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Exercise Myth: Squat On Your Heels

It is often advised by physical trainers to stay on your heels when squatting, making sure we push through our heels throughout and even be able to wiggle our toes off the floor at all times. Exercise Myth: Back Squat on Heels

However, if we think about it, this is not really logical and is counter to what is recommended in most other areas of training. So let's look at the reasons behind why people think we should stay on our heels.

To stay balanced is often given as the main reason. However, in almost all other areas of balance training we are told to stay on the balls of our feet. If you squat naturally with no weight, you can squat lower and more balanced if you are on the balls of your feet. If you try to squat on your heels you will most likely fall backwards unless you lean forward with your arms and curve your back.

The reason why people think you should stay on your heels is because when we use a barbell weight, our centre of gravity is much higher. If our stance is too narrow, we cannot squat down without moving our hips backwards, or the weight will move forwards too much as we bend at the hips and we will fall forwards.

Staying on our heels is meant to prevent this, but it is not the cause of the problem, even if it may offer a fix. However, is counter intuitive. Putting a weight on our backs moves our centre of gravity further backwards. If you stand normally, and then put a heavy barbell on your shoulders, you will see yourself naturally move the hips back bend forwards to keep the weight over your feet.

If we then try and move the centre of gravity towards our heels and move our hips back even further as we squat down, we then have flex our forwards even more to counter balance, increasing further the strain on our lower back.

If we stay on the balls of our feet, it moves our centre of gravity further forwards and enables us to keep a more vertical trunk when we squat down, reducing back strain.

Being on the balls of our feet as we squat also gives us much more control and is much closer to natural moment. Back Squat on Balls of Feet Gives More Control

When we are on our heels, the stabilising adjustments of the ankles is reduced, making us less stable. We are also not using our toes, which help us keep our balance by gripping and making small adjustments.

If we think about a normal pushing action with the legs, our ankles and toes play a crucial part. When we push off the ground our calves contract to flex the ankle and our toes grip and push off the floor.

Staying on our heels results in almost no calf contraction and completely removes the role of the toes in the pushing motion.

This makes the squat mechanically unrelated to the natural running or jumping action, for which the squat exercise is meant to be a primary developer.

Staying on the heels is often recommended to reduce the force and strain paced on the knees. The main stress of this is suggested to occur when the knees move forward and are at the most flexed, especially if the knees come over the front of the toes.

Although there is more stress on the knees when in a flexed position under load, as you would expect, there is no evidence that this is dangerous and our knees cannot cope with the strain, and is certainly less of an injury risk than a quad extension machine.

The only problem here maybe if the ankle has low mobility and cannot flex properly, or if there is an existing injury or risk to the knees., but in both cases heavy loads should not be used anyway until the problem is fixed.

It may even be the case that the knees are more at risk if staying on our heels, because we remove the ankle stabilisation actions and more stability work is having to be done by the knee joint, which should be a secondary stabiliser.

It's also the case that the difference in forward knee position during the squat is negligible between the balls of the feet and the heels. If you test this with a weighted squat on your heels, and then shift forward slightly so the control is on the balls of your feet instead, you'll see that the adjustment is minor but the control is much greater.

What is important is getting the stance and hip movement correct, with correct upper body position. If this is not correct, then squatting at all can be risky, especially with high weights.

It is far better to use low weights so you can do a deep squat controlled on the balls of your feet correctly, and then build up the weight while keeping control, than trying to stay on your heels to correct other technical problems.

This will result in a much more effective, more functionally accurate exercise for better performance.

Functional Strength Training v Muscular Strength Training (FST v MST)

At TFB.com we strongly advocate a focus on Functional Strength Training above Muscular Strength Training, but what is the difference and why do we take this view?

Both FST and MST develop the strength of muscles in the body, so there are naturally a number of similarities between them. However, there is a difference in outcomes; a difference in why you are training, the changes it will make to the body and how they relate to performance.

Muscular Strength Training focuses on the strength and size development of muscles first, with the functional movement development of secondary importance. Strength training is generally done for aesthetic purposes, with a desire to shape and sculpt the body by focusing on a specific muscle group, such as the chest or biceps.

While this may be of benefit for body building and body sculpting, it is usually not as effective for athletic performance, and can even cause problems.

Muscles are designed to perform a range of Movement Functions by working in conjunction with other muscles. No muscle in the body works in isolation and very few perform just one Movement Function.

The main problem with Muscular Strength Training is that it tends to isolate a part of the muscle group from other muscles that it is designed to work with, and restricts the range of Movement Functions it is designed to perform.

This is because there is an optimal contraction position for a muscle group, such as the Medial Deltoid, and concentrating on this restricted Movement Function maximises growth stimulation of that muscle group.

However, this isolation of muscle groups in this way increases the risk of developing muscular imbalances, which can be a severe impairment to performance, as well as increase risk of injury.

Focus on the strength and size development of muscles only also tends to lead to other areas of fitness being neglected, such as flexibility, balance, cardiovascular fitness and technique.

Functional Strength Training places the emphasis on the Movement Functions of the body and how the muscles work together to perform them. Muscular Strength is developed in order to improve our ability to perform the full range of movements of the body with increasing resistance and at greater speed, with training isolations relevant to sport-specific Movement Functions, rather than muscular isolation as a priority.

This approach has a number of benefits. Firstly, it results in a more holistic training programme, ensuring that all aspects of movement are developed and improved. Muscles are developed together in combinations that were designed to produce movement , so that the correct strength balance between muscles is maintained and that muscles are effectively recruited when needed.

FST also helps improve speed and efficiency of muscular contraction by focusing on the speed and efficiency of movements of the body. From a sport performance perspective, this is critical if we are to be at our best.

By focusing on FST, the muscles, tendons, joints and other support structures are developed to cope with the stresses and strains they will be placed under through their full range of motions, helping to reduce the risk of injury.

In short, the muscular systems of the body are designed to move us as efficiently and as quickly as possible in a range of Movement Functions, and Functional Strength Training is more closely related to developing this natural movement, rather than the isolation principles of Muscular Strength Training.

Psychological and Social Importance of Eating

When we think about food and nutrition, and how we can control it better, we tend to focus mainly on eating foods that are healthy, having just the right amount of nutrients, counting and controlling calories. At times it becomes almost mathematical; if I put in x, I will get out y.

However, for most of us, our relationship with food is much more complex than simply eating what we need to survive, be healthy and fuel our exercise requirements. Integral to our food choices and when we eat are a range of Psychological and Social influences that we are often not aware of, but we must try and understand if we are to have greater control over what we eat.

Food has a very powerful sensory stimulating effect on the body, feeding the brain a wide range of chemicals, hormones and other substances that often have a profound impact on our state of mind.

Comfort eating is not simply a phrase. The calming effects we feel when we eat our favourite foods are the result of some of these very real stimulations in the brain. It is not surprising that we often reach for food when we are going through periods of distress, unhappiness, tiredness or mental fatigue, loneliness and many other ranges of emotion. Often these periods of when we feel 'down' are in themselves the result of a chemical or hormonal change in the body, and eating food can often counteract these changes and help us feel better, at least in the short term. However, this can become less effective over time, so we need more food to have the same effect, which can lead to the more extreme cases of food addictions and related conditions.

Perhaps strangely, we also find use food in opposite situations, and sometimes even the same foods. When we are feeling very happy, have a high sense of enjoyment, we will often think of our favourite food and want to eat it to enhance these positive feelings even further.

These thoughts and associations we have between food and emotional states is developed through childhood. As we grow, we will develop our own choices of food that gradually become associated with different psychological states, but also the people around us while we grow up have a profound effect on our relationship with food in this area.

Parents and adults will regularly give food to comfort a child if they are hurt, or give food as a reward for good behaviour or performance, as treats and special occasions. This gives us a very strong association between specific foods and emotional states that can stay with us throughout our lives, and that we continue to develop through adulthood.

