards. That’s fine – training exists to rid the body of weaknesses. It should therefore be directed at addressing those weaknesses too though. I see too many plans focused on adding more strength to a trainee that already can barely move, is visibly out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs, and is clearly over a desirable BMI.

The best way to do this is to create training plans that feature all four elements at once. One of the things that Crossfit very much has in its favour is the number of circuit type sessions (MetCons) within it. Circuit training is a valuable way for people to address multiple fitness qualities at once. For example, an EMOM of power cleans and airdyne sprints, with a mobility exercise during the recovery period, will address all of the four pillars equally.

If this isn’t feasible then the way I do this is to split each session into three parts. I say three because the reality is that cardiovascular training and body composition training can be linked together. Body composition will also be heavily targeted by the use of strength training and through diet counseling.

My belief is that the majority of people I see need to focus on range of motion. As such at my gym it represents nearly 50% of their daily workout time and includes both the warm up as well as mobility and flexibility exercises between every strength exercise they do. I know many will panic here and say that stretching has been shown to hamper power production but you need to remember that study was conducted on elite athletes and we’re talking about people who struggle to deadlift bodyweight, or even possess adequate range to reach the bar on the floor and maintain their posture. Our warm up takes about twenty minutes and includes both joint mobility as well as stretching and dynamic warm ups in various forms.

The strength portion of the session will usually consist of two non-opposing exercises. This can be either a push/ pull set up such as overhead presses and pull-ups or a lower/ upper pair such as front squats and pull-ups. (And if you can’t tell pull-ups are prized at my gym because they reward having your body composition under control as well as possessing a decent level of strength).

From there we go into cardiovascular conditioning. While I am a big fan of steady state work for many the reality is that for those who only train a few days per week the most time efficient form of training they can do is intervals. Contrary to popular opinion the best way to gain cardiac function is not to lift weights faster but to use something like a rower, ski erg, or Airdyne, if running is out of the question. Running should always be the first choice, but again if we’re dealing with overweight beginners unused to moving then one of the low impact options will be a better choice.

A building needs more than a single support beam to hold it up and fitness built on a single quality is a deck of cards that will lead to injury and ill health later on. Developing all four pillars of athleticism will help you become much greater as you progress. Neglecting one or more will make progressing to truly all-round health and fitness next to impossible later on.

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Tactical Truths

Let’s be honest and admit that for most people training begins and ends with vanity. These people make up the vast majority of the training population. On one side are those who exercise for health because they were forced to. These people need to lose weight and get their hearts working again to avoid imminent death. And on the other side, but in equally small numbers, are those who exercise for sheer enjoyment or due to their profession.

For those on either end of that curve aesthetics isn’t their prime concern. Of course if you are obese and start to exercise regularly and watch what you eat you’ll look better. And the same goes for the athletes and exercise enthusiasts – they look good but it as a by-product of their training not the goal of it.

For a very small group that consists of law enforcement, military, fire fighters, combat sports athletes, and paramedics the only concern is how well they can execute their job. Unlike most of us if we are slack in the gym it doesn’t have too much bearing on the rest of our lives. However, if a fire fighter is lazy with their training perhaps they cause their own death, or that of a crew member.

The internet is filled with training for tough guys based on what many people believe to be the best path. Mostly they are so wrong I don’t even know where to start. If you have tactical aspirations the following list should help you weed out the useless from the useful.

Running matters

I know running cops a bad rap from a lot of people. They say it’s got a massive injury rate. They tell you that you’ll end up skinny and fat. They say you’ll lose muscle. Personally I have found none of that to be true.

The simple facts about running go like this:

Most tactical groups have some kind of running test so you need to run at least well enough to stay qualified.
Running is the fastest way to get fit.

Running helps you maintain the correct bodyweight.

Maintaining your running once you’re fit is easy and doesn’t require too much work. However, getting fit in the first place can be difficult, which is why I steer people towards the beginner running plan found within Run Strong.

Bodyweight matters

As a side effect of the bodybuilding craze many people still associate bigger with better. When it comes to actually using your body for something that is untrue. Bigger may be better however it may also be detrimental to your performance.

Like with running there are some simple truths about bodyweight that you can keep in mind to help figure out if you need to gain or lose weight.

If you are unable to run fast enough to meet your goal time try losing some weight. Running speed is greatly effected by body mass and a small drop in weight can lead to big gains in speed.

Most tactical groups have testing centered around bodyweight exercises. In particular, pull ups become substantially easier with small decreases in weight.

Correct bodyweight for each person is a very individual thing. Not only that but it can change depending on your goals. For instance, for SEALFit’s Kokoro camp I weighed 88kg. I was running plenty but I also was heavily focused on strength too to cope with workouts like Murph done while extremely fatigued. Yet for the BJJ Masters Worlds I weighed 85kg to make my weight class. That small change in bodyweight while losing no strength actually made me feel stronger and fitter.

In general law enforcement can get away with being a little heavier than those in the military as their work is far more anaerobic. It’s not likely a police officer will need to ruck for ten or twenty miles ever, yet that is common place in the military.

Stand up fighters will benefit from being slightly lighter than grapplers. Bodyweight plays a huge part in fighting but even more so in an environment where the weight can be used completely, like when you’re on the ground and lie on top of someone. Stand up fighting also often features longer matches than grappling based arts so the fitness requirements will be more aerobic.

Cardio matters

I am yet to meet a successful tactical athlete who isn’t insanely fit. While running should be the cornerstone of your fitness training you can also supplement it with circuit training, rowing, riding, and swimming. If you have high aspirations, whether in the ring or on the battlefield, cardio should be performed daily.

Strength matters

Bodybuilding, as in adding muscle mass to your frame, and strength training are not the same thing. If you need to wear body armor and carry a weapon all day on a foot patrol you’ll need to be strong. If you need to wear body armor, carry a weapon, and hump your 30kg pack all day long you’ll need to be even stronger. If you want to be able to grab an opponent and arm drag them or finish a takedown you’ll need to be strong enough to move a resisting opponent. You get the idea – strength matters.

But strength doesn’t require hours and hours to be spent in the gym. In fact, brief sessions can work extremely well for adding strength. Three days per week performing a handful of the most important exercises for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps is a good start. If in doubt try the following three:

  • Bench press
  • Front squat
  • Weighted chin ups or pull ups.
  • On one day of the three substitute deadlifts for squats.

Perform a warm up and a few warm up sets of each exercise. Hit them hard and get out of the gym. Your goal is neither to make yourself tired or sore but to see progress. Quite often that means doing far less than you think you can because your work stress is already so high that your recovery is compromised.

The mind is primary

If you’re the sort of person who hits snooze five times or needs three alarms perhaps you’re not cut out for the tactical lifestyle. If you’re the kind of person who thinks they need a drink to prevent dehydration after a five minute warm up then you’re just not ready.

All of the fighters and first responders I know share one key skill. None of them have any quit in them. I’ve watched SWAT team members vomit halfway through a workout and come back for more while a normal person would call it quits. I’ve seen fighters train with broken limbs, bulged discs, and literally with one hand while the other arm is in a cast. I know an SAS member who stayed on operational duties for eight years while needing an ACL repair.

Laziness and/ or mental softness has no place in those who choose this lifestyle. While I don’t believe you need to go to your limits daily I think you need one workout a week tests your mettle. Like any skill if mental toughness isn’t practiced regularly it will deteriorate.

Train hard, train often, and never accept anything other than your very best. You life, and those of your team mates, may depend upon it.

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Tactical Periodization 1

“We trained hard – but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing. And what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while pursuing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.” Gaius Petronius Arbiter, Satyricon, 1st Century AD

There are many things I do daily in the course of my job. One of the things I’m best at, courtesy of having some of the best mentors in the field of exercise science anywhere in the world, is writing training plans. I’m not talking about workouts. Workouts are single shot deals that get you hot and sweaty and make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, while simultaneously doing almost nothing for you long term. I’m talking about the kind of thing that takes you from a skinny, weedy kid and turns you into a powerful juggernaut that could run do a suspect and restrain them or ruck all day if needed with a heavy load and still be effective to fight later.

This is one of the most misunderstood areas of training for most people. They seek to constantly change things up, to vary. Unfortunately for most people what they fail to realize is that this is actually slowing down their progress. Yes, I know bodybuilders have been telling you for years that you need to “confuse the muscles” and split the body into parts. But they also think ingesting truckloads of steroids and standing onstage in your underwear with a bunch of other guys in their underwear is okay, too.

So let’s try to map out some sensible ways to program to actually prosper from your training rather than just get sweaty. Because any idiot can you make sweaty. It takes intelligence to make you improve.  And isn’t that the whole point of training? To improve and to build the body?

Continuity of the training process is vital to long-term success. And continuity implies daily, or near daily training. The first thing to realize is that the body can be trained wholly every day. As Dan Gable said “If it’s important, do it every day; if it isn’t, don’t do it at all.”

However, trying to train daily means that load/effort needs to be cycled up and down. You can vary the load, the proximity to failure, the volume, or the density. It is simply a myth that you can go all out every time you train. People who propagate it have never competed at elite level in strength or endurance events, nor trained for combat. I can remember a SEAL I once met telling me how he’d done the famed Secret Service Snatch Test (10 minutes with a 24kg kettlebell) and then been called out on an eight hour long foot patrol in the steep hills of Afghanistan. He was so depleted from his workout that he was a liability to his team. Take note – top athletes hit their max only once or twice per year – when it counts. And you should consider the same. There is no need to test your limits daily.

