Thursday 14 December 2017

Shape Up: Get training now for the shape of things to come

Damien Maher

The Christmas decorations are appearing in shops, reminding us that the end of another year is just around the corner. The question is -- how near are you to obtaining your goals?

If your goal was to lose 30lbs in 2011 you should be 25lbs down by now. The reality is that many people may be at best the same weight as they were in January and in reality probably 1-2lbs heavier.

A Tuft's University study on longevity showed that muscle mass and strength are the two best anti-ageing remedies you can take. If you are not working on holding on to your muscle during training, no amount of beauty creams will be able to cover up your wrinkles.

Over the past number of weeks we have been following Debbie's story. Debbie is a mother of three young children who has made great strides towards health.


She changed her morning routine from eating breakfast cereals to protein-based breakfasts instead and has agreed to incorporate training into her diary four times weekly.

Based on our initial consultation, Debbie says she wants to lose fat so she can fit into her skinny jeans, which don't get past her thighs at the moment.

Debbie's time to train in the gym is to be confined to one hour. This is perfect as our bodies release anabolic hormones, which help us gain fat-burning muscle, about 20 to 40 minutes in. The longer we train, especially over the hour mark, we produce more of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes muscle to break down.

Debbie needs a structured programme tailored to address her muscular imbalances and poor posture and also the different strengths between her arms and legs.

When one arm or leg is stronger than the other the consistent compensation patterns we develop when we use them together increases the likelihood of future injuries.

You cannot build a high-rise building without the necessary foundations. Your body needs stability before it can build strength and generate power.

Debbie is apple-shaped and holding a lot of body fat around her middle, which suggests she has poor insulin management. This being the case, Debbie will benefit from a programme that incorporates weight training, where the goal is to increase her fat-burning muscle in exchange for fat.

Her diet was very high in processed carbohydrates and to burn these off we ensured her training programme incorporates short rest intervals. Short rest intervals in between exercises leads to an increased production of lactate, which leads to dramatic increases in growth hormone in your body, enabling it to build muscle.

Debbie was reluctant to do weight training at first because she was afraid she'd get big and bulky. I reminded her that she had managed to get big and bulky but from not weight training! I reassured her that this type of hypertrophy, or muscle-building training, would lead to dramatic fat loss.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to accomplish what used to be referred to as the Holy Grail in fat loss in that you can build muscle while burning fat.

Fat is inactive tissue and it requires very little energy to keep it active. Fat-free tissue, consisting of muscle and bone, needs more energy to keep it ticking over in much the same way as a car with a bigger engine needs more fuel to keep it ticking over.

Debbie thought that her weight-training programme didn't look too hard. The reality was a quite different. Our goal was to choose the correct weights so at times she would actually feel a bit nauseous as the body goes through physiological changes.

This is where the maximal benefits take place and many people don't work hard enough to ever come near to experiencing this feeling. If you have never felt like this one must query whether the weights you lift challenge you or whether you are taking too long on your rests.

Debbie did eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, as it was our goal to improve her insulin sensitivity and burn energy.


The time under tension (when the muscle is working) was to be between 40 and 70 seconds' worth of work for each exercise set. The muscles will tremble on the last few repetitions but will ultimately change shape.

Debbie agreed to do weights on Monday and Thursday and to do her interval-training programs on Tuesdays and Fridays. The few days between her weight-training programmes would allow her to adapt to the muscle soreness that would result from working muscles dormant for so long.

Debbie has planned for long-term fat loss because she had tried many things before where the weight lost didn't stay lost. I explained to her that in the world of weight loss, things that are gained quickly are lost quickly; things gained slowly are lost slowly. Weight training has been around for centuries and it continues to yield dividends.

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