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Alex Valentine Personal Training

Effective training for smart people

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The Dos and Don’ts of the Gym

It’s January, and loads of people are joining the gym to get fitter, leaner, stronger, or generally just to feel better in their own skin. I love this time of year, it’s great to see so much motivation! But I also see a lot of fear. Yes, actual fear! If I had a pound for every time someone told me they are afraid of looking stupid in the gym, I’d probably have enough for a week in Benidorm. At least.


Apart from what exercises and the number of sets and reps to do, people want to know basic things like, where to stand, or can I take weights without asking? Is it OK to use a mat in this area if the gym? What do I do if someone is on the machine I want? If you’re a seasoned gym veteran this might seem easy, but for a new comer, it can be incredibly daunting. Here’s a few gym etiquette rules to keep you on the straight and narrow at the gym and help you on your way to being a gym pro:

  1. Bring a sweat towel. No one wants to use a machine after someone’s sweated all over it.
  2. Put your weights away. If someone is strong enough to lift it, they’re strong enough to put it away

3. If you are resting in between sets and some one wants to share your machine, let them. They will give it back and sharing is caring. Similarly, if someone is using the machine you want, it’s OK to ask them “how many sets have you got left?” (providing they are not mid-lifting the weights….don’t distract them!) Usually the person will say how many sets they have left, and you can either wait around, or ask if it’s OK to share with them? If they say no… that’s rude!

4. Get off the phone. If someone’s  on a machine and they can clearly see someone waiting to use it, there’s nothing more annoying than them just sitting there on their phone. It’s completely acceptable to ask someone how many sets they have left (see above polite asking technique)


5. Bring a water bottle. You will get sweaty, you will need to hydrate!

6. Squats racks are for squats or bench press at busy periods in the gym.

When it is busy in the gym: Do not bicep curl in the squat rack. Do not do pull ups in the squat rack. Do not do shoulder shrugs in the squat rack. It will literally make me want to cry.

7. If you’re not sure of an exercise, ask a member of staff or hire a Personal Trainer for a few sessions. It’s better to do the right exercises with good form than spend a few months doing it wrong and maybe getting injured.

8. This might seem really obvious but….my favourite phrase is D. B. A. D. = don’t be a dick. This is also my rule for life! A lot of people go to the gym to work out stresses from the day, but it’s no excuse to be disrespectful to other gym users or the staff. If someone is a dick, just walk away. Better to stay positive and carry on training the way you want to than to let someone else’s issues ruin your day!

As always if you’ve got any questions about how to train or eat well, or general gym stuff, just drop me a message at alexvalentinept@mail.com 😊

Why you can go to the gym, even when you feel like crap….

We’ve all been there, we’ve had a heavy weekend, or a stressful week at work. Colleagues are pissing us off, you’ve had a fight with your other half, and then ate a whole Dairy Milk all in one go….the big pack, not the little kind! It’s been a long day and you can just hear the sofa and a large glass of wine calling to you…..The last thing on planet Earth that you want to do right now, is go to the gym.

Right? Well, maybe…….

First, we need to change our language. A lot of people say, “I SHOULD go to the gym…” which implies it’s something that we have to do, that we don’t really WANT to do (I know that’s true for some people, but stay with me here!) If you’re really not feeling it, try and think of something you enjoy about the gym, even if it’s something simple, like being able to listen to your own music for a while, or read a book on the stairmaster (yup I’ve done that!). That way you can change the obligation laden word “should” to “I WANT to go to the gym!”

Next, think about the endorphins! Think about how you FEEL after you’ve had a good session at the gym…. pick out a few words. Ok yeah, “tired” will definitely be one of them, but how else will you feel? Empowered? Strong? Energised? Like you’ve achieved something extra in your day? Good! Remember those feelings, it will help keep you motivated.

What about your goals? Lots of people train because they have a big occasion coming up, like a wedding or a holiday, or a sporting event. You really don’t want to get to that big day and feel like you COULD have done more, or regret that you didn’t put as much time in as you could have. Keep your goals in mind when you’re thinking of skipping the gym, your future self will thank you!


