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Frequently Asked Questions

 

1. What is the best way to lose weight?

The only tried and tested way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more! For sustainable, achievable and realistic weight loss (or more accurately speaking, fat loss), you should aim to create an energy deficit of 500 calories per day. This should be split into reducing calories by 250 and increasing energy expenditure (exercise) by 250 calories to give a weekly energy deficit of 3500 calories, which equates to 1-2lbs fat loss per week.

Losing more weight than this results in the loss of lean muscle mass, which is what you need to preserve, and makes it harder to shed weight in the future because it slows down your metabolism and makes your body ‘hang on’ to precious fat stores.

 

2. What is core stability?

Your ‘core’ refers to your trunk, the muscles of which provide the link between the lower body and the upper body, acting to transfer and dissipate forces created by momentum, gravity and the ground. If you have a strong core, it will effectively support and stabilise the effort and force created by your arms and legs so that muscles and joints can perform strongly, safely and effectively. Many people define the core as the deep abdominal muscles and lower back muscles when in reality, the hip and upper back muscles are included.

To train the core muscles, exercises should be selected that require a large amount of core contribution to successfully carry out the exercise, for example Stability Ball training. The ball provides an unstable base upon which a range of exercises can be carried out that all require a large amount of core contribution. Your body has to work to stabilise the ball by engaging core muscles.

 

3. How do I get a flat tummy?

A toned tummy is achieved through a combination of diet, exercise and posture. It is perfectly possible to create strong and toned abdominal muscles but if they are covered by a layer of fat, no amount of exercise will reveal a six-pack! A complete exercise programme, which includes abdominal and core exercises, consistent aerobic or fat burning activity, resistance training and, most importantly of all, a healthy diet, will help you achieve your flat stomach. In addition, try to focus on your posture at all times, as good posture elongates the trunk, creating a leaner, taller look which brings the stomach up and in.

 

4. How many times a week should I exercise?

How often you work out will depend on your fitness level and your goals. Beginners should start with three non-consecutive days of cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise, gradually increasing to more frequent sessions. As a general guideline, you should aim to work out for at least 20 minutes, 3-4 times per week to maintain your current fitness level; to lose weight you should be looking at working out for four or more days per week for at least 30 minutes. Intensity, duration and frequency of exercise thereafter can vary / increase for specific sports or events, for example if training for a half marathon or a triathlon.

 

5. How long will it take for me to see an improvement in my fitness?

This really depends on how often you train, at what level you train, and what your goals are. For example, if you do strength training three times per week, you should notice a difference after about 4-6 weeks. If you did the same training 5-6 times per week, you’ll notice the difference slightly earlier than this. It is important to establish a base-line of fitness before starting an exercise programme so that progress can be measured. Your personal trainer or fitness instructor should perform a series of fitness tests as a matter of routine before prescribing exercise.

 

6. Should I carry on training if I don’t feel well?

Feeling below par shouldn’t necessarily be your red light to stop exercising and put your feet up. On the whole, gentle to moderate exercise will give you renewed energy if you are suffering from fairly mild symptoms, e.g. runny nose, sore throat, headache. As a rule of thumb, anything from the neck upwards (a cold that hasn’t gone to your chest, for example) is ok to carry on training with. If your symptoms are more severe, or if exercising makes you feel worse, you should ease off and, if necessary, visit your GP for a check-up before resuming exercise.

 

7. Should I stretch before exercising?

Static stretches should be avoided on muscles that are not warmed up, since elasticity is less in cold muscles, making them more susceptible to being strained. Stretching should therefore be performed at the end of a session, where the purpose is to return the muscles to their pre-exercise state (muscles can contract during exercise), or where longer, deeper developmental stretching is performed to increase flexibility in the longer term. The important thing before exercise is to warm up slowly, with a combination of pulse-raising, mobility and dynamic stretching work, so that your body and mind are prepared for the session ahead.

 

8. What is BMI?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is used by healthcare professionals to determine whether you are a healthy weight for your height. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kg by your height in metres squared. A satisfactory range is between 20-25. 26-30 is considered overweight, whilst a BMI over 30 is considered obese. The drawback of using BMI is that it does not take into account body composition, i.e. how much of your weight is lean muscle mass versus stored fat. So a highly trained muscular athlete could have a high BMI because muscle weighs more than fat. A body fat percentage reading is therefore a better indicator of a healthy weight.

 

9. Why should I incorporate resistance or weight training into my exercise programme?

Resistance training, or training with weights, has been shown to increase bone density and strength, which can help protect against osteoporosis; helps to increase your lean muscle-to-fat ratio, giving you a more toned and lean appearance; reduces body fat; improves balance and stability; raises metabolism at rest and increases muscle size, strength and power. Types of resistance training include the use of free weights (dumbells, barbells), resistance bands and body weight. Beginners to resistance work should aim for 2-3 sessions per week with the suitable number of sets and repetitions to gain the maximum benefit.

 

10. I’m reluctant to train with weights as I don’t want to bulk up. How can I avoid this?

It’s a common misconception, especially amongst women, that weight training will turn them into the female equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is actually quite difficult to significantly increase the size of your muscles unless you do strenuous weight training using high weights with a low volume of repetitions and sets. Even then, many people struggle to put on noticeable muscle bulk, especially if they are genetically long and lean. What weight training will do is strengthen and tone the muscle, giving you greater definition and a higher metabolism, which greatly assists fat loss in the long run.

You need to take into account your genetic make-up and choice of exercises when weight training; generally for women, low weights with a high volume of repetitions (15-20) and 2-3 sets is recommended, working all major muscle groups, to achieve muscular tone and endurance. Weight, sets and reps can be adjusted according to your goals. Lastly, a good stretching routine helps to lengthen muscles, giving them a less bulky appearance. Focus on stretching out all muscles worked at the end of each workout, holding for at least 20 seconds per stretch.