So enters periodization. So few people truly understand this word, yet everyone knows it can give a massive performance boost if used correctly. Periodization is all about planning to bring about a peak performance on a given day. It is about cutting the year up into chunks to focus on individual qualities of performance. But what if your life defies planning? What if you’re a soldier or a single parent and your daily needs either wildly vary or are relatively stable?

The answer is tactical periodization. Tactical periodization takes advantage of certain laws of adaptation that Russian coaches keep in mind when they plan their athletes’ training. The important element is that adaptation is cyclical in nature. Every complex system operates the same way – lower valleys tend to be followed by higher peaks and vice versa. Even the stock market operates this way, as discovered by Ralph Elliot over a century ago.

In order to be controlled, nature must be obeyed. Tough guy periodization, as opposed to tactical periodization can be categorised like this:

  • If you seek your limits, you’ll always find them.
  • The next step off a peak is always down.
  • One should step down and not fall off.

The general format for tough guy periodization is: heavy, heavier, even heavier, injury, light, light, heavy… Meanwhile the smart person following tactical periodization goes from strength to strength.

In Russian there is no word for “periodization” they refer to it as “waviness of load” and it is this concept that is most useful to a tactical athlete, whether they be combat or sport oriented. It’s a classic wave loading method that has been around for decades and works exceptionally well to add high levels of strength in any demographic – even in clients aged into their seventies.

A side benefit of this type of training is that it almost virtually guarantees occasional overtraining. This small amount of over training is often referred to as over reaching. While many may think this is a bad idea, the fact is that the body adapts to stress such as this and learns to recover and adapt faster. Not only that, but remember what I said about peaks and troughs? A dip in ability is swiftly followed by a new peak.

Consider the candidate during Special Forces selection. If he were to wait until full recovery before every PT session he would still be in bed while his teammates were out busting their humps. And not only that, but by the end of the course, despite sleep and food deprivation, these same candidates are not only fitter than previously, but they have often gained muscle, too.

This deliberate decision to train in a state of incomplete recovery at least some of the time is necessary for any combat training personnel. But how do you plan this all out and not wind up tearing yourself to pieces? Let’s put this in martial terms:

Let’s say you’re an avid BJJ competitor and train five days per week on the mat. But you have to fit in some strength training too, and maybe some fitness work as well before tournaments. It would be easy to crush yourself in two weeks with a timetable like that so some thought needs to be given to how to best train.

An easy session on Wednesday wouldn’t destroy you for Thursdays class, provided you kept the tempo easy and went at roughly 70%. However, if you did go all out Wednesday you would be sore and stiff for Thursday. Now, this option can be useful, as you could then elect to go all out again on Thursday. While you would be likely to perform sub-optimally on Thursday you could then have an easy day Friday and the body would likely recover. This back-to-back hard session concept can be used once a month or so to see how recovery improves, as well as performance under fatigue. But what about when you add in strength training too?

Let’s look at combinations of volume (sets x reps) and intensity (load lifted, which partners you may have trained with that night, or how many rounds of free training you did):

  • Medium/Medium – Pavel’s “to a comfortable stop” or as Joe Lauzon’s trainer, Steve Baccari, says, “putting money in the bank for fight nights.” These workouts are the bread and butter of training.
  • High/ High – can lead to great gains if followed by a taper, however be cautious and do not stay on High/High for long.
  • Low/High – sets PRs in strength.
  • High/Low – sets foundations for stable gains and is perfect training for beginners.

Intelligent application of these concepts will bring far more improvement from your training than random changing of exercises. In fact, the exercise itself is the very last thing the body adapts to.

The reality is that there aren’t that many exercises. When you strip it down you’ll see you need some kind of push, probably two pulls, squats, and once a week deadlifts. For most people on this kind of schedule they’ll find two or three strength sessions per week to be all they need. Here’s how an entire week might look:


AM – strength – bench press 3 x 5, front squats 3 x 3, dumbbell rows 3 x 6-8, pull ups 4 x 3. Intensity = moderate.

PM – BJJ – 90 minutes including 30 minutes of live sparring at the end. Intensity = moderate.


AM – rest.

PM – BJJ – 60 minutes. Drill only. Intensity = light.


AM – strength – overhead press 3 x 5, front squats 5 x 5, deadlift 3 x 3, pull ups 4 x max reps unweighted. Intensity = high.

PM – BJJ – 90 minutes including 30 minutes of live sparring at end from standing. Intensity = high.


AM – rest.

PM – walk for 30 minutes, stretch for 30 minutes. Intensity = light. Recovery day.


AM – strength – bench press 5 x 5, front squat 3 x 3, dumbbell rows 5 x 10, pull ups 3 x 5. Intensity = moderate.

PM – BJJ – 2 hours open mat. Intensity = high.


PM – BJJ – 2 hours class/ open mat. Intensity = high.


Rest and recovery.

The natural flow from a high intensity day to a lower intensity day allows the body to recover naturally within the week. The distinction between what makes a day light or hard comes down to how many total reps you choose to do. 3 sets of 3 are far easier to recover from than 5 sets of 5. In order of difficulty common rep schemes go from least intense to most like this:

  • 3 sets of 3
  • 4-5 sets of 3
  • 3 sets of 5
  • 4-5 sets of 5

A genuine 5 x 5 is a very tough workout and you may not want to stress the body out like that in more than one lift per session if you have plans to do something else later on. When it comes to deadlifts you’ll find that 3 x 3 allows you to make constant small progress and won’t beat your body up too much. You’re far better off choosing to do a little less in the gym so that you’re fresh enough to fight, ruck, run, or fight off the zombie hordes later. In simplest terms a hard day is always followed by a light day. If you choose to add more training the preference is to add more easy sessions, not more harder ones.

“Tactical Periodization is short term training planning characterized by sharp and near random variation of intensity and volume and showing a bias towards high density. Its purpose is greater fitness, reduction of injuries and simplification of the training process.” – RKC Manual, Pavel Tsatsouline

It must be stressed that tactical periodization does not apply to beginners. They will make better gains on low volume/low intensity, nearly daily practice for a long time.

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Appearance and Performance

I barely ever talk about training because honestly it’s not that hard. Turn up to the gym 2-4 times per week and work hard for an hour at a time and you’ll get stronger and grow some muscle. However, diet isn’t like that. Diet needs to be thought of 24/7 if you want to really get results with it and you need to continue thinking about it 24/7 until you’ve gotten to your desired body composition.

Let’s break down some of the most common myths when it comes to diet and performance so we can start from the right place though.

Appearance Does Not Lead to Performance

One of the biggest myths in the training world is that it’s the type of training you do that determines how you look. You know, that tired old “If you want to look like a sprinter, train like a sprinter” garbage.

If you believe that adage, then taking a look at a picture of Jessica Zelinka and Brianne Theisen-Eaton, you’d have to ask how come two athletes who do the exact same sport look so different? And how come the one who won, Theisen-Eaton, actually looks in worse shape according to what mainstream fitness media would have us believe? Surely Zelinka with her rippling six-pack and better muscle definition should have performed better?

The idea that appearance leads to performance has sidetracked Western strength and conditioning for most of the last four decades. Back when we all started to think you needed to look like Tarzan, the only thing the Russians and Chinese cared about was beating Tarzan on the field. You know, where it counts.

As a result of our focus on appearance, an entire subculture of fitness sprang up around bodybuilding and the hoard of training programs that accompany it. But all of these programs suffer from the exact same thing – a lack of honesty. Honesty would tell you that if you want to look a certain way, then you better hope you have the right parents. Honesty would tell you the amount of fat you have, to show off what your parents gave you, is largely determined not by training, but by diet.

Muscle Is Difficult to Grow

If you’re really after muscle growth, then what you need is a diet focused on getting a calorie surplus. Muscle is incredibly difficult to grow and without a hardcore eating plan you are likely to never gain much irrespective of how scientific your program is. I always have to wear my protective face-palm helmet when I start working with new clients who tell me how easily they pack on muscle. You need to be in a tremendous surplus to gain genuine muscle – 4,000 calories per kilo – as opposed to fat or water. To put that in perspective most people I work with come in the dor eating about 2000 calories a day. In other words, they need to at least double their intake to see significant muscle gain.

Old-school bodybuilders understood that to gain muscle you had to accept the addition of fat and water, though. They would deliberately go through periods of bulking up, assured that when they cut up for a show they’d have new muscle they could show off to their advantage.

How Much Food Do You Need?

Consider that at his peak Jay Cutler was eating a breakfast of nearly 1,000 calories. That should put it into perspective for you. His first meal of the day was:

15 egg whites

2 whole eggs

4 slices of Ezekiel bread

1 cup dry Ezekiel

Total calories: 923

Fat: 18g

Carbs: 103g

Protein: 86g

When you think that most people’s base need is around the 2,000 calories per day mark, it goes to show why your lack of muscle gain has little to do with your training. Hardcore training must be buffered by hardcore eating. Cutler’s second meal of the day was 1,121 calories (10oz steak, 2 cups rice). In his first two meals of the day, he already ate more than most do in an entire day.