Lastly, what about your mental health? We hear a lot about stress, anxiety and depression in today’s society, but how can we be proactive about looking after our mental well being? Yep, you guessed it, try some exercise! Research has shown without a shadow of a doubt, that exercise helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and can improve overall emotional well being and reduce stress levels. Check out this article for for loads more exercise benefits: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm

Exercise releases feel good hormones, it gives you a sense of achievement, and it can show you how strong you are. And if you go to the gym even when you really don’t feel like it, it will make you feel mentally tougher, and empowered by taking control of something in your life that might have originally felt like a chore.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t give in. Take the tougher road every now and then. Sure, if someone is genuinely sick or ridiculously overtraining (most of us will never experience that though!) take a rest day. But most of the time, try and push through. Think of how good it feels when you know you’ve trained hard and you’re working towards your goals. It might not always feel amazing at the time, but your body will thank you in the long run!


And no matter what you might think, even trainers get tired of training sometimes! 😆

As always if you have any questions or would like some help with your training, drop me a message on alexvalentinept@mail.com, or text me on 07875466275

Is your FitBit LYING to you?

fitness-trackers.jpg
WTF???

Or more accurately, your “fitness tracker”? They’re all the rage, and come in so many brands, shapes, sizes, colours…you name it, they sell it! The purpose of them is to track your heart and activity rate, and give you feedback on how active you are, and ultimately give you the answer to the million dollar question…. how many calories you burn.

Sounds amazing right? Strap it on your wrist, hit the gym, and hey presto, you can calculate calories in versus calories out, down to the number of steps you take. For such a small device to give so much information is pretty darn incredible, but just how accurate is it?

A recent study by fancy pants Stamford University found that fitness trackers are amazingly accurate at calculating your heart rate, with as little error as just 2% (Apple Watch). Even the largest heart rate error margin was just 6%, which considering the device goes nowhere near your heart, it’s pretty accurate!

But when it comes to calorie counting, that’s where the margin of error gets a little scary. How accurate would you say a fitness tracker is at counting calories? Maybe 5% error? 10%?

No.

The smallest margin of error for counting calories, was 27%. YES, THE SMALLEST! (On FitBit Surge). You did not read that wrong. So if a fitness tracker says you have burned 2,000 calories that day, it could actually be as little as 1400 calories. The largest margin of error was 92% with the PulseOn. Again if it stated you’d burned 2,300 calories in a day, it could be as low as approximately 1,240 calories (read the full study here: http://www.mdpi.com/2075-4426/7/2/3 ).

Why is this important? We know that calories consumed versus calories burned are directly related to weight loss. If people eat more calories than the body burns, it results in weight gain. If people are in a moderate calorie deficit (are safely consuming less calories than their body needs), it will result in weight loss. The problem arises when the estimation of how many calories a body burns in a day is inaccurate. An overestimation will result in no weight loss at best, and weight gain in the worst case scenario. Conversely is the estimation is too low, it can result in drastic unsafe weight loss and possibly irreversible hormonal changes (like the 1200 calorie a day diet…don’t get me started on that crap!). The most accurate way to measure calories burned in a day is via an oxygen consumption machine to determine how much oxygen our body needs and calculate our calorie burn from that. Which is really easy because everyone has one of those, right?? OK so not everyone has these, so the next best thing is to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate. This is the number of calories your body burns at rest. The next step is to multiply this number by the amount of activity you do on a daily basis. You can use this handy link to work it out:

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/bmr-calculator

Nothing is 100% accurate, but this calculation is the quickest and most accurate way we can work out how many calories your body needs, which is so important for weight loss. Often when I introduce people to this calculation, I will hear protests of, “but my FitBit says…..”, or, “I treated myself to a take away because my iWatch said I burned xxxx calories on my walk today”. It’s an easy trap to fall into, so make sure you do the calculation yourself so you know for sure.

Despite what you may think, I don’t hate fitness trackers. I even have one myself…..

img_3357
See?

