Minimal Training: Less Work, Similar Results

We aren’t always able to devote as much time as we’d like to training. Sometimes we’re just too busy, sometimes we’re on holidays, and sometimes we’re just not motivated. Time can also be a major barrier that prevents people from starting exercise in the first place. A lot of newcomers are under the impression that they need to spend hours upon hours in the gym each week. This either puts them off even trying, or can lead to burnout after a few weeks. Fortunately, there’s a concept that we like to call minimal training that can help solve both of these problems.

Minimal training is the least amount of resistance exercise you can do whilst still making meaningful gains in health, strength, and muscle size. The amount of training required will differ depending on your goal, so we’ll talk about them one at a time.

How little training do you need?

To improve health, the World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of 2 resistance training sessions per week.1 Further evidence on the topic indicates that reductions in all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality are maximised with 60 minutes of resistance training per week.2

For strength, studies have shown that experienced lifters can get meaningfully stronger with 1-4 weekly sets per exercise.3 Given that training experience is generally associated with slower rates of strength gain, the minimum dose is likely even lower for beginners.

To build muscle, it seems as though a minimum of 4 weekly sets per muscle group is sufficient.4 These sets need to be high effort, either at or close to muscular failure. There is also some evidence to suggest that older adults (60+) require higher weekly training volume to maintain their gains.5

Putting this all together, we can see that it’s possible to make meaningful gains in health, strength and muscle size with relatively little time spent in the gym each week.

How to use minimal training

How you take advantage of minimal training will depend on your goals and the time you have available to spend in the gym.

One thing that we know about resistance training is that doing more weekly volume (sets and reps) generally leads to greater increases in strength and muscle. If you’ve got the time and want to maximise these outcomes, we’d recommend doing more than minimal training. The same goes for health. If you want to get the best results possible, we’d recommend doing as much training as you can reasonably manage.

The studies looking at minimal training only looked at outcomes over 6-12 weeks.6 It may be possible to continue making similar gains over a longer timespan, but we don’t yet have the evidence to support that. With that in mind, you may reach a point where you stop seeing results with minimal training. When that happens, we would recommend slowly adding more volume as necessary.

So then who would we actually recommend minimal training for? The first group would be those for whom time spent in the gym is a barrier to exercising at all. Even if it’s not optimal, the difference in outcomes between minimal training and no training is incredibly significant. The second group would be people who are temporarily unable to train as much as they normal would. This could be due to scheduling, stress, lack of motivation, or holidays. In these scenarios, we’d recommend doing minimal training as long as you need to, but to start returning to your regular training dose as soon as you can.

Minimal training doesn’t mean minimal results

As we’ve seen, it’s possible to continue making meaningful gains in strength, muscle, and health with a minimal amount of training. We recommend this approach for people who lack time or are put off by spending ages in the gym. However, this isn’t a permanent solution, and more training volume may be required after some time to continue seeing results.

If you’ve still got questions about minimal training, get in touch with us to see how one of our excellent personal trainers can help you out!

References

  1. World Health Organisation Physical Activity Guidelines ↩︎
  2. Resistance Training and Mortality Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis ↩︎
  3. The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required to Increase 1RM Strength in Resistance-Trained Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis/; The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required for 1RM Strength in Powerlifters ↩︎
  4. No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review ↩︎
  5. Exercise dosing to retain resistance training adaptations in young and older adults ↩︎
  6. The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required to Increase 1RM Strength in Resistance-Trained Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis/; The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required for 1RM Strength in Powerlifters ↩︎

Top Strategies To Boost Your Success with Habit Stacking

Five Reasons You Need A Personal Trainer

In the quest for a healthier lifestyle, putting as many health-promoting behaviours on autopilot as possible will reduce decision fatigue and boost adherence. To this end, habit stacking can really boost your chance of success and consistency. With habit stacking you will find yourself better navigating around the obstacles of incorporating new habits into your daily routine. 

We have all the best intentions of making these health-promoting behaviours in our day consistent. Doing so ensures we are kicking off the year on the right foot. However, our busy lives and schedules can make implementing new healthier habits feel quite tedious.

So, how do some people stay so consistent and continuously implement their new healthy habits?

This is where the art of habit stacking can come in. It’s a powerful strategy that involves piggybacking new behaviours onto already existing ones. Overall, this approach not only streamlines your efforts but also helps promote a seamless integration of positive habits into your daily life. 

The Ripple Effect of Success

Firstly, the beauty of habit stacking lies in its ripple effect. As you successfully integrate one habit into your routine, the sense of accomplishment and positive reinforcement spills over into other aspects of your life. 

Small victories breed confidence, creating a momentum that propels you toward more ambitious health and fitness goals. Therefore, habits are going to be the backbone of consistency as they have seamlessly merged with your routine. They will continue to be present after the motivation and interest dissipates. 

Rewiring Our Routine with Habits

In a weight loss study conducted over eight weeks, habit stacking was put to the test. Participants were split into either a habit focused with diet and activity behaviours or dietary intervention alone. As a result, the habit focused group had lost 2kg compared to 0.4kg in the diet alone group.

In addition, at the end of a 32-week follow-up, researchers found that the participants in the habit focused group had developed these behaviours for the long term. Some had even stated that they felt ‘quite strange’ if they did not do them. 

To sum up the research findings above, habits help you pave the way for living a sustainable healthy lifestyle. It becomes second nature in your routine. This reduces the cognitive load required when trying to make health-promoting decisions.

Habit Stacking In Practice

Here is an example of how I used the method of habit stacking in my client, Brooke’s routine.  One of Brooke’s intentions was to increase her daily movement. To begin, we investigated what her daily routine looked like. 

Each day she was commuting on the train into work. As a result, we established that she could get off the train a stop earlier to get a 10-minute walk in on her way to work.

How we habit stacked on that daily action was by incorporating movement around this already existing routine that she did. Each day an extra 20 minutes of walking was being done without it having to be an allocated walk in the day. 

Secondly, we focused on increasing her daily water intake. We looked at here we could piggyback this off an already existing daily action. For instance, she found she was having about 5 cups of tea and coffee. Each time she had a cup of tea or coffee, she consumed a glass of water. In short, she very quickly increased her water intake without having to think spontaneously about it during her day.

Keeping Habit Stacking Easy

In conclusion, habit stacking is a game-changer for those seeking sustainable health and fitness improvements. Through strategically linking new habits to existing routines, you not only simplify the process but also create a balanced alliance between various aspects of your life. Whether it’s incorporating physical activity, optimising nutrition, or embracing mindfulness, habit stacking empowers you to build a foundation for lasting well-being, one small change at a time. If you’re looking to create new healthy habits in your life and aren’t sure where to start, you can contact us here.

References:

  1. Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice

Tips Yule Love for the Holiday Season!

In our previous article, we looked at how our trainers are approaching their training these holidays. Training isn’t the only health promoting behaviour, however. Whether it’s enjoying social events, eating good food or being generally active, there’s plenty to do. For many, although the holiday period is a time to be festive, stress looms. Some might worry they’ll derail their hard work, others simply dreading the hoo-ha of events and gatherings. Thankfully, being sufficiently active and maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t involve rigorous sacrifice. Although everyone’s experience will be different, today we’ll share our tips about how we as Trainers still maintain our health through this holiday season.

Rachael: Consistency is Key

The saying that I find myself repeating to clients every year is: It’s not what you do between Christmas and New Years, but what you do between New Years and Christmas. Of all the tips I give my clients, this is the most important.

The break over Christmas and New Years is only a week. If we break that down, it’s only 2% of our entire year. Definitely not enough time to derail our progress with our nutrition or our training. If you are like myself and really enjoy training, by all means, continue to do so over the break. You might find that having a more lax schedule makes training easier to fit into your day or week. On the flip side, taking that time off is also perfectly acceptable if you’d prefer to reset at the start of the New Year. There is no right or wrong approach to training on holidays. Do what feels right, and try to stay active where you can.

I’d also recommend cutting yourself some slack when it comes to your diet, even if you’re working towards a specific body composition goal. Enjoy the extra wining and dining, and that delicious Christmas lunch you’ve been waiting all year for. If I am working with a client on their nutrition over the Christmas and New Year period, I will typically plan a “diet break” over that time so there’s less pressure to stick to their diet (whatever that might look like), and more time to relax and unwind. I’ve never had a client say no to that!

Regardless of how you decide to tackle your Christmas and New Years, I hope that it’s joyful and one to remember.

Jake: Look for Opportunities

One of my tips is to reframe the holiday period in regards to being active. Practically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with kicking back and taking it easy for a couple of weeks. Actual strength and muscle loss and a decay in cardiovascular fitness takes at least a few weeks of not just detraining, but restrictive activity (think bed rest) to significantly decay. Moreover, without getting too technical, some of the adaptations we get from training (capillaries, myonuclei etc.) don’t just disappear immediately (or at all!) and therefore, it can often be easier to rebuild fitness than gain it in the first place if your break is not substantial. So, long story short, there’s nothing to worry about.

That being said, I always encourage people to continue to be active where possible and it doesn’t even have to be structured exercise. Go out to water parks and beat the heat, explore a new track or trail in our country’s backyard, maybe check out Luna Park, walk around and jump on some rides, then walk around the harbour and get some ice cream! It could even be some backyard cricket. Whatever the case, where there’s an opportunity to go out and create some memories, there’s often an opportunity to move your body too. I also think it’s important to not let others’ opinions of your health-making decisions affect you. If you simply enjoy training, there’s no “physiologic” basis for taking a break over two weeks. We don’t use that logic with basic stuff like brushing our teeth, why is it any different with being active?

You’re more than allowed to relax, but you’re also allowed to use that spare time to get out and enjoy the active things you already do.

Tom: Have a Break, Maybe have a Kit-Kat!

One of the tips that I like to give clients is about taking a step back from their regular routine. When it comes to the holidays, what you do won’t ultimately have a huge impact on your progress. I’m all for maintaining healthy exercise and nutrition habits if that’s your preference, but it’s also completely okay to just take a break.

I like to visualise where I want to be in a year, and how my holiday habits will affect that. Will I be significantly weaker than I expect at the end of 2024 because I didn’t train for two weeks? Absolutely not! Will my body composition be dramatically different because I had a bit more to eat than I normally would? It’s incredibly unlikely. I probably won’t be making much progress, but that’s what the other 50 weeks of the year are for. Health and fitness are lifelong endeavours. What matters is consistency in the long run, not what happens for a couple of weeks.

Instead, focus on giving yourself a break and doing what you enjoy. Sleeping in, spending time with loved ones, going for a scenic walk, or however you like to relax. Stress and tiredness have a well-documented negative effect on health and performance. Relaxing now means you’ll be in a better position to start working towards your goals again in January!

Overall, don’t worry too much about putting your training and nutrition on pause these holidays. It won’t make much difference in the long run, and you’ll get a ton of benefits from just taking the time to slow down and enjoy yourself.

Bri: Balance doesn’t mean walking a tightrope

I think we can all agree that during the festive season is a time when we may be indulging more. More than what we do during other times of the year. We may have more social events, friends and family gatherings, holidays and meals and drinks out.

My tips are about finding a balance. What I personally implement is focusing on keeping the other meals around those social outings smaller. Aiming to keep these meals more nutrient dense and lower in calorie. For example, if I have a dinner and a couple drinks planned, I will prioritise a smaller breakfast and lunch that day. I know that my meal later is going to be quite calorie dense and nutrient sparse. Rather than having the mindset of ‘I can’t go out for dinner’, I am making some small substitutes in the day. This is to try to even it out without having to do anything too extreme.

I am all for balance and believe that being social is part of a holistic approach to health. During the festive season however, I still implement what I like to say, ‘ticking off the boxes’. Ticking these off still ensures I provide my body with what it thrives off most days of the week.

It can feel like a tough balance between feeling like you are going to undo all of your hard work that you have accomplished and wanting to relax and enjoy yourself. However, as mentioned above, it’s what we do between New Years and Christmas as that is a much larger portion.

I believe in spending time with your loved ones and making memories over feeling unnecessary guilt.

Have a happy holidays!

We hope you found value in our four tips. The holidays should be a time to recharge and enjoy the company of loved ones. Whether it’s an epic feast, running around in our country’s backyard or staying inside to beat the heat and whipping out the old Monopoly board – there’s plenty of memories to be had. Your health isn’t dictated by one to two weeks of madness, instead, it’s built on long-term habits. Moreover, healthy habits are about striking a realistic balance. Let’s summarise today’s tips: To be consistent, we must allow room for the ebb and flow of life rather than force rigid routine. Ultimately, the holiday period is an opportunity to enjoy that rare commodity, time, the way you see fit.

As we wrap up for the year, the team at Ivy Training wish you all the best. If you’re looking to start the New Year strong, you can contact us here. Take care, and we’ll see you in 2024!

How We Keep Healthy During Holidays

Holidays are hectic. Disruptions to our regular routines as work winds down and social events pick up are the norm. Moreover, travel plans or long stretches in the car make it harder to prioritise healthy habits. Exercise is unfortunately one of the first things that people usually discard to make room for everything else going on. We’d love to say that there’s a one-size fits all trick but, we’d be lying. Holiday plans are rarely one-size fits all, but some basic principles hold true for all.

Today we’re going to share how each of the Ivy Team will train these holidays. Hopefully they’ll have some strategies that might work with whatever you’re getting up to this festive season!

Rachael: Flex your freedom over the holidays

As many of you might know, I am currently 34 weeks pregnant. I’ll be well into the second half of my third trimester over the Christmas and New Year break. Christmas is my favourite time of year, and I definitely prioritise spending time with family and friends over everything else. You definitely won’t catch me training on Christmas Day! However, I don’t go completely off track over the holidays. Instead, with a flexible schedule, I become more flexible with my training. Particularly with training on different days or at different times so I can squeeze in the increase in social (or Netflix) commitments.

I am currently training three times per week and will continue that schedule over the holidays. My training sessions take approximately an hour, ideally done in the morning after breakfast. This leaves the rest of the afternoon to either rest or socialise. I love training alongside my husband or a friend, so the benefit of training throughout the Christmas and New Year period is that I can usually rope someone into training with me.

In addition to my normal training schedule, I’ll also have more time to walk my two French Bulldogs, Pepper and Spice. They can’t handle going on long walks in the heat (and to be honest, neither can I while pregnant!), so my husband and I will take them twice daily walks, in the morning and in the evening. Aside from training and walking, it will be a relatively quiet Christmas and New Years for me. My social calendar isn’t too jam-packed, with most of my family and friends hanging out at my house rather than heading out. This likely means there will be less incidental physical activity, but I am okay with that with a growing bump!

Jake: Try something new!

For myself, the holiday session is a breath of fresh air. I usually like to be on the clock and keep that stopwatch running each training session as time is precious. I still try to stick to my timer between sets; however, during the break, I enjoy a bit of loitering and chatting with fellow gym dudes and dudettes while preparing for exercises. Especially at my local Club Lime, I know a fair bit of the membership base. It’s refreshing to be able to slow down, chat and then hit some hard sets.

It’s also a chance for me to get out of the gym and do something different. There’s a Wrestling Studio down the road from where I live and I’m planning on taking a couple of classes to help supplement my Jiu Jitsu. I also really love going on walks. The holidays are  a great chance to get out and explore. Hopefully Mel & I can do some nice long walks around Sydney and there’s no shortage of great spots to visit. Whether it’s Bondi to Bronti or Wentworth Falls, there’s plenty to see!

We all have our hobbies and do things we enjoy. Training simply happens to be something I really like to do. So, during the break, I tend to remain “active” but, trust me, when I’m not throwing some iron, bodies or hitting the trails, I’m most likely slouching on the couch killing time waiting for Squid Games Season 2 to come out!

Tom: Make the holiday period suit you

For me, the holiday break is a chance to have a little more flexibility in my schedule. I’ll likely have social events on most days over the next few weeks, but having time off from work will mean that I’ll have the chance to do things at my own pace (especially without needing to get up at 5am most days)! I also try to apply that same flexibility to my mindset around training and nutrition this time of year. It’s counterproductive to stress about missing training when I’m meant to be relaxing!

That being said, I don’t intend to make any planned changes to my training schedule over the break. I’d still like to lift weights 3 times a week, and do some cardio 2-3 times. What all this extra free time allows me to do is organise it however suits me. I could train early in the morning, later after a sleep-in, or even condense it into fewer days. Most importantly, I’m giving myself the flexibility to miss a session or two if that’s how things turn out!

The hot weather and packed calendar mean that my incidental activity is probably going to be lower than normal. It’s not ideal, but it’s also not the end of the world. Though with the rate at which grass grows at this time of year I’m sure I’ll get plenty of steps in with the mower!

Overall, this holiday period is all about just taking time to do what feels right on the day. The healthy habits are still there, but they’re not the priority. I’m looking forward to just hanging out with friends and family, chilling out, and catching up on sleep!

Bri: Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater


In the festive season, I cherish the freedom from the constraints of my watch. I adore having leisurely mornings, taking walks, and engaging in spontaneous activities throughout the day. During this period, I can do these without the need for a specific schedule dictated by time.

I love catching the morning sunshine for a walk (before it gets stinking hot). Grabbing a coffee at one of my favourite spots and going for a swim in the ocean and walking to dinner or if we are heading out for a drink.

My partner and I, absolutely love being outdoors and this has just become part of our day to day lifestyle. This means my movement will be remaining high unintentionally as those are the activities that we personally love doing. I have also been meaning to try paddle boarding this summer so that activity is certainly on the agenda!

When it comes to my own strength training, I will be continuing with my usual training sessions in the week. However, I also cut myself some slack if I miss a session if a social event or an activity arises. For me, missing a few sessions during the festive season isn’t a make or break as I know that I will be consistent the other 50 weeks of the year.

Aside from the activities and training sessions, I do spend this time relaxing, socialising and embracing the slow mornings, without the traffic.

Holidays are yours to spend

We encourage people to enjoy their breaks. This time of year is special, and to be cherished. Although we don’t suggest you derail all your health promoting habits, it’s unlikely that being a little bit more flexible than you usually are will hurt anything. In fact, allowing for flexibility as opposed to rigid cognitive-restraint is better for long term adherence and more sustainable. So please, enjoy your holiday time and use it as a chance to refresh and recharge for the new year. If you’re looking for all things health and fitness and how to hit your 2024 goals, you can contact us here.

From IVF to Third Trimester: How Rachael Continued Strength Training Throughout Fertility Treatment and Pregnancy

On 3 January 2023 my husband and I had an appointment with our doctor to discuss the issues we were experiencing falling pregnant. We had been married for almost 4 years and stopped using contraception after our wedding. Having not experienced pregnancy before, I didn’t know what to expect if we were to conceive. I did know however that I would want to continue strength training to stay as strong, fit and healthy for both myself and the baby.

The following months involved lots of tests, a disappointing appointment with a fertility specialist, and you guessed it – more tests. On 27 March 2023, we met with Dr. Robert Lahoud from IVF Australia who was very empathetic and informative. He explained that our best chance of falling pregnant was IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) combined with ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). By the end of that appointment, we were booked in for our first (and hopefully last) round of IVF.

Today I will be discussing my personal experience strength training throughout IVF and pregnancy. Before I get into the nitty-gritty, my pregnancy has been low-risk with minor pregnancy-related symptoms. Always consult with a medical professional about your training and exercise regime during fertility treatment and pregnancy.

If you’d like to skip to a specific section, you can click on one of the following links to go straight there:

  1. Training Throughout IVF
  2. Training Throughout My First Trimester
  3. Training Throughout My Second Trimester
  4. Training Throughout My Third Trimester
Pregnancy Announcement

Training Throughout IVF

Hormone Injections

On 22 April 2023 I started a round of IVF. Spoiler alert: we had a very successful round and hopefully we won’t have to do another one. There were only 16 days between my first Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) injection and my embryo transfer. However, there were a lot of blood tests, pelvic ultrasounds and medication in that short period of time.

I anticipated on sticking to my normal work and training regime as usual. During my first week of IVF, I did not experience any symptoms. I managed to train as expected with no adjustments to my training volume or load. It wasn’t until 1 May 2023 that I started to feel incredibly bloated and highly emotional. One of the lovely nurses called me that day to give me an update on my cycle monitoring and to see how I was feeling. When I responded with “Fine!” she asked, “Are you sure? Your estrogen levels are above 16000 pmol/L so I would be very surprised if you’re feeling fine.” The normal range is between 100-1700 pmol/L for context. Well, at least that explained the tears and average training session a few hours earlier. The week prior (day 3 of hormone injections) I deadlifted 150kg x 2 reps at RPE 8 and could only manage 150kg x 1 rep at RPE 8.5 that day, and didn’t have it in me to do any down sets which were 130kg x 5 reps x 2 sets the week before.

Training Program: Hormone Injections

Below is a snapshot of a training week during the hormone injections. Day 2 purposefully only has two exercises due to time constraints on that training day.

Day 1Day 2 Day 3
Touch and Go Bench Press
72kg x 4 reps x 1 set
65kg x 8 reps x 2 sets
Low Bar Squat
107.5kg x 2 reps x 1 set
95kg x 5 reps x 3 sets
High Bar Paused Squat
87kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Deadlift
150kg x 2 reps x 1 set
130kg x 5 reps x 2 sets
1ct Paused Bench Press
72.5kg x 2 reps x 1 set
67.5kg x 4 reps x 3 sets
3ct Paused Bench Press
60kg x 4 reps x 3 sets
Seated Cable Row
45kg x 8 reps x 2 sets
Feet Up Touch and Go Bench Press
55kg x 8 reps x 2 sets
Hamstring Curl
20kg x 15 reps x 2 sets
Single Arm Dumbbell Row
22.5kg x 10 reps x 2 sets
Bulgarian Split Squat
25kg x 10 reps x 2 sets

Deadlifting 150kg x 2 reps and Bench Pressing 72kg x 4 reps during hormone injections

The Egg Retrieval & Embryo Transfer

On 3 May 2023 I was booked in for my egg retrieval procedure. I took the day off work and training because I had to be there bright and early and the procedure was done under general anaesthesia. The egg retrieval was a success, with 19 eggs being collected. Later that day, I was in an incredible amount of pain to the point where my husband considered taking me to hospital. I cancelled work the following morning to get some rest, but worked the following afternoon with difficulty. I ended up taking the next day off work and training to rest and recover.

Before and after my egg retrieval procedure

That weekend, we were told that of the 19 eggs collected, 16 went through the ICSI process, 13 fertilised normally, 11 embryos matured normally, and 8 embryos were graded good enough to use or freeze. On 8 May 2023, I made the life changing decision to transfer an embryo and freeze the 7 remaining. The embryo transfer was pain-free, and I trained about an hour after the procedure. I was still feeling the effects of the egg retrieval procedure from 5 days earlier and I adjusted my training load to accommodate the discomfort I was experiencing. There was decrease in load in all exercises across the board, varying between a 2-23% drop. The most noticeable were deadlifts with a 23% decrease in load from 130kg x 5 reps to 100kg x 5 reps. Squats weren’t far behind with a 15% decrease in load from 95kg x 5 reps to 80kg x 5 reps.

Training Program: Post Egg Retrieval & Embryo Transfer

Below is a snapshot of a training week after the egg retrieval and embryo transfer. Day 2 purposefully only has two exercises due to time constraints on that training day.

Day 1Day 2 Day 3
Touch and Go Bench Press
70kg x 2 reps x 1 set
65kg x 5 reps x 2 sets
Low Bar Squat
80kg x 5 reps x 3 sets
High Bar Paused Squat
60kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Deadlift
100kg x 5 reps x 3 sets
1ct Paused Bench Press
60kg x 5 reps x 3 sets
3ct Paused Bench Press
55kg x 4 reps x 3 sets
Seated Cable Row
40kg x 12 reps x 2 sets
Feet Up Touch and Go Bench Press
50kg x 8 reps x 2 sets
Hamstring Curl
15kg x 15 reps x 2 sets
Single Arm Dumbbell Row
20kg x 10 reps x 2 sets
Bulgarian Split Squat
20kg x 10 reps x 2 sets

Deadlifting 100kg x 5 reps and Bench Pressing 70kg x 2 reps after the egg retrieval and embryo transfer

IVF Cycle Monitoring

For anyone who might be interested, below is a summarised copy of my cycle monitoring data from IVF Australia.

DateFSH DoseAntagonist DoseTrigger DoseProgesterone DoseEstrogen LevelsNotes
22/04/2023250.00205
23/04/2023250.00
24/04/2023250.00
25/04/2023250.00
26/04/2023250.00250.004981
27/04/2023250.00250.007414
28/04/2023250.00250.00
29/04/2023250.00250.00
30/04/2023250.00250.00
01/05/2023250.0016429
02/05/2023
03/05/2023600.0019 Eggs Retrieved, 16 Eggs ICSI
04/05/2023600.0013 Eggs Fertilised Normally
05/05/2023600.00
06/05/2023600.00
07/05/2023600.0011 Embryos Matured Normally
08/05/2023600.001 Embryo Transferred, 7 Embryos Frozen

Training Throughout My First Trimester

First Trimester: Weeks 1 to 6

On 19 May 2023 I had a blood test at IVF Australia which confirmed that I was pregnant. Technically, I was already 4 weeks pregnant at this point. My abdomen was still feeling quite sensitive after the egg retrieval procedure, so I decided to stop using my belt in training and some adjustments to exercise selection were made. Low bar squats were swapped for safety bar squats with an increase in rep range. The other modifications were mainly to my supplementary exercises. These modifications were made because it was time to update my training program, not because I was suddenly pregnant.

It felt great to continue training. Thankfully, I didn’t experience any nausea or morning sickness. My motivation to train was still high, and I didn’t struggle completing all of my sessions.

Training Program: Weeks 1 to 6

Below is a snapshot of a training week during weeks 1 to 6.

Day 1Day 2 Day 3
Feet Up Touch and Go Bench Press
55kg x 10 reps x 2 sets
Safety Bar Squat
67.5kg x 8 reps x 3 sets
Paused Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
35kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Tempo Bench Press
55kg x 5 reps x 2 sets
Touch and Go Bench Press
67.5kg x 4 reps x 2 sets
60kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Heels Elevated Goblet Squat
27.5kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift
105kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Paused Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
40kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Tempo Single Leg Leg Press
40kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Single Leg Hip Thrusts
Body weight x 10 reps x 3 sets
L-Sit Dumbbell Shoulder Press
20kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Single Arm Supinated Grip Pulldown
22.5kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Neutral Grip Seated Row
40kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Tricep Pushdown
15kg x 15 reps x 2 sets

Incline Bench Pressing 35kg x 10 reps and Tricep Pushdowns for 15kg x 15 reps while 4 weeks pregnant

First Trimester: Weeks 7 to 12

Prior to IVF treatment and falling pregnant, my husband and I had booked a long-overdue trip overseas. We travelled to Texas, Florida, The Bahamas and Mexico.

In addition to travelling, there were a few hiccups that disrupted my training from Weeks 7 to 12. Unfortunately I tested positive to COVID as soon as we landed in Florida. I experienced sciatica (apparently quite common during pregnancy), but walking and training seemed to improve my symptoms. I was also pretty damn tired. My husband caught me napping throughout all hours of the day if my head hit a pillow. I was a bit concerned that the dreaded nausea would start while we were overseas, but it never came!

I had intended on getting in as much training as possible while travelling, but this ended up only being 1 or 2 sessions per week.

Training Program: Weeks 7 to 12

Below is a snapshot of a training week during weeks 7 to 12.

Day 1Day 2 Day 3
Feet Up Touch and Go Bench Press
57.5kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Safety Bar Squat
70kg x 8 reps x 3 sets
Paused Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
32kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Tempo Bench Press
55kg x 5 reps x 2 sets
Touch and Go Bench Press
67.5kg x 4 reps x 2 sets
60kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Heels Elevated Goblet Squat
20kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift
110kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Paused Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
40kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Tempo Single Leg Leg Press
20kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Single Leg Hip Thrusts
Body weight x 10 reps x 3 sets
L-Sit Dumbbell Shoulder Press
20kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Single Arm Supinated Grip Pulldown
20kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Neutral Grip Seated Row
35kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Tricep Skullcrushers
15kg x 15 reps x 2 sets

High Bar Squatting (in lieu of the Safety Bar) 70kg x 8 reps and Paused Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifting 40kg x 12 reps while 10 weeks pregnant in Mexico

Training Throughout My Second Trimester

Second Trimester: Weeks 13 to 19

By this point in my pregnancy I was fully recovered from the egg retrieval procedure and back into routine after travelling. Aside from a growing bump, I had zero pregnancy-related symptoms.

Training continued to feel great and no adjustments were made to exercise selection due to being pregnant. I use the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale with my training which allowed me to auto-regulate training load depending on how I was feeling on the day.

There was a slight decrease in load for some exercises, however this was mainly due to returning to regular training after being inconsistent while travelling. There were also some changes to my supplementary exercises, but again this wasn’t pregnancy-related.

Training Program: Weeks 13 to 19

Below is a snapshot of a training week during weeks 13 to 19.