These developments have a very strong Social Importance as well as a psychological effect. Eating and drinking is a vital and integral part of social cohesion in almost all modern day societies and throughout our history, so it must be understood if we are to have a better relationship with our food.

The family meal is perhaps the most obvious, and it is our family that develops our first social experiences with food. From the very start, when we are fed by our mothers after birth, a strong social bond starts form revolving round food. This social connection grows stronger as we grow, with significant influences from our parents and siblings, as we interact socially in this way on a daily basis.

This is why it is perhaps no surprise that one of the methods most commonly used by children to make friends as the grow up is by using food. The buying and sharing of food between children is one of the most powerful ways of creating bonds of friendship, as it is the easiest and simplest way for them to have shared experiences that they can all quickly understand.

We continue with this into adulthood. The business lunches, drinks down the pup, dinner dates, food at parties, evenings at a restaurant, all these and countless more are vital for enhancing our social interactions. Food is central because it is a common experience that everyone can share in, and binds the people involved together throughout the experience. It helps those involved have a sense of inclusion, a sense of belonging, and indicates to the others a feeling of trust and friendship.

So what does this mean for our food choices?

When we are at home, preparing food just for ourselves, eating foods to get the nutrients we need and to fuel our exercise, we have a very clear purpose for the food we are eating and a great deal of control over what we are going to eat. However, we cannot always eat in isolation and it would be very boring if we did, and we should not try to remove the psychological impact of eating either.

By understanding how the food we eat affects our psychological state, we can better control ourselves when it is having a negative effect, and use it more to create a positive psychological influence. If we know that we reach for the cheesecake when we are feeling sad, it is easier to anticipate and resist it when we are. If we enhance our associations between good, healthy foods that we should be eating and positive psychological states, we are more likely to maintain our healthy eating goals.

When we eat with others, however, we have less control over what we eat. Everyone has different likes and dislikes, so it is not always possible for everyone in a group that is eating together to eat only what they want to eat, particularly when eating together as a family at home when usually only one meal is cooked.

For most of us, our shared eating experiences are usually with a relatively small range of people; the family at home, certain business colleagues at work, a handful of friends. As much as possible, encourage those that you regularly share meals with to eat healthy foods also. This will make it much easier for you to maintain good eating habits.

However, it is important not to make anyone feel excluded, including yourself. The social interaction is of great importance, and so often people will choose to eat something they don't want to to fit in with the group. When eating together, particularly as a family, try and include everyone as much as possible by giving and encouraging them to eat healthy foods that they like. If going out for a meal with friends, try to select somewhere that will offer a range of options that will provide healthy food options for everyone in the group.

Usually, it is the socialising that is most important to the group, but often the type of food or drink has significant importance, and have strong perceptions attached. The association between meat and masculinity is a common one, and the idea of a man eating vegetables or salad dismissed, usually by the individual.

These feelings of belonging and identity can be very strong for the individual, and can often lead to peer pressure on you and others to eat foods that you don't like or are unhealthy. Where possible, try and change these views and gain an acceptance for your preferences. You will find that most people will want to accommodate your wishes.

However, the most effective areas of our healthy eating our in our control most of the time, even when we eat in groups. If we are making good, healthy choices that also meet our exercise needs most of the time, the odd meal out with friends or a lunch with the boss is going to have very little impact on our health, and we can enjoy and maximise the social aspects of our eating without having to worry too much about the impact it will have on our health.

Single or Double Arm Workouts?

Often you will hear Personal Trainers recommending single arm exercises over double arm exercises, while some will recommend the opposite, that using both arms together in an exercise is more effective at improving strength. Are Single or Double Arm Exercises Better?

So which one is better?

Using one arm or both arms together for an exercise each has its own pros and cons, so it will depend on your objectives, and both single and double arm exercises should be incorporated into your workout routines.

Single Arm exercises are often said to be better for joint strength and stabilisation, and this is generally true, particularly for the shoulder and shoulder girdle joints and supporting soft tissues. This is because the shoulder joint has a wide range of planes of motion that it can move through, and the shoulder joint must work harder to keep the arm moving in-line through the right plane of motion for the desired exercise if it doesn't have the support of the other arm in keeping the motion in-line.

Single arm exercises are also generally better at making sure muscle strength is developed equally for both arms. In most people, the strength of a muscle in the right arm is not equal to that of the right arm, particularly compared to the legs where the balance between left and right is more equal. While doing double arm exercises, the dominant arm can often be working harder than the weaker arm and these strength imbalances can end up being increased.

Exercising each arm individually you can ensure that both arms are working equally hard by performing the same exercises at the same weight load and number of repetitions, and monitor how each one is fatiguing relative to the other, much harder to do when doing double arm exercises. Single arm exercises also tend to allow for more complicated movements, as double arm exercises generally fix both hands in the same position relative to each other, particularly when using a barbell or something similar.

However, double arm exercises do have many advantages also.

Single arm exercises generally are less centred, and pull the body more to the left or right depending on which arm is being used. This is one of the reasons why they require more stabilisation muscles to be working. However, this can place large amounts of compensatory strain on other parts of the body, particularly when using large loads, which can cause pain and injury over time.

Double arm exercises , though, are more centred and more stable, reducing the risk of strain in unwanted areas and reducing the risk of injury when using large loads.

As mentioned already, using double arm exercises will also be easier to keep the exercise in the desired range of motions. This has two benefits. Firstly, it is easier to isolate a particular motion plane, allowing for increased loads relative to single arm exercises . Secondly, the load being lifted is less likely to move off the plan of motion and pull the arm in an unwanted position that can increase risk of injury. It is therefore better when working at higher percentage 1RM to use double arm exercises if our stability strength is underdeveloped, or we have a related injury.

Compared to our legs, our arms have less natural stability because our shoulders have a much wider range of motion and much less supporting muscle than our hip joints. Our legs, therefore, have much more support to keep them working in line with the desired range of motions one working independently than our arms.

It is also the case that in natural, day-to-day tasks, we use both arms a lot more than pushing with both legs together, especially at high loads. Indeed, when we push or pull something heavy, such as lifting a heavy box our of the car, we tend to use both arms but will sill be pushing with our legs more independently as we walk.

It perhaps, therefore, is more reflective of natural usage to do more double arm exercises and single leg exercises for high loads, but usually people do the opposite, with large amounts of dumbbell exercises for arms and mainly squats and leg presses for legs.

While it is certainly beneficial to do single arm exercises for increased stabilisation work, double arm exercises should be a major part of your routine, particularly pull ups/pull downs and bench press type exercises.

For the legs, try incorporating lunges, single leg presses, hop jumps and other single leg exercises to improve your functional strength.

Individualism Within Team Sports

The idea that 'The Team' is of primary importance and overrides the needs, interests and desires of the individuals within it is a common ethos and philosophy within many sports, with mantras such as 'No I In Team' now recited repeatedly to emphasise the point.

However, this is a largely mistaken view. In fact, it is the individuals within a team that must be focused on if a team is to be successful.

A Team, as an entity in itself, does not exist, but it is a combination of many individual efforts that together produce a collective performance. What binds this collective together is a common objective, a common goal that they are all wanting to achieve. It is this common goal that is referred to when people talk about 'Putting the Team First', that the objectives of the individual must come second if they do not help the collective achieve their common goal.

But this common goal must not be placed on such a high pedestal as to make the individuals within the team feel inconsequential, dispensable, unimportant. An army unit risking their lives to save a lost or captured member is a good example of this need in action. If the good of the collective rendered the individuals secondary, there would be no heroic rescue.

For a team to perform as well as possible and achieve their potential, each individual within it must perform at their best, and this will only happen if the unique psychological and emotional needs of each member are accounted for, nurtured and accommodated within it.

There are many aspects of this which need to be incorporated into any effective team strategy, but perhaps the most difficult is allowing for individualism in performance while maintaining team structure and discipline.

