You’re Never Past It – Let These People Inspire You

Russian kettlebell maestro Sergey

Russian kettlebell maestro Sergey

Last week I had the honour of training with kettlebell world champion Sergery Rachinsky. He’s one of the strongest men in the world, holding multiple world records for strength and endurance such as his 100kg back squat for 180 reps.

His feats and mental toughness are mind-blowing on their own but one thing I found particularly inspiring was that he’s still smashing strength records at 42 years of age with plans for many more to come.

A has-been by 30?

About 10 years ago whilst working in a bank in England I remember a conversation with a colleague about fitness and exercise. I’d just started training and was really getting into it. I recall him holding his belly and telling me how it all goes downhill when you hit your late twenties. The weight just piles on, he told me. And besides, with a wife, kids and job there’s no time left to look after yourself. He basically said that he was on a steady decline towards ill health, powerless to do anything about it.

At the time I was concerned for my future and his words stuck with me.

Of course, I now realise that he was externalizing all his reasons for not looking after his health in an attempt to convince himself that his poor state was due to factors beyond his control. He felt better thinking that yeah, he was unfit and in bad shape, but what more could he do? It was all because of his age/job/kids/schedule etc.

Sadly, by relinquishing responsibility for his health he probably never did anything to change it.

The truth is, you can achieve incredible feats of fitness, strength, endurance and skill at any age.

I’m not talking about a 50-something who does a leisurely jog in the park twice a week – I mean elite athletes, world record holders or sportsmen and women dominating people their children’s or grandchildren’s age.

Here are some incredible stories of strength at all ages:

Herschel at 48

Herschel at 48

Not content with being a top NFL player and world class sprinter, Herschel Walker has gone on to become an MMA fighter into his 50s. Here he is fighting at 48. Seriously, scientists should study this guy.

Dara Torres was still beating records going into her 40s and at 45 she narrowly missed out on the 2012 Olympics by 0.32 seconds. Here she talks about her lifestyle.

In 2011, 54 year old George Hood set the world record for the longest plank hold at 1 hour 20 minutes. Not content with this, he smashed it 2 years later with an incredible 3 hours 7 minutes.

Canadian strongman Kevin Fast, 46, set the World record for pulling the heaviest object, a C-17 cargo plane. This is undeniably a cool record, but he outdid himself when he set the world record for most people lifted at once, with 22 girls on his back.

Kevin lifted 22 girls to set a world record
Kevin lifted 22 girls to set a world record

Just shy of her 50th birthday, tennis legend Martina Navratilova won a mixed doubles championship at the U.S. Open. This was an all-age full event, not a masters.

Sportsmen who didn’t just compete, but played in the top flight of their sport during their 40s: Jeff Carney, NFL player aged 45, Teddy Sheringham and Brad Friedel, football players in the English Premiership aged 40 and 42 respectively. Dikembe Mutombo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two NBA legends who played at the highest level until they were 42.

On a personal level, my uncle serves as a great inspiration to me. He’s 53 and in great shape, runs a few marathons a year ranking high in his age group, goes rock climbing every week (he outclimbed me when I tried it) and often beats me at tennis. He fits in all this training and competing while running his own company.

This guy ran a 3:15 marathon at 80 and smashed my 5km target time by almost a minute #noexcuses

This guy ran a 3:15 marathon at 80 and smashed my 5km target time by almost a minute #noexcuses

I’ve had many friends who’ve run marathons. Most go for sub 4:30 hours, or perhaps 4:00. Occasionally I have a very fit and active friend who trains hard and goes for sub-3:30. Ed Whitlock recorded a time of 3:15:53… at age 80 (no typo, that’s eighty), a respectable time for a man his great-grandson’s age.

Fauja Singh was running marathons at 100 years old. He finally hung up his running shoes aged 101, with a 10km race in Hong Kong. He ran for premature babies charities, being billed as ‘the oldest running for the youngest’ – what a beautiful and inspiring goal!

Olga Kotelko is a 92 year old athlete competing in numerous track and field events, such as high jump, long jump, javelin, shot put and sprints. She holds 23 world records and 17 records in her age category. She told the NY Times that she has more energy now than when she was 50.