Day 1Day 2 Day 3
Feet Up Touch and Go Bench Press
55kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Safety Bar Squat
62kg x 8 reps x 3 sets
Paused Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
35kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Tempo Bench Press
52.5kg x 5 reps x 2 sets
Touch and Go Bench Press
65kg x 5 reps x 2 sets
60kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Heel Elevated Goblet Squat
25kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift
100kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Paused Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
40kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Tempo Single Leg Leg Press
30kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Assisted Pull-Ups
Green band x 8 reps x 3 sets
L-Sit Dumbbell Shoulder Press
20kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
B-Stance Hip Thrusts
50kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Neutral Grip Seated Row
35kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Tricep Skullcrushers
15kg x 12 reps x 3 sets

Safety Bar Squatting 62kg x 8 reps and Bench Pressing 65kg x 5 reps while 15 weeks pregnant

Second Trimester: Weeks 20 to 26

At 23 weeks pregnant, I had heartburn for the very first time in my life. Little did I know that this heartburn would continue throughout the rest of my pregnancy. Apparently it’s an old wives’ tale that heartburn is an indicator that your baby will be born with a full head of hair. We will find out whether this is true or not in late January when the baby is born!

At 25 weeks pregnant I experienced my first nosebleed. Having never had a nosebleed before, it came as quite a shock. Apparently this is another pregnancy-related symptom due to increased blood volume and hormonal changes. I have since had another two nosebleeds, so I guess you can call me an expert at managing them now.

The biggest adjustment to my training program during the latter part of my second trimester was swapping conventional deadlifts for Romanian deadlifts. There was no specific pregnancy-related reason for this. I wanted to continue doing some deadlift or hip-hinge variation throughout the duration of my pregnancy. Romanian deadlifts are a great exercise that still allows me to work my posterior chain. I also saw the return of low bar squats after doing safety bar squats for 10 weeks.

Training Program: Weeks 20 to 26

Below is a snapshot of a training week during weeks 20 to 26.

Day 1Day 2 Day 3
Touch and Go Bench Press
65kg x 3 reps x 1 set
60kg x 5 reps x 2 sets
55kg x 6 reps x 1 set
Low Bar Squat
77kg x 5 reps x 3 sets
High Bar Paused Squat
55kg x 8 reps x 3 sets
High Stance Leg Press
140kg x 15 reps x 3 sets
Incline Bench Press
45kg x 6 reps x 3 sets
Paused Dumbbell Bench Press
40kg x 8 reps x 3 sets
Bent Over Barbell Row
40kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Barbell Romanian Deadlifts
60kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Supinated Grip Lat Pulldown
35kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Single Arm Dumbbell Press
10kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Single Arm Cable Row
10kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Step-Ups
15kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Tricep Skullcrushers
15kg x 12 reps x 3 sets

Low Bar Squatting 77kg x 5 reps and Incline Bench Pressing 45kg x 6 reps while 22 weeks pregnant

Training Throughout My Third Trimester

Second Trimester: Weeks 27 to 32 weeks

I am currently 32 weeks pregnant at the time of writing this blog, so I can only write about training throughout pregnancy to this point. I will revisit this section once we’ve welcomed our new family member into the world.

Not much has changed on the pregnancy symptom front. I am still experiencing heartburn on an almost daily basis. The heartburn affects my appetite more than anything else. Training is still feeling great. I also feel a bit of rib pain occasionally, but haven’t felt any discomfort during training. Surprisingly, I am low bar squatting more weight than I was in my second trimester. We will have to wait and see what the trajectory is for the rest of my pregnancy, though!

There have been some pregnancy-related exercise modifications. The first was removing the paused dumbbell bench press. The movement itself felt fine, however both getting into position and dismounting felt uncomfortable. Incline bench press has taken its place for now. The second was swapping the high stance leg press for single leg leg press. With a growing bump I simply wasn’t getting the most out of the movement due to the limited range of motion.

Training Program: Weeks 27 to 32 weeks

Below is a snapshot of a training week during weeks 27 to 32.

Day 1Day 2 Day 3
Touch and Go Bench Press
65kg x 3 reps x 1 set
60kg x 5 reps x 2 sets
55kg x 8 reps x 1 set
Low Bar Squat
80kg x 5 reps x 3 sets
High Bar Paused Squat
55kg x 6 reps x 3 sets
Bulgarian Split Squat
15kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Barbell Overhead Press
30kg x 6 reps x 3 sets
Incline Bench Press
45kg x 6 reps x 3 sets
Seated Dumbbell Press
25kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Barbell Romanian Deadlifts
70kg x 8 reps x 3 sets
Single Leg Leg Press
30kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Incline Single Arm Dumbbell Row
20kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
Single Arm Cable Row
45kg x 8 reps x 3 sets
Tempo Dumbbell Lateral Raise
5kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Tricep Skullcrushers
15kg x 12 reps x 3 sets
Seated Dumbbell Overhead March
10kg x 20 reps x 2 sets

Low Bar Squatting 80kg x 5 reps and Overhead Pressing 30kg x 6 reps while 30 weeks pregnant

Strength Training Throughout Fertility Treatment and Pregnancy in a Nutshell

It’s likely no secret that I am a huge advocate for training throughout all phases of life, and that includes pregnancy. I have trained plenty of pregnant women in the past, but it has been a different experience going through the different stages of pregnancy myself. What I have learnt is that no pregnancy is the same. Modifications are specific to each individual and pregnancy, and what works for one person may not work for another.

One of my goals was to continue strength training as close to labour as possible, only making adjustments when needed. The most substantial change to load was after my egg retrieval procedure, but since then I have managed to keep my training load much the same. The main changes to my exercise selection due to pregnancy were the removal of the paused dumbbell bench press and high stance leg press. I haven’t felt any discomfort whilst performing specific movements. Rather, adjustments were made due to the awkwardness of setting up or because of the limited range of motion (thanks to the bump)!

If you’ve made it this far, I hope this inspires you to continue training throughout pregnancy – whether that be now or in the future. I also suggest checking out our A Brief Guide to Training During Pregnancy blog to learn more about the benefits of training throughout pregnancy, safety considerations and training recommendations. If you’re currently trying to conceive or pregnant and would like to work with a Pre/Post Natal qualified trainer, you can get in contact with us here.

Bench Pressing 65kg x 3 reps and Bulgarian Split Squatting 15kg x 10 reps while 32 weeks pregnant

A Brief Guide to Training During Pregnancy

The topic of exercising during pregnancy is often a contentious one, full of conflicting information and personal opinions. This article will explore some of the latest research and guidelines to help individuals understand the safety considerations of exercising during pregnancy, the potential benefits of doing so, and the recommended types of training.

Before we get into the details, there are two important disclaimers we need to make:

  1. We are not doctors. The information in this article is not advice about training during pregnancy, nor should it supersede any specific information or advice given to you by your doctor.
  2. This article intends to provide information for pregnancies without complications. If you are experiencing any sort of complications, please consult your doctor before engaging in exercise.

With those caveats in mind, let’s dive into the topic of training during pregnancy.

Is It Safe to Train During Pregnancy?

The main concern when discussing the topic of exercising during pregnancy is usually safety. For this reason, physical activity was historically not recommended for pregnant women. However, as more research has emerged on the topic, this narrative has shifted in the opposite direction. Many modern national guidelines now recommend exercise as both safe and beneficial to undertake during an uncomplicated pregnancy.1

However, if you plan to exercise during pregnancy, it’s important to consider specific safety aspects. As the body undergoes regular and anticipated changes during gestation, you may need to adjust exercise selection and intensity to accommodate these changes.2 For example, push-ups might become a bit difficult as the baby gets bigger, so substituting them for a bench press variation will achieve the same outcomes in a more comfortable position.

There are also certain types of activities that are not recommended if pregnant. Activities involving risk of contact/collision, risk of falling, changes in air pressure (e.g. scuba diving), or high temperatures are recommended to avoid completely.3

The guidelines also list a number of warning signs to stop physical activity and consult a healthcare provider. Examples include severe chest pain, severe shortness of breath that does not resolve with rest, regular and painful uterine contractions, persistent dizziness, or vaginal bleeding.4

Individuals experiencing pregnancies involving complications should refrain from exercising until consulting with a healthcare specialist. This caution also applies to individuals with a history of certain medical conditions.

In general, healthcare professionals recommend engaging in physical activity throughout most uncomplicated pregnancies. Comprehensive guidelines exist to optimize safety. It’s always advisable to seek advice from a healthcare professional familiar with your specific circumstances.

For more information, we recommend having a look at the Australian Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy.

The Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy

Now that we know that it’s safe to train during pregnancy, we should look at whether or not there are any benefits to doing so. Research shows that there are a number of positive outcomes unique to pregnancy, including:5

  • Decreased gestational diabetes.
  • Reduced incidence of caesarean delivery.
  • Reduced incidence of delivery requiring operative intervention.
  • Decreased postpartum recovery time.
  • Prevention of postpartum depressive disorders.
  • Reduced gestational hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Less body pain and reduced physical capability due to pain.
  • Reduced gestational weight gain compared to not exercising.

Additionally, all of the regular benefits of exercise still apply. These include increased muscular strength and size, increased bone density, stronger connective tissue, greater coordination, better aerobic fitness, and improved management of various health conditions.6

Upon examining these outcomes, it becomes evident that encouraging exercise before, during, and after an uncomplicated pregnancy can provide immense benefits.

Training Recommendations During Pregnancy

We’ve talked about the safety of training during pregnancy, and what the benefits are. The last thing to look at is the actual training recommendations. If previously active, continuing to exercise within existing capabilities is a good place to start. If inactive prior to pregnancy, it is recommended to start slow, and gradually increase duration and intensity over time.7

In terms of the specifics, the activity guidelines are actually very similar to those for non-pregnant people:8

  • 2.5-5 hours of moderate aerobic activity per week or;
  • 1.25-2.5 hours of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or a combination thereof.
  • Resistance training at least twice per week.
  • Aim to be active most, if not all days.
  • Do pelvic floor strengthening exercises.

It’s important to keep in mind that as gestation continues and the mother’s body changes, modifications may need to be made to the type, intensity, and duration of exercise. As always, consult with a healthcare specialist to make sure that the activity you do is suitable for your individual circumstances.

Conclusion

In summary, being physically active is safe, beneficial, and recommended to do during pregnancy. For uncomplicated pregnancies, there are guidelines available to provide general advice on how that physical activity might look. However, you should not consider either these guidelines or anything we’ve discussed in this article as specific advice. Before undertaking any sort of exercise during pregnancy make sure to consult with your healthcare specialist to make sure that what you plan to do is appropriate for your specific condition.

Keep an eye out for our next article, where Rachael will be doing an in-depth look at her experience of training throughout her pregnancy!

References

  1. Guidelines for exercise during normal pregnancy and gestational diabetes: a review of international recommendations ↩︎
  2. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy ↩︎
  3. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy; 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy ↩︎
  4. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy; 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy ↩︎
  5. Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period ↩︎
  6. Resistance Training for Health ↩︎
  7. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy; 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy ↩︎
  8. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy; 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy ↩︎

A Brief Insight Into How Ivy Training Gets People Stronger

Following on from our previous article about strength training, today we’ll be taking you step-by-step through designing a strength training program for one of our clients at Ivy Training that will not only improve health outcomes, but also get our client stronger.

First, let’s introduce our client. Nicole is a busy professional in her 40s with two young children. She’s never strength trained before, and her goals are to establish a consistent exercise routine and improve her health. She would also like to eventually do a push-up. With her hectic schedule the most she’s able to commit to training is two sessions per week in the studio.

Next, we need to consider all of the variables that will go into building Nicole’s program. These will be a combination of the universal characteristics essential to any strength training routine, Nicole’s goals, and her lifestyle. We’ll go through each of these elements step-by-step:

  1. Frequency: how many days per week?
  2. Exercise selection: which exercises will be performed?
  3. Volume: how many sets and reps will be prescribed per week?
  4. Intensity: how hard should each set be?
  5. Progression: how will we assess progress?
Equipment that will get you stronger

Frequency

The first thing to determine is how many days per week Nicole will be training. The World Health Organisation Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 2 days of muscle-strengthening exercise per week1. For Nicole we don’t need to go any further, as her schedule currently only allows for 2 sessions per week.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Exercise Selection

Now that we know how many sessions Nicole can commit to weekly, the next thing to do is to choose some exercises. Since Nicole mainly wants to improve her health, we’re going to select movements that train all her major muscle groups2. A good way to achieve this is to categorise exercises by the major compound movement patterns. These include: knee extension, hip hinge, upper body push, and upper body pull. To meet our frequency requirements, we’ll cover each movement pattern twice per week.

We also need to consider Nicole’s goal of doing a push-up. Since strength development is specific to the movement performed, we’ll include an assisted version of a push-up as one of her upper body push exercises.

At this stage our weekly program looks like this:

Day 1Day 2
Dumbbell Squat (Knee Extension)Romanian Deadlift (Hip Hinge)
Seated Dumbbell Press (Vertical Push)Assisted Push Up (Horizontal Press)
Hip Thrust (Hip Hinge)Leg Press (Knee Extension)
Seated Cable Row (Horizontal Pull)Lat Pulldown (Vertical Pull)

Volume

Now we need to figure out how much work Nicole is going to do for each exercise. We’ll express this volume as the number of sets and reps done for each exercise each week. 

We know that doing more weekly sets generally leads to greater increases in strength3. With that in mind, and also being aware of Nicole’s limited availability, we’re going to start with 3 sets per exercise. This gives us 6 sets per movement pattern per week, more than enough to see improvements in strength4.

It’s possible to improve strength using a variety of rep ranges5, so we’re going to program each exercise for 5-8 reps per set. This range is good because it’s low enough to allow for the heavy weights needed to drive strength gains, but not so low that Nicole will struggle to learn and practise good exercise technique.

Lat Pulldown

Intensity

One of the last things we need to do is figure out how hard Nicole should be training. To build strength, the weight used in any given exercise should be greater than 60% of her One Repetition Maximum (1RM) for that exercise6. The difficulty here is that Nicole is new to strength training, so we don’t know any of her 1RMs. As a beginner she is also primed to get stronger quickly, so any percentages would be changing week to week anyway.

What we can do is use the concepts of Reps In Reserve (RIR) and Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), which measures how many reps away from muscular failure (being unable to complete any more reps) someone is on a set. On its own RIR doesn’t dictate strength gains7, but we can use it in conjunction with our selected rep range of 5-8 to make sure Nicole is lifting heavy enough.

We’re going to assign all of Nicole’s sets at 3 RIR, which for 5-8 reps should be roughly 70-80% of her 1RM. These sets should be hard, but not so difficult that her technique and recovery will suffer. If Nicole is gauging her RIR correctly, we know that the weight is heavy enough to drive strength gains.

Training Program

Progression

The last thing to figure out is how to ensure that Nicole continues to be challenged as she gets stronger. Without this consideration, Nicole’s strength will eventually plateau as her training ceases to be hard enough to drive further adaptations. The solution is something we’ve already built into the program, RIR. Using Nicole’s feedback after each set, we can figure out if it’s time to add more weight, reps or sets.

For example, if Nicole does a set of 7 reps on Dumbbell Squats and then rates that set as a 4 RIR, we might aim for 8 reps next set, as it was easier than the 3 RIR we had prescribed. Once she does a set of 8 reps at 4 RIR or greater, we might look at increasing the weight and dropping the reps back down to 5 if needed.

Repeating this process allows us to make sure that Nicole is always training at a level of intensity high enough to drive further improvements, no matter how strong she becomes.

Dumbbells to get stronger

The Final Product

Here’s the final version of Nicole’s program:

Day 1Day 2
Dumbbell Squat (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)Romanian Deadlift (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)
Seated Dumbbell Press (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)Assisted Push Up (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)
Hip Thrust (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)Leg Press (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)
Seated Cable Row (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)Lat Pulldown (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)

As you can see, a good strength training program looks fairly simple, but a lot goes into setting it up. Ensuring that all exercise and client variables are being appropriately considered to achieve optimal strength development is a skill that needs to be cultivated.

If you want to make sure you’re getting the best results from your strength training, get in touch with us.

References

  1. WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour ↩︎
  2. WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour ↩︎
  3. The Effect of Weekly Set Volume on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis ↩︎
  4. The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required for 1RM Strength in Powerlifters ↩︎
  5. Resistance training prescription for muscle strength and hypertrophy in healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis ↩︎
  6. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis ↩︎
  7. Exploring the Dose-Response Relationship Between Estimated Resistance Training Proximity to Failure, Strength Gain, and Muscle Hypertrophy ↩︎

How Can You Tell if You’re Actually Strength Training?

Strength training, also known as Progressive Resistance Training (PRT), is a form of exercise in which muscles progressively exert force against an increasing resistance as they become stronger [1]. The reasons to participate in strength training are many. Most importantly, “people of all ages and abilities who regularly participate in resistance exercise reduce risk of numerous diseases, improve quality of life and reduce mortality” [2]. Strength training is especially critical as we age for maintaining function important for everyday living and managing pain [1]. Finally, many individuals simply want to see changes to their body composition and get stronger. When we first meet with a new client, we ask the question, “Have you participated in strength training before?” Many clients enthusiastically answer “Yes!” but often proceed to describe programs that involve circuit training or other types of exercise. Today we have two goals. First, to help define strength training. Second, to answer the question “How can you tell if you’re actually strength training?”

What makes up strength training?

So, what are the characteristics that make up strength training? There are key exercise variables which we’ve actually covered in a previous article, here. Very briefly, they include: exercise selection, intensity, volume, rest periods and frequency. Getting stronger requires intentionally manipulating the interactions between these variables, formatted in a program for the purpose of progressively improving performance. Implied by that definition is an understanding of how these variables work and maximising the positive outcomes of these interactions. For getting stronger there’s a few things we need to consider:

  • Specific exercise selection that reflects your performance goals,
  • High enough load or intensity relative to your 1 repetition max,
  • Sufficient volume at that high enough intensity,
  • Enough rest per set so that your performance per set can remain consistent,
  • Enough practise or frequency throughout the week through careful exercise selection.

Anything less than the above is not bad, but by definition, isn’t really adhering to these critical principles. By this criterion, and by considering the application, you can actually ask yourself if what you’re doing is strength training.

Demonstration of a front squat in a strength session.

What strength training isn’t

Well, why does that matter anyway? It’s not uncommon for individuals to look to improve their quality of life, health, fitness, and body composition through participation in strength training. However, if someone is unaware, they might engage in programs marketed to get you stronger, but aren’t set up to realistically do so. This can lead to frustration when people’s expectations aren’t met, and they fail to achieve the desired results. Regrettably, the fitness industry often uses the term ‘strength’ casually. Classes like BodyPump or F45 are fantastic, but they better suit general fitness rather than strength. Despite using compound exercises and external resistance, this exercise format lacks the intentional manipulation of exercise variables for the purpose of getting stronger. Let’s see how these types of classes stack up against our selected criterion:

  • Exercise selection: Although a wide variety of compound exercises is generally a good thing, when aiming to get stronger, exercise selection cannot be varied and random.
  • Intensity: The class format does not facilitate the ability to load movements heavily enough to work in a range befitting strength development.
  • Volume: Following on from above, too much volume below the correct intensity threshold means individuals are getting fitter, but not stronger.
  • Rest: The class format dictates rest based on a universal timer, rather than catering to individual performance needs.
  • Frequency: Tying back to exercise selection, the week isn’t organised in a way that allows you to practice the lifts you’d like to improve on a consistent basis.
Demonstration of an DB RDL in a strength session.

Finish strong

Strength training plays a vital role in ageing healthily and enhancing overall fitness. It’s not a loose term; it involves specific principles and objectives. For optimal results, understanding how to spend your exercise time is crucial. While we encourage various forms of exercise, it’s essential to distinguish strength training from other fitness activities. If you’re pursuing strength gains, you must recognise the key criteria: exercise selection, intensity, volume, rest, and frequency. These elements form the foundation of strength training. We’re here to help if you’re uncertain about where to begin or need guidance. Your exercise journey represents an investment, so make sure it aligns with your fitness goals. Choose your path wisely, and if strength training is one of your goals, make sure you know what to look for. Contact us here if you’re ready to start your strength training journey with us.

References

  1. Progressive resistance strength training for improving physical function in older adults – PMC (nih.gov)
  2. Resistance Training for Health (acsm.org)

Real Results, Real Client: Christina’s Incredible Weight Loss Story

Weight loss is a common goal amongst clients. I thought it would be insightful to do a deep-dive into what weight loss can look like in practise, using one of our clients as a case study to demonstrate how it can be achieved and what can be implemented to get the result we’re after.

Christina started training with me (Rachael) in 2019, after not having stepped into a gym before. Christina has trained consistently since her very first session, and has gained a significant amount of strength, muscle and confidence, but like many – struggled with her diet during lockdown. After gaining a few COVID-kilos, Christina decided that she wanted to focus on weight loss. She had three goals relative to her weight loss:

  1. She wanted to be within the healthy BMI range.
  2. She wanted to lose between 8-10kg.
  3. She wanted to lose the weight and keep it off.

These were Christina’s stats in January 2022:

Height: 170cm

Weight: 81.1kg

BMI: 28.1 (overweight range)

Dietary Changes

There are many different approaches that we can implement to achieve weight loss, but the underlying principle remains the same. We must be consuming fewer calories than we’re expending to lose weight. A calorie deficit has been proven to be the most important factor when implementing a weight loss strategy [1]. I discussed appropriate dietary inventions with Christina, and we decided that tracking her intake was a sustainable approach for her. This involved prescribing calorie and macronutrient targets that she would aim to meet. This approach would also allow us to easily monitor and manage her dietary intake to ensure that she was consistent with hitting her targets, and make adjustments to her intake if and when required.

Christina is in her late twenties and lives with her husband Tony and cat Molly. With a small family unit we agreed that this approach wasn’t going to be too overwhelming. Tony was also very supportive and would accommodate by making some slight adjustments to their nightly dinners. An example would be buying leaner cuts of meat and adjusting serving sizes. We are big advocates of setting up your diet for success, and often this involves getting your family and friends onboard with your goals and the changes you’re making.

The initial plan was to have Christina track her intake Monday to Friday through an app called MyFitnessPal, and eat mindfully on the weekends. I did put some soft ground rules in place for the weekends – she would aim to eat three meals each day that would be evenly spread apart. Aside from that, she was encouraged to eat out socially and include foods that she enjoyed.

App for Weight Loss

Training and Physical Activity

Christina was all set with her diet, but what about her training and other physical activity? Generally speaking, I don’t make adjustments to a client’s training program when someone suddenly decides they want to shift a few kilos. Whilst a lot of people tend to think they need to decrease their training load (the actual weight they’re lifting) and increase their training volume (think number of reps) to achieve better weight loss results, current research doesn’t support this. One study suggests that adjustments to training load do not impact reductions in fat mass [2]. Instead, we focus on nutrition but also encourage squeezing in some extra physical activity, especially if they’re not meeting the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines [3]. If you’re unfamiliar with the current guidelines, they include at least two strength training sessions per week in addition to 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity activity.

In addition to continuing with her two strength training sessions, I asked Christina to increase her other physical activity activity throughout the week. This included allocating a weekly step target and participating in cardiovascular exercise of her choice. For the most part, Christina opted for brisk walks or the odd YouTube workout that she could do from her living room.

Here’s an example of Christina logging some extra exercise in our app:

Accountability for Weight Loss

Weekly Accountability

I had Christina complete a weekly nutrition update with me every Friday, mainly to monitor her progress but to also help with accountability. She was very diligent with completing it most weeks, and I looked forward to getting that little ping notification on my dashboard every Friday!

Christina’s nutrition targets varied throughout her weight loss phase, and were adjusted when we saw a plateau in her progress. I won’t specifically refer to her calorie and macronutrient targets here, as the plan with Christina wasn’t to track her intake every day. As previously mentioned, she logged a food diary Monday to Friday, and ate mindfully over the weekends typically with three meals spaced evenly apart. This simply means that I cannot confidently say how many calories she was consuming on average each day, but it was evident that from her progress – she was eating within a calorie deficit.

The questions that I had in her weekly nutrition update included:

  1. Did you meet your nutrition targets?
  2. Did you face any struggles when trying to meet your nutrition targets?
  3. What did you do well?
  4. What do you think you could improve on?
  5. How are your hunger and appetite levels?
  6. How are your energy levels?
  7. How was your training?
  8. What was your weekly step count?
  9. How many hours sleep did you get each night on average?
  10. What do you need help with?

Below is an example of one of Christina’s weekly nutrition updates:

Weekly Nutrition Update for Weight Loss

Diet Breaks

I knew that there would be some “diet breaks” throughout the process, with a number of social events and travelling on the horizon. A diet break is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a planned break from being in a calorie deficit. Typically, a diet break lasts for about a week or two, and sometimes even longer if needed. These can be planned around certain life events, or can be implemented when a person simply needs a psychological break from calorie restriction.

We implemented a few of these diet breaks around birthdays, Christmas and a trip to Vietnam. These planned diet breaks varied in duration (especially when Christina ventured overseas), but she managed to maintain her weight loss throughout each of them.

Christina enjoying a planned diet break in Vietnam

The Outcome

Fast-forward 20 months, and we are at the very end of Christina’s weight loss journey. Christina has successfully dropped over 10kg (11.5kg to be exact) and is within the healthy BMI range, ticking off her goals she originally set. She decided she wants to crack 70kg on the dot and once she’s achieved that we will be focusing on maintaining her weight loss moving forward.

Christina’s current stats are:

Height: 170cm (we’re not magicians – this number did not change)

Weight: 69.6kg

BMI: 24.1 (healthy range)

This is what Christina has to say about the process:

I had been training with Rachael for nearly two years when we seriously broached the fat loss question. After being told by my GP that my BMI was pushing me into the overweight category, and even taken with a grain of salt, it was a bit of a wake up call. There were deeper reasons also for wanting to shift a bit of weight around body confidence and image, energy and nutrition.

Rachael was super supportive of all the reasons why and she came up with a nutrition and training plan that suited me and my lifestyle. It included simple nutrition swaps, increasing my protein, tracking my meals on weekdays and including a home training session, but these were introduced over time, building habits on top of each over. She considered my love of food and eating out on weekends, dislike for most cardio activities and access to simple meals. And because she took these things into consideration into the plan I was able to stick to it and maintain some healthy habits that I now hope to keep for a lifetime. 

A year and a half in and I have lost just over 10kg, an incredibly proud achievement. I’ve maintained my social life, continued my love for strength training and had ‘maintenance periods’ when life got busy. I’ve honestly never felt stronger or healthier, I’m so much more confident in myself and I’ve learnt so much about the food I’m eating and how it makes me feel. 

If you’re looking for a highly experienced trainer that can help not only with your training, but with your nutrition as well – we would love to help. Get in contact to book a no-obligation consultation.

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33107442/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35998256/
  3. https://www.health.gov.au/topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians/for-adults-18-to-64-years

Our Top Strategies to Lose Weight

Weight loss is a ubiquitous goal. As of the latest release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 67% of adults are overweight or obese [1]. But why does that matter? According to a task force guideline from the American College of Cardiology and Heart Association, even a modest weight loss of 3-5%, which effectively reduces body fat, can substantially lower the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease [2]. We know that managing overweight and obesity can have positive health effects. Weight loss, specifically fat loss, although mechanistically simple, is anything but that in practise. Today we will dive into our top strategies for those looking to lose weight: a sustainable calorie deficit, setting up your food environment and prioritising preferences.

A calorie deficit is key to lose weight

There’s no two ways around it. You can’t lose weight without being in a calorie deficit. Often when people think of weight loss, images of carrot sticks and apple-cider vinegar are conjured. However, it doesn’t need to be that dramatic. The aforementioned task force guidelines emphasise the importance of tailoring the choice of a calorie-restricted diet to each patient’s preferences and health status. The recommended reduction of 500 calories per day from a current intake is a great starting point. To begin with however, what would constitute a “regular” number of calories from which to calculate a restriction? The Australian Government has a fantastic resource named Eat For Health which provides references for nutritional intake, as well as convenient tables and calculators to indicate individual intakes. A standard is somewhere between 1800-2400 calories for females and males respectively. With this in mind, although this reduction seems significant, it’s worth noting how easily 500 calories can creep into your daily intake. Foods such as peanut butter, as well as beverages like coffee with added milk and sugar, and alcoholic drinks, can all significantly contribute to daily calorie intake.

Your environment helps facilitate weight loss

The food environment is a critical variable to facilitating weight loss. Our advice is to not make things harder for yourself. It’s likely that hyper-palatable (taste good!) and energy dense (packed full of calories) foods within your reach won’t last long. We call these foods “obesogenic” not because they are inherently bad, but instead because they, have low nutrition value for the energy cost. Although the discussion of food environments at large is outside the scope of this article, it’s important to recognise that the home food environment plays a role in attempts to manage bodyweight [3]. The home food environment is where many individuals make their eating decisions. These decisions are often performed with little cognitive effort and therefore, it’s important to make decision making as simple as possible – ideally the decision is between a couple of different fruits rather than chocolate or a packet of chips!

To help you walk away with some practical takeaways, here are some recommendations to help you set up a better food environment:

  • Your favourite fruits to snack on, ideally in a visible location.
  • A freezer draw of healthy ready-made meals and additionally, your favourite easy-to-prep vegetables.
  • Some lean sources of protein stored in your fridge or freezer.
  • If you find yourself regularly indulging in energy-dense treat foods, it can help to not keep a supply in the pantry. It’s a lot easier to reach for a more nutritious snack when the alternative requires a trip down to the shops!

