Frequently Asked Questions

Exercise

What type of exercise do you provide and recommend?

We strongly advocate plenty of daily movement for overall health. Activities such as brisk walking, recreational sports, gardening, and even housework are good for you! Science now realises that keeping the body moving at a low intensity has far more benefits to health than previously assumed. It’s the majority of time spent inactive that is the problem for most people. Our bodies adapt negatively to fixed positions. It can take years before you notice, as you gradually become far more fragile than you used to be. See the question on ageing for more details.

 

Set for Life uses the term ‘exercise’ for training biomechanically correct movements against a resistance. We intend to make you stronger and fitter, with improved flexibility and posture.

 

We certainly don’t advocate spending monotonous hours sweating away on ‘cardio’ equipment (such as an exercise bike or treadmill) to burn calories. This is actually counter-productive if your goal is to lose body fat and keep it off. Most people actually eat more after this kind of exercise (as it tends to stimulate the appetite) and massively overestimate how many calories they've burned. This is compounded by new research that suggests that we can subconsiously move less for a day or two after cardio exercise, further undoing the hard work.

Resistance Training

How can resistance training improve my fitness?

Consider your desktop computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. They all rely on powerful processors, and a good connection to the internet to function properly. Now imagine your muscles as those electrical devices, and your brain as your internet service provider. Proper resistance training boosts the signals from the brain to your muscles, and also upgrades the muscle fibre ‘processors’.

 

This means that your heart and lungs don’t have to work so hard to do the same amount of work, giving you more endurance. For example, if you’re easily out of breath climbing a set of stairs, this will be improved by making your buttocks, thighs and calves stronger.

 

Being stronger overall, carries over in everyday life in so many ways. Something as simple as developing a good grip is not just useful for opening jars or carrying the shopping!

What about aerobic exercise for fitness?

If you take up running, cycling or swimming, which are seen as aerobic or ‘cardio’ forms of exercise, you will indeed get fitter over time, but that fitness is mainly specific to that activity. Unless you’re a triathlete, who spends a lot of time training all three disciplines, someone who is extremely fit at cycling is likely to be comparatively worse at running, and vice versa. There is a skill component to these activities that is often overlooked. The body becomes more efficient at the movements involved, taking less energy each time they're 'practiced'.

 

The VO2 max test is still the gold standard to measure overall fitness. Athletes are wired up to monitoring devices, and push themselves to the absolute limit to see how much oxygen they can process. A study was done back in the 1970’s, where the subjects trained just one leg on an exercise bike for several weeks; the other leg wasn’t trained at all.

 

When they tested their VO2 max on the bike, the trained legs showed an increase of 23%, but the untrained legs showed no improvement. VO2 max is supposed to represent overall fitness levels, but this study showed that fitness is actually a measure of adaptations in specific muscles.

 

If you enjoy activities such as running, cycling and swimming, then by all means go for it. However, you must have great technique to minimise the wear and tear on joints and ligaments, and take preventative measures to improve recovery.

 

If your goal is simply to look and feel better, then prolonged cardio exercise is a waste of time, and you will get far more benefit out of full-body resistance training and regular brisk walks.

Is resistance training the same as bodybuilding?

Thanks to the media, the general public mostly associates ‘lifting weights’ with the extremes of bodybuilding. This is understandably off putting, as massive, bulky muscles are not universally appealing, or even practical! There’s several reasons for why some people end up looking this way, but the top 3 are:

 

Rare genetics.

Chemical ‘enhancement’.

The training methods used.

 

Set for Life uses safe resistance training (see below) that dramatically improves strength and increases muscle tone, but does not produce the bodybuilder look. The only exception to this would be an extremely rare person who already has large muscles from doing no formal exercise!

 

This particularly applies to women, who often fear that weight training might make them appear masculine. We are so confident that this would not be the case, that if you become concerned with how your body starts to look, we will gladly refund your entire programme.

How can resistance training help me to lose fat?

A valuable side benefit that most people don’t realise about resistance training, is that the more toned you are, the more fat your body burns all day long, just to keep those muscles functioning. Therefore if you increase the strength of the largest muscles in the body (the buttocks, legs and upper back) you will get the most benefit.