Olga at 91

Olga at 91

The World Masters Athletics records page is a huge inspiration to me not only as I age, but also now. I set some 2013 running goals of a 20 minute 5km time and a sub-1 minute 400m time. I was a little embarrased to discover that the oldest person to record a sub 1:00 400m was 74 years old. Our marathon running friend Ed Whitlock (pictured above) hit a 19:07 5km time aged 75, a time I would be massively proud of.

Equally impressive are the 100m world record times. Some inactive guys my age would struggle to hit a 17.5 second 100m time. A time of 17.53 was recorded by Frederico Fischer when he was 90 years old. 90 goddamn years! Please record your 100m sprint time, and if it’s not as fast as Freddy then let it be the biggest wake up call of your life.

I’ll leave you with this video from the Veterans Athletics Championships in the over-95 category. Seeing Emiel power through like Usain Bolt in lane 4 brought a tear to my eye. I sincerely hope that’s me in 65 years time.

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14 common gym mistakes

Training in the correct way can be confusing at first

You’d think that anyone who takes the time to train would like their time to be effectively spent and to get the best results possible. However, many gym-goers make mistakes that can render workouts ineffective, hinder progress or even cause injury.

Of course, anyone new to training or a gym environment will be unsure of what to do, but it’s not uncommon for people who’ve been training for years to make errors.

Below are some of the more common workout mistakes. If you’re new to training or the gym environment the points below will provide a good foundation for a solid and productive workout. If you’ve been training for years you might learn something new, too!

There’s quite a lot to take in here if you’re new to training but the points below should provide a good foundation for progress. If you’re stuck or have any queries please feel free to contact me. If you’re not sure about any of the terms used in this article, please refer to our glossary of fitness terms.

Too much time between sets

People often start daydreaming and take too much time between sets which means they’re not working their muscles hard enough and they’re stretching what could be an effective 30 minute workout into a less-effective 1 hour workout. You especially see this when groups of people are training together and have 5 minute chats between sets.

Giving yourself a set amount of rest time between sets, 1 minute for example, gives your workout structure, keeps your training time down, increases effectiveness and keeps your training consistent between sessions.

If you’re doing 15+ reps (for muscle endurance) then you should take a rest of 30 seconds – 1 minute between sets. 8-12 reps (muscle hypertrophy) should be about 1-2 minutes and for 1-6 reps (muscle strength) about 2-4 minutes.

If you reduce the amount of rest time between your sets, your workout will be harder and more intense. I personally time 1 minute between sets of 8-10 reps.

Lifting excessively heavy weight

This is one you’re guaranteed to see in any gym – guys throwing massive weights around with terrible form as quick as they can. Whether it’s through ignorance or just to show off, lifting weights too heavy for you is counter-productive and dangerous. Build your weight up slowly and focus on avoiding our next common mistake, which is…

Poor Technique

A classic example of an exercise that’s commonly executed with poor technique is the lat pulldown, with guys leaning back and jerking the weight towards them using the momentum. It’s this kind of movement which means the rights muscles aren’t worked and the risk of injury is increased.

A bicep curl performed correctly - many people lean back and lift the elbows which is counter-productive and can be dangerous

My advice would be to put pride to one side and rather than increasing the weight you’re lifting try slowing down the movement to 2 seconds up/out, 2 seconds down/in. Concentrate on good form so that the muscles that are supposed to be working are powering the move. For example, in a bicep curl ensure it’s the bicep that is lifting the weight and it’s only your forearms moving, rather than leaning back and lifting the elbows up or out for extra help. If you’re doing all this and still able to lift the weight in your desired rep range (for me, 8-10 reps), it’s time to progress and up the weight!

Lifting too little weight

You more commonly see this from women who are scared about bulking up and becoming too big, a common misconception. Check out our article on this… but this point is also aimed at anyone who’s not pushing themselves hard enough. To progress and reach your fitness goals you need to push your body beyond what it can comfortably do.

Working out too long

You often hear guys boasting of a 2 hour weight workout in the gym. This simply means they haven’t been pushing themselves hard enough and have probably been watching the gym TV or chatting to their mates between sets. If you follow the above advice by pushing yourself and keeping time between activity to a minimum, a weight training session should not go beyond an hour. If you work hard and are clever you can squeeze a solid chest or arms workout into 20 minutes, which will come as a relief to people who have busy lifestyles or don’t like spending too much time in the gym!