Preferences matter when losing weight

We know an energy deficit is key to weight loss. Managing the environment simplifies decision making to drive the deficit. Weight loss strategies should be personalised, based on patient preferences [4]. No universal diet exists for weight loss and maintenance. This means it’s not so much about an entire overhaul (usually), but instead compliance to intelligent adjustments. Compliance drives change. It’s not a free pass to indulge, but there’s room between indulgence and strict control. Don’t think you need to jump onto any particular diet, especially if you’re worried it won’t work for you. Our modern food environment offers options: zero-sugar beverages, non-alcoholic beers, low-fat dairy. Leverage them. Preferences matter, so choose foods that nourish and maintain a deficit. There are ways you can include dairy, carb sources and healthy fats and the occasional treats in a health-promoting diet.

Leveraging personal choice is key to success. For us as trainers it’s no different. For instance, Rachael still loves having 15-20g of Nutella on toast a few days a week and a low-calorie dessert after dinner, like a Paddle Pop. Tom loves his zero-sugar soft drinks (Pepsi Max > Coke Zero in his humble opinion). I myself have been known to indulge in a couple slices of banana bread a few days a week. Additionally, I’m a bit of a dairy man myself. When working through a weight-loss phase, I don’t remove dairy, but instead substitute full cream to reduced cream or skim variants.

We’re here to help you lose weight

We understand the process can be daunting, but you don’t need to go at it alone. We’re here to help you find sustainable health-promoting strategies to drive lifestyle change. Although a calorie deficit is key, we don’t want individuals to crash over insufficient nutrition. We also recognise that not everything is within your conscious control, so it’s important to ease the decision-making process by managing your food environment. Lastly, don’t forget to prioritise compliance by still enjoying foods that also meet your dietary needs and body composition goals! If you’re looking for more guidance, you can contact us here.

References

  1. Overweight and obesity, 2017-18 financial year | Australian Bureau of Statistics (abs.gov.au)
  2. 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS Guideline for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults | Circulation (ahajournals.org)
  3. Associations Between Weight Loss Attempts, Food Planning, and the Home Food Environment – PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. Optimal Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance – PMC (nih.gov)

Our Top 3 Tips to Increase Your Physical Activity

Most people do not meet the current weekly physical activity guidelines outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO encourages adults to engage in muscle strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days per week, and at least 150-300 minutes of moderate to intensity aerobic physical activity accumulated throughout the week. For many people, these recommendations can seem quite daunting, and it can be challenging to know where to start. What do we recommend? Our top 3 tips to increase your physical activity include:

  1. Participate in healthy hobbies
  2. Engage in exercise classes that you enjoy
  3. Join a team sport

Healthy Hobbies

Turn healthy into a hobby. One way to boost physical activity levels is to find hobbies that do it for you. Gardening, for example, is a great way to help your body get into positions that you’re probably not going to find yourself in throughout your day to day. Gardening acts as a fairly low intensity movement with little to no weight bearing activities involved. You’ll often find yourself kneeling and standing and getting your joints and legs to do a fair bit of work. Even better, there is a lot of bending over involved. This introduces low grade movement into our back and exposes us to varying degrees of motion. Add some pots of soil in there and you can start introducing some weight bearing activities into the (potting) mix.

Another great example is picking up a social activity like dancing. Dancing has the added bonus of being social that gets us moving in a more dynamic, aerobically demanding way. The cool thing is that you can vary the intensity by choosing different styles of dance. Salsa, country swing, and hip hop are some examples that will get the heart pumping!

Gardening

Keep it Classy

It can be easy to supplement a solid training program with some fun and enjoyable exercise classes. Classes such as yoga or pilates are great ways to get your body moving in ways that you’re not used to, but not only that, they are easily accessible to anyone. These classes can be physically challenging as they not only push you to move in new ways, but they also require a different level of focus to strength training. Many of our clients engage in exercise classes to complement their personal training sessions at Ivy Training. It’s no secret that we focus on strength training in our sessions, however we always encourage individuals find other physical activities they enjoy which can supplement their training.

Exercise Classes

Release Your Inner Athlete

When was the last time you participated in a team sport? A lot of you will likely murmur back in high school. Joining a local sporting club is another great way to get you moving in a social and interactive setting. Sports teams and clubs often have different grades, so don’t be afraid to enquire if you feel like your dribbling skills aren’t up to speed! Different sports also utilise varying levels of intensity, movement patterns and energy systems. Some activities are more fast paced and explosive and require rapid directional changes such as soccer, AFL or basketball. Whatever sport you choose, make sure that it fits with your lifestyle and that you enjoy the challenge. The Matildas definitely make it look like a lot of fun!

Matildas Soccer Team

Conclusion

Whether you are a highly active individual, or lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, exposing yourself to activities that get you moving in ranges and in ways that we are not used to is highly beneficial. Think about a squat – the more we do it, the better we get at it and the stronger the movement becomes. The same can be said for any movement in any range. In fact, going against the norm and exposing yourself to unfamiliar movements not only has physical benefits, but can be highly motivating and mentally stimulating.

If you’re not already, one of the best things that you can do for your health is to jump under a barbell and lift some weights. That being said, we also like to encourage exposure to other forms of movement and exercise by trying out different forms of exercise. Keeping yourself active outside of regular weights training is really important as it not only helps to meet the recommended weekly activity guidelines, but also gives you exposure to new and different things. Engaging in physically demanding activities trains different energy systems and gets you moving in different ways that can translate to more effective strength training sessions in the gym. So, what are you waiting for? Start a new hobby, enrol in an exercise class, or join your local sporting club!

References

  1. World Health Organisation: Physical Activity

Do You Really Need to Stretch to Be Healthy?


It often seems like there’s a long list of healthy to-dos. Get 8 hours of sleep, eat your fruit and veggies, lift weights, take walks, and stretch before and after workouts. Don’t get us started on the trendy ‘hacks’ either! Who has time for apple-cider vinegar in the morning and cold showers. Overwhelming, right? I get that feeling. At Ivy Training, your time and effort matters. We believe it’s crucial to step back and assess which actions really impact health and are worth our focus. So today let’s unpack stretching and ask two questions:

  1. First, is being flexible important for injury prevention?
  2. Second, do we need to stretch or even be flexible in the first place?

Let’s dive right in.

Stretch the truth

In gym conversations, you’ll often hear, “Make sure you stretch beforehand to prevent injuries.” Defining flexibility, we consider it as the “intrinsic properties of body tissues that determine maximal joint range of motion without causing injury [1].” Another phrasing describes it as the “ability of skeletal muscle and tendon to lengthen [2].” The notion of preparing through stretching seems logical. However, like numerous long-standing fitness recommendations, it lacks undeniable evidence. The connection between flexibility and safety is tenuous. In this article, we won’t delve deep into this complex relationship. Just remember that “No clear relationship can be described between flexibility and injury that is applicable to all sports and levels of play”. While increased flexibility is important for performance in some sports that rely on extremes of motion for movement, decreased flexibility may actually increase economy of movement in sports which use only the mid portion of range of motion [2].”

Stretch is specific

We’ve got to give your body some credit. It’s smarter than you think. Muscles have viscoelastic properties. This means that they possess viscosity (resistance to deformation) and elasticity (ability to return to their original shape). These properties influence how muscles respond to external forces, like stretching during movement or contracting during muscle actions. This happens more or less outside of your conscious control. Moreover, strength and stretching are specific. Suffice to say, training movement itself develops the physical qualities we need. In fact, of course suiting our own bias, resistance training has been shown to improve flexibility as much as static stretching. A randomised control trial from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning showed “the results of this preliminary study suggest that carefully constructed full-range resistance training regimens can improve flexibility as well as the typical static stretching regimens employed in conditioning programs [3].”

Stretch your understanding

Very few things in fitness are black and white. It’s important to take a balanced view and understand where individual preferences come into play. Simply put, some people enjoy the feeling of stretching – we are all for it. However, setting time aside for stretching represents an opportunity cost. Regarding stretching as a recovery tool, a systematic review of randomised controlled trials states: “For now, recommendations on whether post-exercise stretching should be applied for the purposes of recovery are misleading, as the (insufficient) data that is available does not support those claims [4].” Simply put, we don’t recommend static stretching to better your health, reduce the incidence injury or improve recovery time. Quality nutrition, consistent sleep and a well balanced, thorough program addressing an individual’s particular needs will outperform the benefits of static stretching every time.

We hope you enjoyed this brief dive into stretching. If you’re looking to best use your time and resources to improve your health, you can contact us here.

References:

  1. Nuzzo JL. The Case for Retiring Flexibility as a Major Component of Physical Fitness. Sports Med. 2020 May;50(5):853-870. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01248-w. PMID: 31845202.
  2. Gleim GW, McHugh MP. Flexibility and its effects on sports injury and performance. Sports Med. 1997 Nov;24(5):289-99. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199724050-00001. PMID: 9368275.
  3. Morton SK, Whitehead JR, Brinkert RH, Caine DJ. Resistance training vs. static stretching: effects on flexibility and strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):3391-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31821624aa. PMID: 21969080.
  4. Afonso, J., Clemente, F., Nakamura, F., Morouço, P., Sarmento, H., Inman, R., & Ramirez-Campillo, R. (2021, May 5). The Effectiveness of Post-exercise Stretching in Short-Term and Delayed Recovery of Strength, Range of Motion and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Frontiers in Physiology, 12, Article 677581. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.677581

Barbells Are Hard to Beat

Barbells and IvyTraining go together like peanut butter and jam. You’ll notice a theme if you train with us – more often than not you’ll see clients training with a loaded barbell and pushing themselves hard. There are countless exercises you could perform at a gym, and many are effective. So, what guides the decision making behind prioritising training around the barbell? Let’s get down to some basics.

Barbells have a high return on investment

As trainers we are delivering a service where time is at a premium. We want to maximise the output of each training session and ensure clients get the most “bang for their buck”. We believe barbells reign supreme. Barbells are designed to be incrementally loaded, allowing for jumps as small as 0.25kg each side. They sit somewhere between two ends of the spectrum of freedom of movement and stability and therefore allow us to load reasonably heavily while working large amounts of muscle mass. They require skill to use while developing many muscle groups through large ranges of motion. As such, they are excellent tools for developing muscle mass and movement proficiency. On this last point, it’s not uncommon to see someone who’s proficient at squatting pick up other lower body movements easily, but the reverse isn’t always true!

Barbells are engineered for strength

Getting stronger is at the forefront of well-manufactured barbell’s design. For instance, the knurl, spin and length of the sleeves, diameter of the shaft, bearings used, and more, all reflect the goal of loading more weight. We’ll zoom in on the knurl as an example. Knurling can come in three major variants: mountain, hill and volcano. Knurl is simply the raised surface that provides a better grip and more surface area to contact with the hands. A good knurl makes all the difference. For example, the Rogue Ohio Power Bar uses a volcano grip with a relatively aggressive (sharp) bite. Although this may feel uncomfortable at first, it means the bar remains securely in your hand, especially during movements using a tension grip such as deadlifts and barbell rows. Finally, the Ohio Power Bar has a centre knurl which helps secure the bar on your upper back during squats.

Barbells teach you physics

We mentioned “skill” earler, so let’s talk about that. In a very practical way barbell training helps a client improve their performance by developing an awareness of basic biomechanics. Let’s use the standing overhead press as an example. When pressing, it’s common to push the bar up and away from the upper body during the lift. This causes a disadvantageous moment arm (distance between the bar and shoulder). Instead, by learning to position the elbows and wrists, and chest, we can press the bar upwards and back, resulting in the least amount of horizontal travel. This loads the body for the most efficient stimulus to the target musculature. While neither good or bad, you will not experience the same technical demands during any dumbbell or machine press variations.  Barbells provide a task-led constraint that teaches an individual about movement proficiency and biomechanics in a very tangible way.

Barbells are for the long haul

We believe in a life-long career of strength. Strong knees and hips mean you can get up and walk. Stronger backs mean you can reach down and pick things up. Sturdy shoulders mean you can reach up and not worry tweaking something. But how does a barbell offer unique benefits compared to other exercises with different implements? Well, simple progression. Dumbbells or pin-loaded machines often they come in fixed increments that can be hard to progress or limited in absolute load. Moreover, there are countless permutations of a lift that can be performed with a barbell, allowing for novelty that is purposeful. Remember how I mentioned skill and physics? If someone is shooting their hips too far back during a low bar squat, a front squat can be used as a supplemental lift, to help improve the performance of the low bar squat by encouraging more forward knee travel.

Don’t ditch the baby with the bathwater

It’s true, we are obsessed with barbells, but we know they aren’t the only tool in the toolbox. A life-long career of strength will involve many paths but we believe you’ll travel them best by using the barbell as your foundation. Machines, cables, dumbbells and more all have roles to play and we use them for accessories (a discussion for another day). At Ivy Training we aim to give our clients the best ROI, help them become strong, skilful and aware lifters and set them up for a lifetime of strength. If you’d like to know more, get in touch with us here.

Raise the Bar: 6 Essential Movements

When it comes to strength training, there are certain exercises that stand out as foundational, efficient, and therefore, effective. These exercises quite literally, raise the bar. Check out our companion article for this month here for more insight into why. However, instead of throwing around buzz words, let’s get an operational definition of foundation and efficient for this article. Exercises which develop balance and stability and have transferrable movement patterns are foundational. Exercises that train multiple muscle groups at once through a large range of motion are efficient. There are 6 broad movements (with sub-categories and variations) that we believe fit these criteria and are therefore, effective and essential to any program. It’s time to raise the bar!

Essential Movement 1: The Squat

It wouldn’t be an Ivy Training blog without either barbells, sustainable health-promoting behaviours or… squats! The barbell squat is a potent lower body exercise. By placing a barbell across your upper back (in a high or low bar position) or on the front of your shoulders (which is known as the front squat) and descending into a deep squat position you engage a multitude of muscle groups. These include the quadriceps, inner thighs (adductors), glutes, and trunk muscles. A deep squat (at least parallel) will also promote flexibility useful for everyday tasks. These include sitting down, standing up and taking the stairs. There are many variations, and some even using different types of barbells like a safety bar. Fundamentally, the squat involves simultaneous hip, knee and ankle flexion and extension. Exercises such as lunges, and leg presses also fulfil the same criteria. That being said, we believe the barbell squat strikes the best balance between load and stability.

Squat with bar

Essential Movement 2: The Bench Press

We believe the barbell bench press is the go-to exercise for developing overall upper body strength and pushing power. By lying on a bench and pushing a loaded barbell away from your chest, you work the pecs, front of your shoulders (anterior delts) and triceps. Lying on a bench might sound lazy but the stability means more weight can be moved when we raise the bar. We can also use the bench to leverage leg drive, which involves driving your feet into the floor as you push the barbell up to its starting position, helping maintain your position and stability. Trust us, you’ll be working hard. Exercises such as push-ups and dumbbell pressing work the same muscle groups, so, why should we barbell bench press? Well, we love all of those exercises! However, bodyweight movements such as push-ups may actually be too hard at first for someone less trained. Dumbbells can have fixed increments that are hard to progress and eventually, move into position to press. We believe the barbell bench press is both for the beginner and advanced individual.

bench with bar

Essential Movement 3: The Deadlift

The barbell deadlift is a true test of full-body strength. By lifting a loaded barbell from the floor to a standing position, you engage the major muscle groups including the glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, trunk muscles, upper back and forearms. The deadlift is renowned for its ability to build posterior chain strength and reinforcing hip extension (also known as the hip hinge). Deadlifts can come in many shapes, sizes and popular derivatives. These include Romanian deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts and kettlebell swings. Importantly, deadlifts target the lower back and develop its work capacity. Many people fear bending over to pick something up or even tie their shoelace due to back pain. The deadlift won’t cure back pain by itself, but it will help develop the endurance and strength of trunk musculature, contributing to a more resilient back overall. It’s hard not to recommend everyone to deadlift one way or another.

Essential Movement 4: The Overhead Press

The barbell overhead press, also known as the press, targets the shoulders, triceps, and upper back. As you raise the bar overhead, you develop upper body strength, trunk stability, shoulder mobility. This exercise not only supplements the pressing strength developed from the bench press, but it also develops strength in a different plane of motion, being, above us! Forget ever struggling to get those heavy objects stacking on shelves up high. Additionally, the overhead press, as mentioned in our companion article, tangibly teaches technical efficiency. Lifting has a skill component and sometimes it can be hard to understand the nuances of the intersection between skill and effort. The overhead press is an object lesson in biomechanics, moment arms and physics. That understanding is transferable to other lifts and will improve your overall kinaesthetic awareness.

press with bar

Essential Movement 5: The Row

The barbell row is a companion exercise to the barbell deadlift. The row and deadlift both share the same start position. In contrast to the deadlift however, the trunk and legs remain relatively fixed, and the arms pull. The row is essential for developing a well-rounded back. By pulling a loaded barbell towards your torso (stopping at the chest), you engage the muscles of the upper back, including the middle back (latissimus dorsi), upper back (rhomboids), and back of the shoulder (rear deltoids). Not only will the row improve your pulling power and low back endurance, contributing to your deadlift, but it also improves your pressing movements. Individuals should find it easier to extend the upper back during the bench and shoulder press with a stronger row. Rows can be performed with many implements, but the ease of progression and standardised form makes barbells a great choice.

Essential Movement 6: The Chin-Up

Okay, we’re kind of cheating here. The chin-up doesn’t use a barbell, but it does use a bar! It also shares many of the common themes discussed in this article and our companion piece. By pulling up to the bar (or the bar down), the muscles of the anterior upper arm (biceps), middle and upper back work hard through a long range of motion. The trunk muscles stabilise the legs. With a weight belt, you can turn your body into a barbell and use increments as small as 0.25kg, but to be fair, weighted chin-ups are hard to get! Although pin loaded cable machines may have fixed increments, double progression (adding weight, then reps) can be used as a work around. Chin-ups (and pulldowns) are often the first accessory used to fill out a program before worrying about any extra arm, shoulder or ab-work.

chin-up to the bar

Focus on What’s Essential

At Ivy Training we certainly teach many other exercises and encourage people engage in a wide variety of movement patterns. Opportunity cost, fun and sustainability all impact exercise selection. Moreover, when discussing which essential lifts to pick, variations of these lifts absolutely count. We don’t mean exact variants like the low bar squat or conventional deadlift. But we do mean a barbell squat and a barbell deadlift – in whatever variation may be appropriate for the person under or behind the barbell. There is plenty of time over the course of one’s training career to experiment with all manner of exercises and implements but we believe the essential 6 patterns should form your foundation of strength. So, what’s stopping you raise the bar, today?

Our Top 3 Picks for Ready-Made Meals

Ready-made meals are a fantastic solution for those times when you’re in a pinch. Thankfully, ready-made meals are becoming more accessible with a wide-variety of companies now providing viable options. Today’s article is a brief overview of three ready-made meal services that we’ve used and some of our favourite options with their nutrition information. Jake will cover his top three MyMuscleChef meals, Rachael talks about her experience with Vic’s Gourmet Gains, and Harry shares his favourite YouFoodz meals to grab from the local service station when he’s forgotten to pack his lunch!

MyMuscleChef

MyMuscleChef is a relatively well known meal delivery company that started as a small business in 2013. Fast forward to 2023 you won’t have to look far before seeing one of their ads on your TV!

MyMuscleChef’s purpose is to offer intelligent and versatile nutrition options that help people feel their best. Their goal is to match high-quality meals with great taste and accessibility. This allows customers to more conveniently achieve their health and fitness goals. They’ve recently developed a plant-based range, moved towards fresh over frozen products, and a new low-calorie range on top of their already impressive 70 high-protein meals.

I tend to personally meal prep most of my meals however with my work-life balance, and the schedule of my better half Mel, who is a nurse, very often we find ourselves in a pinch needing a convenient, high-protein meal for dinner or otherwise. We don’t mind the occasional takeout, but I find having MyMuscleChef Meals on hand is a great strategy to help me stick to my goals. 

Here are my top three meals:

Crumbed Chicken with Roasted Potatoes

  • Calories: 554kcal 
  • Carbohydrates: 49g
  • Fat: 19g
  • Protein: 44g

Beef Stroganoff with Spinach Fettuccine

  • Calories: 487kcal 
  • Carbohydrates: 31g
  • Fat: 12g
  • Protein: 62g

Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl

  • Calories: 704kcal 
  • Carbohydrates: 62g
  • Fat: 21g
  • Protein: 65g

Vic’s Gourmet Gains

Vic’s Gourmet Gains is a small business, owned and operated by an incredible cook, Victoria. With all of her meals being high in protein, it’s obvious that gym-goers are Vic’s target market and main consumer.

The upside of ordering from a small business like this is that the ready-made meals are made fresh and delivered on the same day. Vic will also go above and beyond if you require any customisations to your meals. The downside is that you need to order via Instagram Direct Message, and I am renowned for forgetting to submit my order by her Thursday 12pm cut-off and often get hit with a “Hey Rach, do you need any meals this week?” message.

Many of you might know that I don’t cook on weeknights due to the nature of my work and schedule, and have tried most meal prep companies on the market. In my opinion, Vic’s Gourmet Gains beats them all in terms of taste and freshness. My husband agrees as well, and often jokes about how lucky Victoria’s partner is!

Here are three meals that you would often find in my fridge at home:

Turkey Kofta

  • Calories: 488kcal 
  • Carbohydrates: 50g
  • Fat: 8g
  • Protein: 54g

Tandoori Chicken

  • Calories: 523kcal 
  • Carbohydrates: 61g
  • Fat: 7g
  • Protein: 51g

Butter Chicken

  • Calories: 556kcal 
  • Carbohydrates: 54g
  • Fat: 16g
  • Protein: 43g

Youfoodz

Youfoodz is a popular ready-made meal subscription service in that offers delivery, but also sells meals at local shops. They prioritise fresh, nutritionally-balanced meals with flexible meal plan sizes designed to suit your lifestyle. 

The company was founded in 2012 by Lance Giles and is headquartered in Brisbane, Queensland. YouFoodz offers a variety of fresh, healthy and convenient meals that can be ordered online and delivered to customer’s doors. They cater to a range of dietary requirements, including vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, and low-carb options.

The Youfoodz basic range has a slightly lower protein content compared to other ready made meal services. However, this doesn’t always have to be the focus as it is a function of your overall diet. Other qualities such as taste and affordability are equally important. Moreover, just like training fatigue we can also get something called taste fatigue. This is a result of constantly eating the same foods. If we are always choosing the same meals for the purpose of high-protein counts, we are missing the bigger picture. Choosing meals from a wider range of choices whilst being attentive to the overall details of the diet at large can improve adherence and enjoyment.

These are my go-to meals that I grab when I’ve forgotten my lunch:

Creamy Parmesan Chicken with Peas & Cauliflower

  • Calories: 275kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 18.7g
  • Fat: 8.5g
  • Protein: 27.6g

Peri Peri Chicken with Spicy Mayo & Potatoes

  • Calories: 495kcal 
  • Carbohydrates: 19.6g
  • Fat: 33.9g
  • Protein: 26g

Slow-Cooked Tuscan Pork with Loaded Mash

  • Calories: 395kcal 
  • Carbohydrates: 27.6g
  • Fat: 19.7g
  • Protein: 24.9g

Picking what’s right for you

Inevitably, your health and fitness journey will involve some trial and error. When it comes to making health promoting nutrition decisions you have plenty of choice. Factors such as cost, convenience, accessibility and importantly, taste, all play a role and how consistent you will be. Ready-made meals are a great option to have stored in your freezer in case you find yourself short on time, and it’s something that we recommend to our clients if they’re struggling with consistency. Ultimately, consistency will dictate your success. If you need help developing consistent health-promoting habits, feel free to reach out to us here.

Top Tips to Grocery Shop Smart

On your quest to become a healthier you, the weekly grocery shop is a necessary task that can be difficult to surmount. When you have to account for your family and yourself, it becomes even more complex. As you might have experienced, we all struggle with willpower to make health-promoting decisions at the best of times. Convenience, cognitive load and time management are all influencing factors. As the saying goes “fail to prepare and prepare to fail”. In today’s article we will provide our top tips to help you prepare better and simplify decision making.

Shopping for Substitutions

Substitutions refer to swapping out one choice for another. Rarely do we recommend a complete dietary overhaul. This is not only unwise and unnecessary, but simply stressful! Instead, some simple substitutions could go a long way in managing total energy intake. Secondly, substitutions can improve nutrition quality and increase overall satisfaction. A few simple places to start simply involve picking a lower calories version of the same food. This can include skim or light milk, 95% lean mince, cooking oils, pasta variations (as shown below) and sugar free sweetened beverages. Next time you’re on your grocery shop, look for some substitutions – you might be pleasantly surprised!

You can also look at swapping out foods accessible in your food environment. That is, if you were to leave a bowl of chocolates on your desk at work, would you be more likely to eat it? What if you were to swap out that bowl of chocolate for a bowl of fruit? How could that impact your health?

Shopping for Back-Ups

Not everything goes to plan. I’m sure this is something you’ve experienced before. Life is messy, and in your pursuit of a healthier and fitter you, your best laid plans won’t always stick. Substitution is a strategy for everyday however back-ups refer to strategies left in reserve. The most common example is frozen or chilled meals ready for when you don’t have time to prepare meals such as dinner.

We’ve also got in our companion article this month our favourite ready-made meals from three different companies. Be sure to check it out here. Back-ups can also include knowing your food environment and options beyond just the home. For instance, we recommend getting to know your local area and *healthier* takeaway options alongside access to ready made meals.

One example immediately springs to mind. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I do occasionally indulge in McDonald’s. One great back-up option Rachael put me onto is the Grilled Chicken Wrap. It’s not perfect by any choice but, for the convenience of being on the road, 447 cals and 27.8g protein at $8.20, there are worse options if you’re in a pinch. Honourable mentions include the wide variety of ready-made meals now available at petrol stations (such as YouFoodz or MyMuscleChef) and secondly, Nando’s is a fantastic choice when eating out – it’s hard to pass up the Peri-Peri Chicken Tenders and Broccolini!

Shopping Savvy

I don’t think I’m the only person here guilty of opening up the vegetable drawer in the fridge and finding a sad excuse for lettuce wilted in the corner. Not only does the guilt of letting food go to waste hit me, but additionally, the waste of cost and resources. Thankfully, you don’t have to buy fresh food to eat healthy. Although I understand taste may be compromised, buying frozen or canned produce is a completely viable strategy for limiting waste and still achieving your health and fitness goals. As an aside, frozen and tinned foods aren’t subject to seasonal fluctuations in price or availability and as a bonus, usually lower in cost.

Having the right appliances at home, albeit a luxury, means you can limit the time spent on meal prep and help you when you’re short on time, adhere to your health and fitness goals. Air fryers are a fantastic tool. By circulating incredibly hot air they can be used to prepare food in a short period of time without using large amounts of oil or the need to deep fry certain foods. 

An example of a convenient meal that comes to mind that uses frozen foods, limited prep time and is reasonably healthy can be creating air fried and seasoned frozen broccoli florets, potato chips and a fresh lean protein source. You can find all of these ingredients in the frozen section on your next grocery shop!

Set yourself up for success

The weekly grocery shop can be a stumbling block or a chance to step-up to success. Intelligent use of substitutions, back-ups, resource management and appliance use can make achieving your health and fitness goals magnitudes easier. As previously alluded to convenience, *cognitive load* and time management are all influencing factors when making health-promoting decisions. We hope the ideas in our article today provide you with the tools you require to succeed. It’s clear how nutrition can be more flexible and adaptable. Don’t get stuck thinking only freshly made, organic-only, gourmet meals that are cost intensive are “healthy.” If you’re looking for more practical nutrition guidance, you can contact the team at Ivy Training here.

I Asked ChatGPT to Write Me a Training Program and This Was the Result

Like us, you’ve probably read a lot in the news about how powerful AI (Artificial Intelligence) is becoming, and all the cool things that it can do. Simply put, it is the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. Heck, you can even code with it! We recently started playing around with a new AI system called ChatGPT, and asked it to write us a training program. The results were pretty interesting…

ChatGPT’s Training Program

When we asked ChatGPT to write us a training program, it gave us a pretty simple training program that wasn’t inherently bad. We did however notice that it lacked a few key components.

We asked: “Hey ChatGPT! Can you please write me a training program for 2 days a week in a table format?” Check out the program it laid out for us below. It included similar exercises to what we would incorporate in our client’s training programs at Ivy Training, however we can see a few red flags (which like most red flags, may not be obvious at first glance).

Red Flags 🚩

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of ChatGPT’s program, we’d like to say that getting yourself to the gym and following any training program is better than doing nothing. However, here are a few red flags that we noticed when reading over it.

1. There is no reference to intensity.

We covered The Four Pillars of Fitness recently, and intensity is one of those important pillars. Any decent training program will specify intensity by using RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), RIR (Repetitions in Reserve) or a percentage of e1RM (estimated 1 Repetition Max). ChatGPT doesn’t reference anything to do with intensity, so how are we meant to know how hard we’re meant to push these sets? What loads should we select? Because the level of effort is left undefined, we’re left in the dark about weight selection. At Ivy Training, we primarily use RPE to prescribe effort and gauge how hard a set is for our clients. We don’t want our clients working to failure, but we also don’t want it to be a walk in the park. Our aim is to select an intensity that is challenging enough to be stimulating, without accumulating too much fatigue.