Individual expression within team competition is vital, and the more it can be expressed the better a team will be. This is because each individual team member will have different physical and technical abilities, and different opinions on what should be done in different situations. If these individual traits are constantly overridden in favour of 'The Team', then in time the individuals who are having their expressions suppressed will start to feel of lessening importance compared to others within the team who's strengths are more suited to the team's strategies and tactics.

This creates a bit of a paradox; individuals need to be able to express themselves, show off their individual strengths and feel that they have something that others cannot bring to the team, but at the same time trying to avoid anyone feeling of less worth than others.

The key to this is to try to create team strategies and tactics that suit as many people within your team as possible, that suits their individual characteristics and abilities. However, it is very difficult to create something that will ideally suit everyone, so they should be designed to be as flexible as possible, to allow each individual within a team, at least at some points within a performance, to express themselves and contribute their strengths.

The satisfaction of each individual within a team will be greatly enhanced if they feel that their unique abilities and characteristics have helped, and ideally been critical, to the success of the team, and the more each team member feels this, the greater their desire will be to enhance their personal performance and the performance of the collective as a result. If an individual team member feels that their performance, however good, has been of little importance to the teams success, this desire will diminish over time.

How easy this is to do will depend on the sport. Some sports lend themselves very well to individual expression, while others require a much more ridged team structured and controlled performance of the individual.

In cricket, for example, it is very much a collection of individual performances. The bowler on one side vs the batter on the other. While there are many collective elements, the main aspect of the game is a 1-on-1 contest, so there is a lot of opportunity for the individual abilities of each player to be expressed in each game.

In American Football, however, each play is largely decided by the coach throughout the game, and the opportunities for individual expression are much fewer.

If your sport is quite restrictive on individualism, either by its nature or for strategy or tactical reasons, try and include individual input off the pitch. If individuals within a team cannot express themselves during competition, the same objectives can be achieved if they are able to contribute to the ideas, tactics and their implementation off it, so that they feel a stronger sense of worth when the team is successful. This is also a good strategy for maintaining the inclusion of players who have been injured or dropped from a team.

By doing this, and ensuring that the needs of each individual within at team are catered for and they can express themselves as much as possible, then the team will ultimately produce much more successful performances.

Is Sport Getting Old?

It was not long ago that sport seemed to be getting younger and younger. Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon at 17, Michael Owen was taking the world cup by storm at 18, johnny Wilkinson was establishing himself as England's main number 10 at the same age.

While it is still the case that professional sportsmen and women continue to come through at this age, we are increasingly seeing older players at the top of their sport, often right at the top.

Whereas the stresses and strains of professional sport would often see careers end in the early 30s, our understanding of human biology and psychology seems to be rapidly making this a thing of the past.

In tennis, and men's tennis in particular, the 'Big Four' are all in their late 20s or older, with Rodger Federer reaching two grand slam semi-finals and a final, narrowly losing at Wimbledon in yet another 5 set epic, at the age of 33. A few years ago, heading past 25 years old was to be moving to the latter stages of your career, now hardly anyone in their early 20s can compete physically with the top players, let along teenagers, as it takes years of conditioning to get to that level.

On the Women's side, Serena Williams continues to be the dominant force and the woman to beat as she moves ever deeper into her 30s, looking as physically strong and hungry for competition and success as she ever has, having recently won her 18th Grand Slam title at the 2014 US Open.

Ryan Giggs , at 40, was still a key member of Manchester United squad until the end of last season. While this is an exception, we are increasingly seeing high standard of performance maintained into mid to late 30s.

Satchin Tendulkar has just retired from cricket at the age of 42, still scoring international centuries and one of the best batsman of the past few years.

It was the case a decade or so ago that physical conditioning meant that athletes could prepare and compete at the top level from a very young age, with their youth giving them an advantage over older athlete, who perhaps had not had the same foundations when of a similar age. However, these young athletes have become the 'Old Guard', and they not only have had many years of top level physical conditioning to keep them competitive for longer, but our understanding of the effects of ageing in sport has improved, all helping to maintain high level competitiveness for longer.

As our understanding of ageing, and the effects of exercise and nutrients on it, improve over the coming years, particularly in the areas of genetics and gene expression, our preconceptions of age and ability should change.

Or, put more simply, 40 is fast becoming the new 30.

So sport is getting old. Or are we getting young?

The Missing Principle of Training: Enjoyment

You have probably heard about the 'Principles of Training' at some point, and may even be well familiar with them. You may even be thinking that these are a well known and established set of training protocols that all coaches, trainers and athletes follow as part of any good training programme.

However, there is no definitive set that are included in these principles, and depending on where you go and who you talk to you will find different arguments about what should, or must, be incorporated within a training programme.

There are probably five main principles most coaches will include; Specificity, overload, Adaptation, Recovery and Reversibility. In addition, Individuality and Progression are commonly added to make seven principles, or replace some of the other five. You might also here Variation, Tedium, Moderation, Diminished Returns and other Principles included.

What was seemingly a clear, concise set of principles that can be easily followed to produce an effective training programme has been overloaded with detail in an attempt to address all the finer variations of physical conditioning in a Universal Mantra that is in danger of becoming unsuitable and unusable for many situations.

The Primary Principle Of Training is also often missed out completely, or hidden amongst the confusion, and that is the Principle of Enjoyment.

The Principle of Enjoyment is motivation for exercising in the first place, and without it no one would even make a start, let alone persist with it through life, as should be the objective for everyone.

You might wonder whether enjoyment is necessary in all occasions in order to motivate exercise participation, but if you understand what enjoyment really is, then you'll see that it must be realised at some point for Exercise to be maintained, and if we are to start exercise, we must believe that at some point we will experience it.

Enjoyment, in its basic form, comes in two basic forms, and often a combination; what can be termed 'Biological Stimulation', such as hormonal releases like endorphins and other substances released as a result of exercise, and 'Mental Stimulation', which is the less defined positive experiences of the brain that come with exercise that aren't the result of Biological Stimulation, such as social interaction.

The enjoyment through exercise can be experienced indirectly, and not necessarily during the activity itself, but will be experienced at some point, although direct enjoyment of exercise generally results in greater and more sustained participation.

So what is direct and indirect enjoyment of exercise?

Direct enjoyment is anything from the point of preparation for an exercise to the point of completion.

The enjoyment might come from the anticipation of exercise; waking up early, looking forward to the challenges ahead. It could come during the exercise, which is the most common and most likely to sustain participation, if the activity itself is enjoyable. However, you might even hate doing an exercise, loath having to get up early to do it, but get great satisfaction at the end, knowing you have completed the challenge, and this is where the enjoyment is found.

Enjoyment, pleasure, satisfaction that is experienced directly from the activity itself will generally be more beneficial and sustainable, but indirect enjoyment can be equally important, sometimes more so.

Socialising is a key element of this. Many people participate in exercise and sports to be part of a group, a community or with fmily. They may not even get much enjoyment out of doing the exercise, but the enjoyment form the social interactions that come with it are strong enough to maintain significant participation in the long term.

Exercise and sport is, of course, not only done for its own sake, but is a key component of good health. Many people undertake exercise to be fitter and healthier so they are able to do more of other things in life, and being able to do those is where the enjoyment is realised.

Recognising the types of enjoyment and where they might experience them as a result of different types of exercise and sport, and enhancing that enjoyment as much as possible, is key to increasing participation and enhancing the overall experiences within exercise and as well as those resulting from it.

Exercise: Do Less Gain More

If you ask most people what you should do for exercise, whether it is for losing weight or training for sport, you will likely be prescribed ever increasing amounts both in time and difficulty.

However, the most important aspect of any training is either overlooked or ignored completely: recovery.