But hang on I hear you say! You’ve just told me my fitness tracker is LYING, so why would you have one?? I guess it depends what you have one for. I use the heart rate monitor to track the peak heart rate zones I’m training in, so I can tailor the intensity of my workouts depending on what part of my Roller Derby season I’m in. But this function is useful for everyone, and with a maximum of 6% inaccuracy, it’s a good guideline of how hard you’re working in the gym. So if you feel like you’re smashing it, but your heart rate is still at 85, you know to crank it up a notch….. 😉

As always, if you’d like any help or advice on how to improve your training or give your nutrition a kick start, drop me an email at alexvalentinept@mail.com , or text me on 07875465275.

Why Instagram is KILLING your fitness goals….

(and maybe your self esteem, too…)

Ok, I’m the first to admit that I’m an Instajunkie. Everyone has reasons for being on social media, whether it’s to check out fashion, friends, or show the world how darned cute your cat is. But for me, it’s mainly business. The more fitness videos and pictures I post, the more likes and followers I get, which generates more enquiries about what I do and how people can work with me to achieve their fitness goals (I may post animal pictures occassionally, #sorrynotsorry…give me a follow on @alexvalentinept to see pets I steal to cuddle 🙂 )

One thing I really pride myself on when I post on social media, is being genuine. You will very rarely see me post gym selfies where I’m looking anything other than a sweaty mess! (See exhibit A)Why? BECAUSE THAT’S HOW PEOPLE LOOK WHEN THEY TRAIN. If I posted pictures of my “training” in full make up, hair done to perfection, with a tiny crop top on, I would be lying. Not outrightly in words, but portraying the image that people who train hard in the gym look immaculate all the time is lies. I often see girls putting ON make up to take their gym selfies *insert eye roll here*

During my initial consultation with a client, one thing that happens quite frequently is they will get their phone out, and scroll to Instagram. They will present me will a completely filtered, airbrushed and photoshopped image of some Insta-famous person pouting and sticking their bum out to the camera, or some 3% bodyfat shredded to the max bodybuilder clearly 1 week away from competition and say “I want to look like that”.

Now, I’m all for visualisation and fitness goals, but if the image presented is a distortion of reality, how can it be achieved?? People think that fitness models look like ripped, shredded, tanned, lean uber gods or goddesses 365 days of the year. The truth is, the vast majority of fitness models out there will only look at their leanest for a maximum of 4 weeks out of the year. This is when most of their promo shots get taken. The rest of the time is spent bulking up and building muscle (followed by a cutting phase) which carries with it a higher bodyfat percentage. This stops them looking like the lean ripped beasts you see on Insta the whole year round. It is possible to build muscle and stay a bit lean with smart eating, but to build muscle there has to be an excess of calories…which means more body fat. 

So, back to my original point. Why is Insta killing our fitness goals, and sometimes our self esteem? Well, numerous studies have shown a correlation between positive and negative images and self esteem (Valkenburg et al., 2006), and an article in The Guardian has interviewed numerous young women about how Instagram makes them feel. This usually includes things like generating feelings of insecurity, or inadequacy, due to constant bombardment of images of “contrived perfection”. Check out the article here: (https://www.the guardian.com/media/2015/nov/04/instagram-young-women-self-esteem-essena-oneill)

Ask yourself, when you take a selfie, HOW MANY do you take before you settle on the perfect pose, the perfect angle, the perfect filter, the correct amount of hashtags? And you’re just one person. The people out there who are Instafamous are usually selling something, or are sponsored, and maybe have a PR team to help them with their numerous social media accounts, or a professional photographer to make them look great, along with a make up artist to mask any imperfections. Ask yourself, HOW MANY PICS do you think THEY take?? Hundreds. Maybe thousands. 

