The Conditioning Chronicles: The Training Lab

August 21, 2012

With now less than three weeks to go until my first bodybuilding competition of the year, it’s time to step up the conditioning and get shredded! I’ve called in various favours and asked some people in the biz to blast me, beast me and generally put me through my paces.

As you’ll remember from thefitdog’s post last week, I recently visited The Training Lab (run by Andy McKenzie of Ironmac Fitness) as part of an article I’m writing for Muscle & Fitness magazine. I can’t say too much about the whys and wherefores of the article yet, but I can report back on the session, which most definitely makes it into the conditioning chronicles. In fact, Andy felt that I hadn’t been able to work hard enough on the day of the magazine shoot (due to stops and starts for photos) so invited me back again to experience the session as it was meant to be done…. start to finish, with no stops, no photos, no baby oil and no makeup!

(These photos, however, are from the day of the shoot, in case you think I am in the habit of wearing a full face of make up and a salon tan for everyday training!)

The session was structured by:

– mobilisation and movement prep
– jumps and plyo work
– strength work supersetted with cardio intervals
– a push/pull circuit finisher

And here’s why Andy created it that way. The mobilisation and movement prep is crucial, for obvious reasons. Every training session we do should make us move a little better (whether in our athletic endeavours or in everyday life) and preparing properly by mobilising, strengthening and stabilising the big joints including the hips, shoulders and ankles will allow us to do this.

Jumps and plyo work was done firstly with a 10kg weighted vest (to prepare the movement) and then without the vest (to do the full movement). This approach gradually loads the joints, and once you remove the vest you’ll move faster and develop the neurological system more. It’s a good way to do things if you’re tight for time. Jumps and plyos excite the nervous system and encourage muscular co-ordination. (Vest from Wolverson by the way – who I can highly recommend for all sorts of kit)

The combination of classic strength moves (we did front squats) and cardio intervals (we used a Wattbike for sprints) is a great way to ensure your session works on muscular development and strength but also has a strong cardio benefit (really elevating the heart rate) and encourages a good hormonal response.

Finally, that push/pull circuit allows you to really max out on the effort (it shouldn’t exceed six minutes), crank up the intensity, increase release of growth hormone levels and work harder, achieving more in less time!

Here’s how it went down. It should be noted that, whilst I personally wasn’t sick on the floor, my dog was. Sorry Andy! (Thankfully he’s a dog-lover, although possibly not so enamoured of my actual dog right now!) If you want an explanation of any of the moves, just ask – happy to go into more detail in the comments section…

– mobilisation and movement prep (repeat circuit x 3)
Rear band-pulls
Band rainbows
Band dislocates (much less painful than they sound, in fact I love these now!)
Body weight squats
Reverse lunges
Clock press-ups
“Sternum” pull ups (ie the first element of a pull up, with straight arms)

– jumps and plyo work (this circuit x 3)
“load and explode” jumps with vest on (x 6)
then vest off, and jump over 3 hurdles (there and back)
then straight into 2 minutes Ski-Erg work at 20 seconds effort, 20 seconds rest

– strength work supersetted with cardio intervals (can’t remember how many times – x3 I think!)
Front squat (at about 60% of max) x 8 reps
then straight onto the Wattbike for 2 minutes at 20 seconds effort, 20 seconds rest

– a push/pull circuit finisher
bent-over row using the glute-ham raise (don’t try this unsupervised – or with baby oil all over your knees…. !)
ring dips

Verdict: phew! A really challenging mixture of strength, power, cardio… and elements which pushed me right out of my comfort zone (the jumps and hurdles!)

Thank you Andy and The Training Lab! You can follow Andy on Twitter here and The Training Lab on Facebook here.

The Conditioning Chronicles: The Training Lab is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

The Conditioning Chronicles: Five Star Health and Fitness

August 4, 2012

With 6 weeks to go until my first bodybuilding competition of the year, it’s time to step up the conditioning and get shredded! I’ve called in various favours and asked some people in the biz to blast me, beast me and generally put me through my paces.

Yesterday, I popped over to Five Star Health and Fitness, a new (opened this week) gym and training facility in Windsor. Wow, what a place! Tim Benjamin (locals may know him from his other gym – The Fitness Space in Ascot) and his team have done an amazing job with the building, transforming it into a light, bright, welcoming gym kitted out with the very best in CV cardio machines, functional training and conditioning kit, free weights, kinesis resistance technology and an entire MMA room with a cage and everything!