We gain very little during exercise, it is the time afterwards that we see the benefit. The body is a reactionary system; it reacts, changes and adapts to the stresses it is placed under. If we place the body under a certain stress, it will adapt to cope with that stress better the next time it come across it. While it is true that the more the body experiences a stress, the better it is at coping with it, if the body is not given enough time to recover, it will not adapt as well and may even become worse at it.

The influence of fatigue and the amount of recovery required as a result is key to all training and exercise at all levels.

For people looking to lose weight, it is important that the body is in negative calorie balance. That is, it uses more energy than it gets in. It is also more effective to exercise in a ‘low energy state’, when the body is low on glucose energy stores and has to use more fat reserves. In this situation, the body is more susceptible to fatigue, and if the body is not given enough time to recover, then it will not be able to sustain itself in this routine and will likely lead to the person giving up.

Rather than just eating less and less and exercising more and more, it is better to stabilise food intake, and have specific, targeted exercise sessions that are followed by sufficient recovery time. This will provide a much better chance of sticking with the routine for the long term and ultimately be more successful.

At the other end of the scale, people looking to train to enhance performance, whether it is strength or cardiovascular, the tendency is to do more, both within a session and the number of sessions. You may have seen people down the gym for many hours at a time trying to lift ever increasing amounts of weight, for example. This, too, is likely to be very ineffective, while doing significantly less can produce better results. During a training session where maximal performance is key, recovery between sets of exercises is vital. If you spend 2 hours lifting weights with 30s rest at only 60-70% of your maximum, how is this going to help your peak performance? It is far better to spend 30-40 minutes working each set of exercises at higher levels of intensity. To do this, work fewer sets, with longer rests of at least 2 minutes between, allowing the body’s muscles to recover sufficiently to perform again at the higher intensity.

By reducing fatigue the body experiences because of a training session it also reduces recovery time after it, enabling you to train again sooner. The time between exercise sessions is also important. What is the point of doing another training session if you are still too tired and fatigues from the last one to perform at any kind of decent level? In practice, training 5-6 times a week every week at high intensity is not most effective for most peoples' needs. It takes usually between 24 and 48 hours for the body to adapt to a good training session, even if the person is well trained already. So, it is important to give the body that time. Only with well trained athletes should the same body part by intensively trained two days in a row, and even then not done continually.

So, to make your training more effective, perform shorter, well targeted training session that can be performed at higher intensity throughout, combined with adequate rest and recovery between sessions. For weight-loss, the same principles apply; shorter, more effective sessions with good recovery so that they are sustainable in the long term, combined with a healthy, stable diet.

How Long Should You Exercise?

There is much debate about how long an individual exercise session should be, with seemingly conflicting evidence suggesting anywhere between two minutes and two hours being needed to achieve good health and physical perfection. So what is the answer, and why?

In general, the higher the intensity of the training, the shorter the session should be. However, intensity level is relative to the individual, and our ability to maintain these relative intensity levels will also be highly varied from person to person.

High intensity training, HIT, or high intensity interval training, HIIT, have been shown to improve significantly both cardiovascular health and general metabolism of energy which can help weight management. Significant improvements have been shown from doing just a few minutes high intensity work once or twice a week.

This has lead to short, high intensity exercise becoming the prescribed routine for all, as it is seen as a short and easy route to perfection to fit our modern, busy lives.

However, what if this very high training leads to a stroke, or heart attack, as has seemingly been the case in a number of cases recently? There is little point in undertaking high intensity training if the energy and movement systems of the body are unprepared and unable to sustain this level of activity.

At the other end of the scale, doing a few minutes high intensity training will be of limited benefit to a marathon runner, who needs to be able to sustain performance for several hours.

Strength training also needs to be suitable for the individual and their needs. Some people recommend only 20 minutes of strength training in one session, so more sessions can be done. Others will strength train for up to two hours, believing that putting the body through higher volumes of strain produces better results.

All strength training involves placing parts of the body under strain using loads greater than the muscles would normally experience in day to day activity, and there will need to be rest periods between sets. The longer the rest periods, the more the body will be able to recover and the higher the intensity the next exercise can be.

If your aim is for maximum performance for each set of exercise, then rest periods will need to be longer, and inevitably the training session will take longer. If you want to improve recovery rate, and reduce the load and recovery time, then the same number of exercises will take less time. It is also the case that an untrained performer will not be able to sustain strength exercise for as long as someone who has trained, much the same as for aerobic fitness, and any strength session length must also be designed to take this into account.

Although there is a lot of variation, there are some general principles we can follow.

For strength training, a maximum of 40 minutes for a session on a body area is a good guide for most people. Body areas for this purpose can be split generally into legs, core and upper body. This will allow for around 15 sets of exercises, assuming roughly 2 minutes rest in between. If these exercise are done correctly, and appropriately for the individual, it will in most cases be optimal for producing strength gains. If rest intervals are increased then duration can be an hour, or down to 20 minutes if rest is reduced, but the number of sets will be a similar amount. It is possible, however, to do two body areas in one session, such as legs and core, or arms and some aerobic training. Doing two 40 minute session, one for upper body, one for legs, along with warm up and cool down protocols can bring total training time two hours and still be suitable, but the strain placed on one area of the body has not exceeded the recommended time.

These longer sessions will increases recovery time, however. If you can only exercise once or twice a week for strength training, then longer sessions will be more suitable, but if you are training 5 times a week, or doing two or more sessions in a day, then each session could and should be shorter to allow for training adaptations to take place during recovery and reduce fatigue and risk of injury and burn out.

Aerobic training needs to be looked at the same way. Firstly, the ability of the individual to perform at high intensity needs to be assessed as suitable, and for what duration, then the time available each week for training before deciding whether each session can or should be longer or shorter and at what intensity.

In general, however, 20 -30 minutes of aerobic training, whether interval training or continual, will be suitable in most cases in one training session.

The final consideration, of course, is performance goals. For general health and fitness, where the end goal and goal date is less defined, these general principles apply well. However, for more specific and advanced athletic performance, the duration of each session could vary greatly and must be closely related to the type of performance required.

Weight Training: Don't Just Get Bigger, Get Stronger

It is common, particularly amongst men, to hear people say 'I want to get bigger'.

Physical strength and masculinity are often closely associated, and many people make the mistake in thinking that they must get bigger, often a lot bigger, to become stronger.

However, the overall size of a muscle is not the only thing that makes it stronger.

It is generally true that if a muscle is bigger, it has a stronger contractile force, but the muscle is often larger because the amount of blood and other fluids in the muscle has increased.

This is what causes the 'pumped up' feeling after a workout, and is an appropriate term as the muscle has indeed been inflated with fluid, much like a tyre is inflated with air.

This not only produces less of a strength gain, but when the fluid drains away, the strength and size goes with it.

What is more important for strength is the type of muscle fibres, size of these muscle fibres, the actual number of muscle fibres and how much and how quickly they can be stimulated.

Type II muscle fibres are stronger and fatigue more quickly, while type I are weaker but can sustain work for longer. The mix of these types of muscle fibres determine whether we are better at high strength performance, like sprinters, or endurance, such as marathon runners. Though genetics is important, we can shift the balance through training, and if we want to get effectively stronger, we need to train to increase type II muscle fibres.

We also need to strengthen and increase the size of the fibres, rather than just increase the volume of the muscle as a whole by filling the spaces with fluid. A muscle that is smaller but has bigger, stronger fibres, can be much stronger than one that is 'pumped'.

Finally, the electrical signals we send to the muscle are also key for improving strength. The greater the signal sent to the muscles and the quicker this is done, the quicker and stronger the muscle will contract. Training that improves muscle stimulation can be the most significant cause of increased strength. Training to get 'pumped' can even reduce contraction force, as the fluids that fill the muscle can impede the electrical signals to it.

So, while muscle size is important for strength, it is not the only, even the main consideration, and if we want to be strong, smart trainers, we need to choose exercises that will increase the size and strength of muscle fibres, alter muscle fibre types and improve electrical, neural stimulation of the muscle.