Overtraining, not taking a break

If you work a muscle group to absolute fatigue then it will take about a week before you can effectively work these muscles again. It’s during this week that your muscles are growing stronger and bigger so to train them hard again during this period can stunt growth and be counter productive. Training too often risks Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) which can cause injury, a weakened immune system, tiredness or general fatigue. This doesn’t mean you can only train once a week, but it means you have to structure your training so that your body is getting adequate rest, for example, by splitting your training into different body parts on different days, or by mixing up your types of training.

If you’ve been working out constantly for months without a break, try having a week off with some stretching and healthy eating. You might find that you’ll feel better, more motivated and you can break through your training plateaus on your return.

Just working chest and biceps and neglecting legs and core

Some newcomers to the gym think that being in good shape means having a big chest and biceps. In reality, this leads to an unbalanced look that pulls your posture out of a healthy and natural alignment. Each muscle has an opposite muscle that has to be worked equally, so as you build your chest muscles you must also build and strengthen your back muscles. Not doing this results in your shoulders being pulled forward and so poor posture and strain on the spine, which isn’t good.

Of course, overly focusing on some areas means neglecting others. I’d say most guys rarely work legs, which can lead to ‘Chicken Leg Syndrome’ – having a developed upper body but tiny legs that are out of proportion.

This learning point can be summarised by saying that workouts should be balanced. Whether you’re training for vanity or health there’s no excuse for not balancing out your workout to cover all areas. If you train purely for vanity (and there’s nothing wrong with that) you will look much stronger, healthier and ultimately more attractive if you’re well proportioned. Most people will think you look ridiculous if you have huge biceps but small legs so if you’re training to look good it pretty much defeats the point. If you’re training for health, then having a strong balanced body will help prevent injuries, back pain and will make you a more functional and all-round healthy person!

Always doing the same workout

Some people don’t like change, and so stick to the same workout that they know and love for years on end. By not mixing up your workout your body will get used to working in a certain way and so it will cease to develop and progress. Your muscles need to be ‘shocked’ by hitting them in different ways, so if you find you’ve hit a plateau and you’re not improving then it’s time to try something new. A few ways to mix things up can be: changing your grip, using free weights or cables instead of machines or by using some more advanced methods such as dropsets. It’s generally advised that you vary your routine at least once every 4-6 weeks, but I would encourage more often than this.

Too many isolation exercises

Some guidance when you start can really help

Compound exercises which work more than one muscle group should make up the bulk of your workout. Some people focus on too many isolation exercises which only work one muscle and joint, for example a bicep curl which just works the bicep. By doing more compound exercises (such as a squat which works quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, calves, abductors and abdominals) you’re training your body’s muscles to work well together which is conducive to good growth and development. Isolation exercises do have their place, but you should do compound exercises at the start of a workout before moving onto isolation work.

Not warming/cooling down and not stretching

Another common mistake that many people are aware of but neglect anyway. By warming up the body first by some pulse raising activity and dynamic stretching you’re less likely to injure yourself and your body will be more prepared for the hard work ahead. Cooling down afterwards is also important to bring your heart rate down slowly which prevents blood pooling.

Stretching your muscles after they’ve been working hard is very important for a variety of reasons. Not many people enjoy it but stretching improves flexibility and posture, increases your range of movement which in turn improves sporting performance and day-to-day functionality, reduces muscle soreness and fatigue, aids recovery, decreases your chance of injury and increases definition in your muscles. If one or all of these things are important to you then you need to introduce stretching into your program.

Holding your breath

You should breath out in the positive phase of an exercise (pushing/pulling the weight) and breath in during the negative phase (lowering the weight). There is a tendency amongst newcomers to hold their breath which increases blood pressure and can cause fainting.

Trying to spot reduce certain areas

You cannot work out to reduce weight in a certain area, such as abs or hips. Put another way, doing loads of crunches and ab work alone will not give you a six-pack; a good diet and regular aerobic exercise need to be incorporated into your routine for best results and an overall toned and defined physique.

Not drinking enough water

If you feel thirsty then you’re already dehydrated. Keep well hydrated during your training and you’ll be able to work at optimal levels. Stay well hydrated by drinking 2-3 cups of water in the two hours preceding exercise and roughly a cup of water every 15 minutes during exercise. Hydrate yourself with water or low-sugar sports drinks (less than 8g carbohydrates per 100ml).