I’m sure some people will eat this much after a heavy day of training. But this kind of eating is required seven days a week. I’ve even seen recommendations on bodybuilding forums that people go and eat two to three Big Macs, large fries, and a shake two days a week to help them crack 10,000 calories on those days to help with mass gain.

Still think it’s the training and not the eating? Then explain how top CrossFit competitors manage to stack so much lean muscle on relatively small frames with a training regimen that has far more conditioning work than any bodybuilder would ever dream of. Rich Froning is well known for his non-paleo diet consisting of large amounts of peanut butter, whole apple pies, and thousand-calorie shakes.

You Need Quality Carbs

And if you think you need to ditch carbs to get shredded, then you need to think again. The top bodybuilders will eat carbs close to their competition, only cutting them out in the final stretch to get as lean as possible. But at no point do they consider getting rid of them completely. And they’ll add them back into their diet right before the show to help the muscles look fuller, as well as use them regularly once they return to regular training post competition.

CrossFitters need carbs, too. You simply won’t be able to fuel those intense workouts without them. The difference is that both successful bodybuilders and CrossFitters choose from clean sources like sweet potato or brown rice, rather than sugary treats like desserts (except in Froning’s case).

The saying “you can’t outrun a doughnut” has been around forever, and is completely true. At a certain point it might be possible, such as with Froning or with the amount of training Michael Phelps was doing when he won his record medal haul in Beijing. But most of us don’t have the ability to train for six hours a day in order to justify our doughnut eating.

That means we need to pay more attention to our diet. And sorry to say it, but the mature athletes (those over 35) need to pay even more attention than everyone else. As the body slows down and hormone levels change, you can’t get away with what you could in your twenties.

Tracking and Planning

I am yet to meet anyone who was eating enough on our first meeting for their hypertrophy goals. But because they’re not tracking how much they eat they have no real idea. At our gym we tell people that if it isn’t recorded it never happened. If I see a food diary that isn’t filled in I will assume you ate nothing for the day. It’s only once people start to record and track how much they are eating that progress becomes possible.

As a side note – if you can’t be bothered taking the few minutes daily needed to track your food consumption then how do you think you’ve got the discipline required to eat well and train consistently for long enough to get to your goals?

Like with every well-fought battle it starts with a plan. A good rule of thumb is to take your current bodyweight in pounds and multiply by 12-14 to get a baseline figure. This is your minimums if trying to gain weight.

To begin with, if you haven’t done this before, split your diet evenly into 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrate. If you don’t know how much of what macronutrient is in which food then go to as it’ll do it all for you.

Eat like that for a month and see what happens. If you’re not gaining add another 250 calories/ day. Eat like that for a month. Keep adding 250 calories/ day until you start to see the scales budge. (If you have an active job you will need more than an office worker. The same goes for younger trainees versus older trainees.)

Once you’ve gotten to your target weight you can begin adjusting your macronutrient intake for optimal appearance while keeping performance. This doesn’t mean dropping your carbohydrate or fat intake completely but moderating them for the best combination of both appearance and performance. You’ll likely find that your best performance isn’t at your leanest.

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Build, Bend, Breathe

As a coach you always want perfect. You want people to eat right, sleep well, and train often and hard. You want them to get massages regularly and pay attention to how they walk when not at training.

In your head you know that if you can get them to do everything right then your perfect plan will make them more successful than in their wildest dreams. But the real world doesn’t work like that. Work, kids, decreased hormones, and a body that may be seizing up from too much or too little activity, and suddenly perfect goes out the window.

No plan in the world is going to make up for a forty-year old who trains twice per week and eats well maybe one meal per day. And to make matters worse often these two days aren’t evenly placed in the week. I have a client who trains Thursdays and Fridays. It’s not ideal but it works for his life and he’s been training with us for three years now so it’s working for him.

If we lived in the perfect world with these problems we’d still be able to find a way to get these people to train two hours at a time. But that won’t happen either. My two-day per week guy has barely an hour he can spare in the mornings before he rushes home to help his wife get their daughter ready for school and then get himself to work too. So I needed to find a way to get as much as possible from as little as possible, and I came up with three elements that are the cornerstones of programming for maximal results:

Build, Bend, and Breathe.

Build refers to any type of strength work whether it is resistance training or bodyweight work and whether it is higher rep muscle building or low rep strength building. Bend is flexibility and range of motion work. Breathe is the ability of the heart and lungs to operate effectively. Despite what many will try to tell you no single part of the triad is more important than the others.

However, despite all three being of equal importance I can tell you which area the majority of people lack and it’s bend- especially once they’re past their mid thirties. No one ever stretches enough to maintain optimal range of motion as they get older. Out of all my clients I have three who are adequately flexible to do harder skills. For the rest we aim to make half of each session mobility related. Here’s how we structure things:

  • Joint mobility warm up – this takes roughly ten minutes.
  • Flexibility block – this can be a yoga flow, movement puzzle such as some locomotion drills, or straight flexibility work like Jefferson curls and bridging (which is a great pair to use here). Total time is twenty minutes, including the joint mobility block.
  • Strength work – pick two exercises that don’t compete with one another such as front squats and pull-ups. Perform five sets of the first exercise. In between each set perform a targeted mobility drill for a different part of the body. i.e. if you’re doing pull ups perform a lower body stretch. After finishing all five sets plus the mobility work move onto the second exercise and do the exact same thing picking a different mobility exercise. A total of twenty minutes is to be spent here.
  • Breathing work – If you’re smart and have read Run Strong you know that the magic number for how much hard work you should do in a given session is 20%. That leaves you with four hard minutes of work to do in a twenty minute breathing block. One of the most productive would be 4 x 30s hard: 30s easy on a rower for two full rounds taking a short break between the first and second rounds.

Things not to do:

Don’t get tied into worrying about how perfect this plan is because it isn’t. But if you are only going to train twice per week you’re already dealing with suboptimal. Better to accept reality and understand the compromise that has to be made so you can get the best out of the situation.

Don’t berate yourself for not coming more. Life changes. It may be the only constant in life. Work, kids, partners…all require an adaptable mindset to make the most of the cards you are dealt on any day or week. Do what you can with what you’ve got.

Don’t stress about how much progress you are or aren’t making. Be happy You’ve found some time to come and work at being healthier. The best way you can help yourself is to think about the lifestyle factors that will help you the most – diet and sleep, in particular. With not much training during the week you need to make sure those two things are as good as can be so we can do as much as possible in the gym. If you turn up for two hours a week on two hours of sleep and having had nothing to eat all day except a Coke and large fries my hands are pretty much tied at that point.

Overall you need to keep in mind that this is a compromise. At least if you accept that it is a compromise you can plan around it and minimize the damage versus wishing for optimal and never getting it.

For those who aren’t time constrained but still unsure of how to structure their sessions this plan will also work well – even if you train five or more times per week. Keep the high mobility focus in every session and split the time evenly between all three corner stones. Don’t forget the additional mobility work in between the strength work too as most people need as much mobility work as possible.

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Run right and reduce injuries

Running is weird. Considering that you learn to do it as a child with no coaching at all and that running itself is hardwired into us and was a major reason for our survival as a species, most of us just plain suck at it.

All you need to do is go for a drive early on a weekend and see the horde of zombie-shufflers out there “running” to see for yourself that most people have no idea how to run. But hang out with runners for a little while and you’ll still see that many don’t have any real idea what they’re doing. Even worse are the internet strength coaches “teaching” running who have both no background in running. Their usual advice is so far off the mark it should be illegal.

Heel Striking Versus Forefoot Striking

While there are many basic faults in running, the thing that seems to elicit response on par with a jihad is heel striking versus forefoot striking. “Natural” running proponents will tell you that you should run like you do when barefoot, as that is the way that nature intended and is the way that allows all the structures in our foot to do their jobs properly.

The problem with this approach is that we run differently on different surfaces. Imagine how you’d run across the road barefoot on a hot summer’s day versus on a football field that you knew was flat and where you had no risk of striking glass or little feet-destroying pebbles. They’re two completely different things.

And what you’d probably find, if you checked the bottoms of your feet after running barefoot across the grass, is that you’d have grass stains on your heels, too, not just the balls of your feet. But you ran barefoot. So should you be landing solely on the front half of your foot or is it acceptable to land on your heels, too?

Running Doesn’t Hurt

Most of this debate comes from a particular type of heel strike that happens when running. In a lot of cases, those who land on their heels first do so on a straight leg with the foot in front of the body. This stiff leg acts like a brake and actually slows the body down momentarily, until the body is able to coast up and over the stiff leg.

It’s not until the hips go over the leg that the body can begin accelerating again as you create the next step. Over time this continual action of step-brake-acceleration is terribly inefficient and slow (not to mention the jarring caused by not being able to use your legs as shock absorbers will likely lead to a sore back, knees, and hips).

But, like most things, we want to have this very black-and-white view of what to put where when we run. Forefoot equals good, heels equals bad is what ends up in people’s minds and we then see people try to run landing exclusively on their forefoot.

I’ll tell you now that unless you’re tiny this will likely be a great way to set yourself up for all kinds of lower leg injuries like torn calves or inflamed Achilles. The reason is simple – every step done this way amounts to a single-leg explosive calf raise done with three-times bodyweight. At over a thousand steps per kilometre, that means a simple run around the block for half an hour can see you force your lower legs to deal with over a thousand tons of accumulated force. No wonder people think “running hurts them.” What really hurts them is running poorly, or not being able to deal with all that force.