I’m not saying to stop trying to achieve your dream body, I have complete admiration and respect for anyone who decides to make a change for the better in their life. What I’m saying is, don’t compare reality to Instagram. It’s fake. If someone says they’ve managed to lose 5 stone in 30 days….it’s probably photoshop, and lies. You can reach your goals, all it takes is dedication, eating right, and following a plan. It’s honestly that simple (please note I said simple, not easy!!)  😀

Keep striving for your goals, but make sure it’s YOUR goal, and not what you think you should be going for. And if someone is trying to look “perfect”…. it doesn’t exist. That’s why we have Instagram. 

The craziest things I get asked at the gym….


It’s January and every one is in full “New Year New Me” mode, and people are buzzing with lots of questions about the gym. But sometimes they’re afraid to ask!! Simple answer…. don’t be. There is nothing you can say that I haven’t heard before!! Here’s a few examples from the last few years:

-if I eat one meal a day will I look like Arnold Schwarzenegger?

-will eating ginger burn ALL my body fat away?

-if I inject myself with insulin will it make me more ripped? (Quick tip- NO, and it might kill you)

-if I wrap myself in cling film and train really hard, will I sweat out my body fat?

As you can see, there is nothing I haven’t been asked before! Especially when social media like Instagram and YouTube are actively promoting fitness fad diets and crazy fit-tips. A good rule of thumb is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! As always though if you need any help or advice, please ask me, I’d rather you know and get the right advice to achieve your goals than keep wondering and maybe set yourself back a few months. Email me at alexvalentinept@mail.com for more info 😊

Also this is me when I’m on the treadmill…


😆

“New Day” Resolutions

As the year is drawing to a close, it’s time to look back on all the things you have achieved, or made progress towards achieving. It makes us think about about how far we have come, but also, how far we WANT to go. What do you want to do next year? It gets us on to the subject of New Year’s Resolutions, because inevitably, most people make them. And a lot of people make them about losing weight, or “getting fit”. 

I used to buy into it too, I’d even make a list of all my goals after Christmas, and swear I’d be ready for it in the New Year…. and then New Year would come and go, and I might do a couple of things on the list, but really, by March it’s all fallen by the wayside! So why wait until New Year to make a change? If you have the motivation to do it now, DO IT NOW!!

I say this to a lot of people – don’t wait for the New Year to make a change, all you need is a new day! At this time of year though it is hard to get motivated, but now is the perfect time to start training. Our metabolism slows down in winter, we move less, we eat more…. weight gain is going to happen unless we stay proactive! 

Yes, we all overindulge at Christmas, but we don’t have to let it get out of hand. Offset the mince pies and mulled wine by heading down the gym twice a week, and cutting down on any extra sweet treats that might be creeping in. You’d be surprised how much of a difference these small changes can make!

You will limit the potential for seasonal weight gain, AND head into the party season and New Year carrying a little less timber around. It’ll make you feel better about you, help you look leaner and give you a head start if you DO decide to make some New Years Resolutions! Give it a try 😊

If you have any questions or need any advice on how to get your gym sessions started, or how to limit the Christmas bulge, drop me a message on alexvalentinept@mail.com or 07875465275

Why are pull ups so HARD??