I urge you to take a look at the Five Star website to get all the info about what’s there (including the 51 classes on offer!) but in a nutshell:

1) strength training area
2) functional training kit
3) MMA (mixed martial arts) area
4) 51 classes
5) CV kit from Technogym’s high-tech Excite + range

There’s also a sauna and steam room… what a blissful bonus extra!

I asked Tim to put me through my paces in a conditioning session using some of Five Star’s “toys”… and he delivered!

A bit about Tim: the son of a Professor of Anatomy, Tim was always interested in the human form, strength and performance. As I mentioned in my Olympic-inspired “track starts” post yesterday, Tim competed as a 400m runner at a very high level, coming 2nd at the World Grand Prix final in 2005. He’s a Poliquin S&C (strength and conditioning) coach. His own values – of inspiring confidence and getting results – are evident at Five Star. The facility’s five steps to success (discover, design, deliver, reflect and achieve) have been put together with the aim of getting results for every member who walks through the door, whether it’s a 71 year old woman recovering from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (I met her as I came in!) or an elite athlete.

Or me for that matter! Here’s what Tim had dreamed up for me in the depths of his strength and conditioning mind….

First we worked with a Bulgarian bag. I’ve seen these bits of kit around but never used one. Like all the best bits of kit, they look so innocent… until you use them. They can be used in many ways but we started off with one of the most common – and effective – movements which is swinging the bag around your head, keeping the arms close to the head and incorporating the entire body, driving from the hips and rotating the torso. We also did snatches.

Then we moved on to the TRX (other suspension trainers are available) I’ve used suspension training before and, again, it’s deceptive. You think “how hard can that be?”… the answer is – as hard as you want to make it!

Then came kettlebell swings (I was OK with these as I have KBs at home) before Tim asked me to do something which I feel is neither natural nor necessary, quite frankly. Namely, to lift both my feet off the ground at the same time. Otherwise known as “jumping”. Yep, I had to sling the Bulgarian bag around my neck like a yoke and “bunny hop” (a massive insult to bunnies across the world) down the gym and back again. Not easy, particularly when you lack grace, explosive power and agility.

Finally it was off to the rowing machine where I had to blast through 200m as fast as I could.

That little lot… three times through. With just 90s rest between circuits (no rest between exercises). This is what it looked like in my notepad:

– Bulgarian bag swings x 10 each side
– Bulgarian bag snatches x 10
– TRX atomic press ups (press up into pike) x 20 (!)
– TRX row (at an angle – killer) alternate grip x 20
– TRX squat jump (at an angle – quad dominant) x 20
– Kettlebell swings x 20
– Bunny hops with Bulgarian bag on back – there and back
– 200m row
– 90s rest

3 times through.

Whoaaaaah mama!

All of that probably took no more than 20 minutes, but it’s not the length of the workout which matters with this kind of training, it’s intensity and effort – and what happens to your body afterwards!

What I liked about this circuit was that it was really challenging but great fun too, because it used a lot of “toys” and was fast-paced, changing between kit all the time. There were some things I was OK with, some I thought I’d be OK with (I told Tim the TRX rows would be like a recovery for me – he couldn’t contain his giggles when this turned out to be anything but the case!) and some I was most definitely not OK with (the jumping!)

Here’s what Tim said about this conditioning session:

“As you have just a few weeks to go until your competition, I wanted to design a session for you which would really ramp up your basal metabolic rate. So, the point of this session wasn’t so much the calorie burn achieved during it (although that’s not insignificant) but the increased metabolic rate once you leave the gym. In fact, this increase in BMR can continue for up to 37 hours after a session like this. The session was anaerobic, used big compound multi-joint movements and avoided targeting any particular muscle group (as I know you train your muscle groups separately). You’ll get a massive metabolic boost from this session and it will also hit your core, your shoulders, your back, your quads, your posterior chain….”

Yes yes, thank you Tim. 😉

I can report that I was knackered and already a bit sore by the time I left the gym – in particular, I could feel it in my lats (probably due to the rotational movement of those Bulgarian bag swings?) By the time I’d got home (30 minutes later) I was shattered. I slept like a log. This morning? I’m hungry, sore but full of energy.

Verdict: a success! Fun, challenging and a kick up the backside for my metabolism.

