Eat like a PT

September 17th, 2013

Many times during sessions a client has asked me what my normal day of eating consists of. I decided as this has cropped up a few times lately to write a blog post on this topic.

Now personal trainers by their own admission are freaks: from those that focus on muscle building and consume vast quantities of Protein to avoid the dreaded “nitrogen-negative”, to those that load up on carbs throughout the day to fuel long endurance sessions alongside their work during sessions with clients. There are the PTs who follow a paleo “eat like a caveman” style diet and those that have a mish-mash of all of their experiences which has evolved into their own consumption.

I definitely fall into the latter.

Here we go with a normal day (if I’m at home intermittently):

5:00 / 5:30am – Porridge made with sultantas and topped with cinnamon (occasionally using coconut milk)

7:00am ish – Coffee, usually a double espresso cappuccino with semi skimmed milk

9:30/10:00am – 2 x Oatcakes covered with peanut butter (with a little on my finger for the dog)

11:30/12:00pm – 3 egg omelette or scrambled in a bagel. Couple of squares of very dark chocolate.

2:00pm – Coffee, again a double shot. 2 x oatcakes if I’m hungry if its a busy day. If I have time a little natural yoghurt with a load of blueberries.

3:00/4:00pm – if I’m at home, a salmon fillet or a can of tuna. Little taste for the dog. If I’m out this turns into any protein I can get my hands on, supermarket salad bars are good for boiled eggs, tuna, chicken etc.

5:00/7:00pm – Chicken with potatoes, or pork occasionally, very occasionally beef.

Pre-bed – Spoon of peanut butter or handful of mixed unsalted nuts.

Water is throughout, probably around 1.5-2litres each day.

And there you have it. The next time I preach about anything related to your diet you have comeback material in abundance.

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Too much work and no rest

September 12th, 2012

Ok so I’m not the most prolific of bloggers, but this one warranted a post: my first injury in around 6 years.

After a throbbing in the calf, hamstring and hip I scuttled off to the physio and was diagnosed with tightness in the TFL or Tensor Fascia Latae along with a tight IT band. Both pretty routine runners/triathletes injuries which I’ve had in clients previously, but nothing I’d suffered myself. The pain was eminating from the Sciatic nerve right down the leg, and if my pain (about a 7 out of 10 sometimes shooting up to an 11) was an indicator of how real Sciatic problems feel then I really pity people who have it for long periods.

Mine was more than likely down to overtraining, lack of rest between training, and muscle imbalances (a right leg slightly weaker than the left). I also put this down to a reduction in the number of Pilates classes I teach at present. For various reasons I teach roughly half the Pilates that I did this time in 2011, and it is obviously affecting the mechanics of my legs. Throw in a half ironman tri in August which I never really recovered from and it was waiting to happen.

Self myofascial release using a foam roller is something I’ve recommended to a handful of clients in the past, Tony the fridge being one of them, but it isn’t something I’ve ever took a lot of time over myself. I’m now on first name terms with my foam roller – it actually becomes pleasurable like a massage after a while.

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Heel or toe?

May 11th, 2012

There is quite a bit said these days about different running styles and the pros and cons of each. I’ve got clients at the minute who run traditional with a heel strike, neutral with a mid foot strike and tigger-style like me – bouncing off the front foot. They all have their little quirks when running like everyone, as no two styles are completely the same, and they all run the risk of injuries from the repetitive and relentless pounding movement that is running.

First thing to say in that respect regarding pros and cons is that I haven’t noticed any particular links between one running style and a particular injury. Plantar-fasciatitis, Achilles problems, runners knee – whether you heel strike or front foot strike the risks are there. What I would say from experience is that I have never suffered any running injuries myself as a front foot runner, and if I did have to call it either way I would say that less running “niggles” occur with a mid or front foot style.

It really has become big business though. I currently wear a pair of Newton Gravity running shoes (see my bruised and battered pair in the image) which a client kindly gave me. They’re due to be replaced now and the best price I have found is £95 (down from £115). Very different scenario from when I first began as a PT and had a policy of spending no more than £40 on trainers. I’ve really noticed the difference these have made to my running though so I’m suckered. Average prices for other hardcore running shoes like Brooks and Asics tend to be around the £70-90 mark. I’ve heard anecdotal talk of conflicting advice being given from one shop to the next about a persons running style though, so care should always be taken to make sure you don’t get suckered into the most expensive pair. A shop who watches you run up the street to check your gait and running style?? Hmm.....A better analysis is done by a video recorded sequence which the shop replays to you and talks through your individual style and needs. Tread carefully (no pun intended)..