2. There is no variation in the sets and reps.

The next red flag that we noticed is that each exercise is 3 sets of 8-10 reps. Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with sets of 8-10, it doesn’t necessarily allow for higher intensities. This is because the number of reps is inversely related to the training intensity or load. We would also argue that most individuals would benefit from using a variety of different rep ranges. Lower reps will increase the training intensity and expose your muscles to high levels of force, which will result in unique adaptations that improve stiffness under heavy loads (making someone stronger). Conversely, higher reps are useful for accumulating enough training volume in a time-efficient manner and secondly, improves local muscular endurance.

3. It doesn’t tell us how long we need to rest for.

Depending individual factors, rest time will vary program to program and exercise to exercise. ChatGPT has failed to establish any rest period, so how are we meant to know how long to rest? Is 30 seconds enough? Is 5 minutes too much? It all depends on the context! Generally speaking, we like to keep our rest times between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. This is quite a difference, but as a guide we will typically use shorter rest periods (30-60 seconds) for smaller isolated/accessory exercises and longer rest periods (2-3 minutes) for larger barbell movements. The reason we allow longer rest periods for barbell movements is due to them recruiting larger muscle groups, and therefore requiring more recovery between sets. It takes us a bit longer to feel “ready” (physically and mentally) to hit a heavy set of deadlifts than it does for a dumbbell bicep curl.

4. There is no description on warming up to your working sets.

This was the most problematic for us. We would describe warming up as preparing the body for the physical demands of the task at hand, and priming the nervous system to best perform that task at hand. We’d argue that anything else is either superfluous, fatiguing or unhelpful. Whilst there is no harm in doing “light cardio exercise for 5-10 minutes” as ChatGPT outlined, that type of physical activity isn’t going to prime you for your Barbell Squats that you have following. At Ivy Training, we like to start with body weight or the empty barbell, before increasing the load incrementally until you get to your target weight. We have another fantastic blog on Everything You Need To Know About Warming Up if you’re eager to learn more.

5. Does the cool down serve any purpose?

At the end of the program, ChatGPT prescribed 5-10 minutes of “Any stretching exercises for major muscle groups”. Not only do we find this a bit vague, but we’d also question the purpose. If we dig into the latest research on stretching, there is not a sufficient amount of evidence to support the implementation of stretching to prevent injury or improve joint mobility. We’d say skip the stretch and add in some more work for that 5-10 minutes, whether that be an extra set or an extra exercise.

Conclusion

As we mentioned earlier, it’s better to have some structure to your workout than none at all. However, ChatGPT has oversimplified the process of writing a training program for an individual. It doesn’t take into account the important red flags outlined throughout this blog, and overall we’d argue that it doesn’t structure the training week as well as what what we (or other personal trainers) could. It didn’t ask us about our goals or capabilities, or whether we had any injuries that needed to be accounted for. ChatGPT definitely has a place in this world (much to Jake’s dismay), but sometimes you can’t beat human interaction and an individualised approach.

Resources

  1. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD007455.pub3/full?highlightAbstract=stretching&highlightAbstract=stretch
  2. https://www.painscience.com/articles/stretching.php#rr
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8120977/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29470825/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29324578/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31260419/

The Four Pillars of Fitness: Intensity, Volume, Frequency and Exercise Selection

As you settle into Ivy Training you might hear us mention unfamiliar terms. Our goal is to simplify the language used when discussing health promoting habits, behaviours and training. What follows will be an overview of four important concepts covered in training, what we refer to as the four pillars of fitness. These are Intensity, Volume, Frequency and Exercise Selection. Today’s discussion will not dig into the weeds of exercise science and maximising performance. Instead, this will be a brief, evidence-informed overview relevant to someone looking to become fitter, stronger and healthier in a personal training context.

Intensity

The first of the four pillars of fitness is intensity. Intensity and the term intensiveness often get confused. Specifically, intensity refers to the load on the bar relative to an individual’s estimated 1 repetition max (% of e1RM). Intensiveness refers to simply how “hard something feels”. You can have an exercise that feels hard yet low intensity. Low intensity sets should be taken close to failure to be challenging. The crossover of intensity and intensiveness is proximity to failure

Proximity to failure refers to how many more repetitions an individual could perform with an exercise at a given weight before being unable to perform any more. If you are lifting a high intensity load, the total rep count will be lower and vice versa. For instance, 5 reps at 81% would have a similar proximity to failure as 10 reps at 68%. In both instances, the sets are about 2-3 more reps shy of failure.

To neatly compare intensity, intensiveness and proximity to failure, we use the terms RPE and RIR. RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion and RIR stands for Repetitions in Reserve. We have used a graph below to show the relationship between the terms and flesh out the details more. In the graph you’ll notice the phrase “bar speed” which can also be termed “velocity loss”. This is a nice visual analogue to effort.

Try it yourself – do a set of push-ups and push as hard as you can before failing, you’ll notice those last couple of reps are an absolute grind! “Bar speed” slows as the effort required increases.

Volume

Volume in its simplest form refers to the amount of work done (whereas intensity is the magnitude of the work). It can be calculated as the number of repetitions performed for an exercise, muscle group, movement or session. However, without a magnitude, the volume in isolation isn’t a very useful metric. Volume does nothing to describe the stimulus of the work done.

For instance, for those who have already developed an aerobic base, running won’t build muscle. However, if we were to count “volume” while running you would accumulate thousands of reps! This doesn’t mean it’s “effective” as a stimulus. Volume is only useful to consider when the work is sufficiently intense to impart a mechanical stimulus onto the target muscle(s).

Therefore, when magnitude is considered, volume can be a useful parameter. For example, if I just told you a program had a High Bar Back Squat volume of “30” it could mean the following: 10 sets of 3, 3 sets of 10 or 6 sets of 5. Each of those schemes can stimulate muscle growth with the correct intensity. Although performance outcomes may vary. Exercise volume and strength adaptations exhibit a graded dose-response relationship. This means up to a point, more productive training produces better results.

We can’t give exact recommendations but 2-3 sets for each major muscle group, at the appropriate RPE is a reasonable start. From there we use soreness, fatigue and progression (or lack thereof) as an indicator of either too much or too little volume.

Frequency

Frequency describes the number of training sessions performed per muscle group or movement in a given period of time. The time frame most often used is 1 week, typically termed a “microcycle”. As frequency increases for a particular movement or muscle group, training volume can increase. The simplest way to consider this is that frequency is a function of volume. That is, a higher frequency allows for more effective training volume. Too much work in one session can negatively attenuate the training stimulus.

If strength performance is more important than muscle growth and general health, a higher frequency may be ideal. This is due to allowing for fatigue management and hitting each lift fresh. Consider the following thought: would you feel most fresh performing 3 sets of bench press three times a week or 9 sets in one day?

We argue that frequency relies upon volume and intensity. Although, personal circumstance should be the deciding factor. For instance, some of our clients enjoy cross-training with activities such as running or swimming. Distributing training volume per muscle group across multiple days can potentially offset delayed onset muscle soreness and therefore, not interfere with other activities. In other instances, we might be trying to really increase the size of a certain muscle group and therefore, it’s more efficient in time-constrained sessions to prioritise that muscle-group within a session.

Exercise Selection

Exercise selection is a bit of a paradox. For instance, it can be unspecific and effective but also at times needs to be very specific. Here’s what I mean: If you were to compete in Powerlifting, you HAVE to Squat, Bench and Deadlift. I mean… that’s the sport! Yes, your intensities can at times be low (for higher volume work) or high (for strength developing and peaking) but you’ve always got to Squat the very least! 

For the purpose of general health and fitness, we believe exercise selection should be about:

  • General transferability
  • Training large amounts of muscle mass
  • Using a long range of motion
  • Exercises that have potential to improve over the long term

Ultimately training resources are NOT infinite – we have to make decisions with our time, resources and allocation of effort and therefore, there will simply be better or worse decisions to make in that regard. Moreover, we simply have to start somewhere! At Ivy Training we believe that teaching people a good foundation of barbell strength training will set up a lifter in the long term. This will include Squatting, Bench Pressing and Deadlifting (and/or variations of those movements) as they tick all the boxes discussed above. As time goes on, our clients will have a more robust history of training to draw upon and make decisions about which exercise seems to suit them best.

Conclusion

Training variables should aim to eventually be individualised. The four pillars of fitness: Intensity, Volume, Frequency and Exercise Selection should be appropriate to the individual, their physical, environmental and psychological resources and their goals. Importantly, an individual does not outpace their coverage by working at any level of the variables they are not yet accommodated to.

We hope you found this brief overview of the four training variables useful. A simple way to remember these variables is that how often, how hard and how much it is that you train a specific thing, should be related to your schedule, goals, preferences, and trainability. At Ivy Training we aim to provide you with the most suitable option for your training.

Are You Experiencing Gymtimidation? We’ve Got The Solution For You

What is gymtimidation?

Strained breathing and laboured grunts, the clang of metal plates sliding onto the bar and the sound of techno music blasting through the group fitness studio. Gyms are a sensory overload. For many, they can understandably be off-putting. Colloquially the term used to describe hesitation to go to the gym is “gymtimidation”. For many we wouldn’t be surprised that it’s more about fear of the unknown. Today we will unpack some common gymtimidation scenarios and discuss solutions to overcome it.

“We do not fear the unknown. We fear what we think we know about the unknown.”

Teal Swan

Feeling self-conscious in a public space

Self-consciousness is a heightened sense of awareness of oneself. For some, self-consciousness manifests itself when attempting to exercise in a public space. Fear of looking uncoordinated, unnatural or weak causes many to simply not try at all. 

If you relate to this feeling, you’re not alone. We suggest:

  • Consider working out in the comfort of your own home. We wrote an article a while back on home workouts and how you can structure them (even without any equipment). You could also jump on YouTube and follow a guided workout on your TV. YouTube has reported that there are over 30 million fitness videos, so it’s safe to say you won’t be stuck for options.
  • Joining a group class with a friend. Getting involved in physical activity with someone that you feel comfortable around can make all the difference, and if you need an escape plan from the class it’s a lot less awkward bailing on the class with someone else (we’re speaking from experience here).
  • Working with a Personal Trainer is a fast way to squash any gymtimidation you may be feeling. You will learn basic technique and proficiency, and you’ll likely build your confidence with training in the process. Many of our clients have never stepped foot in a gym before, and our aim is making them feel comfortable and welcome in their initial sessions.

Becoming proficient (which does not mean perfect) is simply a matter of practice, exposure and repetition. Basic resistance training revolves around some fundamental movement patterns that don’t require extreme positions or coordination. If you’re feeling lost in the gym, a great place to start is with some Squats, Bench Press, Deadlifts, Shoulder Press, Rows and Pulldowns.

Fear of injuring yourself

Rightly so, no one wants to get hurt. Unfortunately, as Personal Trainers we deal with misinformation about exercise and injury daily. Resistance training is incredibly safe [1] and outweighs the potential risks of inactivity [2]. However, aches and pain, perceived tightness and discomfort makes exercise feel hard to start. Daniel Lieberman in Exercised discusses the concept of virtuous and vicious exercise cycles [3]. These concepts highlight how at first exercise can be uncomfortable, but with persistence, becomes more rewarding (at a neurochemical level) and easier to adhere to.

Some individuals have also had bad experiences with participating in programs that are simply too hard. If that’s been you, consider the following the next time you train:

  • Start lighter and with less reps than your maximum ability.
  • Start with fewer sessions a week and gradually increase that number.
  • Do higher amounts of easier things like walking before harder activities and higher intensities.
  • Follow a structured program that a trainer can develop for you.

Many individuals simply need guidance and starting with the correct entry point. Slow and steady wins the race. The human body is not fragile, it is incredibly resilient. That being said, you can’t expect to go from doing little to lots, without it taking its toll – if you rush.

Gender preferences in trainers

We’ve checked the stats in our studio, and 10% of our clients requested a female trainer during their first contact with us. Rachael even started out with a female Personal Trainer at her local women’s only gym because she was nervous about her first gym experience. We are sensitive to preferences and understand individuals may feel more comfortable, especially in a new environment with a trainer of the same gender. That being said, very often being matched with the right trainer for you is more about personality and rapport. There are some special exceptions however:

  • Cultural exceptions.
  • Negative prior experience with another trainer.
  • Pre and post-natal women might prefer working with a Personal Trainer of the same gender. In contexts such as these, some individuals may feel more comfortable discussing their physical limitations or concerns with another female. With that said, all of us have experience training pre and post-natal women.

Our goal at Ivy Training is to best cater to your needs within what we can practically provide. Building trust and rapport is a key focus for us. We believe fantastic trainer/client relationships can be built on the basis of respect, good communication and care. Moreover, professionalism in conduct is essential for all clients to feel like they can participate in a safe and welcoming space.

From gymtimidation to no limitations

Overcoming gymtimidation is a huge step towards lifelong adherence to physical activity. We understand not every environment will be welcoming, but we aim to provide one such environment here at Ivy Training. If you take away anything from reading this, let it be this: you are capable of learning, you are inherently resilient, and there is no need for you to feel embarrassed in your gym environment. Lastly, if it’s any consolation, most people in the gym are less cornered about others as they are their own workout.

Resources

  1. Patient safety ward round checklist via an electronic app: implications for harm prevention – PubMed (nih.gov)
  2. The economic burden of physical inactivity: a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Exercised by Daniel Lieberman

Let’s Walk You Through Your First Few Months at Ivy Training

You’ve just clicked submit on our personal training enquiry. Leading up to this point perhaps something has motivated you to reflect on your current health and future goals. So, what happens next? What will your first few months at Ivy Training look like?

Your first foot in the door

Well, it all starts with a Personal Training Consultation. This sounds formal but, it’s ideally anything but that. Our goal is to help you feel comfortable with the environment at Ivy Training. After all, this is a place where you’ll be laughing, sweating and probably grunting! Our goal during the consultation is to learn a lot about you. This includes covering information such as:

  • Your schedule
  • Work/life balance
  • Exercise and diet history
  • Injury history
  • …and more!

Ultimately, it’s a chance for us to show that we are interested in meeting you where you are at. At Ivy Training we believe in a simple quote that guides this process:

“People don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Your first session

This is where the rubber meets the road, or more accurately, your feet meet the floor. Accordingly, our first session is a probing session. This isn’t some bizarre alien abduction (although if you’ve never worked out in the gym before, it can feel strange)! Really, we are finding out what your current physical ability is. This can be informed by many things including:

  • Sport and exercise history
  • Injury history
  • Previous exposures to concepts and environments concerning exercise and fitness
  • Prior beliefs about the human body, fragility and ability

We will aim to instruct you on how to perform a few basic movements or patterns. Chiefly, these include some form of Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press and Rowing movements. These patterns will train a large amount of the musculature through a long range of motion. In training these, you will be providing the best overall stimulus to your body during a personal training session. Because people have varying abilities, a probing session will help us best determine where to start with these movements or patterns.

During this session you’ll also get familiar with some of the language we use around body positions (such as “hinge”), how we describe difficulty (such as “RPE”) or other concepts like resting between sets and breathing. It’s a lot to take in, but like all things, start small and build up gradually. Our aim isn’t to make you sore and sweaty in your first session (although this naturally may occur), but we are trying to familiarise you with the training process, find your starting point, and also get to know you a bit better.

Your first few months

By now you’ve settled in. You’ve committed to a consistent schedule (for many, we recommend strength training two to three times per week). In doing so, you’ve managed to add weight to the bar, reps to your sets and improved your cadence with your aerobic work. As a result, you’ve noticed in the mirror your body is starting to change. So, does it just go on like this?

In some ways… yes, but there’s more. At this point in time, we’ll typically ask for your feedback on your training and make any changes to your program if necessary. For many, especially if they haven’t already indicated, after a month or so we believe it is a great time to start diving into nutrition habits. For those interested in changing their body composition from the get-go, we certainly do so sooner. However, many people are looking to simply “get fitter” and aren’t in as much of a hurry to modify their dietary preferences.

We will begin by asking clients some questions regarding their nutrition habits week to week and may also ask for some form of food log if that’s appropriate. It may also be worth discussing food preparation skills and eating environments. At this point we additionally try to encourage clients to increase their activity overall. We love strength training, but know it isn’t enough by itself. Whether it’s dance, swimming or walking, the opportunities to be active are endless. They should also be fun for you.

Start strong, keep getting stronger

You’re probably already more capable than you think. Whether you’re worried you wont be strong enough, fit enough or disciplined enough, don’t doubt yourself. Many people we find simply need direction. Our goal is to help clients be self-aware about all the processes that influence their health outcomes and start developing long-term, sustainable habits that support one another.

Once you’ve settled into your first few months, we start to consider more ambitious targets. Have you always wanted to do a chin-up? Run a marathon? Or even just get better at prepping meals throughout the week? Nothing is too big or too small to be considered important. At Ivy Training we will use the first few months to set you up for a lifetime of success. This will include education, instruction, self-reflection and effort, but we promise you, it’s all worth it.

10 New Year’s Resolutions That Aren’t Scale Related

New Year, New You? How about New Year, New Habits? We all know the drill: the New Year rolls around and all of a sudden, it’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, get in shape and finally hit that number on the scale that you haven’t seen in years. To make things more challenging, let’s add an unrealistic time frame to hit that milestone event that’s just around the corner.

What if I told you that there were a number of ways to focus on your health and fitness, that don’t revolve around the number on the scale? You read that right. No hard and fast diets. No unachievable “goal weight” with an impossible time frame to match. Let’s flip the switch. Start thinking about long-term, sustainable habits that will change your life rather than short-term New Year’s resolutions. You might even find that focusing on the process rather than the destination makes the entire process more enjoyable and rewarding.

Here are 10 New Year’s resolutions for you to try in 2023 that don’t involve the scale:

  1. Get some fresh air and sunshine every day
  2. Aim for some type of physical activity every day
  3. Try a new type of exercise or activity that you’ve never done before
  4. Focus on a new hobby that you enjoy
  5. Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  6. Make a commitment to hydration
  7. Add more fruit and vegetables into your diet
  8. Prioritise your sleep
  9. Make time for self-care
  10. Reflect and document your progress

Get some fresh air and sunshine every day

Try and find ways to get outside (when the weather is appropriate)! Getting out in the sun is a great way to promote Vitamin D production, which is great for immunity and bone health. Whether it’s grabbing some lunch and eating outside or setting aside 30 minutes between clients to go for a walk, we always try to schedule some time to get some fresh air and sunshine, and the steps are an added bonus.

New Year's Resolutions: Get some fresh air and sunshine every day

Aim for some type of physical activity every day

Daily physical activity should be on everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions. Not all activity has to be “hard”, it can also be fun – this is why we enjoy encouraging people to learn something new! Between us trainers, we typically break our activity throughout the week with a mix of (mainly) strength training in the gym, along with other physical activity which can be as simple and easy as a walk around the block.

New Year's Resolutions: Aim for some type of physical activity every day

Try a new type of exercise or activity that you’ve never done before

Trying new things is a great way to discover new passions and even meet new people. The options are limitless, it could be a martial art, dancing, swimming or more! Jake has recently taken up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Legacy next door to the studio, and is finding the challenge of learning a new skill fun and exciting. Rachael has also tried Pilates in the past when she wanted to shake up her exercise routine, and Harry has dabbled in the sport of Strongman. There are plenty of ways to diversify your training and exercise, so don’t be afraid to try something new!

New Year's Resolutions: Try a new type of exercise or activity that you’ve never done before

Focus on a new hobby that you enjoy

New hobbies can be a great way to try something new and connect with people who have common interests. Hobbies can bring you joy, help you switch out of the bustle of life and provide new vigour for everything else you need to do. A lot of our clients enjoy numerous different hobbies, from art classes, dancing to learning a new language. All of them involve connecting with other people and forming new friendships, and others also involve some extra physical activity!

New Year's Resolutions: Focus on a new hobby that you enjoy

Take the stairs instead of the elevator

What we mean by this is, take steps (literally) to move more throughout the day. Small changes like choosing the stairs instead of the elevator can really help you accumulate more steps each day and increase your daily activity levels. We often catch ourselves choosing to walk down to Chatswood rather than driving just to increase our daily activity.

New Year's Resolutions: Take the stairs instead of the elevator

Make a commitment to hydration

We find having a water bottle nearby helps increase your water intake. Get your hands on one of those 2L water bottles and fill it up at the beginning of the day. Aim to get through the whole thing and maybe even a refill by the end of the day. Sometimes a bigger water bottle isn’t practical, so instead aiming to have a large glass or small bottle of water with each meal is a great way to reach this goal. Find what works for you, and stick to it.

New Year's Resolutions: Make a commitment to hydration

Add more fruit and vegetables into your diet

To put it bluntly, most of us don’t consume enough fruit or vegetables in our diet. If you’re not meeting the minimum recommendations of 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day, it’s not too late to start. The first step is adding them into your grocery trolley. The second step is actually eating them (and not letting them go to waste)! You can start small by adding a serve of fruit and vegetables that you enjoy with each meal.

New Year's Resolutions: Add more fruit and vegetables into your diet

Prioritise your sleep

Aim for 7 hours of sleep each night and establish a bedtime routine that helps you wind down. We get it – sometimes our sleep is out of our control, especially if we’re attending to a young one or we’re under a lot of stress. We can try our best to establish a pre-bed routine can involve self care and reflection. Winding down before bed will allow you to get off to sleep faster, but also have more restful sleep.

New Year's Resolutions: Prioritise your sleep

Make time for self-care

Whether it’s a massage, meditation, a walk, or even a pamper, make sure you take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Setting time aside to look after and reward yourself is a great way to stay motivated. Experiment with a few different ways to practise self-care, and figure out what works for you best. It’s a great way to relax and de-stress!

New Year's Resolutions: Make time for self-care

Reflect and document your progress

Reflecting, documenting and monitoring your progress will help you appreciate the journey and consider what’s working, and what might need some extra attention or improvement. We help our clients monitor and track their progress, and we love getting their feedback along the way to ensure that we’re both on the same page. You might even find that this process of reflection can help you unwind, and could even be part of your self-care routine.

New Year's Resolutions: Reflect and document your progress

Our take on New Year’s Resolutions

Ditch the unrealistic New Year’s resolutions and let your new habits take you from resolution to revolution this year. Consider that not every action you take needs to be metric-based such as jumping on a scale (although there is a time and a place for this).  Instead, consider these process based habits that develop your skills, abilities and health over simply pursuing a metric. We hope you can consider the 10 tips we’ve provided for you today and adopt them into your lifestyle this year. If you’d like more help setting and achieving your goals, you can reach out to the team at Ivy Training here.

Don’t Make Health Harder Than It Needs to Be

Making healthy decisions seems simple right? Just tell yourself to get up and go on a walk, surely 10 minutes isn’t that hard? Or how about simply choosing to have less sugar in your coffee? Perhaps you’ve found yourself after a hot streak of 1-2 weeks, relapsing into old, unproductive habits. Willpower often fails to stand up to busyness and fatigue. What about the context of your social and physical environment?

For example, a 2009 research paper used survey data linked with geographic measures of access to food retailers and found the following:

“The lower the ratio of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to grocery stores and produce vendors near people’s homes, the lower the odds of being obese.” [1]

Although decision making can be complex, the opportunities to improve are many. Better yet, we don’t have to rely on pure willpower. Today we will focus on your social and environmental context. We’ve got three examples to share which will illustrate this point. As you read on today, consider, the physical and social environments you find yourself in and the resources therein. Or better said:

“…the social and environmental context of action which provide, available options, sets incentives and disincentives, opportunity costs and cues with contingency for behavioural responses.” [2]

Your Environment as a Health Motivator

Not all environments are harmful, rather, many can be conducive to your goals.

Our resident moustachioed man-child Harry reflected on how his gym environment impacted his success in powerlifting. He had the following to say: “I’d been training for 3 years in a commercial gym which wasn’t ideal for powerlifting. Regardless, I was excited to compete and decided to sign up for my first powerlifting meet. Despite being self-coached, I placed second and qualified for states. It was at states where I met my current coach, and we began working together. This gave me access to a powerlifting gym where the like-minded community of lifters encouraged one another to new heights. I found myself not only getting stronger but also feeling more related to, confident and inspired. For me, changing my training environment and surrounding myself with a supportive team of friends, coaches and specialists lead to a much healthier mindset and approach to my training as well as allowing me to flourish as a lifter.”

Your Environment as a Health Harmer

Of course, it might just be the interaction between yourself, your circumstance and the environment you find yourself in that causes the issues. Rachael experienced this during lockdown.

With a hectic schedule performing mobile personal training sessions while lugging a weight kit during lockdown, Rachael had to bring meals with her to eat on the road. One morning she had forgotten her usual oat bar and banana and so she opted to stop by Missing Spoon in Gordon. To her delight they had a Bacon & Egg Roll and Coffee combo special…thankfully for Rachael she could swap out her coffee for a hot chocolate.

She started to notice her behaviours shifting however and had this to say: “Do you know how good it felt to eat a Bacon & Egg Roll and hot chocolate after not having access to dining out in what felt like forever?! Amazing. That, paired with the convenience of not having to pack my breakfast and actually being able to leave my vehicle and have some sort of human interaction in the midst of lockdown made me want to do it again. And again. And again. What was supposed to be a once-off occurrence turned into an almost daily activity for about two weeks. Then I thought, this has turned into an unhealthy habit, and it has to stop… now. So, I did. I even took an alternative route to travel between Gordon and Killara to avoid driving past the café. Out of side, out of mind, right?”

Your Environment as Conveniently Healthy

Without speculating too much into human psychology, we often assume effort is equated to both outcome but also virtue. That is, something worth having or doing is usually hard or requires effort and hopefully results in a positive outcome.

Although we don’t necessarily disagree, there’s nothing wrong with leveraging convenience, especially if it helps you be compliant to health-promoting behaviours and stick to your goals.

Here’s Jake’s experience of picking up a new activity, that happened to be conveniently healthy: “For myself I’ve wanted to for years to pick up a Martial Art again. In particular, I was excited about Jiu Jitsu. I was never motivated enough however to carve out more time or wanted to travel far for a class. Ever since I started at Ivy Training, I noticed there is literally a Jiu Jitsu studio next door. Even better, they have classes during my break. Thank you, Legacy! So here I am, 2 months later and loving it! Ultimately, I’m learning a new skill, being active and getting involved in a new community. I can still put in effort but I’m more likely to stay committed due to convenience.”

Context is Everything

We wish for everyone to have greater willpower to make better decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not reality. Instead, consider how you can make decision making an easier process. Furthermore, consider the interplay between yourself and your physical and social environment. We hope these three examples can help you better pursue health-promoting behaviours.

If you’re looking for help achieving your goals, you can contact the team at Ivy Training here.

References

  1. Relation Between Local Food Environments and Obesity Among Adults
  2. Theoretical Explanations for Maintenance of Behaviour Change: A Systematic Review of Behaviour Theories

Have You Been Naughty or Nice this Silly Season?

The silly season is about good food, family and fun. As wonderful as a time it is, it can inspire dread for those looking to maintain their hard-earned progress throughout the year. Well, don’t despair! Before we dive into today’ article, I’d just like to make three brief points.

  • Firstly, allowing yourself some leniency and resilience is important to the process of achieving your goals. You don’t always have to be moving in a forward direction and operating in perfect circumstances.
  • Secondly, consider that not every season is the time to push. The silly season can be stressful enough and we genuinely hope for people to simply enjoy it. Acute fluctuations in dietary intake and activity do not have to indicate future progress. 
  • Third and last, we would also like to mention that we can utilise the concept of temporal landmarks (or special times) to leverage motivation for change. New Year is one such landmark. A great read if you’d like to know more is this article linked below. The following quote summarises the author’s thoughts well:

“When temporal landmarks psychologically disconnect us from our inferior, past self and make us feel superior, we will be motivated to behave better than we have in the past and strive with enhanced fervor to achieve our aspirations [1].”

The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior

Suffice to say, we encourage people to relax a little these holidays and get excited to hit the new year with some fresh zeal for change! Today we will explore today four simple strategies with a quick view to the future (like next year) which will hopefully encourage you to have an enjoyable and less stressful holiday period.

These four simple strategies include:

  1. Staying active,
  2. Be satisfied but not silly,
  3. Setting boundaries, and
  4. Indulge in social interactions.

Staying active this season

We are big believers in regular physical activity, however our schedules can drastically change during the silly season. We would encourage people to think flexibly about their activity and consider either home workouts, exercise “bites” or other strategies. You might find the holiday period is the perfect time to dig into some more intensive house or garden work or might find a range of activities while on a holiday away from home!

Some simple ways to increase your activity outside of exercise and housework can include:

  • Daily walks with your family.
  • Travelling to somewhere nice to have a more scenic walk, maybe even ending with a picnic? Bondi to Bronte or the Blue Mountains come to mind here.
  • Buying a toy, ball or game that encourages physical activity where everyone can participate.
  • Trying out a new activity like kayaking.