Leaving weights out, gym etiquette

This is a personal pet hate of mine and you see this from people who’ve been training for decades. When you’ve finished using your weights or equipment, put it back in its rack. When you’ve finished with a barbell, take the weights off the bar as the next person using it may be unable to do so. Leaving weights lying around is dangerous as other people can trip over them, and it shows no respect for other people or for the gym. Don’t be that person.

Fun, efficient and effective Bangkok workouts – summary

A 20 minute workout done right can be far more effective than a 60 minute workout done poorly. There may seem like a lot to take in here but by following these principles your workouts will be more efficient and effective, and after a while you will habitually and automatically apply them to your training.

I hope this article has helped you and please feel free to contact me if you have any queries about training.

Have fun!

Why weight training for women will NOT lead to excessive bulk and size

One of the main objections I hear for women not wanting to weight train is the fear of waking up one morning to find they look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in drag.

This is one of the most misguided myths regarding weight training and means that many women are missing out on the massive benefits that resistance training brings.

The main reason that women won’t pack on the muscle is because of the lack of hormones that are needed for large muscle growth. Women have on average 10-20 times less of the hormones that are conducive to muscle growth, such as testosterone.

One reason for this common misconception is the bronzed and oiled young ladies that you see on the covers of bodybuilding mags, such as the three pictured below. The reason for their Gladiator-esque physiques are:

  1. They train many hours a day and are professional bodybuilders, pushing themselves extremely hard to overload their muscles in a way that someone who trains normal amounts cannot do
  2. They are often use performance enhancing drugs, such as steroids, which raise the levels of these muscle-producing hormones to unnatural levels
  3. They eat huge amounts of the foods and supplements that are designed for bodybuilders and muscle growth

      

What weight training and muscle strength brings is NOT huge muscles, but the ‘tone’ that is so commonly desired – and with “I want to tone up” being one of the primary goals for almost anyone that trains you cannot afford to neglect this essential part of working out.

So, don’t be scared to push those weights HARD – you will not wake up one morning, look in the mirror and think ‘Jesus, I’m huge!’

Now that we’ve touched on the reasons you won’t end up looking like Rocky’s sparring partner, lets look at the massive benefits that pumping iron brings (in order of how important it is to the average female gym-goer):

1. You will gain muscle and boost metabolism

Building and maintaining lean muscle requires energy, so after resistance training your body will be burning MORE calories when you’ve finished exercising and you’ve collapsed on the sofa, or you’re asleep in bed. 1lb of lean muscle burns around 50 calories more per day, which really adds up.

2. You will become stronger without bulking

We’ve already explained why you won’t become huge, but you will become stronger which lessens the chance of injuries and strains, increases sport performance, increases vitality etc, with the added bonus of body tone and improved body shape!

3. It increases bone strength and density

Resistance and weight training stimulates osteoblast activity in the bones which builds strong and healthy bones and spine. Women are at an increased risk of osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) as they get older, so this is especially important if you want to grow old with grace, strength and independence.

4. Posture improvement and heightened attractiveness

If the muscles in the body are strong and flexible then they will give more support to the skeleton and your posture will be improved. This improved posture, body tone and shape, strong skeleton and lessened chance of disease will give you an overall ‘glow’ that will make you more attractive to the opposite sex. A bold claim, you might think, but very true.

6. Reduced risk of many diseases and ailments

The list of diseases and injuries you’re less likely to get is huge. In addition to a reduced risk of getting heart disease or diabetes, a stronger body will make back pain far less likely to have trouble from lower back pain, recent studies showing an 80% success rate in elimination. Stronger joints and bones reduce other strains and pains in the body that are brought on from inactivity.

7. It will improve your self-confidence, fights depression and adds to an overall feeling of wellbeing

Adding weights to your program will make you feel confident, healthy and happier. A Harvard study even found that 10 weeks of strength training for women was far more effective than standard counselling or drugs.

8. It’s never too late to start!

Women in their 70s+ can feel the benefits of light weight training. You’re never too old.

   

I’ll leave you with this: another study from from the YMCA in America has shown that the average woman in their first 2 months of strength training will:

LOSE 3.5lb of body fat and GAIN 2lb of muscle  =  less body fat %, more toned body, weight loss & higher metabolism

Hopefully these numerous benefits will be enough to inspire you and motivate you to include weight training as part of your program.

Good luck!