Ok, so you’ve been at the gym a few months now. You’re feeling pretty strong, you’re eating right and you’re working hard. But now you want to try something new. And you see these super buff guys and girls in the gym and on Instagram just knocking out pull ups like they’re nothing. It’s A) pretty impressive, and B) pretty annoying….why can’t I do them?? I feel your frustration!
If you do some research (like you know I love to do!) you’ll be hit with a plethora of different reasons why some people can (or cannot) do pull ups, why males and females are biologically different, that women are weaker, that some people are just “too heavy”, that we don’t need to do pull ups anyway…. this list of pull up articles is literally never ending. I know I’m adding to it with this one, but I’m writing it from a real, first hand perspective, and minus the bullshit.
Why can’t you do pull ups? The simple answer is…. you just don’t train to do them. No body walks into a gym and smashes out 20 pull ups without practising (unless you’re a 15 year old boy, maybe). It’s the same with anything: gymnastics, powerlifting, football, Olympic Lifting, reading, writing…nobody just rocks up and is just able to do these things. They take practice, training, and patience.
The main muscles worked in a pull up are the lats, traps, biceps, rhomboids, and core. Ask yourself: how often do you train those muscles? I mean, REALLY train them? Sure, we all do lat pull downs every now and again, and maybe the odd shoulder shrug, but that isn’t the same as a pull up.  Pull ups take full activation of the muscles of the back, and with our sedentary-sit-down-and-drive-everywhere lifestyles, this just doesn’t happen on a daily basis. Try including bent over rows, upright rows and flexed arm hangs into your training sessions (at least once a week) to really get those muscles activated and ready for performing pull ups.
And make sure you train your core to be strong – pull ups are a lot harder if you’re swinging around like a chimp from a tree. A lot of people find core training boring, but your core is your foundation, and you wouldn’t build a gorgeous mansion on a bed of jelly. I did some serious core training and upper body work to get me to be able to do pull ups, and I’m not gonna lie, it was hard. But one of my biggest motivations was that I kept reading in all these articles how women aren’t meant to do pull ups, that women are not strong enough. Anyone who knows me knows never to tell me I can’t do something, it’s just fuel for the fire! It took time, about 10 weeks, but I got there. I trained the right muscles, I was patient, I worked my core, and it happened. I feel stronger and more in control of my body. And my back looks awesome!
Nobody tells me what my body can and can’t do….except for me.

Calorie Confusion!


It’s the New Year, lots of people are making resolutions, so you decide to tone up a bit, maybe lose some weight, and generally get in shape. And the  bombardment of “New Year, New You” advertising is kind of every where! So you head to the gym, eat healthy, and hope to see some results. But they might not be coming as fast at you’d hoped.

So what’s going on? It’s always good to do a combination of cardio and weights at the gym (always check with your GP before starting a new exercise program!), but are you eating to support your goals? A lot of people check the labels on food to make sure they’re eating low fat, low salt foods, and that they’re sticking to the Government Recommended Daily Allowances of calories, kind of like this:

food label

So these are the top ones that people check; energy (calories), carbs, fat and sodium (salt). But this isn’t the whole story. Along with carbs we need to check the figure below that, because not all carbs are equal. This figure shows how much of these carbs are sugars (yup, regular old sugar that people put in their tea!!). Make sure you check this figure on “low fat” or “healthy option” foods, as they often remove fat and replace it with sugar. This can account for lots of excess calories in our diets, so make sure you check food labels thoroughly.

The one that a lot of people don’t check, is how much protein is in their food. People who attend the gym regularly will need at least 1g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (people with kidney problems or health issues should consult their GP before changing their diet). So make sure you’re eating enough protein to support your goals….protein isn’t just for body builders!

So, here’s the big one that gets us……

calorie conf image

There are sooooo many articles out there advocating different amounts of calories that will give “optimum weightloss”. The 5/2 diet, the 1200 calories diet, the only having liquids diet, the “take these pills and they’ll make you lose weight” diet…. is it any wonder we’re confused??

Calories confusion

So how do we know how many calories to consume to lose weight, or to put on muscle? It’s easy, we use the Basal Metabolic Rate calculator. To make it even easier, here’s a link to one:

http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/

This will work out how many calories you need to eat in a day to maintain your body weight and to survive. Believe it or not, it’s usually a lot lower than the Government RDA! There is also a calculation called the Harris Benedict Formula, which will work out how many extra calories you need to eat depending on your activity levels. If you want to lose weight, create a calorie deficit in your diet of NO MORE than 500 calories, either through diet or exercise, or a combination of the two. Any more than this, and the weight loss might not be sustainable or safe. If you do this every day for a week, you’ll burn 3,500 calories a week, which equals weight loss of 1 pound a week. It’s that easy! You can burn 100 calories in 10 minutes if you go for a 10 minute jog. Just 10 minutes you say? Yes! Happy days 🙂

Also give my article “Weights for Weightloss” a read if you’re interested in toning up, losing weight and getting strong. And as ever, if you have any questions or would like a free consultation with me, feel free to email me on alexvalentinept@mail.com

Fitness Facts and Fiction

It’s that time of year again; the sun is shining (mostly), the thick woolly jumpers are being tossed aside, and more and more websites and magazines are promoting “How to get your perfect beach body”, “Shed 10lbs in 10 days”, and “Use this weird old trick to lose a pound of belly fat a day” (you must have seen that one, right??)