There’s plenty of opportunities and no, you aren’t weird if you like to exercise in your time off. No one bats an eye if you brush your teeth or shower – exercise can be viewed as health maintenance. I often follow simpler and shorter “time-crunch” programs during the silly season as I still love to train, but I need the flexibility to accommodate for a more intense social schedule.

We have another article on home workouts if you need inspiration.

Be satisfied, not silly, this season

We will cover more about how to approach social settings involving nutritional decision making in our setting boundaries section however there are some immediate nutrition considerations we can make. The following points can act as guideposts for nutritional decision making.

  • Firstly, as much as possible, fill up on lean sources of protein and sources of fibre such as complex carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables. These should be your priority on every plate.
  • Secondly, try and keep to drinks that are low-calorie. Of course, we want you to sit back and enjoy a drink or two (if that’s what you do!) but as much as possible, juices and sweetened beverages can ideally be replaced with zero or low-sugar alternatives and water.
  • Lastly, consider your total daily intake, or better yet, intake over the context of a few days and what large events and meals you will be participating in. For instance, if I know I’m going out for a Christmas lunch, I will most likely not indulge in a particularly large breakfast or snack in between. That night, I might simply a small serve of lean protein and some vegetables if I’m still feeling peckish.

I might follow this pattern for a few days, limiting snacking and saving most of my meal-derived calories to allocate them to large meals at gatherings.

Setting boundaries

Boundaries are important and they help define simply put, what is okay by you. It’s common to feel pressured in social settings to engage in certain behaviours others are displaying. We can’t speak to cultural sensitivities or the nuances of things like hospitality and how that reflects another individual’s desire to give. That being said, fundamentally you are allowed to set your own boundaries about how much food you’ll put on your plate, alcohol you’ll drink and what level of activity you can practically participate in. 

You may also put boundaries on monitoring behaviour if that can be a pain point. For instance, you can choose during the silly season to forgo tracking your diet when outside of your usual environment. You may also simply choose to put a limit on how many times a week and how long you train at the gym (but still try to be active daily). This alludes back to our earlier point about simply maintaining this time of year. Being realistic about what you can actually do can help you stay positive, rather than feel unncessary guilty.

These boundaries help give you a sense of agency and control over your decisions. It’s also important to be clear about these boundaries to others when it comes time to explain why you may make certain decisions with your food, activity and other health promoting behaviours. As Brene Brown says: “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” There’s no need to feel guilty for setting boundaries. What you can practically say “yes” and what you say “no” to, helps shape your reality.

Indulge in social interactions this season

Social interactions are critical to everyone’s health. So much so that “We now have substantial evidence that social connection has a protective effect on health and longevity and, conversely, that lacking connection is linked to risk [2].”

One reason we get so excited about the silly season at Ivy Training is that we understand for many it’s a time to slow down and spend time fostering those rich and meaningful connections people have with one another. These connections really do seem to have a tangible impact on one’s health. For instance, a 2018 piece from the Annual Review of Psychology states that “Social neuroscience may provide a critical platform for further understanding the complex relationships between the brain and both physical and mental health” Additionally, “Over time, chronic experiences of social disconnection or connection may change the body — by upregulating or downregulating inflammatory dynamics [3].”

For myself personally, I love to train, but I understand that’s an incomplete picture of health if I focus on that alone. I make sure by allocating my time wisely, to engage in those rich social connections over the holiday period and for many such as myself, that includes having some great food, drink and conversations, guilt free! So, be active, eat well, but our challenge to you is to nurture those social connections. As cliche as it sounds, we believe balance is essential.

Come back stronger than ever

We want you to enjoy a rich and meaningful time away and that you hopefully come back refreshed and ready. There’s nothing wrong with kicking back and relaxing but hopefully you find these tips helpful as you move through the silly season. It doesn’t have to be a stressful time, but instead can be a time of renewal and refocusing. Come back in 2023 motivated to be stronger than ever before and if you think you’ll need a helping hand, you can contact us here.

References

  1. The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior (upenn.edu)
  2. Social ties and health: a social neuroscience perspective – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Why Social Relationships Are Important for Physical Health: A Systems Approach to Understanding and Modifying Risk and Protection – PubMed (nih.gov)

Struggling to Find Your Fit Family Member a Christmas Present? Check Out These Awesome Gift Ideas.

Are you struggling to find the perfect gift for the fitness enthusiast in your life? Look no further! We have some great fitness presents that you can slip under the tree this Christmas. In 5 sets of 3, we have categorised 5 different Christmas present ideas, with 3 options for each category in varying price ranges – perfect for any budget. Our 5 different categories are:

  1. Fitness Activity Trackers
  2. Home Gym Equipment
  3. Personal Lifting Equipment
  4. Fitness Fashion
  5. Kitchen & Nutrition Gifts

Fitness Christmas Present Idea # 1: Fitness Activity Trackers

With the ability to track your steps, monitor your activity levels and check your heart rate – fitness activity trackers have come a long way in recent years. If you’re Apple fanatics like us, you really can’t go past the Apple Watch purely due to its integration with our other Apple products and features like Apple Pay. It’s a game changer! Our top picks in order of price tag are:

  1. Fitbit Inspire 2
  2. Garmin vívoactive 4
  3. Apple Watch Series 8
Fitness Christmas Present Idea # 1: Fitness Activity Tracker

Fitness Christmas Present Idea # 2: Home Gym Equipment

We can safely say that any fitness lover will appreciate any of these gifts for working out at home. We can personally vouch for all of these products – we are proud owners of the Rogue Monster Bands and Harbinger Ab Carver in the studio, and Jake and Rachael survived lockdown with the Celsius Weight Set. Our favourite from least expensive to most expensive are:

  1. Rogue Monster Bands
  2. Harbinger Ab Carver
  3. Celsius 50kg Weight Set
Fitness Christmas Present Idea # 2: Home Gym Equipment

Fitness Christmas Present Idea # 3: Personal Lifting Equipment

The following gift recommendations are for the dedicated gym-goer who loves lifting weights. If you or your loved one uses barbells in training, you cannot go without a block of chalk, a pair of lifting straps and a lifting belt. You’ll find all of these items at the studio as well as in our gym bags:

  1. Rogue Gym Chalk
  2. Rogue Ohio Lifting Straps
  3. Rogue Ohio Lifting Belt
Fitness Christmas Present Idea # 3: Personal Lifting Equipment

Fitness Christmas Present Idea # 4: Fitness Fashion

Are you really training hard if you still look good while doing it? We say yes you can, and your fit family member can too. We know the feeling of stepping into the gym with our new lululemon outfit, and our favourite song blasting through our AirPods makes that top set a little bit easier. In order of price:

  1. lululemon Socks
  2. lululemon Gift Card
  3. Apple AirPods Pro
Fitness Christmas Present Idea # 4: Fitness Fashion

Fitness Present Idea # 5: Kitchen & Nutrition Gifts

They say you can’t out-train a bad diet, so it would be rude of us to not include some gifts that belong in the kitchen. It’s always helpful to have some new meal ideas (especially when the nutrition information is listed), and of course we need some snazzy containers to store them in! Our top picks for the kitchen include:

  1. The Bod Fuel Recipe Book
  2. igluu Meal Prep Containers
  3. Nutribullet Blender Combo 1200 Pro
Fitness Present Idea # 5: Kitchen Gifts

Merry Fitmas! We hope you find the perfect fitness Christmas presents for your family.

How to Squeeze Healthy into Your Busy Schedule

Introduction

Everyone wants to be healthy, but squeezing healthy into your busy schedule can be a challenge. In our previous blog, we spoke about some strategies that you can implement to improve your health. These included simple food and drink swaps, increasing your daily water intake, getting in your two servings of fruit and three servings of veggies each day, improving your quantity (and quality) of sleep, and increasing your activity levels. In this blog, I’ll cover how I implement healthy strategies into my busy schedule each week.

Whilst we all have 24 hours each day, we don’t have the same 24 hours. Sure, the measurement of time is a common denominator amongst us all, but the ability of what we can do do with that time varies drastically between people based on many factors, including ones we can’t control. In saying that, we do have the ability to determine our healthy non-negotiables for week, and do whatever you need to tick them off – whether it’s writing them down, adding them to your calendar, or even setting yourself little reminders.

My healthy non-negotiables for the week are:

  1. Training: complete 4 x strength training sessions per week
  2. Physical Activity: reach an average of 8,000 steps per day (56,000 per week)
  3. Nutrition: plan my meals for the week
  4. Sleep: get to bed on time
How to Squeeze Healthy into Your Busy Schedule

Training

It should come as no surprise that ticking off my strength training sessions for the week is high on my list of priorities. I am currently training 4 times per week, and I schedule those training sessions into my calendar as if they were an appointment with a client (or my hairdresser)!

I have a coach who writes my training program for me, which not only means I don’t need to worry about writing it myself, but I also get an objective input into things like exercise selection, intensity and volume. It’s not uncommon for me to train at a few different locations throughout the week, so I keep my gym bag in the boot of the car so I am ready to train on the run.

Below is a screenshot my Google Calendar for the week. I colour code my calendar as follows:

  • Yellow: client appointments
  • Light grey: breakfast and/or lunch
  • Dark grey: training or physical activity (like walking the dogs)
  • Green: Ivy Training content (like writing this blog)
  • Blue: other adhoc work commitments
  • Pink: personal commitments (like appointments with my hairdresser)

As you can see, I had “Training” scheduled in today between 1pm and 2pm. Scheduling in your training sessions like an appointment gives it priority, and will mean you’re less likely to miss sessions.

Physical Activity

Before you think, “Doesn’t training count as physical activity?!” Yes, it absolutely does. However, here I am referring to other forms of physical activity, and in my case it’s walking and monitoring my step count.

I give myself an average daily target of 8,000 steps each day, or 56,000 steps across the week. Thanks to a combination of running around the studio after my wonderful clients and taking my gorgeous Frenchies for walks, I usually hit my 56,000 steps by Friday or Saturday and will often have a complete rest day on Sunday. It’s all about balance!

Below is a screenshot of my Health app on my Apple iPhone, and you can see that I’ve hit an average of 10,565 steps each day this week so far, and I’ll head out for a walk before dinner this evening to get today’s steps a bit higher. My yearly average is sitting at 8,704 each day – can you tell which month I got struck with COVID? If it wasn’t for that my average would likely be a tad higher. I track my steps with my nifty Apple Watch, but you can also use your smartphone or other activity tracker.

Nutrition

How I structure my diet for the week depends on what my current body composition goals are. At the moment, I have the aim of maintaining my body weight and composition. My approach is tracking my dietary intake Monday to Friday (eating in a slight calorie deficit to offset my intake on Saturday and Sunday) and enjoying meals out with family and friends over the weekend.

During the week, each day I aim to:

  • Have 4 meals spread approx. 4 hours apart
  • Eat approx. 140g protein
  • Eat 2 servings of fruit
  • Eat 3 servings of vegetables
  • Have dessert (even if it’s a 79kcal Paddle Pop – I love a little treat at the end of the day!)

To make life a bit easier, my husband and I order meals each week from Vic’s Gourmet Gains. Her meals are home cooked, taste delicious and are a great source of protein and vegetables. My pantry is always stocked up at home and the studio with nutritious options so I am not left stuck without my next bite to eat.

Whether you’re cooking for yourself or are using a meal prep company like me, having your meals prepped and ready at the start of the week is a good way to ensure you’re squeezing healthy into your busy schedule.

Squeeze Healthy into Your Busy Schedule

Sleep

Okay, so sleep is something that I struggle with at times during the week. My quality of sleep is awesome, I just struggle with quantity – especially on nights that I don’t get home from the studio until 7:30pm.

From Tuesday to Friday, my alarm wakes me up at 4:00am. In order to get an 8 hour sleep, I would need to be sweet dreaming at 8:00pm. As much as I’d love that to happen, it’s just not feasible with my current schedule. So, I settle for the next best thing – a 9:00pm bedtime for a 7 hour sleep. To help me get to bed on time, I have an alarm that beeps at 8:30pm each weeknight telling me to get my butt to bed. Sometimes I listen to it, and other times I ignore it (when I know I shouldn’t)!

As you can see from the screenshots below, I have been aiming to get ready for bed at 8:30pm, however my average sleep time is 6 hours and 4 minutes this week. It could absolutely be better, and it’s something that I am working on improving. Let me know if you have any tips!

Don’t Put Healthy on Hold

Your health isn’t just a number on the scale, plates on the bar, steps on your Apple Watch or your stats on Strava. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that “Health is the extent to which an individual or group is able to realize aspirations and satisfy needs and change or cope with the environment” [1]. Health is about overall wellbeing, not just avoiding disease or infirmity. Being healthy is a resource and, like any resource, you need to access it and cultivate it. The WHO has indicated there are key determinants to health which influence how accessible it is. These determinants are:

  • the social and economic environment
  • the physical environment
  • the person’s individual characteristics and behaviours

Today we will cover strategies you can implement today to improve your health, which are accessible to everyone.

There’s no secret to success

We love a quick fix, who doesn’t?

That being said, we don’t believe in relying on “hacks” or secrets to become healthy. We also don’t necessarily need to push for a certain target to be ‘healthier”. Key word: healthier. For instance, certain Body Mass Index (BMI) ranges carry with them greater risks, but getting closer to the normal range, even if you aren’t there yet, is an improvement. Today we are simply exploring health promoting habits. With that in mind, we love the following quote and believe it’s quite relevant to the discussion today:

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

– Robert Collier

Effective strategies that improve your health will consider your social, economic and physical environment. They will also take into account your preferences and lifestyle. We believe the most effective strategies are repeatable and require little investment. In our blog, we’ll cover strategies that you can start implementing:

  1. Simple food and drink swaps
  2. Increasing your water intake
  3. Getting in the recommended servings of fruit and veggies
  4. Improving your sleep quality and quantity
  5. Increasing your daily steps (and physical activity)

Simple swaps that are oh so sweet (and healthy)

If the heading wasn’t a giveaway, I’m talking about substituting sweetened food or drink options with artificial sweeteners. A classic example would be swapping out sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) for low-and no-calorie sweetened beverages (LNCBs). That main fluid we recommend people consume daily is dihydrogen oxide, a super complicated drink that does wonders for your health – otherwise known as… water! That being said, many people enjoy soft drinks and have a sweet tooth. So, what can they do about it?

The good news is that you can enjoy those drinks without the excess sugar or calories, which can negative effects on your health. If you were on the fence about artificial sweeteners, and don’t wish to use them, that’s absolutely fine. Thankfully, quality research has validated its usage for managing bodyweight and cardiometabolic risk factors [2]. We feel comfortable recommending them as alternatives to SSBs and you can use LNCBs at no extra cost than what you would be normally paying.

Does anyone remember the “Swap It Don’t Stop It” campaign from the Australian Federal Government in 2011? The aim was to encourage Australians to lose centimetres from their waist to reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes. They showed people how they could make small (but achievable) lifestyle changes in four simple ways:

  • Swapping big for small – to reduce portion sizes
  • Swapping often for sometimes – to reduce highly processed foods
  • Swapping sitting for moving – to encourage movement
  • Swapping watching for playing – to get involved in sport or other active social activities

Don’t keep water waiting

Speaking of beverages, many people could benefit from drinking more water. We aren’t worried about people falling over from extreme thirst however increasing fluid intake can have a few potential benefits:

  • Manage body composition (3)
  • Increase daily activity*
  • Improve exercise & sports performance (4)
  • Improve cognitive function and mood (5)

Now, to be clear, other fluids and to some extent, foods (like watermelon), actually contain, well, water! However very often they also include calories in the form of dairy, sweeteners, syrups or otherwise. We advocate that the majority of your fluid intake be from water. How much water to drink is a complicated question and actually not well substantiated in the current scientific literature. So, we aren’t making water recommendations necessarily. Your biologic thirst response is likely adequate under normal circumstances.

We recommend however making water your choice of beverage to minimise excess calories of low nutritional quality, to possibly increase your activity (I mean, you’ll be making a few trips to the bathroom!) and you may simply feel better. At any rate, it’s a harmless recommendation that comes at no cost. So, try it, monitor your water intake and see how you feel if you start trying to drink more.

Have you had your two and three?

We’ve all heard the phrase: “get your two servings of fruit and three servings of veg a day!” In the case of fruit and vegetables – the more the merrier! Not only are they full of fibre and phytochemicals, but their unique food matrix (that is, the complete fruit and/or vegetable) is beneficial to consume. Thankfully, fruits and vegetables can be conveniently consumed, requiring little prep.

So, how can you consume more? Fruits tend to be the simplest “snack food” out and skin is nature’s packaging. They can be conveniently packed and eaten while travelling to work, sitting at your desk, between or even during meals. Vegetables can be a staple at each major meal and add food volume and bulk. You can’t go wrong with a lean protein, source of complex carbohydrates and 1-3 servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner time (or breakfast if you’re like me and like eating large).

Increased fruit and vegetable intake has been linked to decreasing all-cause mortality and improving both health and body composition outcomes (6, 7). So, that old saying is probably right: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” Lastly, fruit and vegetables are usually no more expensive and often cheaper than buying lots of processed foods. Sources of legumes, lentils and beans can be a good source of extra protein that’s cheaper than animal products. You can also buy frozen veg and fruit or canned alternatives – these are perfectly fine and healthy.

Enter Sandman

Like most people, I love to bag some Z’s (or get a good sleep). Your body loves quality sleep too (8). We’ve all been there – irritable, hungry, tired, groggy and clouded. Being low on sleep isn’t pleasant. Like many of the above suggestions we’ve made, this suggestion really comes at no extra cost. It is difficult to make any hard and fast recommendations however we like how this research paper sums it up: “it is important to continue to promote sleep health for all. Sleep is not a waste of time and should receive the same level of attention as nutrition and exercise in the package for good health (9).”

Our recommendation is to experiment with how much sleep seems to be right for you and stick to a routine for bedtime as well as trying to go to bed and get up around the same time, most days of the week. Consistency and routine are what will have the biggest impact. Some other quick tips may include:

  • Limiting electronic light stimulation and use of electronics before bed
  • Limiting caffeine intake 6-8 hours before bed
  • Try something that calms you down whether it be reading, breathing, stretching or otherwise
  • Try to avoid eating large meals and certain foods IF they give you gastrointestinal distress before bed

Step it up

We recommend people be active according to the physical activity guidelines (10) and a convenient way to do monitor activity is to track steps. In fact, steps have been a useful metric for researchers too and up to a point, increased total steps improve overall health outcomes and place further away, hard endpoints such as death (research)! Now it doesn’t have to be 10,000 steps a day. In fact, if you aren’t doing that many, more steps, today, is a great start!

Any steps count. Even walking on the spot or getting up and doing some extra cleaning and vacuuming can count. Simply getting up and moving more can have a profound impact on your overall health. We understand there’s a time commitment to this recommendation, but the following thoughts might make this goal more achievable:

  • Taking more steps during your commute or workday (like taking the stairs instead of the elevator)
  • Taking phone calls or meetings while walking
  • Try and set small chunks of time aside to do a quick loop around the block or office
  • If it’s not disturbing the peace, go and talk to your co-worker in person rather than sending an email or text in the office

Healthy doesn’t have to be hard

We want everyone to have the opportunity to be healthy. You don’t need to invest huge amounts of time, money or resources to make positive and powerful changes in your life. So, stop putting healthy on hold and start making moves today!

References

  1. Health and Well-Being (who.int)
  2. Association of Low- and No-Calorie Sweetened Beverages as a Replacement for Sugar-Sweetened Beverages With Body Weight and Cardiometabolic Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Drinking Water Is Associated With Weight Loss in Overweight Dieting Women Independent of Diet and Activity – Stookey – 2008 – Obesity – Wiley Online Library
  4. Dehydration, Wellness, and Training Demands of Professional Soccer Players during Preseason – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Effects of hydration status on cognitive performance and mood | British Journal of Nutrition | Cambridge Core
  6. Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables – PMC (nih.gov)
  7. A Comprehensive Critical Assessment of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Intake on Weight Loss in Women – PMC (nih.gov)
  8. Improving sleep quality leads to better mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials – PMC (nih.gov)
  9. Sleeping hours: what is the ideal number and how does age impact this? – PMC (nih.gov)
  10. Physical activity (who.int)

You, Me and RPE: Part 2

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a great way to regulate the intensity of your training sessions and manage fatigue. It is as easy as rating how many more reps you think you have left in the tank after completing a set on an exercise. For example, an RPE 7 roughly corresponds to having 3 more reps left in the tank. RPE allows us to find the “goldilocks” zone of not too easy and not too hard. In this article, we’ll look at how we can apply RPE to training and some of the ways we can calculate it.

Using RPE during a warm-up

When we warm up, we can use RPE to help us determine what we do for our top set. Let’s say our goal is 3 sets x 6 reps at 100kg @ RPE 7. A good approach is to treat your warm up sets as though they are the top set. This means we use the same number of reps and also attempt to move the weight as fast as possible. An example could look like this:

  • 2-5 sets x 6 reps x 20kg (empty barbell)
  • 1 set x 6 reps x 40kg
  • 1 set x 6 reps x 60kg
  • 1 set x 6 reps x 80kg
  • 1 set x 6 reps x 95kg @ RPE 6 (~5% of top estimated load)

We use this final warm-up set as an indicator set to help us determine an appropriate load selection. If this final set is easier than expected (RPE 5 or lower), then we might choose to load up 102.5kg for our final working sets. If this final set however is harder than expected and is rated RPE 7 (the prescribed RPE) then the good news is that we can call this indicator set our first working set.

RPE and modifying load selection

So what do you do if you do a set and realise it doesn’t match the prescribed intensity? This is often referred to as undershooting or overshooting a set. Undershooting is when the RPE of the working set is too easy or lower than expected, whereas overshooting is when the RPE of the working set is too hard or higher than expected.

Now, undershooting a set isn’t as bad as it seems. Slight undershoots will result in less fatigue accumulation and consequently may allow you to adhere to a program for longer. This is because there is less of a need to introduce a deload. A deload is a period of time where intensity, volume or both are scaled back to allow fatigue to subside. If we are constantly taking deloads, then we are losing effective training time throughout the year. However, consistently undershooting can present issues in the long-term as you may be slowing the rate of progress.

How about overshooting? Again, the occasional overshoot isn’t a massive deal. However, if this is a constant occurrence then you may find that you are accumulating fatigue much faster throughout a training cycle. Accumulated fatigue means you might be entering subsequent sessions less and less recovered.

For example, consider a top single at 100kg with a prescribed RPE 8 with back off sets of 3 sets x 5 reps at 70%. If we overshoot the single and it’s an RPE 9 we can simply modify the projected estimated 1 repetition maximum (e1RM) and the back off sets at 70% will still be appropriate. Conversely, if the single was easier than expected, the e1RM will reflect this and the 70% will be heavier.

Just to reiterate, undershooting or overshooting every now and then generally isn’t a big deal. However, it is probably helpful to get into the practice of being as accurate and honest as you can about the effort of your sets.

Starting a new program

When starting a new program, we won’t always know what the most appropriate load selection should be. We can use RPE to help us determine what to put on the bar in a few different ways.

Low stress weeks can be a great way to introduce a new program and allow us to get an idea about what the loads should look like going forward. By pulling back the average RPE for the week (and consequently the loads used throughout the week) we are able to better estimate an appropriate starting point for the following week without overshooting. A low stress week has the added benefit of allowing us to recover from any build up in fatigue.

Another great way of determining an entry point is by ascending sets. As an example, say we have to do 3 sets x 10 reps at RPE 7. To find the appropriate entry point we can spend the first session doing a set at RPE 5, then RPE 6 and finish with a set at RPE 7. This way we know that the working weight for the following week should be somewhere between what was used for the set at RPE 6 and RPE 7 (roughly).

Troubleshooting

What is progress and how do we define it with regards to training? Quite simply, progress can be defined as an improvement in capacity with regards to a certain task. Let’s look at an example over a 2 week period with squats.

Week 1: 3 sets x 5 reps at 100kg @ RPE 8

Week 2: 3 sets x 5 reps at 102.5kg @ RPE 9

While the load has increased from week 1 to week 2, notice that the perceived effort required has increased also, so has there been an improvement in capacity? The numbers tell us that there has not been an improvement and all that we have done is move the goalposts.

Now, what can you do if you’re really struggling to work out the RPE of a set? Do an AMRAP set! AMRAP stands for As Many Reps As Possible. Since RPE is closely related to how many reps you have left in the tank then we can pretty easily determine the RPE of a set. Imagine you have a set of 10 reps at 50kg @ RPE 8, but you can’t tell if it’s actually an RPE 8. We can set up safeties and ask someone to spot us and then attempt an AMRAP set. If you can only get to 2 extra reps out, then the estimate of 50kg @ RPE 8 is correct. Getting more than 2 reps means that you have undershot the weight. Getting anything less than two reps indicates that you may be overshooting.

Conclusion

RPE is a great way for us to regulate our training and track progress effectively across training cycles. Not only that, but it allows us to account for the ebbs and flows of life and adjust our training accordingly. If you’re having a rough week, trying to push and do more than the week before might not be the most effective approach.

Hopefully this article has given you a better idea about what RPE is and how we can use it to manage our training. If you’d like to learn more, contact us here.

You, Me and RPE: Part 1

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is an autoregulation tool. So, what is autoregulation and why does that matter to you? Autoregulation is a process that takes place within biological systems. It is an automatic mechanism which helps the body adjust to stimuli. A really simple example is perfusion, or the delivery of blood to the capillary beds of organ and skeletal tissue. Without perfusion, oxygen cannot be delivered. At some point, certain tissues require more oxygen in response to a changing stimulus. For instance, there is an increased oxygen delivery to muscles during exercise!

In training, autoregulation is a deliberate and conscious process. It involves adjusting the training demands of the day based on your current ability during a training session. In resistance training, autoregulation is expressed in terms of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), or Repetitions in Reserve (RIR) or Velocity-Based Training (VBT). Autoregulation methods are also used with endurance training. Today we’ll talk about how you can use RPE in your training. Let’s get into it!

What is RPE?

If you’ve ever read an old-school strength program (I mean, who hasn’t, am I right?) then you might have read something like: “6 x 6 @ 70%”. This isn’t witchcraft we promise – it’s simply 6 sets x 6 reps at 70% of your 1 repetition maximum. Your 1 repetition maximum or “e1RM” is the most you can lift for 1 rep (often estimated). Indicating the planned intensity of a session is important as we are trying to deliver a deliberate and effective stimulus. So we need express intensity, but what are the issues with percentages alone?

Well, this prescription relies on a few assumptions. Firstly, you must know your 1 rep max. Secondly, you assume your 1 rep max is a static target. Third and last, strength is specific. Let me use an example to explain. If all you do is 5 reps, you’ll only get efficient with 5 reps. If you start doing 10-12 reps however you may find that using the prescribed percentage is disproportionally hard.

So, there’s clearly some issues with percentages alone.

RPE is therefore simply a rating of an effort, relative to your maximum ability. RPE lets us put language to percentages. Ultimately, it helps us communicate and adjust for how hard something is. It accounts for your e1RM being a moving target and, oh yeah, the fact that humans aren’t machines. Simply put, you won’t always feel your best for a variety of reasons. Training with strict percentages based will limit your options. A static target will mean some days the training is too easy, and other days, too hard.

How can you implement RPE?

Implementing RPE is simple and our companion article will provide a more fleshed out example. Using RPE is as simple as considering how many more reps you could perform once you have finished a set. Second to this is considering the bar speed. This is how quickly you could move a weight during the concentric (shortening) portion of the exercise. For instance, let’s say I was doing a set of squats for 5 reps, and on the last rep while standing up the bar speed slowed down (that is, I stood up more slowly than the first 4 reps). After the set I estimated I could only do about 2-3 more reps before failing, this would be an RPE 7-8.

Importantly, when we consider bar speed we are only counting the “slowdown” that occurs when trying to move a weight as quickly as possible. That is, if the weight is sufficiently challenging and you are working sufficiently hard, that weight won’t be flying around so quickly! In the scientific literature we can call that slowdown a “velocity” loss which reflects intra-set fatigue. Research shows us that there is a sweet spot where we can get strength and hypertrophy outcomes from training while minimising fatigue. This occurs by staying within the 5-8 RPE range which roughly corresponds to a ~20-25% velocity loss [1].

Simply begin to be aware of your training efforts and you will dial in your ability to rate them. Moreover, it seems that the accuracy of your ability to monitor RPE can be improved with practise and exposure [2],[3]. You can use velocity-based trackers for VBT training but this isn’t necessary. What matters most is consistency. So even if your RPE 8 is really an RPE 7, as long as that stays the same, you can anchor your efforts and go from there.

For your convenience, we’ve inserted an RPE chart which also accounts for its inverse, Repetitions in Reserve (RIR). Use this as your reference when deciphering program prescriptions. So returning to that earlier example, instead of the percentage, one could simply write 6 x 6 @ RPE 7 which would mean simply 6 sets x 6 reps each with 3 reps in reserve and some-minimal slowdown. That’s much easier to guess than 70% right?

Wrapping up RPE

Considering your RPE is an important step in making your training more consistent and results, reliable. Poor results can be attributed to many things, but there are two obvious culprits. Firstly, failing to push hard enough. Secondly, pushing too hard, too often. Autoregulation tools such as RPE, RIR and VBT helps trainers and trainees alike find the “goldilocks” zone of not too easy and not too hard. Although learning how to rate your own efforts in training with scales such as RPE/RIR is imperfect, practise will go a long way. Outside of training, occasionally testing to better anchor your perception of a “hard” effort is viable. Testing could include actual 1 rep max tests, training singles or AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets, all to be discussed at another time.

