Q and A: September

Q. What are the 3 biggest training mistakes you see in the gym.

A. 1. Progression – lack of it.

Those who have read my article ‘Are you working intensely enough will have an idea of what I am talking about. People often think that just because a gym instructor has written them a program, they expect that they’ll lose fat / gain muscle etc. if they do that program and no more. This should be a starting point. Week upon week or even workout to workout you should be striving to get that extra rep, moving more weight, or cutting your rest periods. (Thus doing the same amount of work in less time, or more work per unit of time).

A program is only as good as the time it takes your body to adapt. This means that if you do exactly the same number of reps for the same number of sets in the same amount of time, then your body will*; Lose fat / gain muscle at first (if its challenging); But will stop losing fat / gaining muscle when it becomes too easy. Therefore, progression is crucial.

* Diet factors remaining consistent in an effective structure

Therefore, you should always have a pen and paper with you when you work out, monitoring sets, reps, resistance and cardio levels (unless you are hitting all your maximums and the rest period is the training variable). If you’re working out with someone and you aren’t recording this information – your partner or personal trainer should be. It is only when you stop progressing that you should think about switching exercise programs.

2. Not using big compound movements.

Let’s simplify these 2 types of movement; An isoloation movement targets a specific muscle and involves one major joint. An example could be a Bicep Curl, as it targets the Biceps and the elbow is the joint involved. A compound movement works several muscles at once and involves more than one joint. An example of this could be a squat; It targets the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, and Calves – and the joints involved are the Hip, Knee and Ankle Joints.

The advantage of using compound movements are many;

You can use more resistance as you are using more muscle mass to execute the movement. Which do you think would be more effective at burning calories and causing short-term micro-tears in the muscles – a 20kg Bicep Curl, a 50kg Barbell Row or a bodyweight chin-up? Likewise, when the goal is strength/size or both, which movement is going to stimulate the most muscle?


Admittedly, isoloation movements have their place, but they should not be over-emphasised at the expense of more important exercises. Most exercisers go to the gym 2-3 times per week, and at that frequency – compound movements win when we want to prioritize and use our time effectively.

3. Third is probably that people tend to do too much aerobic exercise. Don’t misunderstand me(!), Cardio has its place, but for long-term success – long-duration cardio should have a lower priority than resistance training. This is because our bodies can burn muscle instead of fat – which is why overall body weight is not a good indicator of progress. People are more often than not, getting too much cardio exercise and not getting enough resistance training in their schedule. Step in a commercial gym on a monday night and you’ll see the cardio section jam-packed with people, many of which aren’t doing any resistance work at all!

People feel that they need to work up a sweat on the cario machines to be doing any good. Many people do not realise you can do cardio with weights!! This will not only burn calories, but it will urge your body to keep its fat-free mass (lean muscle tissue), thus keeping your metabolism high – burning calories when you are doing nothing! Bodypump is a good (but not ideal) example of this, keeping rest intervals short, but utilising weights as its mode for work which is preferable to say, this:

Bear in mind that I’m not saying that low intensity work should be avoided – but it should be less of a priority than high intensity exercise.

Q. I’ve seen people training on fitballs – what are your views on this?

A. The biggest problem I see with fitballs (or swiss ball) is that the trainee/client has to significantly reduce the load involved, and the ‘gimmick’ factor.

People fail to realise that weights are vital to losing fat as they make the body hold onto muscle and burn fat as its fuel for exercise. The weights need to be heavy enough to cause this adaptation, and light enough as to not cause injury. If the weights involved are extremely light, then this may as well qualify as very low-intensity cardio!

When using a fitball, say in a dumbell chest press, you may have to reduce the load by as much as 50% depending on balance, starting strength and bodyweight. Critics will argue that it recruits more stabilizers which is debatable, but you have to look at the bigger picture: You are not going to cause significant micro tears in the muscles to either a) grow larger or b) cause energy to be used repairing these muscles (which is beneficial to fat loss).