What Forefoot Running Actually Means

To run safely and properly, we first need to differentiate between what is needed for sprinting and what is ideal for distance running. Let’s be clear: I’m only talking about distance running here. If you ever get an opportunity to watch an elite distance runner land, what you will see is that their heel actually kisses the ground.

The video below has some exceptional slow-motion footage of Mo Farah showing his heel actually making contact with the ground.

Farah’s technique is different to what we spoke of above – the landing on a straight leg with the foot extended in front of the body with the heel as the first point of ground contact. What you see with Farah is that the outside of the foot makes contact first, the foot rolls in slightly, and the heel kisses the ground, before toeing off and repeating on the next step.

This is where people start to get confused. “Forefoot” running doesn’t mean just landing on your forefoot, but focusing on having your balance there. If you stand still you can try this. Focus on putting your weight on different areas of your foot while keeping the entire foot flat on the ground. James Dunne of Kinetic Revolution has a great piece on this forefoot cueing, along with a video by John Foster, which helps to explain it visually.

People always want to argue that the best runners don’t have any kind of heel touchdown at all. But this video below of one of the greatest runners of all time – Haile Gebrselassie  – shows plenty of heel action.

Pain Free in One Session

I recently witnessed firsthand how effective this single change can be for someone. My girlfriend has been suffering from an inflamed Achilles for nearly two years now and any time we try to add some serious running into her training, she suffers greatly.

While on our training vacation to Thailand, triathlon great Jurgen Zack was able to get her to change her running stride (because, of course, she’d never listen to me) to follow the pattern detailed above and work on a flatter foot strike with the foot under the body. She worked on it during a single track session and came away pain free, despite running at a higher pace than normal. She was also 100% pain free the next day – unheard of normally. In the two weeks since that single change, she’s run more and more often and has been pain free both during and after.

Make One Simple Change

All this debate on forefoot versus heel strike is unnecessarily confusing people. For the “truth” about how to run well, watch the Gebrselassie video and do your best to mimic that. Alternatively, read our guide on running form here.

As you run faster and faster and tend more towards a sprint, you will come up on the ball of your foot more and more. But for distance running economy, you’re looking for a fairly flat foot position in the stance phase that has the balance on the forefoot. This one change alone will make the world of difference to your comfort and economy when running.

For a much more detailed breakdown of all things running from injuries to form to training we suggest Run Strong as the best source available.

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The runner's guide to plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis, or more correctly plantar fasciopathy (as an –itis suffix denotes inflammation of the area), is so common in runners it has even been called “runner’s heel”.

The Plantar Fascia is constructed of the same thick tissue type as the ITB, and shares some common traits with ligaments and tendons. Pain for many suffering from this often first forms near the front of the heel on the bottom of the foot during running and later becomes more noticeable when getting up in the morning forcing him or her into a painful flat-footed shuffle, trying not to extend at the ankle or push off with the big toe.

The PF itself is made up three strands, with the central one being the largest and most prominent. As the foot bears weight the PF undergoes a tightening, and it’s been estimated it carries as much as 14% of the total load of the foot.

During gait the PF elongates during contact, storing energy like a spring. As the toes are dorsiflexed in the propulsion phase the PF tenses, shortens the foot and acts as a windlass. Its function is often tied to that of the Achilles as there is a continuous fascial connection between the two. As such the Achilles is often a target for treatment of PF conditions.

Like with most running injuries the most likely causes are often a sudden increase in mileage or intensity, or a shoe change. However a number of other risk factors have been linked such as: obesity (BMI >30), Achilles tendon tightness, reduced ankle dorsiflexion, and foot posture, with high arched, stiff feet being more problematic than a flatter foot.

PF issues can take a long time to resolve – six to eighteen months is common. Perhaps the number one reason for this is that affected runners are not discouraged from running, as long as the pain is stable. On a scale of zero to ten with ten being unbearable pain, runners are actually encouraged to continue as long as the pain doesn’t go beyond five out of ten. Given the way pain can change motor control I feel that this is setting people up for further trouble in the future.

Common treatment is to stretch the calf complex on the belief that the Achilles tendon needs to be unloaded. I would suggest that what is most important is that people’s feet work properly. When the feet are inflexible the muscles are forced to work over time to deal with the lack of range from within the support structure itself. Stretching the muscles responsible for ankle range is fine, but only addresses 50% of the problem – the other 50% of your plantar and dorsiflexion comes from movement within the foot itself. We’ll look at some drills later to address this issue.

One of the biggest culprits of causing PF is a switch to barefoot or minimalist running. I know it’s really sexy right now to run in the thinnest, flattest shoes possible but you’re not a Tarahumara Indian, and chances are you’re too heavy and that your feet are too weak to deal with that kind of stress right now. Barefoot running can take years to get your body ready for, and with the increased loading on the forefoot when running in minimal shoes, particularly on harder surfaces, the calf complex is overloaded. And if your feet are tight and stiff that problem will be doubled.

The best strategy should be to reduce training load by using softer surfaces such as grass and dirt to train on – but not sand as that may make the problem worse – decreasing volume, and adding in stretching for the calf complex as well as mobility exercises for the foot. During this period care will have to be taken that pain isn’t increasing in the PF, and this may mean an abbreviated schedule for an extended period of time until it heals.

But you can make the lower leg strong enough to better deal with running quite easily. Barefoot calf raises will help to strengthen the entire chain that contains the plantar fascia. Often when a part of the body complains it is doing so because a neighboring part is weak and it is forced to over compensate. If the calf is too weak to properly deal with deceleration forces involved in running the plantar fascia will tighten up to cope. Next thing you now you’ve got PF.

The normal protocol is to raise up on two legs, take one foot off the ground, and then slowly lower the heel to the ground. Repeat for sets of thirty reps, three times on each leg. These are actually part of my ongoing maintenance plan for myself these days and I will randomly do sets throughout the day to safeguard my lower legs from any more troubles.

With the obvious reduction in fatigue tolerance to high reps, there’s an association between reduced calf endurance and medial tibial stress syndrome. My take on it – if you get a calf strain/tear, rebuild fatigue tolerance to minimise likelihood of suffering shin pain after the calf tear. (The following comments are by my good friend and super physio Greg Dea).

The association was those who averaged 3 sets of 23 reps were more likely to suffer MTSS than those who averaged 3 sets of 33 reps.

So for me I use the max reps for 3 sets as a test from time to time on myself. If I don’t get over 30 for 3 sets, I’m working on it

 And after achieving 3 sets of 30+, the transition to hopping in training is obvious, or double leg skipping to single leg skipping. But a test of risk for future injury is a lateral hop test performed as follows:

Get two strips of tape, lay them parallel 40cm apart.

Have the athlete hop from outside one strip of tape to the outside of the other strip of tape repetitively as many times as possible in 30 seconds.

Count the reps.

Repeat the other side.

Normal is 5% or less between both sides.


If you start to get PF problems don’t swap shoes as it may cause another issue elsewhere. Instead swap the surface you are training on and look for a softer surface such as dirt or grass. Finally, make sure your lower legs are strong enough and add in the three sets of thirty calf raises. Once you can hit 3 x 30 reps test yourself on the hop test to make sure that injury risk is minimal as a deficit of more than 5% from side to side is a big indicator of possible future injury.

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Achilles tendon injuries and running

For many runners the first sign of an Achilles injury “comes out of nowhere” as they take their first steps in the morning. As we sleep the feet are pointed and the calf muscles tighten up making it feel as if we’re walking with blocks of wood on the ends of our legs. As athletes we tend to ignore minor aches and pains as consequences of an active lifestyle, however many of the warning signs of impending Achilles issues are there, if we look for them.

Firstly, we need to distinguish from an –itis and an –osis. When you see the phrase tendonitis it infers that there is inflammation of the tendon by micro tears through overloading. This is entirely different to a tendinosis, which is a breakdown of the structure of the tendon in response to chronic overuse. While both present as pain the treatments for both are different, and it is important to make sure the diagnosis is correct. To further complicate matters it is also possible to have the pain caused by where the tendon itself runs through the sheath. Again, treatment is different for an Achilles issue – either micro tears or degradation – versus an Achilles tendon sheath issue.

A final issue that can occur is the complete rupture of the tendon itself. Trust me when I say this – if your Achilles tendon snaps you will not be left in doubt. You will fall to the ground as if shot by a sniper. Recovery from a complete rupture will require reattachment or repair surgery and will be around twelve months before you can even be ready for regular training again.

Achilles issues, both –itises –osises, are simple to detect. Pain will be localized to the area of the Achilles tendon. If you pinch the area between thumb and forefinger you’ll find it incredibly tender. A partial tear of the tendon will feel the same way so you’ll need a professional diagnosis and scans to differentiate. However, a complete tear will be obvious as there will be a gap in the tendon and you’ll be unable to walk with normal gait on the affected side.

Over the last decade or so there has been a considerable change in the understanding of Achilles injuries, which has followed from the finding by Khan et al. (1999) that inflammation (tendonitis) isn’t present. On microscopic examination it has become evident that the collagen structure itself has begun degenerating and that scar tissue has begun forming. My belief is that many patients suffering from Achilles issues worldwide are being diagnosed incorrectly and therefore treatment for their issue, which never seems to go away, is also wrong.