 

Ironically, it’s these muscles that are the weakest for 99% of people, mainly due to a lack of stimulating activity and too much time spent sitting.

 

Resistance training provides ‘metabolic insurance’ against storing fat, as long as you are eating the right amount and the right quality of food for your body type.

Is resistance training safe?

There are many forms of resistance training, including Olympic powerlifting, bodybuilding, gymnastics, and the worldwide phenomenon of Crossfit. These methods are great for people with particular goals, but not exactly appealing or practical for the vast majority.

 

The best kept secret in the world of resistance training is a method that uses lighter resistances (also your own bodyweight) with deliberately slow and controlled movements. It may not be as ego boosting to the younger crowd (or ever become a spectator sport!) but it massively lowers the stress on the joints and chances of injury. Studies have also shown that it stimulates muscle fibres and bone density just as effectively as the more common methods.

 

Gawain has been resistance training on and off for over 20 years. The off periods were due to regular back and shoulder pain and injuries. Since training using this particular method, he’s stronger now in his 40’s than he’s ever been, without any of those niggling problems.

Nutrition

Why are traditional diets a bad way to lose weight?

Healthy weight loss follows a programme designed to gradually lose body fat while maintaining lean mass. Lean mass is primarily composed of muscle tissue, plus connective tissue, organ tissue and even your bones. If you follow a typical 'diet', that is only based on how many calories you eat compared to how many calories you burn, you start to cannibalize this lean mass. When you regain the weight you originally lost, you will mostly be gaining more fat than you had in the first place. So you may end up weighing the same again, but your body composition is actually worse. And each time you do another round of dieting, the worse it gets.

Other

Is it possible to slow down the ageing process?

We can’t slow the passage of time, but we can certainly slow down the physiological processes that accompany it. The Space Race of the 50’s and 60’s, accelerated our knowledge of how ageing affects us. Astronauts have to be incredibly conditioned, both physically and mentally, in order to cope with the extreme stresses of space travel.

 

It was a major shock that after just a few days in space, all of the health markers of the astronauts had deteriorated much faster than expected. It was primarily due the lack of gravity providing resistance to their muscles and cardiovascular system, that also promoted a rapid loss of bone density. Astronauts on the International Space station now spend several hours a day exercising to try and compensate.

 

Recent studies have shown that a lack of daily movement down here on earth has the same effect as zero gravity does on astronauts, just so slowly that we don’t notice, and accept it as a normal part of 'getting older'. If you spend most of the day sitting, you are ageing far faster than you should be. This results in progressively less muscle tone, more body fat and weaker bones. It does not have to be this way, and it can be offset with far less exercise that the astronauts have to do.

 

Resistance training has even been shown to actually reverse the age signature for many genes following several months of training. Nothing else, including drugs or natural supplements, has been shown to have the same effect on humans!

How can I lower stress?

Not all stress is bad for you. Our bodies actually need certain levels of periodic stress to stay healthy, which has been termed as 'eustress'. We all know that vegetables are good for us, but the reasons why are quite surprising. Many varieties are actually toxic, but in micro-doses that trigger our immune system to produce natural antioxidants to repair damaged cells.

 

A properly designed resistance training programme works in similar way. You can stress the muscles, heart and lungs just enough to send a message that something in the environment is a threat. This starts an adaptation process, where we become slightly stronger over the next few days, and better prepared for the next time.

 

It’s a fine line between hitting this ‘minimum effective dose’ and doing too much though. Doing too much intense exercise can go beyond our recovery capabilities, and our immune system struggles to function properly. It’s a major reason why extremely fit athletes become ill so often!

 

So short-term 'eustress' is good, but it’s the long term ‘chronic’ stress that’s bad. All kinds of life events or daily situations can trigger the brain to get caught in a loop of depressive thoughts and anxiety. This often leads to eating chemically processed comfort foods that give the illusion of a quick fix, but actually provoke a hormonal response that makes the ongoing situation far worse.

 

Regular exercise produces the feel-good chemicals known as endorphins, which are typically in short supply with chronic stress, and it’s essential to combine this with a gradual transition to eating the right foods. Layer in a good sleep routine and relaxation through breathing techniques, and chronic stress can be overcome.

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