If you’d like to learn more about RPE and Training, you can read part two here or contact us.

References

  1. The Effect of Load and Volume Autoregulation on Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – PMC (nih.gov)
  2. Methods for Regulating and Monitoring Resistance Training – PMC (nih.gov)
  3. Novel Resistance Training-Specific Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale Measuring Repetitions in Reserve – PubMed (nih.gov)

Ageing Strong: Part 2

In Ageing Strong: Part 1 we discussed the background to Ageing Strong. There are strong reasons for adopting exercise and in particular resistance training for older adults (over 60 years). In Part 2 we will cover exercise prescription and provide an example training week. We will focus in on the resistance training component that matches evidence-based recommendations.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has a fantastic resource on Resistance Training for Older Adults. Their Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement is split into 4 parts and 11 summary statements. Part 1 and 2 covers exercise prescription and physiologic adaptations which we will cover today [1].

Susan on the Concept 2 RowErg with Jake

Statement 1: Appropriate instructions for exercise technique and proper spotting is safe for healthy, older adults.

Exercise technique will need to be individualised for each trainee based on their anthropometry, exercise and injury history. The primary concern here is clear communication and consistency across training sessions. Warming up will be the time to implement exercise instruction and practise while ramping up to working loads. “Safety” isn’t found in necessarily physically spotting each exercise but rather being aware of the environment and individual. This can involve the following observations:

  • Making sure the J-Hooks are set at the correct height for unracking & re-racking barbells
  • Making sure there are no trip hazards,
  • Monitoring client exertion levels
  • Gradually building up the training demands
Rachael chatting with clients Travis and Lisa

Statement 2: A properly designed resistance training program for older adults should include…

A resistance training session will involve 2-3 sets of 1-2 compound (multi-joint) exercise per major muscle group. Major muscle groups include thighs, arms, chest, back and shoulders. We tend not to worry about forearms or facial muscles in isolation! Working loads for heavy slow resistance training will float around 70-85% of an estimated 1 repetition maximum (e1RM). Loads for lighter, more explosive exercise will be at intensities of 40-60% of an e1RM.

Now these ranges don’t have to be exact, in fact there’s a wide range of possible prescriptions [2], [3]. A good summary for ageing strong is as follows:

  1. 40-85% e1RM across low and high velocity resistance training (for strength and power)
  2. 2-3 sets per exercise per major muscle group
  3. 6-15 repetitions per set (on average)
  4. 1-6 sessions a week

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines. Individuals will experience different results at varying volumes and loads [4], [5]. However, it is clear that resistance training for older adults should not be “easy” or different to the general population. Of course, it goes without saying, if older adults are participating in any sports, training will need to be more specialised.

Harry helping his client on the leg press

Statement 3: Resistance training programs for older adults should follow the principles of individualization, periodization, and progression.

By periodisation we are referring to modifying training stressors over time to facilitate better results. This can be as simple as allowing for two different loading zones of a lower body exercise across a week. This could look like the following:

  1. Squats: 4 sets x 6 reps at 75% of e1RM on Day 1
  2. Squats: 3 sets of 8 reps at 65% of e1RM on Day 2

We call this Daily Undulating Periodisation. Additionally, periodisation can also involve exercise selection. We call this Exercise Conjugation. In the example above, we can substitute Squats on Day 2 for Leg Press or Lunges. Periodisation can be useful for resistance training for older adults in order to drive progress while managing fatigue.

Julia on the seated cable row with Harry

Statement 4: A properly designed resistance training program can counteract the age-related changes in contractile function, atrophy, and morphology of ageing human skeletal muscle.

Resistance training is a powerful stimulus, however, the correct physiological environment will facilitate the best results. Making sure protein targets such as 1.6g per kilogram of bodyweight and consuming sufficient calories is important. Lower intakes such as 0.8 per kg/bw may not be enough to drive adequate results [7]. Secondly, managing fatigue through appropriate programming and getting enough sleep is essential.

Kevin squatting 100kg with Jake

Statement 5: A properly designed training program can enhance the muscular strength, power, and neuromuscular functioning of older adults.

Heavy, slow resistance training for older adults is effective but can we do more? In the prescription section, lighter, explosive training for developing Power was mentioned. Training Power as a fitness quality isn’t about sports performance but instead proposed to confer certain benefits to older adults. In particular, improving or at least maintaining how effectively the nervous system operates to create forceful contractions [6]. Power in its simplest form is the product of force multiplied by distance, divided by time. In an exercise context, force can be substituted for strength, and time/distance indicated by the speed of movement.

This will essentially involve moving lighter relative loads, faster, with the intent of moving fast and powerfully or “explosive.” We can easily incorporate this into training sessions in two ways:

  • Starting sessions with dedicated power training
  • Cueing maximum concentric velocity during all exercises
Susan chatting with Jake

A Week of Training

A week of training will involve a combination of aerobic and resistance training. If you’d like to know more about cardio, see our blog post here. Our example program today is a three-day full-body resistance training program that will satisfy the recommendations above.

Ageing Strong Sample Program

Conclusion

We hope you’ve enjoyed our dive into resistance training for older adults. Sufficient training should look like at least performing heavy load, slow resistance training and some fast, light load resistance training at least twice weekly. This will involve targeting all major muscle groups. The challenge should start low but gradually increase to match the increase in fitness expected from training. In summary, resistance training with an emphasis on getting stronger over time is not only safe, but necessary for ageing strong [8].

Rogue barbell rack

References

  1. Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement Fro… : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (lww.com)
  2. Dose–Response Relationships of Resistance Training in Healthy Old Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (nih.gov)
  3. Benefits of resistance training in physically frail elderly: a systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. Progressive Resistance Training Volume: Effects on Muscle Thickness, Mass, and Strength Adaptations in Resistance-Trained Individuals – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Individual Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength Responses to High vs. Low Resistance Training Frequencies – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. Skeletal Muscle Power: A Critical Determinant of Physical Functioning In Older Adults – PMC (nih.gov)
  7. (Protein intake and muscle function in older adults – PubMed (nih.gov), Dietary Protein, Muscle and Physical Function in the Very Old – PubMed (nih.gov))
  8. Cancer-Specific Mortality Relative to Engagement in Muscle-Strengthening Activities and Lower Extremity Strength – PubMed (nih.gov)

Ageing Strong: Part 1

It’s no surprise that age catches up with us all. The thought that a steep decline in function is inevitable is simply untrue. We all know individuals who differ in their abilities and function relative to their age. Some are ageing strong. So, what is ageing? Well biologically, ageing results from the molecular and cellular damage accumulated over time. Chronological age is only loosely associated with biological changes. Other major changes such as retirement and changing living conditions also occur (hopefully for the better!)

Although ageing will always occur, health-promoting behaviours, even if adopted late, can result in a positive compression of morbidity. Resistance training is not a time machine, but it can help reduce the onset of conditions that impact quality of life [1]. It’s estimated that between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%. By 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older has outnumbered children younger than 5 years [2]. For this reason, improving quality of life over the long term for older adults is a key driver behind our work at Ivy Training.

In today’s post we’re covering three key areas related to ageing strong and how adopting strength training can be a key influencer in improving quality of life. 

  1. Managing Musculoskeletal Conditions
  2. Exercise Prescription for Older Individuals
  3. Ageism in Healthcare
Ageing Strong – Julia deadlifting with Harry

Managing Musculoskeletal Conditions

Did you know that approximately 1.71 billion people have musculoskeletal conditions worldwide [3]? That’s huge. Musculoskeletal conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability in 160 countries. These conditions can significantly affect mobility and dexterity. This leads to early retirement from work and therefore lower levels of self-efficacy and ability to participate in society [4]. As population growth and ageing continues, the number of people living with musculoskeletal conditions and associated limitations is increasing. Ageing strong can help prevent this.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that affects the whole joint including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. Many individuals describe OA as ‘wear and tear’. OA is now thought to be the result of a joint working extra hard to repair itself. Joints themselves are actually similar to a complex organ. They contain multiple different structures like synovium, bone, nerves, muscles, and blood supply. We cannot reduce the cause “degeneration” alone although a further exploration of OA is outside the scope of this article. It is the most common form of arthritis and affects millions of people worldwide. It can include symptoms such as:

  • Inflammation of the tissue around a joint
  • Damage to the joint cartilage
  • Body spurs growing around the edge of a joint
  • Deterioration of ligaments

OA affects any joints but commonly affects the knees, hips, finger joints and big toe. Although it can develop at any age but most commonly with people over 40 years. Symptoms can include pain and stiffness in the joints and often these symptoms get worse over time. Risk factors include being overweight, strenuous physical activity (manual labour), family history and previous injuries [5].

Sarcopenia

Sarcopenia is a progressive skeletal muscle disorder involving loss of muscle mass and function. Associated with this loss is an increased risk of falls, functional decline, and frailty. The rate of muscle loss is dependent on individual exercise level, comorbidities, nutrition and other factors. Sarcopenia is considered a part of frailty syndrome. Frailty is a common geriatric syndrome that involves a catastrophic decline in health and function among older adults. Associated weakness, slowing, decreased energy, lower activity, and, when severe, unintended weight loss are all symptoms. Additionally, frailty increases vulnerability to stressors such as extreme temperatures, infection and changes in medication. Managing sarcopenia can help manage frailty [6].

Functional Mobility

Age-related declines in health including result in reduction of functional mobility and self-care of older adults. Individuals with musculoskeletal conditions may also experience further decline when taking bed rest post-fall if advised. Importantly, the ability to perform activities of daily living can determine the quality of life someone has as they age. This quality can include the ability to be independent, social and enjoy hobbies and activities. Lower self-efficacy not only has large implications for someone’s physical health but also mental health. As defined by Zimmerman (2000), “Self-efficacy is a highly effective predictor of motivation and learning in human beings. It is sensitive to changes in context and leads to reactions in activity choices, effort and persistence and also to emotional reactions”. Managing musculoskeletal conditions is critical to maintaining functional mobility [4].

Ageing Strong – Travis using the Ab Wheel with Rachael

Exercise Prescription for Older Individuals

Thankfully plenty of research has been performed on this topic and the results are both exciting and optimistic. Ultimately, despite your age or current level of ability, positive changes can be made to improve your quality of life. The National Strength and Conditioning Association has a fantastic position statement on resistance training for older adults. We will cover each of the points listed and how we would approach them at Ivy Training in our companion article here [7].

Importantly, however, these guidelines state that programs should “follow the principles of individualization, periodization, and progression”. In doing so, they can “enhance the muscular strength, power, and neuromuscular functioning of older adults.” Initial frailty, mobility limitations, cognitive impairment, or other chronic conditions do not have to prevent training from starting. Most importantly we feel “properly designed resistance training program can help improve the psychosocial well-being of older adults.”

Our companion article will cover the 11 position stand points in depth alongside summary recommendations from two other research articles. What’s important to take away here, however, are the following points:

  • Heavy slow resistance training between 60-85% of an estimated 1 rep max is appropriate
  • Power training, performing lighter movements explosively is appropriate
  • Training stress should increase over time
  • Older adults will build muscle and strength
  • Older adults are not inherently fragile
Ageing Strong – Susan doing a Bent Over Row with Jake

Ageism in Healthcare

This is an important point that bears stating: age alone shouldn’t decide how able we perceive someone to be. Individuals should be treated with dignity and have the opportunity to live to their fullest extent. Getting under load and getting strong is for everyone. Unfortunately, ageism is an issue that pervades healthcare and culture at large.

As previously discussed, age alone is a poor marker of disability. Decision making in medicine should be based on potential benefit to the individual. Older adults need not participate in tokenistic exercise. This includes arbitrarily light-load resistance training with no emphasis on progression. The absence of effort required might mislead both the trainer and the client about the potential benefits occurring. Although all exercise is good, older adults need heavy loads (relative to their ability) to fight frailty. It will need to be appropriately hard, and we shouldn’t dismiss someone and their potential to improve on the basis of age alone [8], [9], [10]. We should instead be encouraging people to start ageing strong.

Ageing Strong – Kevin lacing up his Nike Romaleos

Conclusion

In conclusion, increasing physical activity and engaging in both aerobic and resistance training for the management of musculoskeletal conditions can have positive effects on the process of ageing. Exercise (and ageing strong) is a powerful intervention that can compress morbidity and improve one’s quality of life [11].

Most importantly, individuals should feel empowered knowing that they can make effective and meaningful changes by starting to take more control of their health. For older adults, resistance training is absolutely safe. Additionally, older adults should not be stigmatised for their age. Older adults do not need to be doing downscaled resistance training or geriatric training, which is neither hard or challenging. Now admittedly, individuals will bring into their training different levels of abilities.

That being said, older individuals should be challenged to a level appropriate to their current capacity with the view to improve and face harder challenges. They should not just be doing “tokenistic” attempts at exercise that do not involve progression in load, volume, intensity and range of motion. If you would like to know more about how you can start resistance training, exercising in general and ageing strong, you can contact us here.

Ageing Strong – the Ivy Training studio

References

  1. Healthy active ageing: How to get active | Queensland Health
  2. Ageing and health (who.int)
  3. Musculoskeletal health (who.int)
  4. Well-Being, Self-Efficacy and Independence in older adults: A Randomized Trial of Occupational Therapy – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Osteoarthritis — Arthritis Australia – the most common arthritis in Australia
  6. Pathogenesis and Management of Sarcopenia (nih.gov)
  7. Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement Fro… : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (lww.com)
  8. Age as a basis for healthcare rationing. Arguments against agism – PubMed (nih.gov)
  9. [Is ageism a relevant concept for health care practice in the elderly?] – PubMed (nih.gov)
  10. Geriatric oncology: problems with under-treatment within this population – PMC (nih.gov)
  11. Benefits of resistance training in physically frail elderly: a systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)

When Life Gives You (lulu)lemons

Introduction

At one point someone decided that when life gave them lemons, they made lulu and not juice. That someone would be founder Chip Wilson, who created lululemon athletica in 1998.

It’s no secret that we love lululemon. So much so, we’ve even made it our uniform! As Personal Trainers, we are often asked “what activewear do you recommend?” In the same way that we feel comfortable recommending equipment brands that are reliable, long-lasting and high-quality such as Rogue Fitness, we feel comfortable recommending lululemon. Before you think, “…but they only sell women’s clothing!” Wrong. Whilst they started out as a women’s only apparel brand, they have a substantial men’s collection too.

In this blog, we will share some interesting facts about lululemon, as well as some of our favourite products. So, if you’re ready to see what all the hype is about, read on!

About lululemon

In addition to lululemon creating high quality, high comfort activewear, we also think they’re a great company overall. Leggings aside, lululemon’s purpose is to: “elevate the world by realising the full potential in each and every one of us.” That’s a pretty powerful statement!

As a company, we feel that lululemon’s values align with ours at Ivy Training. Some of these important values include:

  • Inclusion and diversity
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Positive social and environmental impact

After reading Chip Wilson’s book “The Story of lululemon”, I fell in love with the brand even more (if that’s even possible)! Learning how much he cared about the quality of the end product, and fostering a positive work environment really resonated with me.

Our Favourite lululemon Products

We’ll divide this into our top three bottoms and tops from the women’s and men’s sections below.

Women’s

Bottoms

  1. Wunder Train – These are made from Everlux material, making them breathable and sweat wicking. They have a hidden pocket in the waistband (which admittedly I have never used), but the waistband drawcord is pretty nifty! I wear these for almost any occasion, whether it’s training, work or brunching with friends.
  2. Fast and Free – These are made from Nulux fabric, which feels super sleek and allows for unrestricted movement. They’re intended for running, but I actually love them for deadlifts! The barbell just seems to seamlessly slide from the floor to lockout. They have two side pockets that conveniently fits your phone, multiple waistband pockets and a drawcord. I also find that dog hair doesn’t stick to the Nulux fabric like other materials, making them the perfect pair to wear around my hair-shedding French Bulldogs.
  3. Align – These are made from the buttery-soft Nulu fabric, and they honestly feel like you’re wearing nothing! These are designed for low impact exercise, and I’ll typically wear these for work, yoga, walking or even casually. The material on these tights is a bit more delicate than their other designs. Whilst they last YEARS you will start to see wear on them after about 12 months (if worn consistently).
lululemon Wunder Train tights

Rachael doing some Romanian Deadlifts in her Wunder Train tights

Tops 

  1. Nulu All It Takes Tank Top – Like the Align pants, the Nulu All It Takes Tank Top is buttery soft and very comfortable. I love pairing this with a high-rise pair of tights, as the crop just comes in contact with the waistline (in my case, anyway). The gathered side detail makes it flattering around the waist, but be warned – it is very fitted! I have this in almost every colour and love wearing it for exercises like deadlifts due to the high neckline.
  2. Love Crew T-Shirt – Say hello to our Ivy Training uniform! This t-shirt is made from a soft fabric, and is a casual fit. I wear this to work (obviously), training and casually on the weekends.
  3. Ebb to Street Tank Top – This top is a favourite for showing off those shoulders and upper back you work so hard for! It has an in-built bra for support and coverage, however this is only suited for B/C cup. I have this top in a few colours, but got a pair of scissors and cut out the in-built bra as I am a few cup sizes larger than their intended buyer! I love wearing this top for squats and any upper body exercise.

Rachael training in the Nulu All It Takes Tank Top

Men’s 

Bottoms

  1. City Sweat Jogger – These are made from soft, stretchy French Terry fabric, making them breathable and comfortable. With a taper down to the hem, they look very trendy (for track pants at least). If you’ve been around the studio during winter, you would’ve seen both Jake and Harry sporting their City Sweat Joggers. My husband even wears them for training when it’s cold enough!
  2. Bowline Short – These shorts are made from water-repellant, stretch ripstop material. They’re incredibly versatile, and can be worn for work, training or casually. One of their key features is lululemon’s ABC (or “Anti-Ball Crushing”) technology, which uses an ergonomic gusset to remove tension from the crotch of the shorts.
  3. Pace Breaker Short – These shorts are made from a lightweight, swift fabric with a four-way stretch and are also sweat-wicking. With a zipped pocket, you can ensure that your phone and wallet safe and secure. They are specifically designed for training, but can be used for all purposes – whether it’s walking the dog or heading to your local shops.

The City Sweat Jogger

Tops

  1. The Fundamental T-Shirt – Another Ivy Training staple, this t-shirt is treated with No-Stink Zinc technology to inhibit the growth of ardour-causing bacteria on the fabric (which means no more smelly Personal Trainer for you)! It’s designed to have room at the chest and waist, and in addition to being anti-stink, it’s also cottony-soft, quick-drying and abrasion-resistant. What more could you want in a tee?!
  2. Fast and Free Short Sleeve – This t-shirt is also designed with No-Stink Zinc technology, and is made from sweat-wicking, quick-drying and lightweight fabric. Being designed for running (but would also suffice as a training t-shirt), it has zonal mesh for breathability and bonded seams to help prevent chafing. Unlike The Fundamental T-Shirt, the Fast and Free is designed to skim the body from chest to waist.
  3. Drysense Short Sleeve – In addition to this t-shirt also having the No-Stink Zinc technology, the Drysense is sweat-wicking, quick-drying and has a four-way stretch. It won’t cling to your body as you get hot and sweaty, and also contains an underarm gusset for increased mobility. This one is perfect to train in, giving you room in the chest and waist.

lululemon The Fundamental T-Shirt

Harry modelling The Fundamental T-Shirt, part of our Ivy Training uniform

Carbe Diem: Your Guide to Carbohydrates

Sourdough Bread

Carbohydrates seem to be a source of confusion in the fitness industry. Some people will shout “carbs are life!” and others will warn you “not to eat any carbs after 6pm.” We’re here to clear things up. Let’s get this straight off the bat, carbohydrates are healthy and part of a health promoting diet. But as it’s said, “You are what you eat”. Well, I want to be full of energy. Fittingly, I should probably eat something nutritious and full of energy! The question arises then, what does that look like and as an adjunct, when is it best to fuel up for a training session? Today we’ll address the following four points in the context of a resistance training session and fuelling up for increasing your potential performance on the day. They are as follows:

  • What are carbohydrates?
  • Dosing your carbohydrates for performance
  • Carbohydrate caveats
  • Some examples

As with all things, inter-individual differences exist. And, as we’ve said before, our daily performance potential can fluctuate based on a number of circumstances. Planning your pre-training nutrition will put your best foot forward. Consider this your guide to carbohydrates and how to improve your pre-strength training nutrition.

Groceries

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are one of three major nutrients and main ways our body gets energy. As their name suggests, they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (in the same ratio of water, which is 2:1). Although the norm, this exact chemical formulation is not always the case.

The two primary forms of carbohydrates we consume are:

  1. Sugars – including fructose, glucose and lactose, and
  2. Starches – found in starchy vegetables, grains, rice, breads and cereals.

Carbs enter the bloodstream in the form of glucose and as a response to rising glucose levels in the body, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin shuttles sugar into muscle cells to be accessed for energy. We call this glycogen.

Complex carbohydrates are present in foods such as bread and pasta. Simple carbohydrates are in foods such as table sugar and syrups. Complex carbohydrates contain longer chains of sugar molecules than simple carbohydrates. Both simple and complex carbohydrates can form part of a health promoting diet but we recommend people primarily get most of their carbohydrate intake from complex sources which also happen to be rich in fibre and other minor nutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Vegetables

Dosing your carbohydrates for performance

Now that we know what carbohydrates are and what they do, what’s the big hullabaloo about when we eat them? Let’s introduce you to the concept of nutrient timing. “Nutrient timing incorporates the use of methodical planning and eating of whole foods, fortified foods and dietary supplements [1].”

Resistance training is classified as high intensity and requires primarily two energy sources:

  1. Creatine phosphate, and
  2. Stored glycogen.

So although carbohydrates are used, nowhere near as much is used compared to extended (> 60 min) bouts of moderate or high intensity (> 70% VO2max) activity. The goal is to simply maximise stored glycogen by ingesting the appropriate amounts of carbs relative to training intensity and volume [1]. For resistance training, although high-intensity, we know the duration of the physical activity is low. The efforts themselves may only last 20-45 seconds for a complete set, with at least 1-3 minutes rest and session lengths around 45-90 minutes. Therefore total intake or timing matters less than aerobic endurance activities. A range of about 5-6g/kg of bodyweight per day seems reasonable.

Lastly, fasting does not improve performance [2]. For strength trainees, consuming at least 15 g carbohydrates within 3 hours of a session is a good place to start. Moreover, if the workout contains eleven or more sets per muscle group or there is another high-intensity workout planned that day for the same musculature, higher carbohydrate intakes up to 1.2 g/kg/h may be warranted to maximise glycogen resynthesis in between workouts [3]. Most importantly, “eat enough energy and nutrients to support the body’s energy and nutrient requirements. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to a poor competition outcome, no matter what the athlete does just before the competition [4].”

Jake with some carb sources

Carbohydrate caveats

It’s clear that carbs are necessary for optimising performance. Moreover, we know that they can form part of a health promoting diet. So, are there any concerns we should have when looking at modifying or increasing our carbohydrate intake to improve training?

Our first concern is whether or not you’re trying to change your body composition. In particular, are you looking to lose body fat? Thankfully, carbohydrates may actually help in two distinct ways. First, complex carbohydrates can be satiating due to the fibre content. This means you’ll feel fuller for longer. Also, since carbs have less calories per gram than fats, more can be eaten. For reference, carbs have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram. Both points are useful when trying to meet nutrient needs while also being in a calorie deficit. Secondly we want to encourage individuals to get most of their carbohydrates from complex sources. Simple sugars have their place but often lack nutritional value and can add up quickly regarding calories, whether or not you are looking to lose weight. 

If your calorie budget is tight you can plan ahead how you allocate carbs throughout the week. On training days you can try and consume more carbohydrates, prioritising the eating windows pre and post training to have more calories from carbohydrates. We call this “carb cycling”. You will need to be diligent to ensure you meet your nutrient and energy needs on the days you choose to eat less carbs. This strategy won’t suit everyone but it is an option.

Sourdough Bread

Some examples

Information is all well and good, but let’s get to the practical application here. What are some examples of some easy to prepare foods and meals to consume before training? Here’s a few of our favourite, simple options, adjusted for an average 80kg male:

  • 100g banana has 23g of carbohydrates, and it’s easy to consume before training.
  • 2 slices (~60g) of wholemeal toast has 22.8g of carbohydrates, and is also easy to consume before training.
  • 100g of dry rolled oats has 68g of carbohydrates.
  • 200mL of Daily Juice Co. Pulp-Free Orange Juice has 17.8g of carbohydrates, and is easy to consume pre-training. Although we should be cautious about liquid calories, this might work well as an easy option if you’re training first thing in the morning and don’t stomach food that early.

Conclusion

We hoped today that we answered the question, “what and when should I eat before training?” To summarise, consuming 5-6g/kg of carbs per day is reasonable target and being consistent here matters more than anything else. Foods ranging from something more substantial such as 30-50g of dry rolled oats prepped to your liking or even a simple 80-100g banana can easily meet the target of consuming 15g of carbs within 1-3 hours of your training session. As always, individual experience and gastrointestinal tolerances will inform the specifics of your pre-training fuel. Just remember that the overall quality of your diet and consistency matters more than micro-managing once in a blue-moon. Be consistent, first. If you’d like more specific nutritional guidance, you can contact us here.

References

  1. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing — New Jersey Research Community
  2. Barbell Medicine Forums – Why Do You Recommend Eating Carbs and Protein Before a Workout in the Morning?
  3. The Effect of Carbohydrate Intake on Strength and Resistance Training Performance: A Systematic Review – PMC
  4. Advanced Sports Nutrition, Second Edition, P.160

From Excruciating Back Pain to Deadlifting in 6 Weeks

Setbacks happen to all of us, and I’d be lying if I said I had never experienced one. To accompany our previous blog post, Setbacks Aren’t Stopping Us, I’m going to discuss when I experienced a lower back injury, and what I did to preserve and overcome it.

What was the lower back injury?

Let’s take it back to December 2015. I had been lifting for a number of years at this point, and tweaked my lower back in training. An MRI confirmed that my L4/L5 and S1 intervertebral discs were protruding (or more commonly referred to as “disc bulging”). I experienced an immediate physiological response – I felt some “pops” in my lower back and was unable to move. I was in excruciating pain, but I was about to learn the truth about pain and rehabilitation.

You might be thinking, “how on earth did you do that?!” Unfortunately, diagnosing pain is not that simple and is often multifactorial in nature. Pain is also influenced by a number of biopsychosocial factors, which is the interconnection between biology, psychology and socio-environmental factors. I could not change that I injured my lower back, but I could adapt and recover from it.

At the time, I was being coached online by Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum from Barbell Medicine. Immediately following the injury, I took a few days rest from training. With Jordan’s encouragement I was back into training the following week – with some adjustments, of course.

As this was my first serious injury, I proceeded with caution. Scrolling back to 2015 on my Instagram account gives us a recount of the events unfolding in real-time, emotions and all. Throughout this blog, I will share relevant posts from when the injury occurred, the adjustments that were made, and the outcome.

The date that Rachael injured her lower back – 19 December 2015
An MRI on Rachael's lower back

19 December 2016: this was the exact moment that I injured myself. Zoom in to check out my facial expression and me clenching onto my lower back.

24 December 2015: receiving my MRI results on Christmas Eve. Obviously it was an appropriate time to ask Santa for a new back. Merry bloody Christmas!

What did we change?

After taking a few rest days and loading up on ibuprofen, I was back in the gym the following week.

We made some modifications to my training program through exercise selection, intensity (both internal and external), and training volume. It also made sense to set some new goals.

We first looked at exercise selection. We had to find an entry point with exercises that I felt comfortable performing and that either improved or stabilised my symptoms.

To start, we made the following changes:

  1. Back squats to front squats
  2. Deadlifts to Romanian deadlifts
  3. Bench press with feet on the bench.

We made these adjustments because I found them to be less stressful on my lower back. The movements I was avoiding are not inherently bad, but we needed to dissociate the pain experience from training.

Once we had found an entry point in terms of exercise selection, we modified the internal and external intensity. These factors influence how “hard” we could train. We decreased the internal intensity (RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion) down from a RPE 8-9 to an RPE 5-6. With reducing the RPE, the external intensity (load or weight on the barbell) naturally decreased as well.

Next, we modified the volume by increasing the number of reps per set. We started as light as an empty bar with the aim of increasing the load overtime providing that my symptoms did not worsen.

We also shifted goals. Being a powerlifter, I am always pushing to increase my powerlifting total. Rather than focusing on getting stronger in the squat, bench press and deadlift, I changed goals to improve in other areas. I chose to focus on exercises like front squats and chin-ups. These exercises not only felt comfortable, but also helped me to continue training in a way that I was accustomed to, and enjoyed.

Training adjustments

4 January 2016: making some training modifications by bench pressing with my feet up to reduce lumbar extension.

9 January 2016: putting extra effort into my cardio sessions. Here I was doing a HIIT session with the prowler.

What didn’t we change?