Peak age for Achilles troubles are between 30 and 50 years old. Given most of the problems are to do with degeneration of the collagen structures, and this occurs as we age, it is natural that the issue should be evident in ageing runners. There are studies to show that runners who have run far and fast are most likely to suffer from these problems compared to others who either take up running later or who have not pushed the limits as much.

One of the possible causes is that we tend not to use the muscles for propulsion as we run, but tend to bounce off our tendons. There is a correlation between age, how much stretch can be achieved in the tendons due to loss of collagen, and running speed.

There are other factors though, usually cited as: tight, inflexible calf muscles; hypermobile feet; and overly stiff feet. In other words – every single person who runs may get Achilles tendinosis. Having suffered from Achilles tendinosis for a period leading into Ironman – brought on by a big increase in mileage – I’ve been through all the tests and treatments you could imagine. My feet are stiff, and the calf is forced to take the brunt of much of the shock absorption that my feet won’t.

Looking back what strikes me as odd is that not one therapist did much other than offer me what amounted to a band aid to treat the issue. One therapist did some great work on breaking up my feet so that they were more flexible, however, there was no plan in place to try to make my feet more flexible long-term. Just this idea that my feet were stiff and they would remain that way forever.

Tendon problems should be treated with care as they can quickly go from an –itis to an –osis, meaning that long-term damage has been sustained. Immediately at the realization that there is pain in the area rest must be taken. However this shouldn’t be a few days, or even a few weeks, but is much better as a few months. I know this is painful news for runners (excuse the pun) but isn’t it better to take a few months now rather than risk not running altogether in a year or so?

Studies have shown that eccentric strength training in the calf muscles is an effective way to rebuild tendon cells. Work on these heel lowering exercises should already be in the arsenal of all runners, but if they’re not they need to be immediately added in if these issues arise. These same studies have shown that in injured runners eccentric calf strength – the strength that stops your foot slamming into the ground on each step and helps you absorb the impact forces – is lower than in healthy runners.

Remember that an inflammatory condition – actual tendonitis – will settle in three to six weeks. Anything that takes longer is not an –itis, but has formed into a degrading condition and needs to be addressed differently. Given that the majority of Achilles problems are not inflammatory the use of ice and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, etc. is unproven as part of a treatment plan.

The first step has to be to limit or stop running immediately. My personal preference with people is that at the first signs of soreness in the area that the runner is rested for anywhere from one to three weeks. During this time use activities that do not load the Achilles as much such as cycling and swimming, although you may need to alter cleat position for riding to prevent any further damage being done, and you’ll also need to make sure to only ride sitting as standing may make it worse too.

A note on cortisone injections into an area that is suffering from a tendinosis. Given the condition is one of degradation and a cortisone injection is designed to breakdown tissue to prevent further inflammation it is entirely possible that a cortisone injection could make the Achilles more likely to rupture in the injection site.

Like with most of the injuries discussed, keeping it in stage 1 is vital if you are keen to resume running soon. Injuries that are managed well in stage 1 do not usually linger and no great changes need to be made to training plans. One thing I have found particularly useful for myself as well as those I train who have also been down this path is to never wear minimal shoes. Many “functional” trainers these days get their clients to wear barefoot or wearing minimalist footwear with zero drop soles. In my experience this puts the calf and Achilles on stretch all the time, not just during running and stops it healing quickly. The best bet is to find a shoe that you can lift weights in that has a bit of a heel, but that isn’t too cushy. This allows the calf/ Achilles to relax a little when not running. For me, this little change allowed my Achilles to go from painful to pain free in just two weeks.

Noakes has this as a guideline for Achilles problems in Lore of Running:

Stage 1 (morning discomfort in tendon)

Rest one week before resuming running training as before.

Stretch calf muscles for a total of 20 minutes daily.

Try new running shoes that prevent pronation.

Add 7 to 15mm heel rise to running and street shoes (either by using shoes with higher heels or by using inserts).

Monitor injury progress with pinch test.

Use physical therapy and drug therapy if costs permit.

Stage 2 (pain during running, but not affecting performance).

Continue approach for stage 1.

Modify training to reduce speed work, hill running (particularly downhills) long runs, and weekly distance.

Try an orthotic.

Physical therapy.

Stage 3 (pain during running that is affecting performance).

Continue as for stage 1 and 2.

Rest for 3 weeks.

Try regular cross friction massage to break up scar tissue build up in area.

After 3 week rest, resume jogging, cycling, swimming (no serious running) until injury reverts to grade 2, then try serious running only when injury reverts to grade 1.

Stage 4 (running impossible)

Try approaches for stage 1, 2, and 3.

If these fail, visit an experienced orthopedic surgeon.

Consider surgery only when all other techniques, including repeated sessions of cross-friction massage, have not worked.

(The following comments and suggestions are by Greg Dea, one of the world’s leading sports physiotherapists).

Often, the tendon pain occurs after a temporary increase in tendon loading, for example – increase in speed, volume, frequency of running, or even something as sneaky as running on a cambered surface, like road running where the road slopes a little to drain water, then when you run back home, you cross the road only to end up having the same camber. Be careful also of the “usual run” that has no change in any of those parameters, but follows on from a period of stress in other ways, eg. When you’ve not fully recovered from a fatiguing event. Here’s the responsible advice – don’t be the person whose Achilles tendon pain comes from a medical problem where a fitness solution isn’t right. A quick check with your responsible health practitioner is the first step.

 The good news is that tendons don’t like to be rested, so you’re not going to be expected to simply not do anything. They don’t get better with rest, they get better with modified load. They get better with better movement and better load tolerance in other parts of the body. They will, however, benefit from direct treatment, so get ready to step up and help your little buddy.

 In the Functional Movement Systems, one of the principles that guide clinicians and coaches through injury and movement problems is the three steps paradigm of Reset, Reinforce, and Reload. This applies to Achilles pain too. The Reset means when someone does something to you that removes pain or restores movement you couldn’t do yourself. With advances in self-help, we can use many tools to reset ourselves.

 When it comes to pain in the tendon, for mine, it comes down to whether you have just had pain in the last 24 hours, or whether it’s been hurting beyond 2 days.

 If it’s a fresh Achilles pain, within a day, the active ingredient in simple over-the-counter medicine Ibuprofen has been shown to quieten down the tendon cells that spew out a different water-attracting-protein – the reason for the swelling. You’ve got to block these cells right away – if you miss using ibuprofen straight away, you’ll have missed the opportunity to minimize the tendon swelling in the short term.

 If it isn’t a fresh Achilles tendon pain, the biggest bang-for-buck thing you can do is consider, with your local doctor who’s experienced in sports injuries, the use of GTN patches. GTN, or Glycerol Tri-Nitrate, is usually used to treat angina, as it releases nitric oxide, which opens blood vessels. It’s not clear why opening blood vessels helps Achilles tendon pain, but it certainly does. So many of my Australian Football player athletes with Achilles tendon pain have had their pain abolished within a couple of weeks – if you think that’s a long time, it’s not – these tendons can be painful for weeks to months. You’ll need a prescription from your doctor, who should be familiar with its use in Achilles tendon injuries. If your doctor doesn’t know about it, go to one who does, or provide them with this article to study.

For more comprehensive information on running and how to cope with and treat the most common injuries get your copy of Run Strong here.

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Running 101

Running gets a bad rap from most in the strength-training world. Trainers love to cite high injury rates and point to marathon runners as skinny fat in order to justify their lack of love for an essential human movement. But at some point you may need to run. It could be a marathon or just a 5k. It could be Spartan or Tough Mudder. It may even be a full Ironman. Or it may be for military or law enforcement recruit training. So it’s in your best interest to have some background knowledge on how to run.

Like most things in the fitness world running has also been affected by fads and marketing. While there is definitely some technical detail to running beyond “just run” it also isn’t rocket science.

I’m not sure perfect form exists in relation to running for most of us. With individual discrepancies in limb lengths, heights, and even body composition most of us will never move like an elite runner. Trying to shoe horn your body into someone else’s mechanics can be a fast path to injury. That being said there are some consistencies that hold true for all of us that can be worked on.

The Head. A neutral spine has a head position that is the same whether you are sitting, standing, or running. If your head is pushed forwards because you spend all day staring at a screen or slumped in a chair you’ll carry that same head position when you run. Because the head is so heavy it needs to be counter balanced somewhere else in the body. What happens is that to counter the weight of your head going forwards you tend to push your butt out behind you. This leads to a break at the hips so that you are never actually standing tall as well as heel striking.

With the head held in a neutral position you should be able to look at the ground at a point about three metres in front of you while simultaneously being able to scan for low branches.

The Shoulders. Good running involves little in the way of upper body rotation. In fact, the entire reason for moving your arms is to counter rotation to keep the upper body still. One of my pet peeves is people trying to run with what looks like military posture. If you try to run ramrod straight you won’t be able to use your arms effectively. The shoulders should round slightly, not enough to cause rounding of the upper back, but enough that the arms can swing freely.

The Back. While the back shouldn’t be held ramrod straight, as if you are a soldier standing at attention, it shouldn’t have excessive curve to it. An excessively curved back is a sign that some strengthening is needed to maintain posture while running. Without good posture you won’t be able to effectively counter all the forces created while running.