The current argument is that striking with your heel, as has been preached by the likes of Nike and Adidas for years to sell their trainers with 2 inches of rubber on the heel, actually acts like a brake and causes greater impact through the joints and requires more energy and effort to propel the body forwards. The idea of striking with the mid or front foot requires a “land, lever, lift” pattern and a shorter, lighter stride pattern. This is, so the theory goes, more efficient, less likely to result in injury, and well,... quicker.

I own a pair of Vibram Five fingers, foot glove style shoes for barefoot style running and recently did a few miles in them whilst abroad on holiday and found that quite liberating and natural. The feeling was of being very light on the feet and gliding along rather than pounding along. This isn’t something I plan on doing whilst at home due to the uneven surfaces, potholes, wonky pavements and rain. It did get my thinking a bit more though about barefoot running which is a whole different approach again...

I always tell clients to run natural, how they feel; it is after all the most primitive movement we can make and the simplest form of exercise there is.

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The Truth About Exercise

March 7th , 2012

There's been quite a bit said about last weeks BBC1 Horizon programme "The truth about exercise". The first I heard of it was when a client told me of a debate he'd had at work with someone making the claim that just 3 minutes a week was all you need, and that my client who is a keen triathlete was wasting his time with hours and hours of training. The story had become a headliner grabber in some of the tabloids as well as TV news stations since the programme was broadcast on February 27th.

The conclusion from the programme, as I interpret it, is that 3 minutes of intense exercise per week increases "non exercise activity thermogenesis" or NEAT as they called it and doing this High intensity interval training, or HIIT, is better than hitting the gym for hours on end. This isn't anything new to myself and trainers like me; they've just changed two names a little and dressed it up to appeal to the media. For NEAT, read "Afterburn effect" as I call it, where the metabolism is at a heightened state for 24-36 hours after training. A scientific name for this is Excessive Post-Exercise Oxygen consumption, or EPOC.

The principles of high intensity interval training have been there for years. If you run on a treadmill at 60% of maximum heart rate for 30 mins, you might expend 300-400 Kcals, obviously depending on your body type and genetics. However if you run on a treadmill doing 1 minute sprints at 95% maximum heart rate to 1 min recoveries at 60%, and do this for 25-30minutes you will expend possibly 400-500kcals. A greater calorie expenditure for the session, plus you have boosted aerobic fitness, worked to increase VO2 max, and elicited the afterburn or EPOC effect. Bargain!

Of recent times the interval principle has been took further with "Tabata" intervals, where a tough as nails exercise is performed for 20secs very hard, then a recovery of 10 secs, and this is repeated 6-8 times. This is loosely what the presenter of the Horizon programme was doing on the stationary bike; indeed Tabata intervals were based on a study which consisted of stationary bike intervals where the participants were took to almost exhaustion on each interval. This led to an increase in VO2 max during the study.

I'm very much a believer of "different strokes for different folks", and this kind of one size fits all bit of advice is dangerous as some people will take this literally and tone down their training to minimal amounts, without actually increasing the intensity sufficiently. I have clients who train for running, cycling, triathlon, walking, weight loss, sports and general well being, and they all have different needs in their programmes.

Now I'm not panicking about my job just yet, and the possibility of this "secret" coming out about exercise doesn't make me want to hang up my trainers.

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Wind and rain but no white stuff

January 6th, 2012

Well the snow never materialised and the sledge has stayed packed away in the loft for another winter! Unless we are forecast some more snow I think my outdoor sessions will have to involve the standard surfaces of grass, sand and tarmac..

2012 so far has seen the clients I've trained doing a combination of kettlebell lifts, intervals, boxing, bodyweight exercises and Pilates. Sure everyone is carrying a few extra kilos from the festive period but I'm a firm believer in the 90/10 rule: 90% of the time eating well and moving your body and the other 10% doing (and eating) a little of what you fancy. Notice use of the word "little" though, no splurges allowed. New year normally means renewed impetus for most people's training and this can quite often result in the xmas weight-plus being lost, for clients whose goal is weight loss.