There is so much information readily available to us on the internet and from our peers, that when we want to gain a bit more lean definition and improve our fitness levels, it can be really difficult to know where to start. So how can we tell the fact from the fiction?

Here’s five easy steps to debunking fitness facts from full blown fiction.

1) If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Sounds cynical, but it’s a good rule of thumb. If a website or magazine is claiming outrageous results that are difficult to believe to be true, they probably aren’t true. No matter how “scientific” it sounds. This is generally a good rule for life, not just in the gym.

With that said, I’m going to tell you a MASSIVE secret at the end of this article, that will make healthy living and getting a sculpted physique so much easier for you, so read on…..

2) Avoid the “all or nothing” approach.

Many diets and fitness routines tend to focus on one thing, such as only doing cardio, not eating carbohydrates (carbs), only eating protein and fat, or only doing exercises as fast as humanly possible, with no regard for technique or safety. The way you eat and the way you train, like everything in life, needs to be a balance. Treat your training with an holistic view, you wouldn’t only eat bananas or rice, so why would you only eat protein? You wouldn’t squat to your maximum capacity every single day without doing anything else, so why would you run on a treadmill every day and do nothing else?

3) “But I saw this exercise on Instagram….” “It said on Twitter if I do this it’ll make my tummy flat…”

This is an oh so familiar phrase to hear as  Personal Trainer, and I can’t tell you how frustrating it is! Here is a small selection of things I have been told by people (smart, educated, talented people) in the gym:

“I saw a girl on Instagram saying if I eat pineapples every day for a month, I’ll lose a stone”

“I’m wearing clingfilm under my t-shirt cos I read on Twitter if you sweat around your belly you’re sweating your fat out”

“My mate told me if I inject myself with insulin, it makes your muscles grow quicker”

NO NO NO NO NO! Just stop! People GENUINELY believe the bullshit they read online, or what their mates-girlfriends-mothers-pug told them. We might sit here and have a giggle at them, but some of these are actually deadly. Ask yourself, how likely is this to be safe and true? Don’t just believe what you read, do your own research and evaluate the evidence before trying something radical.

4) What do you believe?

Sadly the health and fitness industry is saturated with so-called gurus, experts, and people after a quick buck from preying on peoples’ insecurities. Some people become so engrossed in a certain type of diet or fitness fad, that they find it hard to open their mind to anything else. If someone questions the way you eat or the way you train, and you find yourself getting angry, defensive, emotional, or downright preachy about what you’re doing, ask yourself one question…..WHY? What does this diet or routine mean to you? Is it the best thing for you? Once a belief becomes dogma, it is very hard to challenge, let alone change. Some gym chains, diets, weight loss groups and fitness routines have gathered cult-like status, not necessarily because of the results they yield, but because it gives people something to be a part of and believe in. I can’t deny that being a part of something feels good, and it’s a great way to meet people, and if you’ve done your research and you’re happy that whatever you’re doing is good for you, carry on. But always keep an open mind, because what’s right for you and your body today might not be the right thing tomorrow.

5) The secret way to lose weight fast…

Is to stop looking for quick ways to lose weight or build muscle, and actually use that time in the gym working for the body you deserve. There are so many “secret” ways to weight loss on the internet, the phrase itself is a contradiction in terms. If these weight loss tools were that secret, how come Google spurted out 46,300,000 results when I typed in “secret way to lose weight fast”…it’s clearly not a very well kept secret! Are you ready for the ONLY real secret to decreasing body fat and increasing muscle tissue to give that lean, defined look that most people are searching for……?

Eat less crap. Do more exercise.

 

Simples 🙂 as always, if you’d like any help, advice or clarification on any of my blog posts, feel free to drop me an email on alexvalentinept@mail.com

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