The Arms. The arms should hang in a relaxed manner from the shoulders. It’s all too common to see runners with their shoulders shrugged up near their ears and wonder why they unduly fatigue when running. The goal of running is relaxed economy and the arms play a big role in that. In distance running the arms swing from a point just outside the body to a point almost in the centre of your body, in line with the bottom of your sternum. As one of my triathlon coaches once said to me you should think of flicking your nipples as you run. As you speed up the arms will move in a straighter line so that they travel more parallel to the hip instead of this slight cross-body action.

The arm action itself is not one of pushing the arms forward, but pulling back and letting it relax on the way forward. It is the elbow drive backwards that pulls the opposite knee up and forward, so focus on elbow drive backwards, rather than on arm swing forwards.

The arms themselves will be held at about a ninety-degree angle at the elbow on the backswing. As the arm swings forward this will close. The main thing to remember is to stay tight and compact without wild swinging motions of the arms that waste energy.

The Hands. The hands should be loosely clenched as if holding a small stick in each hand. One well-known triathlon coach, Brett Sutton, even makes his athletes run with M&M containers in their hands to enforce this. They are easily spotted even years after moving on from him as they all run with imaginary M&M containers in their hands with thumbs suspended midair over where the top of the container would be.

The wrists should not be loose and floppy. Every time your wrist bends or the hand flops around you are wasting energy. Like with the back we don’t want joints held rigidly but there needs to be some firmness. Think of making the body like a young tree branch – springy and bendy, yet firm enough to give structure. If, on the other hand, we make the joints rigid and hard like an old branch, we become stiff and inflexible, unable to generate the kind of bounce needed to run well.

The Pelvis. Many people spend their days in what is called anterior pelvic tilt – that is with the pelvis rotated forward. While this may be your natural stance it is not ideal for running. This position is often due to overly tight hip flexors. This over tightness needs to be addressed otherwise the thigh is not free to extend backwards on each stride. For many people slightly rotating the pelvis forward will simply bring them back into neutral. A good test for this is that if you push your hips as far back behind you as you can (imagine Beyonce twerking to get this position) you’ll feel your abs are disengaged. If you begin to pull your hips towards your rib cage you’ll feel your abs start to engage. At the point where your abs are lightly activated you are now in a good position to run where the leg can swing freely underneath the body. The pelvis and the back must be working together to allow you to “run tall”.

The Legs and Feet. Before we discuss how the legs and feet operate we need to differentiate between “ground contact” and “landing”. Merely having your foot on the ground doesn’t equal having all your weight on it. Some great coaches have had the following to say about ground contact versus landing:

Toni Nett, a West German sports scientist, stated that all good runners, at all distances, land first with the outside edge of the foot. In faster races, such as the 800m, the foot lands high on the outer edge of the metatarsal arch – what can easily be thought of as the forefoot. Yet at greater distances such as 1500m or more the runner will contact somewhere between the heel and metatarsus, which we can think of as the outer, forward edge of the heel.

This landing should occur close to directly under the centre of mass. Many runners have a tendency to try to position the foot directly under them, and for slow running this will work, but as you get faster you’ll see the landing take place slightly in front of the body, but with the foot directly under the knee with a vertical, or near vertical shin angle. Dr. Manfred Scholich, another East German scientist, said that, “the landing should be as close to the centre of mass, i.e. as close to under the body in both the longitudinal (head to toe) and transverse (side to side) plane as possible”. This puts the runner in the best position to utilize the body’s elastic recoil system and avoid the braking effects that can accompany landing on an extended leg in a typical heel-striking stride.

To reiterate the point on the landing position, which many will claim is heresy having been told that the foot should always land under the body, Bill Bowerman said that “the point of contact should be directly under the knee”. You’ll note nothing there about the exact placement of the foot under the body, only that the foot should be under the knee. If you spend some time videoing yourself running you’ll note that the only way o run with the foot landing directly under the body is to run in a completely upright, high knee style that offers little in the way of propulsion and looks like you are trying to step over small hurdles while running.

There is lot of total BS written about footfall by people who don’t WTF they’re talking about. No, your forefoot shouldn’t be the only part of your foot landing if you’re running distance. That is a one-way ticket to tearing a calf in inexperienced runners. Developing calves strong enough to deal with landing forces takes some time. But regardless of that the whole foot touches down. The heel doesn’t touch first, as I wrote above, but it will touch with a light kiss. Rather than spend time trying to explain this just watch the video below showing one of the all time greats running in slow motion.

Percy Cerutty believed that running should be a free and uncomplicated movement. Work on relaxation before you worry about speed or distance – think easy, light, and smooth. We’ll get to fast eventually, but to start with let’s work on those three. One of the biggest benefits of running slowly is having the mental space to work on the dynamic relaxation required for running. If you can’t run relaxed and economically at 6min/ km you certainly won’t do it at 5min/ km or 4min/km.

Like with all training there needs to be a focus on quality of movement. I am lucky enough to have many friends who are very fast. One of the fastest, a 2.20 marathon runner, told me that he tries to make every step better than the one before it. That means no ipods – don’t let tune out from what the body is doing. If you need to be distracted from your running it is because you’re trying to run too fast or too far for your current level of fitness. Focus on getting all the points above right and breathing in a calm, relaxed fashion.

The final point is that many focus far too early on running fast with a focus on intervals and sprints. This is a huge mistake and is a large part of the reason for such high injury rates in runners. If someone is getting hurt running it is usually because they tried to run too fast or too far for their level of fitness. Start with easy and light before worrying about hard and fast.

If you’re looking for the best possible start to your running purchase Run Strong here.

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Gain strength endurance in one session per week

The nature of humans is to be unbalanced. We like black and white but not grey. We speak of people who are good or bad or place those labels on our food. It’s rare that we have a moderate stance on much.

The thing about training is that the moderate stance is probably the one that will get you the furthest provided you’re prepared to keep working at it. As it turns out moderation is quite a powerful training plan provided you give it enough time to work. Because the reality of most people is that they’ll kill themselves for a few weeks – most Internet training plans are twelve weeks – and then on day eighty-five they’ll fall in a heap having exhausted themselves mentally and physically.

The alternative is to work steadily along for your entire life. Now, who is going to be in better shape long term? The person who works very hard for short periods or the person who always works out, just not as hard? It’s the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare and I’ll place my money on the slow and steady to win that race every time.

Within training people are most often concerned about two things. The two that always get the prime attention are maximal strength and anaerobic fitness and/ or power. They’re sexy. They create good images and videos for social media and people get fired up when they get swole or sexy.

On the other hand there are two things that aren’t often sexy in the strength and conditioning world and they are strength endurance and aerobic fitness. The long duration type training, whether in the gym or outside, just isn’t sexy. It’s hard, painful, and often done solo. It takes genuine toughness to get through many of these sessions. I can say with my hand on my heart that I have had days on a bike where I wanted to cry they’ve been so bad. Even the worst day in a gym with the heaviest weight just can’t create the same kind of deep-seated suffering that endurance work can.

Because of how uncomfortable much of this style of training is it often gets skipped by many, which is a great shame. Older trainees, for instance, will discover that the lighter weights necessitated allow their joints to deal with training far better. Suddenly the elbows, knees, and spines that used to complain during training won’t be a problem. The added benefit for them is that current research is showing that the number of reps per set done doesn’t actually matter for muscle hypertrophy as long as you reach failure. So strength endurance work for older trainees will be helpful not just for their joints but also for their muscle mass. One of the best ways to avoid the pitfalls of aging is focus on muscle preservation and strength endurance work can help while sparing the joints.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of strength endurance work is its real world carry over. Forget tire flipping and standing on wobble boards. The truest test of functional fitness is helping a friend move house and not being crippled the next day. While there is an element of maximal strength involved in moving a couch you won’t be very helpful if you can only lift a single item and then be done. Far better to be like a pack mule and able to work at high capacity for an entire day or more.

Taking cues from typical military training you can see how highly prized this facet is. The Romans used to have to carry heavy bronze armor into battle and for a long time modern soldiers moved relatively lightly. Those days are long gone with the use of helmets, body armor, load-bearing vests, personal comms, plus water and ammunition. Standard load for a modern soldier starts at about 60lb before mission specific gear is added. If you’ve ever walked up a steep hill with a heavy load you have a deep appreciation for how important strength endurance work can be.

Not surprisingly then the military has long prized strength endurance because it is such an important quality in successful operations. Of the best known military style workouts Murph is probably at the top of the tree with it often being performed out of respect for the fallen on Memorial Day (or ANZAC Day in Australia). For the uninitiated, Murph consists of running, pull ups, push ups, and squats, with a bonus run. In full it is:

  •  1mi run
  • 100 pull ups
  • 200 push ups
  • 300 squats
  • 1mi run

Men – done with 10kg weight vest/ women – done with 6.5kg.

No kipping pull ups.

For someone just starting to look at strength endurance work as a good addition to their training for long term success this appears quite daunting. So let’s break it down into manageable chunks to begin with:

If you’re not already running I suggest you purchase Run Strong, which I believe to be the best beginner running book available on the market. It’s got a plan in it which will help you go from not running at all to pain free running for up to an hour – far more than needed for Murph.

Secondly, you can opt to begin without weight. For anyone who hasn’t been around high-level strength endurance athletes/ military some of these numbers may seem a bit over the top but a well-conditioned athlete should be able to do the entire thing, unloaded, in five to ten sets total.