Sustaining Physical Fitness Through Life

Up until around 30 years old, our ability to maintain and improve physical fitness is relatively easy, as the body responds and adapts more quickly to good training and nutrition. Through to our mid 30s, this is still possible with similar routines, with top level performance still attainable through to 40 years old, as we have seen with the likes of Ryan Giggs and Sachin Tendulkar until their recent retirements.

However, how do we maintain a good level of physical condition post 40 and into our post-peak years, and what is the best method of transition?

Perhaps the level of physical conditioning required for different sports during peak physical ability is a key factor.

It is a common sight through the media to see athletes from a range of sports having gained significant weight following retirement. Many an ex footballer, rugby player, cricketer, basketball player, American footballer will appear on TV as a pundit, and you wonder how someone who was so physically active, and with such good foundations of fitness, could lose physical condition so quickly.

Take a look at the Snooker World Championships earlier this year, however, and most of the ex-professionals look in very good health and physical condition, with seemingly little or no weight gain from the latter stages of their playing days.

The difference could be that they are able to maintain relatively similar physical conditioning regimes to what they did while competing. Modern day snooker players have to be very fit, due to the mental pressures of performing a very highly technical skill under pressure now on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. You won't see an overweight player at the Crucible for this years Championships.

However, the physical performance level is much less compared to these other sports, and the required calorie intake and expenditure will be much less also as a result. It is perhaps easier, therefore, to sustain a similar level of training, conditioning and nutritional intake into much later years than, say, a footballer or rugby player.

This is not only because of the physical demands of training and exercise, but the motivation required to maintain very high levels of training when there is no longer a performance prize to aim for. The more strenuous the physical demands of training, the more difficult it is to be motivated to do it, and once retired, that motivation is gone.

The transition from competitive to post competitive physical condition is much easier when the level of physicality during competition is smaller and the difference is less steep, which could be why you see many snooker players having a gradual retirement phase, rather than a acute ending.

It is likely that the acute ending of high level physical performance is the reason for the significant weight gain of many athletes in retirement. The reduction in exercise, in these situations, is much greater than the body is still capable of doing, and indeed the metabolism is used to. Food intake, as a result, remains relatively high compared to their new physical exertion levels.

Therefore, if the physical conditioning required for our sport is very high, we should look to have a gradual reduction in our exercise load when moving into our post-peak years, rather than an acute change.

Not all sports are that suitable for this, however. Snooker is an individual sport, which makes it much easier for the individual to continue to taper their drop off in competition, while also continuing to participate in the sport when they do decide to retire. For team sports, this is more difficult as the choice is not fully down to the individual. In sports such as rugby it is also difficult to maintain a level of participation that remains meaningful to the former athlete, due to the physical demands.

In these situations, the goal and motivation for exercise is often removed quite abruptly. If athletes, at any level, are to have an effective transition and maintain a good, healthy level of physical activity into latter years, this motivating factor needs to be maintained and suitably transitioned also. This is particularly crucial in the period just before and just after retirement, as the realisation and acceptance that an athlete's peak performance years are behind them takes place.

For team sports and those that have a very high physical demand, this will be difficult, as a persons identity is often associated strongly with the sport they have given much of their lives to, and having to give it up and move to a different sport or type of exercise will often not be wanted. Keeping people within the environment of the sport or activity they have given so much to will help significantly, even if the physical activity they are doing is different. For example, a rugby club might organise a cycling club for members and ex players.

We can see the success this can have within tennis, with the seniors tour offering a competitive level of competition which sees many greats of the sport competing in regularly, keeping them in good physical condition.

Maintaining a persons identity, sense of community and motivation, all of which can reduce dramatically during post peak years, and constructing a suitably tapered training and nutrition programme, particularly for highly physical sports, will be key to ensuring an effective and healthy exercise lifestyle long into an athlete's post peak years.

Is Steady Paced Or High Intensity Exercise Best For Weight Loss?

For a long time, it was widely recommended to exercise at a medium, steady pace within the body’s ‘Fat Burning Zone’. This was based on the fact that if you exercise at too high an intensity, the body moves from using its fat stores for energy (which requires oxygen) to using other energy sources. The optimum fat burning ‘zone’ was set for many years around 60% of a person's maximum heart rate, where it was thought the use of the body’s fat stores was maximised.

However, while in theory this may make sense, it is now widely discredited as the optimal way to lose fat. Firstly, this theory is based on the percentage of energy used during exercise that comes from fat, rather than the total amount. While at 60% of maximum heart rate you may be getting 90% of the energy you need from fat stores, the total fat used up through the exercise is likely to be less than if you performed the same time period at 80% of maximum heart rate with fat providing maybe 70% of the total energy used up. For example;

20 min run @ 60% HRM uses 200 kcal of energy, 90% from fat=180kcal 20 min run @ 80% HRM uses 270 kcal of energy, 70% from fat=189kcal

Not only is more fat being used up, but also because more energy in total is being used, it makes it easier to remain in negative energy balance (the difference between energy you get in through food and what you use up), which is important for anyone wanting to lose weight.

On top of this, research has shown that high intensity exercise has a much greater effect on raising metabolism, meaning that the body will continue to use up more energy after exercise. Medium intensity, steady state exercise has shown to produce little ‘after burn’ of energy, while high intensity exercise can continue to increase energy usage for many hours after exercise.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has proven most effective, as exercising in intervals with rest time between sets allows for higher intensity bouts of exercise for each set, which requires a faster supply of energy, so metabolism increases more in order to supply it. This raised metabolism for energy supply remains elevated after exercise for many hours.

Does this mean, though, that everyone should just be doing high intensity interval exercises if they want to lose weight? There is a tendency amongst many trainers today to put people onto intense workouts such as boxing drills, spin classes or high intensity circuits regardless of their fitness levels or exercise experience, but this is often not suitable?

The impact of fatigue needs to be given serious consideration when planning workouts, and for beginners or those with little or no experience of exercise at high levels the impact of fatigue is even more important.

Although a single high intensity interval session may be more effective than a single, medium paced steady run, if the person is then unable to exercise again for a week because of extreme fatigue, then it can be less effective overall.

The risk of injury is also higher for untrained people at lower intensity levels, as their muscles, joints, bones and energy systems are not used to the stresses that come with high intensity training. Putting someone through HIIT before they are ready for it can lead to any number of soft tissue injures. It may also cause problems for the heart or the nervous system for the same reasons, and in serious cases could lead to heart attacks or strokes.

It is also highly important that correct technique is adapted. Too many times you see people boxing with a trainer, or hitting it hard on a rowing machine with no attention paid to their technique at all, with the only focus placed on working as hard as possible. Poor technique inevitably leads to increased strain, higher fatigue levels and longer recovery, while also increasing risk of injury.

In the end, it is better to do three 20 minute, steady state runs in a week than do one, high intensity interval session that leaves the person aching and unable to do much else the rest of the 7 days.

So what should you be doing?

High intensity interval workouts should be incorporated into most workouts, but the abilities of the individual must be taken into account, especially for those of low fitness levels or exercise experience. Drop-out rate for this group is also higher, and it is important that enough time is given so changes to their routines can be implemented effectively and good habits are built up. The more fatigue they feel, the less likely they are to make the changes needed for weight loss and lifelong better health.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) should be introduced when the individual is suitably ready to undertake it, and good technique should always be implemented first. Initially, it should be combined with other sessions of lower intensities to allow for recovery while giving the best chance of sticking to the new schedule. Feedback should also be sought so that fatigue is closely monitored through the initial period and manage effectively.

When Should Preparation For Exercise Start?

Exercise preparation is not a new concept, and has long been understood as a key part of any exercise routine. The body is a complex organism, that changes its state and function of many of its parts depending on what demands are placed on it. The body cannot go from ‘rest mode’ to maximum level performance straight away, and needs to adjust and prepare for it. Trying to perform high level exercise without proper preparation can be dangerous to the body and is the leading cause of injury due to exercise.