Secondly, I see trainers that recommend that the swiss ball is ‘the best way to get a six-pack’.

Heres the best exercise for a six-pack: ‘The Plate Push’… Push that plate of french fries away from your mouth!

The swiss ball is simply another tool in a toolbox to ‘change up,’ introduce variety or add instability to an exercise, or it can be used when people find the floor uncomfortable. As long as it is challenging, and the individual is doing the exercise safely, then it is beneficial. When bodyweight crunches get too easy (i.e. you can do more than 15-20 slow and controlled easily, then you need to add weight to those crunches!) The swiss ball has become a bit of a gimmick when trainers start pushing these exercises, when missing essential lifts like squats, presses and pulls. The same can be said for Bosu’s and stability disks. They can be beneficial as a stabilty TOOL, but the more they are used instead of the essentials, you are going to see results in terms of fat loss stagnate – or even deteriorate.

Q. I lead a pretty stressful life. Do you have any tips that can reduce my stress levels?

A. Stress is inevitable in todays world. Interestingly in 2006/7, 13.8 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression (http://www.stress-ip.co.uk/FactsandFigures.htm). The average 7yr old child has probably already seen thousands of televison adverts. We have to filter all of this out and get done what we need to get done… and quicker than in the past. Excess Cortisol is the main stress hormone (coupled with adrenaline), and can lead to lack of quality sleep, and this can cause disturbances within the body. One of the best tips is to discharge all of the possible magnetic fields in the area where you sleep. This means turning off all things electrical: clocks, TV’s, mobile phones etc. Then make the room as dark as possible, like a cave. Get thick felt curtains, disable the landing light – whatever you have to do.

Secondly, Time management is key. A paper and pen can go a long way, but there are effective methods to get more done in less time = leaving you more time to relax – or more time to do what you need to do.

Q. I’m really into my fitness and have recently completed a Personal Trainer course – is there any advice you can give me to help me succeed?

A. First off, congratulations on wanting to help others change their bodies for the better, and get healthier all-round.

I have a handful of tips:

1. You are your own best business card. People will simply not come to you if you are overweight, out-of-shape, and do not train properly or frequently enough. Similarly, you should not be so weak that you cannot fight your way out of a wet paper bag. Ask yourself this: Would you pay a significant amount of money and time for someone to tell you what to do, when they can’t get it to work for themselves?

If your rear looks like this – people probably aren’t going to want your advice on fat loss

2. Practice what you preach. If you have certain ‘rules’ that you state – stand by them. For example, if you tell clients to do a movement a particular way – don’t be seen training differently – unless its backed up by a reason (for example, individual circumstances such as injury, different training goal etc). Do not be a hypocrite.

3. Back up your advice. State WHY the client should do this workout; with these exercises; for this many reps; and this many sets. I hate it when I see trainers jumping clients from one exercise to another with no purpose at all. Also, Remember this (in contrast to rule 1), A trainer can look good but might not be able to coach clients properly. You are not there for clients every hour of the day, so you need to get them prepared to face the gym and the world on their own.

Jay Cutler may be able to lift heavy things – but he may not necessarily be the one to get your bad habits to change

4. Continually strive to learn all you can keep up to date. Strength, nutrition, and the whole exercise field is constantly changing. New research is being done all the time, so always keep up your education: Attending seminars from top coaches, reading books, recent research papers etc.

A lot of what was found 40 years ago is becoming obsolete, and many experiments have various flaws such as training effects, sample sizes, sample populations, diet controls etc etc. For every experiment that happens, the media will sensationalise a part of this – without looking at the study as a whole. Keep up-to-date and don’t get left behind!



John Cammish (B.S.C) is a local East Yorkshire Fitness Bootcamp Instructor and real-world fat loss expert. He has helped countless individuals change their lives through postive habits with a focus on tried and tested methods. For more details about Personal Training, Fitness Bootcamps, Free Articles and more – check his website (www.yournextlevelfitness.co.uk) and his Bootcamp Blog (blog.yournextlevelfitness.co.uk).






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