Whilst there were a significant number of changes that were made to my approach to training and program, much else remained the same.

I did not stop training. In fact, I still continued to train 4 days per week, along with cardio 2 days per week. I also included different types of exercise, like yoga. Modifications were required as an early intervention, however I returned to “normal” training about 2 months after the injury.

I did not catastrophise the situation. I remained optimistic and was certain that I was would return to a full recovery. Our mindset can have a significant effect on our physical well-being. It’s imperative to maintain a positive outlook to improve our rehabilitation. Importantly, my coach at the time (who’s also a medical doctor) provided positive reassurance. This reassurance has been shown to improve outcomes [1].

I did not make any changes to my diet. My goal at the time was to maintain my body weight. I did not eat less to account for the lower volume or intensity in training. Contrary to that, I also did not eat more to boost recovery. I was already consuming a sufficient amount of calories that met my energy requirements.

I chose not to visit the myriad of specialists (such as physiotherapists and chiropractors) that come to mind when you experience pain. Instead, I rehabbed my lower back through strength training. In some instances it can be necessary to consult a health professional for guidance and support. In my case, I felt confident in my body and abilities to recover with my coach’s guidance and support.

22 February 2016: back to squatting 90kg for 4 reps with a barbell on my back, pain free. This was a milestone for me.

28 February 2016: dabbling in different types of exercise (like yoga) to keep myself moving and occupied.

What was the outcome of the lower back injury?

6 weeks after injuring my L4/L5, I was back squatting with a barbell on my back and deadlifting from the floor – pain free. This entire process taught me that the human body is incredibly adaptable and resilient.

Early on, my Radiologist and GP said things like “you’ll never deadlift again” and “it’ll be years before you’ll pick up another barbell”. Whilst I respect their authority in their respective fields, they were not well-versed in the current research that supports strength training to rehabilitate pain and injury. I honestly believe that without training and a positive mindset, my recovery time would have been much longer.

In the two posts below, you’ll see me deadlifting 60kg from the floor 6 weeks after the injury. The following post is a video of me squatting 110kg for a personal best 3 months after the injury.

I hope this blog gives you some insight into pain and rehabilitation, and what we can do with our training to help facilitate recovery. If you’re currently experiencing pain and need some guidance, we’d love to help. Contact us to arrange a consultation.

18 December 2016: a throwback post of me deadlifting from the floor 6 weeks after the injury (sometime in January 2016).

28 March 2016: a video of me squatting 110kg for a personal best 3 months after the injury. I couldn’t believe it!

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24218376/

Setbacks Aren’t Stopping Us

We love training. We also want to keep training productively for years to come. It’s obvious enough that without challenge there’s no change. Setbacks do happen however. So what can you do when despite putting in your best efforts, nothing seems to budge?

This is where troubleshooting your training can give you insight into what might be holding you back. Setbacks aren’t stopping us, and they don’t need to stop you either. Today we’ll discuss five key areas to troubleshoot. We hope in doing so you will get the most out of your efforts. The five key areas are as follows:

  1. Recovery
  2. Nutrition
  3. Programming
  4. Pain
  5. Motivation

We will cover each area to varying degrees. Ideally you can take way from this article practical strategies to implement. This month we’ve also made sure our companion article covers the same topic but shares a unique and personal perspective. Make sure you give that a read too!

Recovery

What do we mean by the term “recovery”?

Well let’s talk about another word first, “hormesis” [1]. In biology hormesis is defined as an adaptive response of cells and organisms to a moderate (usually intermittent) stress. Examples include things you may already be doing like exercise and dietary energy restriction.

People thrive on exposure to occasional stress. In the process of restoring balance after an appropriately stressful event, our bodies respond by growing, repairing and importantly adapting. Through adapting we become more tolerant to stress, stronger, and more resilient. Essentially hormesis is the positive response to stressors by your body and mind, when using the appropriate dose.

Programming and nutrition are built-in into the broader concept of recovery. I will address these other points later. Here I’m going to focus on low-hanging fruit here. Many people get caught in the weeds about what the best way to “recover” is and hyper-fixate on things like specific breathing strategies, massage tools, ice baths and more. There’s two things you can do today to improve your recovery: improve your sleep quality and practise stress management.

  1. Sleep quality: simply aim for consistent 7 to 8 hours each night with a routine bedtime.
  2. Stress management: whether it’s walking, meditation or reading a book in a quiet space – find some ways to downshift and unwind after a busy or stressful time.

Nutrition

Nutrition for the purposes of building muscle and maintaining a high training quality is simple. Although we can unpack which nutrition strategies are best, there’s only a few things people need to focus on. They are sufficient energy and protein intake. Expanding on energy intake, resistance training is anaerobic so carbohydrate intake matters too. We need sufficient protein intake to support both recovery and muscle building. We need sufficient energy to support training and the energy-rich process of muscle building overall. Below is a summary of some simple targets:

  1. Protein: 1.6g-3.1 grams per kilogram of body weight – somewhere in the middle of this range is the sweet spot for most people [2, 3].
  2. Carbohydrates: 2-3g per kilogram of body weight [4].
  3. Energy: 25-40 calories per kilogram of body weight.

The above targets are a range and do not take into account individual factors or goals. For instance, the energy needs for a 70kg female versus a 90kg male are likely to be vastly different. If you need help determining what targets you should be aiming for, feel free to contact us for advice.

Programming

This can be summed up with the following sentence: Don’t do too much too soon, after doing too little for too long. In particular however we encourage clients to build traction on a program gradually. Even when all else is equal, when individuals push exercises to an excessively high intensity (read: RPE 9 always), blindly focussing on adding weight or reps, fatigue creeps in. Good quality programming should minimise overuse and maximise fitness while minimising fatigue [5, 6]. It will involve the following:

  1. A variety of exercises, rep ranges and loading zones
  2. Gradual exposure to higher volumes and intensities
  3. Autoregulation
  4. Not consistently going to failure.

Lastly, we encourage individuals to be active outside of their strength training program. Doing so will yield a myriad of benefits such as improved stamina, helping maintain a healthy bodyweight and stress relief. These factors will ensure your resistance training is more productive.

Pain

Pain is never pleasant. We don’t wish anyone to be in it. Additionally, pain is a complex mechanism designed to protect your body. If you have the time, I recommend you watch this 15 minute Ted Talk here. What we can do with your training however is modify the stimulus. This might mean changing the range of motion, load, volume, tempo or exercise all together. Importantly, we don’t stop training. The benefits of exercise always outweigh the exceedingly rare negative experiences. On top of that, resistance exercise is incredibly safe [7, 8]. We cannot cover the topic of pain here exhaustively nor do it justice. Instead, remember that your body is designed to adapt and our goal is to help you always work from the correct entry point.

Motivation

We can’t stress this enough – seeing results come from seeing things through. Behind any successful program is compliance. So, the important question to ask is, what makes someone compliant? Motivation alone isn’t enough. Riding the high of good-feels can only take you so far. Thankfully, we can look into more practical ways to help everyone stay the course [9, 10]. They include:

  1. Understanding the consequences of doing nothing
  2. Trusting that training will be effective for reaching your goals
  3. Maintaining a positive attitude towards training
  4. Having a positive trainer/client relationship
  5. Practising good communication
  6. Comprehending health literacy
  7. Adequate knowledge and putting that knowledge into action
  8. Accessibility to tools such as your training program and fitness tracker.

Although we said motivation isn’t enough. It’s still important to know your “why”. Moreover, training should be working towards that “why”. This is why we value things like feedback forms and check-ins, allowing for programs to evolve over time to be best suited and catered towards an individual. A participant’s active role and desire is incredibly important when fostering compliance.

Tackling your setbacks once and for all

Training setbacks don’t need to stop you from making progress. Instead they can be fantastic learning experiences. By reflecting on and developing new strategies, you can always be equipped to make long term progress. We hope today that you have a better grasp of the concepts of recovery, nutrition, programming, pain and motivation. If you have any other questions, reach out to the Ivy Training team today.

References

  1. nihms39393.pdf
  2. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing | Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
  3. International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition | Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
  4. Nutrients | Free Full-Text | The Effect of Carbohydrate Intake on Strength and Resistance Training Performance: A Systematic Review | HTML (mdpi.com)
  5. Effects of Resistance Training Performed to Failure or Not to Failure on Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Power Output: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. Effects of Resistance Training to Muscle Failure on Acute Fatigue: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)
  7. Injuries among weightlifters and powerlifters: a systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)
  8. (PDF) Injuries in strength training: review and practical application (researchgate.net)
  9. Key Factors Associated with Adherence to Physical Exercise in Patients with Chronic Diseases and Older Adults: An Umbrella Review – PubMed (nih.gov)
  10. Factors affecting therapeutic compliance: A review from the patient’s perspective – PMC (nih.gov)

Your Home Workout Cheat Sheet

What kind of home workout are you doing?

Looking to add in some extra training at home and not sure where to start? The first question to ask is “what kind of home workout are you doing?” This is based on your goals and circumstances. If you’re looking to supplement your strength work, you may do a lighter “general physical preparation” session. If instead you’re looking to perform a strength session, you will perform a more strenuous workout. Lastly, you may simply be looking to increase your physical activity and get in more movement throughout the day. We call these exercises “nuggets” or “bites” [1]. Let’s look at these three different types of sessions in more detail below.

GPP sessions from home

So, what does a GPP session entail (and what does it even stand for)? General Physical Preparation or, “GPP” draws from the strength and conditioning world. It’s essentially training that improves the all around fitness of athletes that’s not specific to their sport. For those who regularly engage in strength training, GPP refers to training sessions that look to strengthen what you may not normally train. This can include supplemental core work, arm work, upper-back work and some cardio or conditioning. We would typically program higher rep isolation work, accompanied with some form of cardio activity.

Strength sessions from home

For those who can’t find time or don’t have the ability to perform more strenuous strength training sessions in-gym, home is a great option. Unlike GPP sessions, these home strength sessions will aim to stimulate lots of muscle mass and drive the bulk of your progress. Whether you’ve got just bodyweight, some dumbbells or a power bar and rack with plates, we are aiming to progressively overload the stress over time more than we would with GPP sessions.

Simply aiming to increase physical activity

Lastly, you may simply be aiming to become more active. There’s plenty of ways to do this including doing some cardio outdoors. That being said, light resistance or bodyweight circuits or calisthenics can be a fantastic way to get more activity in. Exercise bouts can be as little as 10 minutes, performed multiple times a day. It can include a short jog around the block but it can also include performing 3-4 exercises back to back with a short rest between rounds.

The goal here is mainly to:

a) increase heart rate and

b) increase movement.

You will most likely not drive much progress with these sessions. That being said, increasing your physical activity will be beneficial to long term health outcomes.

Before you get started on your home workout

You want to get a few things in order before you start. In an ideal world you would remove distractions from your environment before getting into your training. This may mean turning your screen off so you don’t get tempted to check emails and putting your phone on “do not disturb” (if you can). 

You also want to make sure your home environment is safe. This includes removing trip hazards and obstructions, making sure the floor isn’t slippery and getting appropriate ventilation and temperature (the climate). You’ll also want to prep yourself with the appropriate apparel, towel, hydration and music of course!

Lastly, have all your equipment ready to go – know the program and what you’ll need to do. The goal of these home workouts is to not be obtrusive to your daily workflow and additionally, be efficient. Being prepared ahead of time can help you get into and get the session completed in a smooth and concise manner. 

Now that you know what to do and what you’re trying to accomplish with your sessions, let’s get into some home workout scenarios. These will cover workout examples within.

Different home workouts scenarios

1 x strength training session at home, to supplement 2 x strength training sessions in the studio or gym

3 x strength training sessions at home, at a time where you can’t make it into the studio or gym

2 x GPP sessions at home, to supplement your strength training sessions in the studio or gym

Exercise “nuggets” (circuits) to add more movement and increase physical activity throughout the day

Conclusion

Home sessions don’t need to be a “last resort” when all is lost. They can instead be engaging, productive and range from supporting to being the backbone of your fitness journey. We hope with the above information you feel empowered and able to include more opportunities to train and do something productive for your health. Just remember, even a little bit is better than nothing. Lastly, it takes a lot less to maintain your results once you’ve earned them, so, if nothing else home training can be a useful stopgap when life is hectic.

If you have any other questions or need further help, feel free to reach out to us at Ivy Training.

References

  1. https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/6/1/e000672#ref-11

Homework You’ll Want to Do

Why home workouts?

They say “home is where the heart is.” We like to say at Ivy Training, “home is where the hard work is.” This doesn’t just apply to your nutrition or sleeping habits. Your home provides excellent opportunities to fit in extra exercise by squeezing in some home workouts in your week. This could be longer form resistance training sessions or shorter exercise “nuggets” (yum)!

I get it, we’re already working from home as part of the “new normal”. Additionally, I understand that people want to separate home, gym and work life. That being said, if you’re looking to improve your results but are time poor, home workouts are useful. In this article we’ll discuss the following:

  • The advantages and disadvantages of home workouts
  • How we prescribe home workouts at Ivy Training
  • What equipment we recommend
  • Whether or not home workouts are effective

Stay tuned as we’ll cover home workout examples and how to get into the zone in our next blog post. Alright, now that you’re warmed up, let’s get started.

What are the advantages?

Critically, convenience is the main advantage. 

Forget traffic, waiting for equipment or forgetting your towel. Also, you can probably pop a meal in the oven while you’re training. If you’ve found working from home convenient and you’ve managed to set up a routine, home workouts are no different.

This means scheduling and putting off your workouts due to other responsibilities is less of a barrier. Second to that, it also provides more opportunities in a busy schedule to fulfil your physical activity needs.

Depending on the equipment you have access too, the quality of your sessions don’t have to suffer either. We’ll cover this point later.

What are the disadvantages?

We’d be lying if we said there aren’t any.

There’s three main disadvantages in our eyes, however we believe they’re simple to work around. Firstly, being so convenient means you might not prioritise it. Secondly, equipment could be a limiting factor. Third and last, working out from home may mean you don’t experience the social support from a gym environment.

Admittedly this could impact your motivation to train from home. Although we’ll tackle the details later, some simple tips might help:

  • Set up your training like you would a work meeting – put it in your calendar
  • Perform workouts that make the best use of your current equipment
  • Consider purchasing some new or extra equipment
  • Keeping workouts time efficient
  • Making sure you understand the purpose of your home workout
  • Create a positive environment with music, temperature, ventilation and minimise distractions.

How do we prescribe home workouts at Ivy Training?

Most of our clients train with us twice a week. We like to plan an additional 1 or 2 home sessions to help clients increase their activity. 

We program based on client goals, equipment availability (and what they’re willing to buy) and time constraints. That being said, working often with lighter weights and trying to keep motivation high we do:

  • Higher reps
  • Supersets and/or circuits
  • Isolation exercises
  • Unilateral exercises
  • Things that are different to what we cover in the studio that cover different planes of motion, different pieces of equipment and bodyweight movements
  • Prescribe efforts closer to failure which reduces the amount of volume per session required.

What equipment do we recommend for home workouts?

We understand that your equipment selection for home will depend on your budget, and how much space you have for storage. With that being said, here are some pieces of equipment that we would recommend for home. We’re going to break this into a three different categories:

  1. The essentials
  2. The optional extras
  3. The works

The essentials

Celcius 20kg Weight Set – $119.99

Celcius 50kg Weight Set – $229.99

If you’re looking at adding some training at home, the Celcius Weight Sets are a great option. The 20kg Weight Set comes with two adjustable dumbbells, whereas the 50kg Weight Set comes with two adjustable dumbbells and a barbell (giving you more options for exercise selection). Both kits come in a convenient carry case, which can be easily stored away.

The optional extras

Celcius Flat Bench – $139.99

Celcius Ab Wheel – $34.99

PTP SuperBand Combo – $89.99

Having access to these three pieces of equipment will provide you with more exercises that you can do from home. The resistance bands would probably be our top recommendation, followed by the flat bench (if you’ve got the space for it) and ab wheel. We have also had clients use outdoor furniture settings as a makeshift bench option!

The works

IronEdge Weightlifting Pack – $1824.00

If you want the ultimate training experience at home, having a rack, barbell, bench and weight plates is the way to go. It comes with a downside – you’ll need a spare room or space in your garage to store it. This set would go perfectly some adjustable dumbbells.

Are home workouts effective?

The obvious answer is: YES!

We understand they are different to training in the studio or at the gym, but that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective. In fact we expect people to make great progress with home sessions. For instance, many of our clients want to learn and get better at squats and deadlifts. A complimentary exercise is a rear-foot elevated split squat. This can be done with minimal loading and is tough for high-reps. A home workout with dumbbells can be incredibly stimulative and help drive progress on these larger exercises.

Some other examples include:

  • Arm and shoulder isolation work to improve the bench and overhead press
  • Resistance bands and walk to the park to work on some chin-ups
  • Ab work with minimal equipment or bodyweight which will improve your stability on barbell lifts
  • Light resistance circuit work done to improve muscular endurance or “work capacity”.

Lastly, when discussing how we prescribe these sessions, we mentioned we can make them time efficient. So, in a short period of time, from the comfort of your home, you can achieve great results. We’d say that’s a pretty good deal. So if you’re currently training but have the ability to do more, consider home workouts. If you need any advice feel free to reach out to us!

Stop Spinning Your Wheels and Rev Up Your Cardio Workouts

This month we’re covering cardio. Our companion article discussed some of the theory behind cardiovascular exercise, including the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of getting between 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. If you’d like to read that and how it satisfies physical activity guidelines, click here. Today let’s dive into the practical and talk how you can plan your cardio workouts.

Specific types of cardio workouts

Let’s discuss the types of aerobic training we’ll program. You might hear that certain cardio sessions are “steady state”. This can refer to Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) or Long Slow Distance (LSD) training. This simply means that your heart rate remains in a relatively consistent range (around 65-80% maximum heart rate) for a prolonged period of time. The pace should allow conversation (even if you have to take a breath or two between sentences). In contrast, you’ll hear that sessions are “high intensity”. This should refer to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) however very often its used incorrectly to refer to light-load circuits.

Critical to planning your cardio workouts is considering the pace, duration and intensity. High intensity intervals require high levels of effort from somewhere between 30-90 second high intensity efforts above the lactate threshold and may require rest periods upwards of 5 times longer than your work periods. You will not be able to sustain a true high intensity effort for very long. Moreover, without more rest compared to effort, you will lose output as the rounds go on.

Are there benefits to any kind of cardio workout?

The principle of specificity dictates that we should train what we want to get good at. So, if your goal is to improve your long duration endurance for a distance event, it would make sense to prioritise LISS cardio. Conversely, if you are a combat athlete and need to work on your stamina for short bouts of high intensity efforts, HIIT intervals may be more appropriate. Team sport athletes might benefit from interval training where for instance a 5 minute hard run (around V02 max) is contrasted with a 5 minute walk. These longer intervals are harder than LISS but performed at an intensity lower than HIIT.

For general health purposes and for those who are looking at managing their body weight, all forms of cardio workouts are fine. We simply encourage people to perform what they will enjoy and stick to. Lastly, HIIT intervals, being rated as vigorous can be double weighted in your activity level calculations, which is convenient. LISS cardio is likely to require the least planning and lowest level of exertion but does require more total time.

Planning your weekly cardio workout schedule

To begin with let’s plan your week. We’ve discussed accumulating at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week. The following three examples demonstrate how you could split this up.

Cardio workout examples

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. You can mix and match these or similar protocols throughout you week. If you do have specific sport outcomes, your programming will need to reflect that. As you perform these you may wish to track the following:

  • Average heart-rate
  • Pace, wattage, stroke-rate or other similar variables
  • Distance travelled
  • Estimated calories burned
  • Total time

Cardio Workout 1: for the person who likes low intensity cardio

  1. 40 minutes @ RPE 6 on an incline treadmill, or
  2. 30 minutes @ RPE 6-7 on the elliptical  

Tune into your favourite podcast or music playlist and keep a consistent pace.


Cardio Workout 2: for the person who wants to turn the intensity up a notch

  1. 20 seconds all-out effort @ RPE 10, followed by 100 seconds rest x 7 rounds, or
  2. 30 seconds all-out effort @ RPE 8-9, followed by 90 seconds rest x 10 rounds

These high-intensity intervals can be performed many different ways, including on the bike or rower.


Cardio Workout 3: for the person who enjoys longer intervals

  1. 3 minute run @ RPE 7-8, followed by 2 minutes of walking x 6 rounds, or
  2. 5 minutes running @ RPE 7-8, followed by 5 minutes walking x 5 rounds

Lace up your running shoes and start pounding that pavement!


You might be thinking what on earth does RPE mean. It’s an abbreviation for Rate of Perceived Exertion, and it’s a way that we measure our physical activity intensity level on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being light and 10 being very hard). Put simply, it indicates approximate effort relative to an individual’s maximum heart rate. Due to individual differences we can’t accurately prescribe a specific pace. The table below might help you further understand the different levels of intensity when exercising.

Today we covered some template cardiovascular and conditioning sessions. These are generic examples of how you might fulfil physical activity recommendations. They act as a complement to your strength training. If you’d like more in-depth information or personalised cardio recommendations, contact us here.

Don’t Skip a Heartbeat: Your Guide to Cardio

Cardio gets a bad rap. A quick Google search of “cardio memes” will have you thinking “Cardio? More like cardi-no!” However weight training alone won’t cut it. Physical fitness involves both cardiorespiratory and muscular adaptations. Let’s talk today about how much, how to do it and how it will benefit you.

How much cardio?

The World Health Organisation has two recommendations based on the aerobic exercise intensity [1]. It’s important to note that you can do more for “additional health benefits.” So, what are they?

  1. At least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
  2. At least 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity

Intensity simply refers to how hard are you working. For aerobic exercise we can use METs or “metabolic equivalent of a task” to measure intensity. For example 1 MET is the rate of energy expenditure while sitting at rest. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 500 to 1000 MET minutes per week [2]. To calculate this you simply take the MET score of an activity and multiply it by the duration. Conveniently, MET ratings correspond with aerobic intensities. In other words, you can use METs to tell if you’re working hard enough, long enough. Below is a table showing the conversion and some practical examples.

How to structure your cardio

Outside of hitting activity targets there are no hard and fast rules around structuring your aerobic exercise. Okay, there’s probably one – you want to maintain a metabolic output for at least 1 minute. In other words as long as your active at least for a minute, it doesn’t matter how you break it up. For instance you can walk for 25 minutes a day at around 5km an hour. This is equivalent to about 600 MET minutes a week. Check out this month’s complimentary article for some cardio workout examples that satisfy activity recommendations. In addition some other examples of activity that rank as moderate to vigorous include:

  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Carrying heavy groceries or other loads upstairs
  • Shovelling snow
  • Strenuous fitness classes
  • Walking briskly
  • Raking the yard

Benefits of cardio

Improving your cardiorespiratory fitness seems to confer health benefits. Physical activity (including cardio) contributes to managing noncommunicable diseases, frailty and mental health. For example this includes cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sarcopenia, and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. There are also performance benefits. For instance increasing your aerobic fitness will increase your VO2 max or, the rate at which your heart, lungs and muscles can use oxygen during exercise. As as result you’ll increase your performance through increasing work capacity, your ability to train more and the actual cardio itself. One last note, don’t stress about whether or not a certain intensity is superior for weight loss [3]. Simply do what you can stick to and is appropriate for you.

Get moving!

Cardio doesn’t have to be a drag. Personally I’ve found ways in which I can incorporate it into my lifestyle that suits my schedule and needs. For yourself, that could include walking your dogs (or cats!), playing sport with friends or going on a hike with your family. However you decide, what matters most is that you’re consistent. If you’re currently stuck with your health and fitness goals, don’t be shy to reach out to the team at Ivy.

Resources

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity
  2. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
  3. https://www.u-cursos.cl/medicina/2017/0/DPPAEF/1/foro/r/(2017)_systematic_review_and_meta-analysis_of_interval_training_versus_moderate-intensity_continuous_training_on_body_adiposity.pdf

A Sneak Peek into Jake’s Training Week

We often have client’s ask us in their training session, “what does your training week look like?” So, we thought we’d show you!

As you may have noticed with your own training, you can’t always keep things the same. This doesn’t mean chopping and changing elements of your program day in and day out. However as time goes on your body will accommodate to the stresses imposed upon it, resulting in a plateau and inevitably, something will need to change (however small) to spur on future progress. 

Seeing how both Rachael and I have recently competed (you can see her blog post here and we’ll cover another competition in our most recent newsletter) and this month we’re talking about personal lifting equipment, I wanted to simply highlight what an “ordinary” week of training might look post-competition for myself and how equipment is factored into that. 

Considering my current goals

Currently my goal is to build more muscle mass for the purpose of getting stronger. With that in mind my current program involves the following key changes:

  1. High rep sets (average of 8-12 reps) and higher total training volume
  2. More exercise variation
  3. More isolation exercises
  4. Weak-point training

Higher training volumes generally (when all else is equal) provide a greater muscle-growth stimulus. Moreover, increased variation helps develop more overall musculature size and strength especially as hypertrophy and strength adaptations can be local to particular regions within a muscle belly. Isolation exercises are especially useful when trying to accumulate more volume. They allow you to better target a muscle group with less overall systemic fatigue.

That being said, the “skill” of lifting is still important to me. At least once a week I am performing some close form of the squat, bench press and deadlift. When considering exercise selection, we review how certain exercises can benefit an individual at a specific point in time. Below is an outline of my program which will also clarify the rationale behind certain exercises and uses of equipment.

Jake Overhead Pressing

What my training program looks like

Below is a sneak peek into a week of my training. You’ll see the specific exercises that I do on each training day, along with the sets and rep scheme and what lifting equipment I choose to use for each exercise. You’ll notice that on some exercises, I don’t use any lifting equipment at all! I am currently doing three “bigger” training sessions each week, paired with three smaller ones with some cardio, and of course a rest day.

Jake's Training Program

Let me explain that in more detail…

Day 1

Here is my hardest squat volume for the week. In particular I’m using the safety bar as I’ve had a peculiar habit of racking the bar incorrectly. By using the safety bar, I can squat for high-rep sets without having to worry about my bar placement. The incline press and snatch-grip RDL is simply there to develop more muscle mass. I’m using equipment across these three lifts to maximise load lifted and efficiency of this session. It’s also one of the sessions where I’ll move the most total weight.

Day 3

On this day I’m working on some more powerlifting specific work including tweaking my grip for the bench press and securing a better bottom position in my low-bar squat. Reps are still somewhat high for the second movement. Here I’m using equipment but the planned RPE is lower and the goal is technical.

Day 5

Here I’m performing deficit deadlifts as that’s where I’m currently weakest (off the floor). This is where I failed my third attempt deadlift at my latest meet. Reps are still somewhat high and I’m wearing equipment to maximise load moved. It is my main deadlift variation for the week. I’m also performing Larsen press and split squats, which are movements which load the muscles used in the squat and bench but at lighter weights. Even with a high RPE, I can’t move much total load due to how these exercises are set-up. This means I can accumulate more training volume but still be recovered by the time Monday comes around.

Days 2, 4 and 6

On these days I’ll be performing some lighter upper-back, arm exercises and cardio. Of most importance here would be cardio for my health and the upper back exercises to further develop the muscle group that supports all three major power lifts but isn’t directly targeted by them. Some of these exercises could be performed on the main days but I prefer not to train much longer than an hour across my main sessions (that’s just a personal preference). Finally, unless grip is an issue, I tend to not wear any personal lifting equipment on these sessions. I want the total load to be moved to be minimal.

Lifting Chalk

Training is about the individual

Training is specifically designed to get the most out of the individual. That being said, there are principles that underlie effective training. You will find there are more similarities than differences across well written training programs. As you get more advanced you’ll also have better awareness about what you will best benefit from. At Ivy you can be confident that Rachael and myself are passionate about the training process as both participants of a strength sport and personal trainers. To that end, we’re here to help you get the best out of your time spent training which involves not only what your program looks like, but also when and how you use lifting equipment.

AlphaFit Lat Pulldown

The Only Lifting Equipment You Need in Your Gym Bag

Introduction

If you were to spend any time on social media watching fitness related content you would quickly come across some incredibly strong people lifting heavy weights while wearing all sorts of personal lifting equipment including a belt, strange looking shoes, wraps or straps around their wrists and wraps or sleeves around their knees.

In fact, Rachael and I often use this equipment in our own training. In this article I’d like to explain the purposes of this equipment and perhaps answer some of the questions or address common misconceptions around the use of this equipment. This will include the following:

  • Is using lifting equipment necessary?
  • Does using lifting equipment help with injury prevention?
  • Isn’t lifting equipment expensive?
  • What piece of lifting equipment should I buy first?

Who can benefit from using lifting equipment?

So, who can benefit from using personal lifting equipment?

Simply put, everyone. This isn’t some kind of exclusive club where only once you’ve “earned” the right to use equipment once you’re lifting an arbitrary amount of weight. As you’ll see in the following sections, lifting equipment simply improves the return on investment into your time training. Everyone can benefit from using it. No one bats an eye when you suggest buying running shoes if you’d like to run more frequently and seriously. Think about using personal lifting equipment in the same way.

What, where and why?

What follows is a breakdown of the basic pieces of personal lifting equipment that you will most commonly come across and find recommended, listed in what we at Ivy Training believe are the order of priorities.