 

11. Will my muscle turn to fat if I stop exercising?

No. Muscle tissue and fat tissue are different types of tissue, and muscle cannot convert to fat and vice versa. When you stop exercise, after a time your muscles may shrink slightly through loss of tone, but any fat will be in addition to your existing muscle and is usually caused by a gain in fat weight if your decrease in expenditure is not counteracted by a subsequent reduction in energy consumed (calories).

 

12. Which gives the greater calorie burn – running outside or running on a treadmill?

When running outside, your body is being propelled forward by your legs, which is not the case when running on a treadmill. In addition, the constant variations in terrain outside mean your body is constantly having to work to deal with these variations. Therefore, running outside burns more calories as a general rule. It should be noted that on a treadmill it is possible to set the pace and incline and create for yourself a more challenging workout than going for a run outside but, all things being equal, outdoor running burns more calories!

 

13. Will cutting out carbs after 5pm help me lose weight?

There is no scientific reason for cutting out carbohydrates in the evening, since their calorific value is the same at 6pm as it is at 10am. If you are struggling to lose weight and find that cutting carbs in the evening helps, by all means do so but be aware that it’s the calories you are cutting, assuming that you are not replacing them with foods of the same calorific value, carbohydrate or otherwise.

 

14. Is it true that training at lower aerobic intensities is better for fat burning than training at a high intensity?

Training at lower intensities demands a larger proportion of energy from fat than does training at higher intensities, which requires more energy from carbohydrate than fat. At very high intensities, nearly all the energy comes from carbohydrate. However, without wanting to become too scientific here, your total calorie expenditure will be greater at higher intensities. Also, it’s important to remember that the more aerobically fit you are, the more fat you will burn at higher intensities.

 

To summarise, if you increase your aerobic intensity you may reduce the amount of energy coming from fat as a result, but your total calorie burn will still be higher overall. Training at a higher intensity will progressively increase your aerobic fitness, meaning you’ll be able to train harder and consequently burn more calories. After all, how often do you see a ‘fat’ elite marathon runner…?

 

15. What is interval training?

Interval training can be defined as performing repetitions of high speed/intensity (up to maximum effort), alternating with periods of rest/recovery (comfortable pace with just enough time to recover before the next effort). It is most commonly associated with runners, who perform intervals on a track or treadmill, taking the pace down to a comfortable jog between sprints.

 

It can also be effectively used with just about any aerobic activity, whether that’s cycling, swimming, walking, or working out on the cross-trainer, and has been found to be far more effective at increasing aerobic endurance and speed than training at a moderate intensity for the same period of time. Interval training can be successfully adapted for almost anyone embarking on aerobic training.

 

16. There’s a lot of talk about ‘portion control’ when it comes to healthy eating. How big is a portion?

Portion control is one of the most important components of successful weight control – yet one of the biggest reasons why many people fail. A diet containing all the right foods can go pear-shaped if portions are not monitored. A very general rule of thumb is to keep each portion to no larger than the size of a small fist. So a portion of rice / a baked potato / a portion of vegetables / a chicken breast, could all fit the size criteria of a small fist. Any larger, and your portions are larger than you need and you will ultimately gain weight.

 

17. I am trying for a baby. Should I stop vigorous exercise to maximise my chances of a healthy pregnancy?

Thankfully, the days of being told to put your feet up and rest when pregnant are behind us, as more and more research shows that it’s much healthier for you and your baby to stay active during pregnancy. If you are already fit and active, there is no reason to stop when you find out you are pregnant unless you have a history of miscarriage or any other complications and have been advised otherwise by your GP or midwife. The main rule is to listen to your body and only do what feels right, without pushing yourself too hard. If you are new to exercise, you should still endeavour to become more active during pregnancy, but it’s not advisable to start a brand new regime that your body isn’t used to without proper supervision and guidance.

 

Activities to avoid include heavy lifting and twisting; high impact activities unless you are completely comfortable with it (running, for example); and activities with a high risk of falling / injury (horse riding, skiing, contact sports). Always exercise at a pace that allows you to carry out a conversation, and drink plenty of water during workouts. It’s important to continue with abdominal / core work during pregnancy, although your exercises may need to be modified – for example, you should avoid exercising on your back after the first trimester due to your enlarged uterus which could impede the flow of blood back to the heart.

You should also focus on your pelvic floor with Kegel exercises. If you want to take part in exercise classes, always inform the instructor at the beginning who can give you alternative exercises if necessary. If in any doubt about your programme, get help and advice from your gym or personal trainer to ensure you are training safely and effectively.

 

18. Why do I sweat so much more than my friends during an exercise class?

Sweating is your body’s way of keeping its core temperature down to keep you cool, so sweating is both necessary and healthy. The more you train, the more you will sweat, as your body remembers and knows it is going to get hot – so starts the cool-down process early! Generally the fitter you are, the more easily you sweat. You may also have a few more sweat glands than your peers – men have more than women, which is why they sweat more. And if you are well hydrated, you will also sweat more easily than someone who isn’t taking on enough fluid – which is where working up a good sweat is better for you than a beetroot face!

 

19. What is the minimum amount of aerobic exercise needed to burn fat?

To enter the ‘fat burning’ zone, you need to be working aerobically for a minimum of 20 minutes. More than this is obviously better and to see real benefits, you need to aim for at least three sessions per week of aerobic activity.

 

20. What are ‘good carbs’?

Good sources of carbohydrate are wholegrain breads and cereals, brown rice and pasta, sweet potato, fruits and vegetables. Bad sources of carbohydrate include white bread/baguettes, cakes, pastries, biscuits, etc.