To build up to that I suggest starting with the simplest progression of 5 x pull ups, 10 x push ups, and 15 x squats for 10 sets – half of what is required. If necessary you can walk or run/ walk the running portions but I do suggest you perform them as the workout is very different without the running. If you have some kind of issue that prevents you from running (other than laziness) then you can row 2km instead of the 1mi runs.

  •  Week one – perform 10 sets of 5/10/15
  • Week two – perform 12 sets
  • Week three – perform 15 sets
  • Week four – perform 18 sets
  • Week five – test week for unloaded Murph.
  • Week six – begin pattern again but this time with the correct weight.

SEALFit use a 70min cut off as their test time for Murph. The addition of strength endurance work like this into your training will help you become even better in your other lifts. The extra work capacity and fitness will be a boost in terms of helping you recover as well as add some size to arms and back thanks to all the reps you’ll be doing. And as much as running gets demonized as a gains killer, running with some weight, or rucking as well, will help to keep your legs thick and strong.

Murph has been one of my favourite workouts since I first read about it. The differences it made to my overall strength and fitness when I first started it have been amazing. People who know its history know that the workout was essentially a battle test for one of the most heroic warriors of modern times. Lt. Michael Murphy felt that when he could get through this quickly and easily he was ready for combat. I have a friend in the SEALs who has completed this in 33min – 5 minutes faster than the winner of this event at the Crossfit Games in 2015. At 41 he exemplifies what a tough, strong warrior should be. Most of us will never get close to that kind of time but a sub-70min Murph is possible for all of us and will offer a host of benefits.

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Success leaves clues. No matter the subject if you want to be successful you only need to look to someone who has travelled that path before you and copy what they have done to achieve success too.

Somehow when it comes to fitness we all want to believe that there must be another way. A short cut. A trick. A way to game the system. We search endlessly for hacks and supplements when what we should be doing is nailing down basics.

At this point in my career, after more than three decades working out and twenty-five years training others, I must seem like a dinosaur to younger trainers. I see them all the time at the workshops I’ve taught all around the world.

Everyone does one of two things. Either, they over estimate their ability, which is very common, or they under estimate the power of the basics. As an example, Usain Bolt runs. Lance Armstrong rode his bike. And Michael Phelps swims. I don’t imagine Phelps turns up at the pool and complains to his coach about having to swim freestyle again. Funnily enough, if you watch the truly advanced what they have are extremely polished basics. It’s when people have a little success they go nuts and want more advanced things to work on.

As an example, the deadlift is probably the most simple of the lifts. Yet I’ve heard Andy Bolton speak about various technical elements of that one lift for three hours without repeating himself. Just because something is basic doesn’t mean there isn’t great depth to it.

Over the last year I’ve been running workshops that are unlike anything else in the fitness industry. See, unlike many who run workshops I couldn’t care less about certifying people and cashing in off them. The certification process has gone too far when I see, and this sadly isn’t a joke, a two-day certification in Australia for walking. I’m not kidding. Spend two days and a few hundred dollars and you too can learn to walk. So I haven’t bothered going down that path. I am a trainer and I work with people. So I developed a workshop that was for regular people training at home on their own.

These people don’t need bells and whistles. And because space is limited and equipment cost needs to be kept at a minimum I had to be very smart about what exercises we teach and how we piece it together. We needed not just basics but caveman basics.

And that was when I realized that for many people the entire way we speak about training is wrong. Most training plans are wrongly focused on trainers. The answer, when you think about it, is pretty simple to understand. Trainers are firstly very passionate about exercise. But more importantly, they are the ones purchasing the training workshops. If you cater to them you’ll always sell your program. So as much as I made fun of the walking certification, given the massive health benefits of walking perhaps it is the best certification you could do for your clients.

Because so many people are:

Overweight – in Australia the obesity rate will be 35% by 2025, costing our economy $60 billion dollars. Our current obesity rate is 28%, which forms part of already 2/3 of our population being overweight or obese – 62.8%, in fact, and it’s going to get worse. The number one cause for death in an over 44 year old is heart disease.

Move poorly – FMS research shows that only 16% of the people who walk through the door have any kind of pain or movement restriction. 41% of those who turn up wanting to train will have some kind of range of motion/ mobility problem.

Stressed – Nearly 10% of the population is on anti-depressants. With the number one cause of death in under 44-year old males being listed as suicide this number hints at a growing problem linked to poor health and increased work and relationship stresses that previously weren’t there.

And all of this gets us to the actual training. I’ve come up with a simple formula to reduce stress, increase health first, restore movement and then add performance on top. Many think they need more but if you look at how this all adds up, and are realistic about what will happen if you do this, you’ll see few will ever need to go beyond this.


8 – get 8 hours sleep every night.

7 – walk daily for 30-60 minutes to get 7 walks in a week.

4 – eat 4 good quality meals daily according to Precision Nutrition’s 10 habits.

3 – 3 cardiac output training sessions lasting 30-90 minutes each.

2 – for every strength session you do you need to stretch twice as much.


Why wouldn’t you want to get 8 hours of sleep every night? Every night I jump in bed I am smiling like a little kid about to go to Disneyland. It’s like a little holiday I get to have every night.

The benefits of sleep are pretty clear. If you sleep less than 8 hours you have an increased hunger response meaning you are more likely to gain weight. That’s compounded by another study showing that if you get 6 hours of sleep per night you are 27% more likely to be overweight. Cut that to 5 hours and that number shoots up to 73%. And, sleeping less than 5 hours a night or less causes a 1.7 times increased risk of mortality.

If being overweight and dying faster weren’t enough reasons to get more sleep consider that this study here showed that after 17-19 hours without sleep (i.e. what happens on 5-7 hours of sleep) performance on some tests “was equivalent or worse than that at a BAC of 0.05%. Response speeds were up to 50% slower for some tests and accuracy measures were significantly poorer than at this level of alcohol.” In other words, driving your car on less than 8 hours sleep gives you the same level of impairment as if you were legally drunk.

So it’s kind of important for the safety of everyone around you in your car that you are adequately rested. In fact, some of the biggest disasters in history have all had significant contribution from fatigue as a factor. Three-Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez, and Chernobyl all had operators working under extreme fatigue.


Katy Bowman notes in Move Your DNA that, “Walking is a superfood. It’s the defining movement of a human”. Perhaps the greatest benefit of walking is that while walking you can’t be sitting. Along with lack of sleep, sitting is one of the biggest problems faced by our world. Sitting for more than 8 hours a day is associated with a 90% increase risk of type 2 diabetes, along with increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.

I tell my clients I want them to walk for a few reasons beyond getting them out of a chair.

Vitamin D is right at the top of my list for the simple reason that no one goes outside enough anymore. We are designed to be outside and move around. The human body evolved to cover 15-18km a day walking while foraging for food and Vitamin D helps us in so many ways. Its number one benefit is its effect on the immune system. Not only that but it can help to buffer the system against cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, and common infections such as the flu.

Beyond the health aspects it gives us a stress free, repeatable way to burn some extra calories. It boosts aerobic system function, which is severely lacking in most people. In addition, while everyone thinks of walking as perfect for older clients, it may be in younger (under 44 year-olds) that it has the best effect. That is because low-level aerobic activity can stimulate the hippocampus. That’s the part of the brain that is responsible for spatial awareness, so it is very helpful in the elderly, but it is also responsible for moods. Remember above where I said that the number one cause of death for males under 44 is suicide? Now do you see how maybe walking each day might be helpful if it can help prevent suicide even by just a little?


Diet is so easy. Everyone over complicates it. When I first read the Precision Nutrition Ten Habits I instantly recognised the power in its seemingly simple guidelines. I’m not going to replicate them here but do yourself a favour and read this. A well-constructed diet plan forms part of the bedrock of both healthy living and athletic performance. That bedrock is formed by your lifestyle, not your training. No matter how hard you train or how fancy your plan is you cannot out train a poor lifestyle.

Cardiovascular training

I suggest, if you haven’t already read The Big Man Cardio Primer  that you do so. Everyone seems to think that anything that raises your heart rate is “cardio” and that simply isn’t so. As my friend Kenneth Jay says, “if that were the case I could scare you into being fitter”.

Having a healthy heart is a good thing if you want to live past 40. You don’t need HIIT. You don’t need to worry about speed. You need to worry about having a pump that is big enough and strong enough to last you a lifetime.


Stretching gets a bad rap. Mostly it gets blasted by people under the age of 30 who have yet to experience what happens to muscles as they age. Usually these same people will often suggest that what is needed to improve exercise performance is a regression. That’s like saying that if your car is about to catch fire what you need is to go back to driving school.

FMS research shows that 41% of people have mobility restrictions. That means that there is about a 1 in 2 chance that you are one of them. Basic guides such as being able to get both arms overhead without having to do something goofy to your posture, being able to squat without any kind of form breakdown unloaded, and being able to touch your toes are all considered movement minimums. If you can’t do those you have a mobility restriction and should work on it.

Where most people go wrong with their range of motion work is in looking for quick fixes. Yes, it is possible to get a quick band-aid solution right now with a foam roller and an activation drill in some cases. However, that is unlikely to stick and you’ll have to perform the same drill every time you train from now until you die. Or you could stretch.

Flexibility, like strength, fitness, or power needs to be worked on diligently. As you age you will lose range as muscles lose their elasticity. When you strength train you will compound this by shortening the muscles. If you plan to retain even whatever limited range you have right now you will need to re-lengthen those muscles.