My own new year always starts with me sitting down with a bit of paper and writing out all the years races I plan on doing and all my fitness goals. I totally recommend doing this as it gives you a clear view of what training is expected for the year and allows you to plan holidays and other commitments around events. Here's a bit of what 2012 holds for me:

April - North Tyneside 10k + trip to Cyprus hopefully to participate in a Triathlon in warmer temps.

June - Busy one...QE2 triathlon Ashington, Blaydon Race (150th anniversary)

July - Hebburn sprint triathlon and Ripon olympic triathlon

August - Allerthorpe classic olympic triathlon

Whatever your own goals this year, have fun and train hard :-)

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Let it snow..

December 7th, 2011

As we approach Christmas its the time of year now when most people start to wind down with their work life, spending time with family and friends becomes more important, and all things related to fitness tend to go out the window as the 2 for £10 tins of Quality Street start calling. Well for most people...


A lot of people see the winter as a great chance to get some alternative training in; different methods and a different approach to their normal routine. Some people who participate in what would be called Triathlon and other “summer-sports”, not that we had much of a summer here in the north-east in 2011, call this the off-season and a chance to begin laying down the building blocks for next years events. For road runners, this is essentially a year-round season so a lot of races take place over the festive period. Indeed one of my own favourite races takes place on December 17th this year at Saltwell park in Gateshead, so definitely no off-season for me and the rest of the runners there.


To illustrate some of the various training approaches, I’ll use a couple of clients I’ve trained this week: Firstly my Tuesday morning client who amongst other things would like to shed a stone before Christmas. Already quite a keen runner and kettlebell enthusiast, his mornings and evenings are spent doing treadmill intervals, kettlebell circuits, and core workouts in his garage. I’ve also set a variety of challenges, such as time targets for completing reps using KBs, for him to push himself further. Secondly, my Tuesday lunchtime client, who is preparing for the Cleveland Steelman Triathlon race in July next year. 2k swim, 90k cycle and 21k run are the race distances, so her winter is going to be spent doing turbo-trainer sessions (indoor cycling), running between 10 and 20k, hill intervals, twice weekly swim session with her tri club, and of course her weekly PT sessions with me. We focus mainly on core work in her sessions using different tools, and I was actually called an “evil genius” this week for my use of a rope and tyre on the sand.


The winter throws up some different challenges for my work too. The obvious travel limitations of driving a rear wheel drive car in the ice and snow being the first one; god bless public transport and my own two feet. The second is actually how to train outdoors in challenging conditions. Last year saw me breaking out the sledge from the loft and strapping weights to it, allowing me to conjure up a really challenging outdoor workout with a winter theme. The half dozen or so clients who did this at the time loved it. This year the thinking cap is definitely on and I forsee sledges, tyres, walking poles....


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..

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Getting caked in mud, soaked through, but loving it!

October 16th, 2011

Along with 3 clients, a handful of mates, and about 800 other people, I took part in the Newcastle Stampede this morning. This consists of a 10k cross-country run through the woods and trails around Gosforth Park Racecourse. Obstacles included hay bales (god, loads of hay bales..) to jump over, tunnels full of mudied water to climb through, trenches and mud pits to crawl through and the odd rope or other assorted random obstacle that the marines who organised it fancied putting in. The course wasnt anywhere near as challenging as last year; a good example being the stream of water which had to be waded through for a good half mile this year was replaced with a jog alongside it. I'm guessing they just had too many people last year turning ankles or getting legs bloodied from some of the more extreme obstacles. Still a good challenge for everyone who took part.

It did get me thinking about some of the races which are available to road runners, fell runners, triathletes, adventure seekers and the like. These days instead of running a flat 10k on tarmac, substitute this for a hilly run around Kielder Water. Instead of a normal sprint or standard distance triathlon there are guys who take part in the Helvelyn Triathlon, culminating in one of the toughest runs (well, power walk so I've heard) around. It really goes against the back to basics approach of a lot of the fitness industry elsewhere, and is actually quite refreshing to have such a choice of things to tackle. One of my own personal (crazy) goals for next year, is to participate in the Midnight Run in Tromsø, Norway, where the 2 main things setting this race apart are the fantastic scenery obviously, and the late start time of 8pm due to the 2 months constant daylight there at that time of year. Should be fun..

Back to today's race: much better conditions than last year when it bucketed down and was about 10 degrees cooler. As mentioned earlier it was easier but not easy, still a load of fun and one I'll be signing up for each year. Watch out for me next year if youre there; I'll be the one caked in mud at the finish, no wait.. thats everyone..