Shoes

Lifting shoes or weightlifting shoes are speciality-made shoes designed usually to have an elevated stiff heel, 1-2 shoe straps around mid-foot, a wider toe box (not always) and a higher boot around the ankle to provide the necessary stability, stiff contact with the floor and facilitate the range of motion someone would need to get more out of the very least, their squats and olympic lifts. They can often be used for other lifts based on the individual’s personal preference. Very often this is the first piece of equipment we recommend someone to purchase. For weightlifting shoes both Rachael and I have had experience with the Nike Romaleo series of shoes and recommend those.

For those who aren’t looking to purchase a more specialised shoe, Rachael and I also recommend the Nike Metcons. Although they lack some of the more specialised features of a weightlifting shoe, they have a relatively stiff sole and are stable but still have enough freedom of movement to be relatively comfortable for a variety of movements and conditioning modalities you might perform in a gym environment.

Belt

There are a variety of lifting belts available to buy but the most useful for our purposes of general strength training include belts made between 2” – 4” in width and 10-13mm thick and uniform in dimension all the way around. They will either be fastened with a single or double prong, or a lever mechanism. Belts facilitate a more powerful isometric contraction of the trunk musculature by way of proprioception. This occurs due to the physical feedback from the stiff belt secured tightly around your waist which in turn creates resistance for your abs, obliques and spinal erectors to contract against.

Despite popular belief, they are not for supporting your back directly for the purposes of mitigating pain. They will however facilitate the process of continually getting a stronger back which may influence tolerance to pain. Lastly, research shows belts seem to increase power output, reduce bar velocity and rating of perceived exertion in trainees [1], [2].

For lifting belts, we recommend anything from Pioneer, SBD or more easily acquired, Rogue.

Straps

Lifting straps are a useful lifting accessory made often from either nylon, leather or canvas. They wrap around the wrist and then onto the target implement such as a barbell, dumbbell or machine handle/cable attachment. They are used often in scenarios where a tension force is applied to the hand such as during pulling movements like deadlifts, rows, pulldowns and chin-ups. Lifting straps are most commonly single straps with a loop on the end or, figure 8 straps. There are also specialty olympic weightlifting straps. We recommend the basic strap variant. They prevent grip being a limiting factor and allow other muscle groups to continue to complete a movement for the desired load and volume. For lifting straps, brands are less of a concern but I’ve personally had good experience with Rogue straps.

Sleeves

Knee sleeves provide compression and support for the knee and should be relatively snug in their fit. They shouldn’t however limit movement in any way. Knee sleeves by way of proprioception might help a lifter feel more stable, and additionally, ascertain a more consistent depth by way of the material in contact with the knee and the back of the upper-thigh and calf and at the bottom of a squat. There is some evidence for reduced pain ratings in those with knee pain, especially from osteoarthritis [3]. Moreover, even though some of the benefits of the knee sleeves are placebo, it’s still beneficial nonetheless. At the very least your knees will feel more warm between sets of squats. There really aren’t any other options here we’d feel comfortable recommending other than SBD knee sleeves.

Wrist Wraps

Wrist wraps can come in stiff and soft varieties and at different lengths. Wraps are securely wrapped around the wrist joint and not set below the hand itself which would make them simply a fashion statement. Wrist wraps limit the amount of flexion and extension (or movement) that can occur at the wrist under load. Although there are a variety of wraps available the most commonly useful wraps will be soft wraps where you can usually get between 2 to 3 loops around the wrist joint up onto the base of the palm (these are somewhere between 12”-24” in length). Longer wraps means the ability to wrap tighter and create a stiffer hold. Some wraps themselves can be made out of incredibly stiff material. This does take some trial and error to figure out which kind is right for you.

They are not designed to prevent wrist pain but similar to the belt will increase stability under load. They therefore might influence someone’s perception of pain, at times. For wrist wraps, similar to the straps, Rogue and SBD are safe choices here – in particular flexible, non-stiff wraps.

When should I start using lifting equipment?

We’d suggest utilising lifting equipment as soon as you’re able and would like to. Regarding the particular details of training itself, here are some basic recommendations. Using them on your primary lifts which constitute the exercises that are most important to your goals can provide benefit. For many this includes wearing shoes, belt and sleeves during squats, a belt and maybe straps during deadlifts, wrist wraps and maybe a belt during bench press and shoes, a belt and wrist wraps during overhead presses. Regarding other exercises, that may depend on how your program is designed. It’s important to consider the particular goal of each exercise and how they factor into your week of training. Moreover, there are certain items like wrist straps that are always useful (such as not letting your grip become a limiting factor during Romanian deadlifts).

Lastly, you’ll want to make sure that by at least your last warm-up set, before your first working set, you have put your equipment on, so that you aren’t introducing any changes before starting your heaviest set/s of the day.

Is it going to break the bank?

One last note on cost. Buy expensive and most likely you’ll buy once. It’s very rare that you’ll wear your equipment down to dust. Most people are lifting inside in climate controlled conditions outside of the elements and most likely are not running, jumping or anything else in the shoes or other pieces of equipment (besides maybe the olympic lifts), so they should last the test of time.

Conclusion

So that wraps up our strapping post on using equipment while strength training. We hope you’re armed with the knowledge required to get the most out of your strength training sessions. If you’d like to know more about using equipment during sessions, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask.

Resources

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11710410/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35363215/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19467901/

Three Ivy Training Lifters, One Powerlifting Competition

Earlier this month we had two of our Ivy Training clients, Heather and Melanie, compete in a powerlifting competition alongside our very own Ivy Trainer, Rachael. All three had a great day on the platform, hitting personal bests throughout the day.

We will provide a brief introduction to powerlifting and cover the rules of the sport, but if you’re just here for the results and videos you can click here to take you straight to the fun part.

An Introduction to Powerlifting

Before we get into the finer details of the day, it’s important to understand what the sport involves. After all, you might not have heard of powerlifting before. My grandmother used to think powerlifting and weightlifting were the same sport, and would often ask whether she needed to book flights to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games. Sorry to disappoint you grandma, but powerlifting isn’t an Olympic sport! Powerlifting is a barbell strength sport that consists of three attempts on three lifts – the squat, bench press and deadlift. The lifter’s best successful attempt on each lift counts toward their competition total. Competitors are judged against other lifters of the same gender, weight class and age. In most competitions, the lifter with the highest total in each weight class will be announced the winner.

The powerlifting competition that Rachael, Heather and Melanie participated in was an unsanctioned meet, and as such weren’t divided into different weight classes. Instead, they were ranked in order of their points that were tallied at the end of the competition.

Black Flag Barbell Club Powerlifting Competition Participants

Group photo of the participants in the competition at Black Flag Barbell Club

Powerlifting Competition Rules

Let’s first cover the rules of the competition to help contextualise our results for the day. For the purposes of this blog, we will be referencing the rules outlined in the International Powerlifting Federation’s Technical Rulebook, which can be found here.

Squat

Rules:

The lifter will face the front of the platform, with bar held across the shoulders. The hands may be positioned anywhere on the bar inside and or in contact with the inner collars.

After the lifter has racked the bar, the lifter must establish their starting position. When the lifter is motionless, with the knees locked the Head Referee will give the signal to start. This consists of a downward movement of his or her arm and the vocal command “Squat”.

The lifter must then bend the knees and lower the body until the surface of the legs at the hip joint is lower than the top of the knees. The lifter must proceed to stand up with the knees locked. When the lifter is motionless in an upright position, the Head Referee will give the signal to rack the bar. This consists of a backward motion of the arm and vocal command “Rack”. The lifter must then return the bar to the rack.

Reasons for disqualification:

  1. Failure to observe the Head Referees’ signals.
  2. Failure to bend the knees and lower the body until the top surface of the legs at the hip joint is lower than the the top of the knees. 
  3. Double bouncing, more than one attempt at the bottom, or any downward movement during the ascent. 
  4. Failure to assume an upright position with the knees locked at the start and at the end of the lift.
  5. Stepping backward or forward or moving the feet laterally.
  6. Contact with bar or lifter by the spotters/loaders between the Head Referees’ signals. 
  7. Contact of the elbows or upper arms with the legs.
  8. Any dropping or dumping of the bar after competition of the lift.
  9. Not completing the lift.
Rachael Squatting

Rachael preparing to squat her third attempt of 120kg

Bench Press

Rules: 

The lifter must lie on his or her back with head, shoulders and buttocks in contact with the bench surface. The feet must be flat on the floor. The hands and fingers must grip the bar with a thumbs around grip. The spacing of the lifter’s hands must not exceed 81cm, and the use of a reverse grip if forbidden.

After removing the bar from the rack (with or without the help of a spotter/loader), the lifter needs to wait with straight arms and elbows locked for the Head Referees’ signal. This consists of a downward movement of the arm and vocal command “Start”.

After receiving the signal, the lifter must lower the bar to the chest of abdominal area and hold it motionless, before the Head Referee will vocally command “Press”. The lifter must then return the bar to straight arms’ length with elbows locked. When the lifter holds the bar motionless in the final position, the Head Referee will give the signal to rack the bar. This consists of a backward motion of the arm and vocal command “Rack”.

Reasons for disqualification: 

  1. Failure to observe the Head Referees’ signals.
  2. Bar not lowered to chest or abdominal area. 
  3. Any downward movement of the bar in the course of being pressed out.
  4. Failure to press the bar to straight arms length elbows locked at the completion of the lift.
  5. Heaving or sinking the bar after it has been motionless on the chest or abdominal area.
  6. Any change in the elected lifting position during the lift.
  7. Contact with the bar to the lifter by the spotters/loaders between the Chief Referees’ signals.
  8. Any contact of the lifter’s feet with the bench or its supports.
  9. Deliberate contact between the bar and the bar rest supports during the lift. 
  10. Not completing the lift.
Heather Bench Pressing

Heather bench pressing 82.5kg

Deadlift

Rules:

The lifter will face the front of the platform, gripping the bar with both hands and pulling the bar until he or she is standing in an upright position.

On completion of the lift, the knees should be locked with the shoulders back. The Head Referees’ signal to return the bar to the floor will consist of a downward movement of the arm and the vocal command “Down”.

Reasons for disqualification: 

  1. Lowering the bar before receiving the Head Referees’ signal.
  2. Failure to lock the knees straight at the complete of the lift.
  3. Failure to stand erect with the shoulders back. 
  4. Any downward movement of the bar before it reaches the final position.
  5. Supporting the bar on the thighs during the performance of the lift.
  6. Allowing the bar to return to the platform without maintaining control with both hands. 
  7. Stepping backward or forward or moving the feet laterally. 
  8. Not completing the lift. 
Melanie Deadlifting

Melanie looking fierce with a 165kg deadlift

Powerlifting Competition Results

Rachael Fisher

Weight: 67.8kg

Squat: 110kg / 115kg / 120kg

Bench Press: 72.5kg / 77.5kg / 80kg

Deadlift: 150kg / 160kg / 170kg

Total: 370kg

Points: 381.01

Rachael performed exceptionally well at her 11th powerlifting competition, placing first amongst 15 other females. She went 9/9 lifts, which means she successfully got all of her attempts. Her last competition was in September 2019, where she totalled 356kg with a 121kg squat, a 75kg bench press and a 160kg deadlift. With over a two year gap between competitions, Rach wanted to focus on beating her previous bench press, deadlift and total score in this competition, which she did successfully!

Check out Rachael’s best lifts from the day:

Heather Service

Weight: 90.8kg

Squat: 125kg / 130kg / 137.5kg

Bench Press: 72.5kg / 77.5kg / 82.5kg

Deadlift: 145kg / 150kg / 157.5kg

Total: 377.5kg

Points: 335.24

Heather is our pocket rocket, who has been training with Rachael and more recently Jake since she was 18 years old, starting in January 2019. Heather is an extremely proficient lifter, and has really dialled in her technique over the past few years. She went 9/9 lifts on the day, and definitely had a bit of room in the tank on her third attempts. Like Rachael, she last competed in 2019 where she totalled 295kg with a 105kg squat, a 60kg bench press and a 130kg deadlift. Heather continued to train hard throughout periods of COVID-19 lockdown, and the results speak for themselves! We’re excited to see where she’ll be in a few years time.

Check out Heather’s best lifts from the day:

Melanie Willems

Weight: 108.1kg

Squat: 125kg / 130kg / 135kg

Bench Press: 55kg / 60kg / 67.5kg

Deadlift: 150kg / 157.5kg / 165kg

Total: 355kg

Points: 294.38

This was Melanie’s very first time stepping on the platform, and to put up at 355kg total as a new competitor is absolutely outstanding. Mel went 6/9 lifts, missing her first attempt squat and second attempt bench press on technicality, and third attempt bench press due to a failed lift. Where she excelled, was the deadlift. Having only deadlifted 152.5kg prior to the competition, we weren’t expected 165kg on the day – especially with the way it moved! We have no doubt that with more experience in the gym and on the platform, Mel will be able to further develop her skills in the sport and will definitely get stronger along the way.

Check out Mel’s best lifts from the day:

What’s Next?

Rachael, Heather and Melanie were all invited to ProRaw Sleeves, which is a much larger scale powerlifting competition down in Melbourne next month. They’ll be competing alongside lifters from across the country.

In addition to sharing the platform with a higher calibre of lifters, the main difference between the competitions is that the girls will be categorised into different weight classes, and they will also need to wear a soft suit (think of it as the uniform of powerlifting).

Wish them luck!

Rachael Deadlifting in a Powerlifting Competition at Lift Performance Centre

Rachael attempting 170kg in her competition in 2019

Falling into the Functional Training Trap

Introduction to functional training

Functional Training is a buzzword phrase you’ll often hear thrown about in the fitness industry. Like many buzzwords, it can refer to so many things that it tends not to mean anything specific at all. I’m willing to bet that if I asked you what you think “functional training” entails, you may envision someone training their balance with special implements (like a ‘Bosu Ball’), performing unilateral exercises (single leg/arm), trying to mimic sporting movements and using a wide variety of free weight implements and suspension trainers, possibly in a circuit fashion while avoiding machines in an effort to be “functional”.

I want to be clear, I’m all for people becoming physically active. However, I don’t like misinformation providing inaccurate expectations to unknowing individuals. Functional Training is often touted as being useful for the following:

  • Injury prevention
  • Sport performance
  • Building muscle and strength
  • “Correcting imbalances”
  • “Toning” and burning fat

The burden of proof however lies on the individual’s making these claims. As we’ll unpack today, you’ll see there’s little evidence showing any particular training style, especially what I’ve previously mentioned is uniquely beneficial or safe compared to standard resistance training. People are already struggling to participate in physical activity. My goal is to keep training as simple and as accessible as can be. To that end, today I hope to unpack the fallacy of functional training and show you how normal resistance training is more than enough for you to reach your goals safely and effectively [1], [2], [3].

It’s all in the word

“Functional” – let’s stop and think about that for a second. What does it mean? It usually refers to two things:

  1. having a special activity, purpose, or task.
  2. designed to be practical and useful, rather than attractive.

A special activity, purpose, or task

Last time I checked every exercise is useful and purposeful if your purpose is to get fitter and healthier than you once were in the absence of exercise! Allow me however to expand on this point further:

The weight room is fantastic at making your body more “robust” overall which you then take into your everyday life or sport via “practise” or challenging the tasks specifically that you actually expect to perform. Bastardising regular exercises by making them mimic the sports field not only ruins the practice of the position (as it changes under load) but additionally, means you can’t load your weights optimally and miss out on the output benefits from strength training. 

Now it’s not completely black and white. Here’s what I mean, one study showed that vertical jump improved with regular barbell squats but also showed a robust response with quarter squats which more closely resemble the task [4], [5]. There’s probably a point where more specific work is useful especially with more advanced athletes. However, for the overwhelming majority of individuals who are undertrained, basic, non-specific strength work is sufficient.

Dumbbell Incline Press

Practical and useful, rather than attractive

There may also be times where it can be productive to train specific tasks or activities of daily living that an individual may come across, especially in certain populations with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s [6],[7]. To play devil’s advocate however, as per the principle of specificity, if you devise a program and train individual’s on unstable surfaces, then testing people in unstable environments will most likely show an improvement as opposed to “regular training”. A fairer question would be “does resistance training also improve balance sufficiently for activities of daily living” and to this end, the answer is yes [8]. Resistance training in its basic form is still well established to improve quality of life for all age groups and life stages [9].

It’s the marketing, not the method

My cynical self says that most of the hype about “functional” is a matter of marketing. It simply plays on the fear of “missing out” rather than anything justifiable. So why am I making a big deal about it?

Well, for the following reasons it/s:

  • Fear mongering.
  • Marketing which sucks people into something that looks flashy but doesn’t have much substance.
  • Lacks long term progression and fostering a progression mindset to training.

Fear mongering

In particular I’d like to speak to “fear mongering”: people don’t exercise enough and that’s not good. The last thing the fitness industry needs to do is place up arbitrary barriers to participation on made up requirements around “competency” or “earning the right to lift” (whatever that means). Moreover, it suggests that exercise is unsafe which is a) untrue [10] and b) it means they don’t consider the overall benefit of exercise to outweigh the incredibly small chance of injury.

Flashy, but zero substance

Secondly, it looks flashy. I get it, basic dumbbells, machines and barbells are nothing new (but do they have to be?). It looks cool to balance on one leg, do awesome push-up variations and hang off suspension trainers. In fact – it’s all exercise so I can’t complain. My issue is that many of these movements are incredibly advanced and not very well scalable. In fact, many competent fitness professionals who demonstrate these movements have spent years already doing the “basics”; they didn’t get there in a flash, they got there on substance. They need to teach you the same.

Lacks long term progression

This ties into the last point about long term progression too. Lifts that are overly complicated do not lend themselves well to long term loading potential. We aren’t here to perform circus tricks, we are here to train our body productively. Although there’s nothing wrong with, and, in fact, it’s wonderful to see what the human body can do, incredibly athletic and skilled individuals (athletes, performers etc.) have still built their base of fitness and strength on basic exercise [3].

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

It’s not HIIT, either

Okay one last bugbear of mine. We often hear “functional training” get mixed in with HIIT or some boot-camp style training. This kind of “functional training” is just circuit training, it’s not HIIT. I understand the popularity of classes and and I’m absolutely stoked that they get people moving. But as an exercise professional, at the basic level of science communication and professional standards, it pains me to hear people butcher both the term and usage of HIIT.

Bodyweight or light resistance circuits are not HIIT. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. By nature, HIIT requires a VO2 max above 90% (or 90% of max sprint speed). Resultantly, and due to the “intensity” of the intervals which should be of no surprise, “high”, requires long enough rest intervals to be able to sustain that intensity of effort. What irks me is that again, there’s marketing behind this method of being uniquely superior which is not based on sound reason or physiological principles. These programs do not build substantial amounts of muscle as the resistance is limited and recovery low. Moreover, they do not cause you to burn more fat on the basis of increasing your post oxygen exercise consumption to substantial amounts (the “afterburn”). Again, misleading marketing isn’t helping anyone [12], [13].

HIIT on the Rogue Echo Bike

What is functional training?

I would argue that what’s functional is really either:

a) training that is specific to your goals.

b) training that allows you to push the tasks you actually want to perform, better.

I would probably add that the training you perform should actually lead to an outcome. If you want to build muscle, don’t do aerobic-limited or endurance-limited circuits. If your goal is to increase your cardiovascular endurance, you actually need to challenge yourself, you can’t just lift weights even if it feels like you’re “getting puffed”.

In closing, there’s nothing wrong with resistance circuits for the movement benefits and enjoyment. Moreover, sedentary individuals with a low existing base of muscle mass may put on a small amount of muscle before plateauing but it isn’t a long term strategy.

I care about this topic as many people will be spinning their wheels after exercising for years and they are unsure as to why they aren’t making progress. Now, if we acknowledge that training is useful for a specific purpose and has its limitations then, people should ideally train for the correct reason in an appropriately allocated amount. The gym is where you can work on the “hardware” of your system and is nearly infinitely scalable to varying levels of experience; the sporting field or everyday activities is where we develop the “software” or skills required but may not have scalability as a feature.

Barbell Overhead Press

What do we do at Ivy Training?

Well we’d argue that our training is fit-for-purpose. We do cater to clients with very specific performance outcomes. Some compete in powerlifting, others are marathon runners, others are preparing for particular tests such as the Police Capacity Testing. In these instances, considering which movements and energy systems we train matter more.

For the overwhelming majority of individuals and many “off-season” athletes, the priorities of building muscle, physical resilience and strength will be covered with the basics [3].

To that end, we argue that strength training is completely fine and absolutely “functional”. Most compound exercises strike a reasonable middle ground between balance, range of motion, and overall systemic loading. This makes your time spent training reasonably efficient. Exercises such as squats, bench presses, deadlifts, dumbbell presses, lat pulldowns, leg presses and more are all sufficient for someone looking to get fitter, stronger and healthier.

Clients at Ivy Training

Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3578432/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18712944/
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341481917_Functional_training_a_conceptual_update
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17461391.2019.1612952?journalCode=tejs20
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15155427/
  6. https://europepmc.org/article/med/27879959
  7. https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200535010-00004
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33203156/
  9. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240015128
  10. https://breathe.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Strength-training-as-superior-dose-depen-2018.pdf
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6850677_The_Role_of_Instability_With_Resistance_Training
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30733142/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8294064/

How Rachael Lost Over 8kg in 18 Weeks

To accompany our ‘Why YOU are the Secret to Your Weight Loss blog post, Rachael Fisher recounts her recent experience with losing over 8kg.

At the end of August in 2021, I decided that I wanted to lose some weight. Sydney had recently entered the hardest lockdown we had seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I noticed that some poor eating habits were creeping in. These poor eating habits were mainly eating larger portion sizes than usual, and spending a bit too much time ordering Uber Eats.

After not weighing myself since 2020 (this is coming from someone who would typically step on the scales every morning), I clocked in at 75.7kg on 23 August 2021. This is around 10kg heavier than my usual weight,  and I was feeling less confident and comfortable with myself. At 168cm tall and a body weight of 75.7kg, my BMI was 26.9 which is categorically “overweight”. I knew that something had to change which would address at the core, expending more calories than I was at that point consuming.

If you’re interested in knowing your BMI, you can calculate it on the Heart Foundation’s website

Dietary Changes 

Lockdown can offer an opportunity or threat. With no end in sight, it became the perfect opportunity to buckle down and focus on losing weight (or more specifically, fat). Here’s why:

  • There were no social gatherings to attend.
  • Restaurants, pubs and bars were closed indefinitely.
  • We have a well-equipped home gym.
  • We have two beautiful French Bulldogs that we love walking daily.

To make things as easy as possible, I also made a conscious effort to tidy up my food environment. I subscribed to a weekly delivery of YouFoodz for dinner, and stocked up on plenty of nutritious snacks (like fruit!) and kept foods that I had been overindulging in (like tubs of Magnum Almond… my ultimate weakness) at the supermarket. 

I also downloaded an app called Carbon Diet Coach. I had used another food tracking app called MyFitnessPal for over 8 years and would adjust my own calories and macronutrients when needed, but was drawn to Carbon Diet Coach as the tracking feature is very similar to MyFitnessPal but it had the added bonus of auto-adjusting your calories and macronutrients based on your weekly “check-in”. This feature helped quantify the emotional component that comes with adjusting your own dietary intake, and made it a less subjective (and at times stressful) experience. Each Monday, I would “check-in” and add my body weight into the app, and mark whether I was compliant or not. To be compliant, I needed to be within 2.5% of my nutrition targets for the past week.

For some people, tracking your diet so diligently can seem like a tedious and sometimes unbearable task. For others (like myself), I enjoy the structure and the analysing the data. This is an example of the individual approach to losing weight and fat loss – different strategies work for different people.

Carbon Diet Coach

Training and Physical Activity

So, I was all sorted with the diet. Generally speaking, I don’t make any changes to my strength training sessions when I am losing weight. I also don’t train specifically to lose weight. I train to get stronger, improve my body composition (by gaining lean muscle mass) and stay healthy.

What I did change was increasing my step target to 10,000 each day on average (70,000 for the week) and added in two cardio sessions. The cardio sessions were about 30 minutes in duration, and consisted of high repetition isolated weight training, and some intervals or steady state cardio on the rower we had at home. 

Having these specific goals with my diet, training and body composition not only helped me get to my desired outcome, but it also made lockdown, dare I say it… enjoyable. These processes contributed to my fat loss, but more importantly, they also helped me stay on track even when my body weight would fluctuate. 

My week of training and exercise looked like:

The Process

Whilst my training and exercise didn’t drastically change over the course of 18 weeks, Carbon Diet Coach auto-adjusted my calorie and macronutrient intake 7 times. 

I started on 1755 calories per day, which was broken down into 170g carbohydrates, 55g fat and 145g protein. I initially lost more weight than expected in the first week, so my calories went up to 1929 calories by adding an extra 30g carbohydrates and 6g fat for the next fortnight. My weight loss plateaued shortly after that, and my intake dropped down to 1670 calories with 160g carbohydrates, 50g fat and 145g protein. I managed to see a decent rate of weight loss on those calories for 8 weeks. After the eighth week, my weight for the second time had dropped more than expected so my intake was adjusted up to 1746 calories with 170g carbohydrates, 54g fat and 145g protein. That lasted 4 weeks before my weight loss plateaued. To finish the year, I ended on 1482 calories with 131g carbohydrates, 42g fat and 145g protein.

I noticed a significant difference in my hunger levels for the last two weeks. What got me through was eating foods that were higher in volume and lower in calories to increase my satiety (like strawberries and salads) and increasing my water intake. I was also looking forward to taking some time off tracking my diet over Christmas, which was fast approaching.

Rachael preparing a salad

The Food Diary

In case you’re wondering what those calories and macronutrients look like in a day, I have added a video recording of my food diary when I was on 1746 calories per day in early December. When my calories and macronutrient targets dropped a few weeks later, I had to tweak my meals slightly. An example of this would be swapping the banana for strawberries, avoiding unnecessary fats like olive oil, and skipping the dessert or swapping it for a lighter alternative.

Breakfast: Two poached eggs with avocado and tomato on sourdough toast (plus a drizzle of oil).

Lunch: Pulled chicken sandwich with spinach, tomato and cheese (on sandwich thins, which is just a lower calorie/carbohydrate option compared to normal bread) with a Granny Smith apple.

Snack: Protein shake with a banana and a vanilla Chobani Fit.

Dinner: Roast pork and mash YouFoodz meal with a Skinny Cow ice cream cookie.

The Outcome

Over the course of 18 weeks, I dropped 8.3kg. That’s an average of 0.46kg per week. If you take a look at the graph below, you’ll notice that my weight loss was not linear week-to-week and I experienced my fair share of weight fluctuations. I will admit, it can be disheartening sometimes when you feel like you’re giving it your all and not reaping the benefits straight away but it’s important to trust the process and stay the course… you will get there in the end.

Body Weight and Calories over 18 Weeks

Whilst the scale is a good indicator of progress, it’s not the only indicator. These are some of the other benefits I noticed with losing weight:

  • I am feeling much more confident and comfortable. 
  • I lost 7cm from my waist.
  • My clothes are fitting better. 
  • My BMI dropped to 23.4 which put me back in the “normal” range. 
  • I am down two notches in my weightlifting belt.
  • I got stronger, specifically in my bench press (although this likely is not related to losing weight).
  • My resting heart rate is lower.

What Now?

Almost two months have passed, and I have managed to maintain my weight loss with an array of social events thrown into the mix – Christmas, New Year’s and a holiday up to Hamilton Island to name a few. Whilst I am feeling a LOT more confident (and my BMI is back into the “normal” range), I would still like to drop a few more kilos. So for the next short period of time, it’s back to tracking for me!

Rachael sitting in her kitchen

Why YOU are the Secret to Your Weight Loss

Weight loss isn’t simple. The old mantra “eat less and move more” [1] is not only unrealistic, it’s overly reductionist [7]. If we consider weight loss as a simple physical goal, we ignore the complex human behind the process. Furthermore, this reductionist approach fails to consider the environment, social and cultural landscape that the individual interacts with. This may present more or less opportunities for managing one’s health. All this is to say, that we may have less agency than we realise yet still there’s a pervasive weight loss stigma that only serves to worsen the issue for those struggling with being overweight and obese [10].

In Australia alone from 2017-18, an estimated 12.5 million Australian Adults, or 2 in 3 Australians were classified as overweight or obese [10]. Today, I want to briefly explore the complex topic of weight loss. I’d also like to provide you with some direction, if losing weight is something you should do and are ready for.

Let’s talk obesity

Obesity is a term used to describe an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation. This is a chronic disease state which results from an imbalanced interaction between hunger (appetite) and fullness (satiety). As a result, Individuals eat at a higher energy balance than normal which results in excess energy stored as fat. It causes a myriad of metabolic, biomechanical, and psychosocial health complications. This is a multifactorial issue as many of the inputs driving appetite and satiety are subconscious and influenced by psychological, environmental, biological, and social cues. Therefore, we can’t “will” ourselves to be less hungry or more disciplined, however we can consider which inputs are modifiable. Available treatment categories include lifestyle modification, medication, and surgery, escalated based on individual needs. 

Man stepping on weight scales