The added bonus though is that flexion based postures, such as downward dog in yoga, have a powerful effect on mitigating stress. When you add in focused breathing work while stretching we again get a powerful combination not just to improve ROM but decrease overall stress and improve health.

And for everyone who is about to say, “Yeah but that one study showed that static stretching had a negative effect on force production”. Well, don’t work on your splits and immediately go try to lift your 1RM. Fixed.


I’m aware that this plan looks basic but consider the following:

You’ll be walking daily for 30-60mins.

You’ll have 3 x 30-90min cardio sessions at a heart rate of 120-150bpm.

Given you’ll be doing cardio three days per week that leaves three days for strength training.

Given you will be doing three days of strength training that means you need six days of stretching to get a 2:1 ratio. For every hour of strength work you need 2 hours of stretching.

On top of that you’ll be eating four good quality meals per day.

You’ll sleep 8 hours per night.

Let’s be honest and say that if you had a client or a friend who walked daily, went to an hour yoga class daily, hit the gym three times week, and ran three times per week they’d be a stud. That right there is a gold-star client. Add in the proper sleep and nutrition and they’d have good body composition and be in top health.

So forget the advanced ideas. Give 8-7-4-3-2 a try and see just how “advanced” such a simple plan really is. The best bit is that it’s not limited by age by many training plans as this one will last you well into retirement.

To learn how to put all of this information into your own training, and which exercises you should or shouldn’t be doing, attend the Foundations of Strength workshop.

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How to lift weights faster for maximum effect

If you ever want to be anything other than a show pony at some point you’re going to have to do some type of training to develop your work capacity. Work capacity can be a fuzzy catch all term for many things. It combines aerobic endurance, muscular endurance, and is the sort of thing pictured when people talk about Hell Week during BUDS.

Everyone gets all tangled up over trying to define the terms, as if there is any appreciable difference to cardio or conditioning. Both require you to have an elevated heart rate and both teach you to work for extended periods of time. And truthfully, there is no one exercise that is builds work capacity that is exclusively one or the other.

Cardio comes from the Greek word kardia, for heart. For lack of a better definition anything that makes your heart work harder is going to be cardio work. Sure, in some minds cardio is what you do on an empty stomach to try to lose some fat. It is mind-numbing and boring to many and people are worried about losing their hard earned muscle.

Cardio has copped a bad rap over the last twenty years in response to the jogging craze of the 70s. Even worse, with a rise in popularity of fitness classes we saw the rise and fall of the lycra-clad, big-haired aerobics craze – something no self-respecting man would ever do in lieu of bench press. But there’s nothing wrong with making your heart bigger and stronger and you don’t need to wear pastel lycra to improve your conditioning.

You may think that if anything that gets your heart rate up can count as cardio training that you will be fine just doing high rep squats. Well, no. Just like you can have concentric and eccentric muscle contractions when doing curls and presses, your heart can have the same training adaptations.

It makes sense that the hearts of endurance athletes and strength athletes differ, just like their physiques do. In endurance training, the athlete’s heart must pump large quantities of oxygen to the working muscles for extended periods of time. To cope with this the main chamber of the heart, the left ventricle, gets both larger and slightly thicker.

However, in strength-trained athletes, there isn’t the need to pump such large quantities of blood. In stead the heart is subjected to higher blood pressures, and in response the left ventricle thickens up, and can actually even reduce the internal diameter of the heart. What that means is even though you’re spending time performing exercises that raise your heart rate instead of seeing a fitness benefit you’re effectively reducing your possible horsepower, just like trading down from a V8 to a 4-cylinder car. Perhaps the reason why you huff and puff walking up a flight of stairs has little to do with the bulking cycle you’ve been on and everything to do with your heart struggling to pump blood to all the muscle you’ve got?

When it comes to conditioning there is a very clear hierarchy. Like it or not some exercises are just more effective. In tier one are the classics – running, swimming, cycling, rowing, cross-country skiing, and the versa climber. Tier two includes kayaking, boxing, and kettlebell snatches. It’s not until you get to tier three that you find the exercises most try to use for conditioning – skipping rope, circuit training and kettlebell swings.

The reason why circuit training is in tier three comes down to one factor – blood flow. When a muscle is tensed beyond 50% all blood flow is stopped. That means that less oxygen is being used by the working muscles because less is being provided. And when it comes to getting that adaptation to the heart that helps it grow it’s all about the need for high levels of oxygenated blood to be pumped to the muscles.

This is one of the big disconnects when it comes to conditioning work – your goal is to end up with higher levels of work capacity. While circuits may help to develop high levels of strength endurance they do little to boost the ability of your heart to pump large quantities of blood. Further, because of the low loads used they do little to develop muscular strength. Frankly, if you’re looking for ways to improve functional horsepower there is a far better way.

There’s a saying in sports performance that “if it fires together it wires together”. That means if you really want a way to get real world conditioning, the kind that helps you not just out work your opposition, but crush their heads like a grape, you need a combination of heavy lifting and tier one conditioning.

Pat O Shea in his book Quantum Strength and Power Training first talked about interval Weight Training, or IWTs. The basic setup goes like this:

  • Perform a full body athletic movement such as the power clean, power snatch, or snatch pull for 8 – 12 reps. Immediately following the strength movement move to a cardiac conditioning effort for 2 – 4 minutes and work at 90 – 95% of your MHR. After completing this round, rest for two minutes and begin again, performing three total rounds.
  • Following the three rounds take a five-minute complete rest. Let’s face it – you’ve earned it by now, but you’re only 30% done.
  • Following the five-minute rest repeat the format first used, again using a whole body strength movement, but this time use a grinding type movement such as the front squat. Perform three total rounds again and take another well-earned five-minute break after.
  • The final stage is a bodyweight circuit using exercises performed at high pace, with minimal rest for 6 – 12 reps each. Rest no longer than one minute between circuits. Complete 3 – 5 complete circuits.

I’ll be honest and say that after you’ve earnestly done one of these workouts you’ll never think of a few mindless laps of farmer walks and prowler work as conditioning ever again.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t substitute small exercises for big ones. Lat pull downs aren’t a replacement for power cleans.
  • While the loads should be relatively light – O Shea recommends 70% of your 3RM – don’t skimp. The strength component must tax the muscles so you learn to display strength as well as high levels of conditioning.
  •  90 – 95% of Max Heart Rate is hard. Like collapse on the ground hard afterwards. If you don’t despise these workouts you’re just not doing them hard enough.
  •  If you think running for two minutes will make you skinny then stick to the big guy options – the Airdyne, rower, and ski erg – although a two-minute incline run on a treadmill is the hardest option you could do.
  • If using a heart rate monitor don’t expect to see your heart rate at 90%+ for the first thirty seconds. It takes about that long for it to really jump. Instead expect to see it peak right near end of your effort.

Bonus points – if you’ve spent some time already addressing your fitness and know that while strong you suffer with endurance work, then use slightly longer intervals of 3 – 4 minutes. Three-minute efforts, in particular, are heavily used in training methods designed to peak VO2max abilities – that is the kind of training that gets you comfortable with being uncomfortable and increases your top end fitness dramatically.

More is not more when it comes to IWTs. A single session each week done following the full format is enough to see great improvements in real-world conditioning, and see you ready to kick some serious ass when needed. Trying to do multiple IWTs in a week will see you burnt out very quickly.

Try this IWT once a week for four weeks before taking a break:

First round:

Power clean x 8 – 12 reps

Row 2 minutes.

Rest 2 minutes.

Repeat for three rounds total.

Rest five minutes before beginning round two.

Second round:

Back squat x 8 – 12 reps

Airdyne 2 minutes.

Rest 2 minutes.

Repeat for three rounds total.

Rest five minutes before beginning round three.

Third round:

Mountain climbers x 10

Push-ups x 10

Burpees x 10

Squats x 10

Box jumps x 10 (jump up and step down).

Rest one minute.

Repeat for five rounds total. Crawl into a corner and curse my name.

Your goals for this workout each week should be as follows:

Record the distances rowed on each interval. At the end of the four weeks you should cover 10% more total distance than you did in the first week. A good starting goal is 550m per two minutes. That means you should break 600m per interval in the final week.

Record total calories on each round for the Airdyne. Each Airdyne model records calories burned slightly differently. On the newer AD6s we expect to see 40 calories or better for two minutes, while on the older AD4s and the Stair Master Air Bike we see roughly double that. In either case, just like with the rowing, your goal is to add 10% over the four weeks.

What you’ll see to begin with:

If you’re really out of shape you’ll notice a tremendous drop off in the number of reps you can get with the strength exercise as well as how far you can go on each tier one effort. Over time, as you become fitter and better adapted, you’ll see that all your efforts stay very close to one another. At my gym we expect to see less than a 10% drop in performance from one interval to the next.

When choosing your weights don’t pick a weight that you can just get 8 reps with for the first set. That’s too heavy and the likelihood is that you’ll then get only 5 – 7 reps in the second and third sets. Instead pick a weight that you are confident you can get 10 reps with and try to get at least 8 reps each set. If your three rounds see you hitting 12 reps each time add some weight for next week.

Don’t be scared of conditioning. You won’t lose muscle. In fact, as you get better conditioned and your heart gets stronger you’ll find all sorts of other benefits such as faster recovery between sets of your regular workouts as well as increased recovery between workouts too. A strong, healthy heart is the most important muscle in the body.

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