While it is well known and common place to do a warm up before exercise, preparing the muscles for the demands that will be placed on them and getting the heart and lungs ready to provide the body with the needed oxygen, good preparation should start way before that. In fact, exercise preparation should start as soon as you finish your exercises.

This may seem a strange concept at first, to prepare your body after your exercise, but it actually makes perfect sense. Once you finish your exercises, your preparation for your next session should start straight away.

Exercise places stresses and strains on the body, such as straining the muscles and producing toxins. The body needs to recover from this. The sooner your body recovers, the sooner your body will adapt to the exercises you have performed, and the better it will perform at your next session.

It is common that after exercise, particularly a very intense one, all people want to do is ‘chill out’ and rest, and little time or effort is given to post exercise recovery. However, this area is the key to long term, sustained physical exercise, as well as faster improvements in performance and a greater feeling of well being. This makes sense, as instead of sitting down after your exercise, with your muscles sore and your body full of toxins, you remove more of these toxins straight away and loosen and relax your muscles. Just 10-15 minutes of recovery techniques after you finish your exercise can bring huge benefits.

So, if you find it difficult to sustain a fitness program, find it makes you feel tired and you are often sore when you start your next session, look to start your preparations straight after you finish exercising, and see the results it brings.

Machine Leg Extensions: Safety Warning

Some of the most common injuries in competitive sport, particularly contact sports, and running related injuries are knee injuries. Not only are they common, they can also be the most serious and long term, often becoming chronic.

Leg extensions on machines are good at isolating the quadricep muscles, but are very unnatural motions. How many times in normal activity or in sport do you drag something with your leg in the same way? The answer is basically never. The legs are designed primarily to push, not to pull things, and the quadriceps are the main muscles for pushing the body up with the legs, and keeping us in the standing position. This makes sense, as we push up against gravity, we don’t pull ourselves up against it.

Performing the leg extension exercise on a machine with heavy weights places a large amount of unnatural strain on the knee ligament joints, a strain it is not designed to withstand. What is most dangerous about it is that the quadricep muscles are able to lift much heavier weights than is safe for the knee ligaments to cope with on a regular basis. Lifting heavy weights with this machine can seriously compromise the strength and stability of the knee joint, and drastically reduce its capacity to withstand stress and impact. As a result, it puts the individual at a much greater risk of knee injury, particularly when running or in contact sports.

TFB.com advises not to use this exercise. The quadriceps can be worked on and isolated with other exercises that are much safer. There are some conditions where leg extensions can be useful, such as when recovering from injury, but if using it weight loads should be kept relatively light. It is also important that the knee joint moves only between a 90-180 degree angle during this exercise, and should never go below a 90 degree angle. Doing so risks over extending the knee ligaments and is a high risk of causing injury.

Fat vs Sugar: Where Do We Stand?

Recent focus in the media has highlighted the effects of high levels of sugar in our diets, while at the same time research reviews have cast doubt on the long established link between saturated fat and risks to cardiovascular health.

So do we now cast away 30 years of advice in these areas and break out the fried breakfasts again? Well, in short, no. In reality, what has been reported from recent studies and reviews is not much different from what we already know. As in most cases with nutrition, balance is key.

For a long time, we have known that eating too much sugar can have a range harmful effects on our health. What has been shown in recent studies is just how big these effects can be, and with smaller quantities than had been shown previously.

This has attracted much media attention because so much of the food we buy has added sugar, a problem that has been around for a while but now in the spotlight and probably getting worse.

An example of this can be seen in our cooking sauces. Take a trip down the isles in supermarkets with our favourite sauces, and you will struggle to find any that don't have sugar listed in their ingredients, even in the simple tomato pasta sauces which have no need for it for taste. What's more, added sugar is often 'disguised' as some sort of glucose or fructose syrups in an increasingly wide range of foods.

Finally, the wider population is waking up to the reality that in the rush to reduce fat intake, and not just saturated fat, sugar has been added to an increasing array of food products.

What is particularly worrying for consumers is that many products branded as 'healthy', such as fruit yoghurts, because they are low fat, have high sugar levels.. Indeed, Weight Watchers made this mistake, focusing pretty much solely on fat content as a health indicator on their products, before changing to a broader criteria a few years ago.

There has been a broader shift recently, with products now branding themselves as 'lower fat' rather than healthy if they contain high sugar content, but this still plays on the outdated understanding of much of the population.

So should we now throw out the sugar and replace with fats?

The problem is that we are eating too much sugar. If fats replace sugar content in our foods, it will simply mean we end up eating too much fat, unless we change our eating habits.

Without sugar or fat, we will die, so it is a case of how much, what type, and where we get each from, not a trade off of war between the two.

For sugar, the culprit is added refined/ processed, sugars; cane sugar, glucose syrups, fructose syrups and so on.

The issues around saturated fat is now less clear. While the link between it and cardiovascular health problems is still valid, it is less certain after recent reviews and more research is needed.

However, this is not the only issue with products high in saturated fat, as they are also mostly high in calories, so a new free-for-all is still not recommended.

In both cases, the best advice is still the more processed it is, the worse it will likely be for your health. If we live off ready meals and take aways, we cannot expect our sugar and fat intake to be optimal.

Good nutrition has always included meats and dairy products, but again, good quality, lean meats will be better for you than low grade sausages, whatever the outcome of the current saturated fat debate.

Perhaps the main implication for our diets is dairy. If we want or need to restrict calorie intake, then low fat dairy options are still best, as we do not want to increase fat intake from these products at the expense of mono and poly- unsaturated fats. However, if calorie intake can or needs to be higher, such as for athletes, drinking higher fat milk or using butter on our toast is probably not going to cause us much of a problem in moderation, if the rest of our diet is good.

So, in conclusion, advice on our intake of meats and fats is still much the same, but the real 'take home message' is to check the labels of foods you buy more closely, particularly 'healthy' labelled foods, for added sugar, as it seems to be in more of our foods, and in more unhealthy amounts, than before.

When Should We Eat?

There is a lit of debate about what is the ideal eating timetable. Should we eat little but often throughout the day? Is 3 square meals a day more effective? What about fasting through the day and eating everything in the evening? Also, how important is breakfast, and will we take on fat if we eat very late at night, just before bed?

As with most nutritional stories, each has potential benefits or problems depending on the situation. When Should We Eat

For exercise purposes, when you should be eating will depend on when you are training and what sort of training you are doing, but here we will mainly look at general eating times.

The first thing to remember is that what you eat and how much is more important than when you eat, if we want to ensure we have enough nutrients for the body to function normally and for sustainable weight.

While there are some biological effects of when we eat that will impact on this, the timing mainly helps us to stay in control of what we are eating. The 'little but often' vs 'larger but fewer' meals debate centres on two things. Eating more, smaller meals is meant to produce a more stable blood sugar level through the day, reducing hunger pangs and fat storage caused by insulin spiking and dropping.

The counter argument is that smaller meals do not enlarge the stomach enough, which is a key part of feeling full, and you just end up eating more food, so it is better to have fewer, larger meals that stretch the stomach more, to make sure we feel full and resulting in less food eaten overall. This is countered again by the argument that if you keep stretching the stomach, you will continually need to eat more volume to feel full, risking over eating, whereas is you switch to smaller meals more often, your stomach will adapt and you will start to feel full on less food volume, helping to reduce food intake.

Unfortunately, all arguments are valid. So what should you do?

What works for you is usually best, rather than what works for someone else. It might not be practical to eat 6 times a day, because of work, or because of your afternoon training session. On the other hand, you might have three training sessions in a day, so big meals are not easy to fit in, and it is better to snack regularly through the day to get enough energy for training without feeling full and getting sick while doing a session. If you are in a routine that meets your nutritional goals and weight level, then changing because of a supposed 'ideal' is probably not necessary, and may make things worse.