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Going hardcore (but lightweight)...

October 12th, 2011

Been going a lot more hardcore with some of my training methods over the last month or so, whilst at the same time simpifying some of the tools I'm using. Looking back when I first started PTing, it was pretty common for me to turn up at a client's property with a Reebok step, sometimes a mini trampoline, dumbells and huge kit bags full of assorted "toys". Not sure to this day how I got around with all this gear....

Fast forward to 2011 and in the boot of my (now smaller) car are such delights as kettlebells, a sledgehammer, a tyre (to whack the hell out of with the sledgehammer - obviously!!), sandbags, water cannisters (for a tough farmers walk), and a much smaller kit bag with ultra-portable training tools like skipping ropes, resistance bands and ankle weights. I hope karma factors this in after my years of carbon-emissions from lugging all that chunky stuff around in a big saloon car...

There's definately a trend in the fitness industry to a more back to basics approach. Crossfit classes are based on traditional Olympic bar lifts, Kettlebells go back centuries if not millenia, and sledgehammer training has been massive in the states for many years. Sledgehammer training is really challenging, really beneficial in whole body strengthening due to the primal movement patterns involved, and most of all is great fun and a fantastic way of letting off steam.

Now if you see me arrive at a session with a client, pulling out a tyre and a sledgehammer, and a pack of playing cards (random it may seem) then it'll be one hell of a workout..

Les, my client in the pictures, knows what the pack of cards are for ;-)

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How to stand out in the Great North Run

October 1st, 2011

What do you do when you've ran the Great North Run 15 times already, and want to really stand out? You run it wearing a fridge on your back of course.

I first met Tony Morrison in March 2011 at the offices of his company, Targets Located, in Gateshead on a Wednesday lunchtime to discuss possible training. 5 minutes into his consultation and he had told me he intended to firstly run the Great North Run wearing a plasma TV or fridge (he wasn't sure at that stage), then run from Wembley to St James Park in Newcastle in as little time as possible, then compete in the 2012 Badwater Ultra Marathon; a 135 mile non-stop race from Death Valley to Mt Whitney in California in temperatures up to 55 degrees. "Is this guy serious?" I found myself asking silently.

Then Tony expanded on some of the training he had completed already. A keen runner, passionate about forefoot running and Newton Gravity trainers, he had already completed the London Marathon several times, Edinburgh Marathon, was signed up to the Barcelona Marathon, and routinely ran 20-30 miles. His favourite run at that time had been a recent effort where his wife Janita drove him to Hexham and dropped him off there, letting Tony run a picturesque route home. To Hebburn where he lived..

I began training with Tony the next week with my initial remit being to improve core strength and improve lean muscle mass whilst attempting to lower body fat, all in order to benefit his running and keep him in the best shape possible for his challenges to come. We began with Kettlebells and within 2 sessions Tony was hooked; on arriving at one session I noticed he had purchased a set of shiny cast iron Kettlebells all of his own to use. Soon the lifts began to take shape and he was throwing the weights around with increasing confidence, real progressive overload taking place, and he was getting stronger and stronger.

Towards the middle of the summer we incorporated weighted bag running. I used a pretty standard Nike backpack with magazines, a kettlebell and towels stuffed in (to stop the Kettlebell jumping around), and we headed out on between 4 and 6 mile runs. Sometimes hilly, these training runs were invaluable if Tony was to complete his Great North Run target.

In the 2 month period before the Great North Run Tony's training increased onto longer runs, with and without the extra weight, and probably the hardest half marathon I've ever done; Tony's "Angel run" from his home winding up the old waggonways to the Angel of the north monument. Hilly in parts but very scenic.

In the 2 week period before the Great North Run, Tony began attracting quite a bit of media attention for the "fridge run". It began with a front page spread on the local Shields Gazette, quickly picked up by the Newcastle Journal, then a mention on Channel 5's "The Wright Stuff", followed by a feature on BBC Look North where Tony and I were interviewed about the run. He was featured on Metro Radio in the week prior to the race, then was featured on the BBC One coverage on the actual day being interviewed by Jonathan Edwards.

I'm really pleased to say, after a long and hard slog Tony completed the Great North Run, carrying a 40kg fridge on his back, in an amazing time of 2 hours 51 minutes. He was running for South Tyneside Football Trust, a local organisation providing community based football activities for the area.

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