So what about fasting? It is true that fasting has benefits to the body, and the argument goes that our ancestors ate one large meal at the end of a days hunting and scavenging, and so should we.

however, it is likely that this was not actually the case, and our ancestors probably snacked while, for example, picking fruits through the day, just as we would do.

So it is of benefit to have a fasting period of around 16 hours or so once a week, but it is not needed every day. It is also not going to help an athlete if he never eats anything until the training day is done, or even an office worker who has to try on concentrate on spreadsheets all day with no energy for their brain.

What about late eating, do we pile on the fat if we eat after 6?

In short, no. Eating at the end of the day is probably the best time to have your largest meal, as your muscle energy stores are at their most depleted from the days work, and your body needs plenty of nutrients for growth and repair while you sleep. If you stop eating at 6, but don't go to bed until midnight, your energy and nutrient stores will be lower and can compromise regeneration during sleep.

There is also little or no evidence that eating close to sleep increases fat storage. Again, how much you are eating is far more important.

The main problem with eating before bed is poor digestion, so is best to leave at least an hours gap to allow the stomach to settle down.

The other issues are to do with what you are eating, which might affect your sleep. Having caffeine or large amounts of sugar, fir example, might keep you awake and result in poor quality sleep.

However, if you are not over eating, leave enough time for digestion and don't eat anything that disrupts your sleep, the impacts of eating late are likely to be minimal.

Is breakfast still the most important meal of the day?

Whether the most important can be a matter of opinion, but it is certainly important. Not only providing energy and nutrients for the day, it also helps the waking up process.

However, skipping breakfast occasionally, or having it later, can have benefits for the metabolism. It is also a good way to get an extended fasting period in each week without too much disruption to your routine. If you have dinner at 9pm, miss breakfast and have lunch at 1pm the next day, you have fasted for 16 hours without too much change.

It also depends on the individual. Some people have to eat breakfast before the can do anything in the morning, some people don't digest breakfast too well first thing, and feel better eating an hour or two later, maybe after a walk or exercise session.

What works best for you, again, is usually the way to go, but for most people eating breakfast within an hour after waking is recommended for your general, daily routine.

White Bread, Brown Bread Or No Bread Is Best?

There are a lot of mixed messages around about bread. Brown bread is better than white, seeded bread is best, rye bread the ultimate, gluten free is the way to go, or to cut out bread altogether.

There isn't a one size fits all answer for every situation, but there are four main things to consider when choosing which bread to eat.

The first thing to say is that bread can be an important part of the diet, even if trying to lose weight, and can be a good, affordable source of nutrients and energy.White Bread Brown Bread or No Bread is Best?

The main problem with most breads is that the main ingredient, usually wheat, has to be milled, ground down into some sort of flour. As with most foods, if you break it down it is digested and absorbed into the body more quickly. With bread being a high source of carbohydrates, this means glucose being absorbed into the blood very quickly, giving it a high GI and GL.

However, this can be of benefit. After a heavy exercise session, in most cases we want to get glucose into the body very quickly to replenish energy stores in the muscles and aid recovery. Bread is a good, affordable option to achieve this.

For this purpose, both white bread and brown bread (or wholemeal bread) have similar effects as they both have high GI.

If you do not want a high GI option. Wholemeal bread is not really any better than white, a common misunderstanding, although it does normally contain more other nutrients.

It is best to choose low GI bread as your general option, keeping blood glucose more stable through the day. The best breads for this are whole grain breads, rye breads and seeded breads, but not white or brown breads that just have seeds on top. Make sure they are a main component of the bread. These breads have not been milled and broken down as much, so they are absorbed into the blood slower and have a higher nutrient profile. The third thing to consider is gluten. Gluten has become the enemy of healthy eating for a range of reasons, but most people have no problem digesting gluten, and switching to more expensive gluten free breads will bring little or no benefit. As with many areas of the food industry, the strongest voices advocating to go gluten free often come from those selling the products, so we should be wary.

If you are unsure if you have a problem with gluten, it can be easily and quickly tested for, so ask your doctor.

While choice of bread is important, what we put on it is often more so. Selecting rye bread to help manage weight, and then slapping on lots of butter, jam, cream and more is not going to be productive. Making a healthy eating choice as an excuse to make a more unhealthy one is something we do often, and bread selection must be done within the context of the diet as a whole like anything else.

Finally, leaving out bread altogether can be a good option when trying to lose or maintain weight. It is not an essential component of the diet, and we can get all the nutrients and energy we need from other sources. Cutting bread can help reduce calorie intake, particularly as we also cut out what we eat with it, and for people who are finding it difficult to cut down in other areas, might find cutting out bread a good option. However, it is not essential to do so to eat a healthy diet and effectively manage weight.

Low Fat vs Low Carb Diets

There are almost countless diets around today, each promising to answer all the questions that everyone has about what to eat, especially when it comes to losing weight. When it comes to weight loss diets, most can be classed as being ‘Low Fat’ or Low Carbohydrate’ variations. Even those that are packaged as ‘High Protein’ weight loss diets are restricting one or both of the other main energy sources.

But which one is best? This is the question asked by many and can be answered correctly by very few. The truth is, that neither the traditional Low Fat diets nor the more recent Low Carb diets hold all the answers. Any diet the claims to focus only on one area of the diet as the ‘miracle’ answer is not telling the truth and should be avoided.

The success of people following low fat diets and low carb diets are generally as a result of reductions in energy intake, or calorie intake through food. Foods high in fat content or carbohydrate content naturally contain a large amount of calories, and reducing intake of either will therefore reduce calorie intake and in turn help bring down weight. It is also the case that both types of diets tend to help people steer away from high calorie foods. Highly processed foods such as ready meals and take aways are warned against as both tend to have large amounts of fat and carbohydrates, which is the same for most snacks and treats such as chocolate, cakes and sweets.

However, low fat diets have been largely discredited as the best way to lose weight, as there is little relation between the percentage of your diet that comes from fat and your weight, while extreme low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins, have never been sustainable, as even the author admits himself.

It is not healthy to have extreme reductions in any area of the diet, as the body needs a significant amount of fats and carbohydrates for normal function, not just for energy needs. The important thing is to eat the right types of both, with the timing of carbohydrate intake also important.

When it comes to fats, a providing plenty of healthy fats the body needs is generally best, with also plenty of good quality protein for growth and repair.

For most people, the key to losing weight is their carbohydrate intake, though not just eating less of it. Choosing the right carbohydrates at the right times can help to reduce calorie intake, provide more energy and significantly increase weight-loss without severe restrictions.

In both cases, following some simple rules and adopting some easy habits will be the best way to lose weight and, more importantly, eat more healthily for the long term.

Fats: What Are The Facts?

Fat in our diets had become the area of largest focus from a health and weight point of view. Western diets have become increasingly reliant on fast and processed  food, with an increasing amount of fat. Along with this, obesity rates have also been increasing rapidly. As a result, a universal mantra of 'low fat food = healthy' and 'high fat food = unhealthy' became common place, and huge amount of money, advertising and effort has been spent to reinforce and exploit this mantra. This has particularly been the case with weight loss, with the idea that eating low fat foods will result in you losing weight, while eating high fat food cause you to put on weight. While these ideas still loom large, they have been largely discredited today.

The idea that if we try to eat no more than 30%, or even 20% according to some recommendations, has little or not relation to a persons health or their weight. It is the case that switching to a low fat diet can bring some benefits. In order to achieve a low fat diet aim, it would be necessary to monitor and control the diet more closely, and reduce the amount of fast and processed food. This would also have the effect of  reducing the amount of bad fats in the diet. Further, fat is the most calorie dense of the nutrients, and therefore reducing fat content will usually result in a reduction in calorie intake.

However, though some of these benefits may be obtained fro pursuing low fat alternatives, this indiscriminate cut in fat intake, and ignoring the effects of other areas of the diet, is now outdated and not considered credible by nutritionalists today.

The type of fat that you eat is far more important than the quantity. The body needs a large variety of fats for it to function properly, and it is important to get each of these, but to avoid excess of the fats that can be the source of health problems. To this end, cut down on the amount of saturated fats in the diet, which are found in larger quantities in meat and dairy products, and eliminatte completely trans fats, which are a 'man made' fat that we do not need. Instead, concentrate on obtaining the majority of your fat in the form of polyunsaturated fat and particularly from monounsaturated fats.

If this is done effectively, then the quantity you should eat should be adjusted in relation to the requirements of the other nutrients. A total fat consumption of between 30-45% of the diet can be perfectly healthy if the right fats are chosen, even if you require to lose weight. There is little or no link between fat % in the diet and weight loss/gain. For further advice on how to restructure your fat intake, consult your nutritionalist. If they pursue the mantra of less fat is best, then change to a new nutritionalist.......

Salt: Are You Getting Enough?

One of the hottest topics on healthy living in recent years has been salt, or more specifically too much salt. High levels of salt, or sodium, in our diets, particularly western diets, has been linked to a number of increasing health conditions such as (examples here). But are you making sure you are getting enough?

This may seem like an odd question, with the large and consistent drive to reduce our salt intake and the salt content of our foods. The reason for this need to reduce salt in products is that salt has been used in processed foods, sometimes in extremely high amounts, to add flavour or to help preserve the food to give it a longer shelf life. Add to this the habit of adding salt to out food at the table, and it has become very easy to eat far more salt than we need to a level that can be bad for our health.

However, it is the case that many people do not eat enough salt. We actually require a relatively large amount of salt in our diet compared to other nutrients, and most foods do not contain salt unless it has been added in processing. If you have adjusted your diet to eat more healthily, as set out in our nutrition section, then you will have cut down dramatically on the amount of pre-packed and processed food that you eat. If you cook most of your food yourself from scratch, eating little or no fast food, ready-meals or bought sauces, if you do not add salt to the food that you are cooking then it can be easy to suddenly find yourself deficient in sodium.

It is also the case that many people who do a lot of exercise, particularly if it involves a lot of sweating, can be deficient in salt. Salt is used and lost during exercise, a large amount of which is lost from the body in sweat. It is vital to replenish the salt lost during exercise not only for good health but to increase the rate of recovery post exercise. However, to sustain a high level of exercise for a long period of time, a healthy and appropriate diet is essential, and this will mean eating very little processed food. Salt content of your diet must therefore be closely considered, and additional salt will more than likely be needed.

So, if you eat little or no processed food, cook almost all your own meals or do a large amount of exercise, particularly those with high sweat levels, you may not be getting enough salt in your diet, and should look to make sure you do.

Why Do We Eat?

When most people want to change their Diet and Nutrition, the focus is mainly on what they should eat, how much they should eat and when they should eat, but WHY we eat is a critical factor to understand if we are to take control of our food and nutrition.

Food, of course, is vital for our survival, and our bodies have developed an array of complex ways to make us want to eat food, and then to stop us wanting to eat food. Here are a few of the most important factors and what we can do to control them.

Sight Of Food is a key trigger for wanting food. When we see something to eat, particularly something we like, we start to crave that food. Most of us will have gone to the shops to buy something, seen something else and almost instantly want to eat it, even though we had no thought or intention of having it before we went in.

This is no coincidence. When we see food, it causes what is called the 'Cephalic Phase' of appetite. This is the beginning of the release of gastric juices in the stomach, which stimulates the feeling of hunger, and can happen very quickly.

This also happens when we smell, or even think of food. It is no coincidence that bakeries have that intoxicating aroma when you walk by, they very often deliberate enhance the smell to entice you in, and it is this same 'Cephalic' Response that is making you want to eat food when you smell it. Thinking about food can also cause the same effect. Most of us will have found ourselves salivating while thinking of our favourite dish, and this is the same initial stages of the body preparing to digest food, which increases our desire to eat.

Thankfully, there are some strategies we can adopt to reduce these temptations. The body has many mechanisms that reduce our desire to eat food and nullify these stimulations. A key influence is what's called 'Gastric Distension', the stretching of the stomach as food fills it up. This Distension is detected be stretch receptors which stimulate the release of hormones, such as Cholecystokinin (CCK) which increases satiety and reduces hunger.

When our hunger is suppressed, is satiated, the sight, smell and thought of food do not have the same influence on our desire to eat. So, eating foods that take longer to digest and keep us full for longer will help reduce our unwanted desires for food.

Other helpful hints include;

Go shopping when you are full, not when you are hungry. You are much less likely to give in to temptation when shopping if you are full do bursting than on the verge of starvation.

Plan what you are going to eat. If we plan ahead for a few days what we are going to eat makes it much less likely we will buy something we don't really want when we go out shopping. If we go out shopping for something to eat for the evening meal, our thoughts are firmly fixed on satisfying our current cravings. However, if we already have what we are going to eat that day, and are looking for what to eat tomorrow or the day afterwards, our purchases are much more disconnected to our acute desires for food, and what we buy is much less likely to be on impulse.

Identify trouble hotspots. While we are trying to resist our urges to eat, food shops are doing everything they can through marketing and product placements in their shops to make us give in to temptation. Get to know in your local shops where there are strong temptations, prepare yourself to resist them and do not dwell in them for long. Common areas are at the entrance, checkout, bakeries, end of isles and 'special offer' sections.

Keep the right food around the house. We cannot always prevent ourselves from wanting food, nor should we want to. As most of our food is usually consumed in the home, if we do not stock up on foods we shouldn't be eating, when hunger strikes and the temptations come, we won't be grabbing for that chocolate bar.

Drink water regularly through the day. We all know that keeping well hydrated improves many body functions, but it also helps to suppress appetite. We get a lot of our water through food, and when our body wants water we often feel hungry rather than thirsty, as the mechanisms for both sensations are similar. If you feel hungry, have a glass of water first and you may find after a few minutes your cravings go away.

Get into good habits. Our stomachs work to the clock like much of the rest of our bodies. By having regular meal times we can better control when our bodies will feel hungry and what we then eat. Good habits in food selection also helps us resist temptations. If we resist feeding our cravings, they will over time reduce in their severity as the effects on the brain of the substances that cause them reduce. A good routine will help us through this process and steer us towards greater control.

Finally, the taste of food is an even more powerful driver of cravings and eating. When food touches our tongue, we are flooded with sensory information that feeds the brain and causes the stomach and the rest of the body to release even more substances that prepare us for digestion. The more stimulating the food, the more this happens and the more we want to eat this food.

The 'Perfect Storm' when it comes to taste is the combination of fat and sugar that is 50:50. If we just eat a spoon of sugar, or a slice of butter, it doesn't take very much for us to lose the desire for either. However, when fat and sugar is combined together 50:50, we are flooded with stimulations in the brain that make us want to continue eating more and more, which sometimes can get overwhelming and out of control.

To help control our intake when we are eating, have foods with few ranges of tastes and textures. This doesn't have to be bland foods, they can be spiced, juicy, tender and so on, but reduce the range. Our bodies will feel satisfied with the stimulations much more quickly than if it is being fed a whole host of sensations.

Take longer to eat your food. It takes about 20 minutes for several hunger suppressing effects to take place when we eat, so take at least 20 minutes to eat your main meal. This will help reduce the desire to have seconds and unwanted deserts.

Steer away from foods with 50:50 split of fat and sugar. This is particularly important for deserts, which most commonly have similar ratios, but we often find it in our main courses, such as when we glaze meats or put butter on breads and potatoes. We see little appetite suppression when we consume foods that have around this distribution, so restricting our intake will help us have better control over how much and what we eat.