Thank you Tim and all at Five Star Health and Fitness. You can follow Five Star Health and Fitness on Facebook here and on Twitter here

The Conditioning Chronicles: Five Star Health and Fitness is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

The Conditioning Chronicles: Barnes Fitness

August 2, 2012

With 6 weeks to go until my first bodybuilding competition of the year, it’s time to step up the conditioning and get shredded! I’ve called in various favours and asked some people in the biz to blast me, beast me and generally put me through my paces.

Today’s installment of the Conditioning Chronicles needs a bit of background.

I used to be a swimmer. I wasn’t much of a speed-demon in the pool but I could grit it out through hell and high water – and did, swimming the English Channel twice (and the length of Windermere once, and round the Channel island of Jersey) with all the long, long training such swims demand.

So, when I approached my good friend Ellie Barnes of Barnes Fitness with the familiar plea of “get me lean!” (the battle-cry of every Conditioning Chronicle), I did so with a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach (nothing to do with my fibre supplements). Because I knew that Ellie would either put me on a turbo trainer, make me sprint round a track or – worst of all – pop me in a pool.

Ellie is a Personal Trainer at Reading-based Barnes Fitness, and a very accomplished athlete in her own right. In fact, she has been selected to represent Great Britain as an age-grouper at this year’s World triathlon championships in New Zealand. You can support her here, and I urge you to do so if you can.

I met Ellie at a local pool (outdoors – lovely!) and I’m not joking when I say I was really apprehensive. It was a fear and dread which ran much deeper than “this is going to hurt” or “I’m not sure I can even do this sport”. In fact quite the opposite – I know I can do it, and I know because I’ve done so, so much of it. Hours and hours of training in the cold sea (I’m talking 7 hours on Saturdays and then 6 hours on Sundays) does build up a kind of trepidation on a cellular level. It wasn’t just my brain which was nervous. It was my body. Don’t get me wrong, I love swimming and will always adore it. We just have a tempestuous history and needed a bit of time apart. We haven’t spoken for a while and it was going to be… awkward.

I also had no idea if I could even swim any more. I haven’t done it in ages. I sometimes have anxiety dreams where I’m swimming through glue, or can’t lift my hands out of the water for the recovery phase of the stroke.

Hopefully by now you have some idea of the frame of mind I was in before today’s conditioning session! 😉

Ellie is a great coach and a good friend and put me at ease in no time. We did some mobility work before I lowered myself into the water and set off on a 200m freestyle warm up. My arms worked! My hands didn’t get stuck in the water! I was actually moving. This was OK. I could even tumbleturn still (well, sometimes).

After that I did:
– 100m for time (more on that later)
– 1x200m (this was meant to be 4x200m but I wasn’t feeling the love and asked if we could do shorter intervals instead) – 3:38. We did this using paddles and fins (flippers) to work on power.
– 4x50m – 44s, 47s, 50s (oops), 47s
– a kick set (100m with fins/flippers, 50m without)
– 100m backstroke cool down (ahhhh)

For the amazing, earth-shattering, flabbergasting total of… 1150m. Haha!

Here’s me during the 200m with fins and paddles

And me barely moving during the bit of kickset where I wasn’t wearing fins! This was truly agony (I did a very heavy squat session yesterday).

Ellie said:

“When you asked me to help you with a conditioning session, I wondered whether you’d feel more comfortable with longer intervals of 3-4 minutes (aerobic) or shorter bursts which would call on your anaerobic energy system. I think we can see from today’s set that you find anaerobic efforts easier, hence cutting the planned 4×200 short and turning it into 50m repeats instead. This isn’t really surprising since your weights work is probably quite explosive and, even though you might do a lot of volume and several sets, you’ll be taking a recovery after every set. So you don’t often ask your body to work at a relatively high level for 4+ minutes.”

This is definitely true – even my longest weights set might only be 20 reps (even when I sometimes do a very high rep squat set of 40 reps, it certainly doesn’t take me 3 or 4 minutes to complete the set) so most of my “intervals” or work periods are short, with a recovery. Even when I head out for long cardio, on my road bike for instance, there are still long periods of recovery between efforts like hill climbs.

I was interested in the effects of a short swim session on “pump” so did a bit of posing (I have no shame, bodybuilding has seen to that!), here we go:

Verdict: tough during the intervals but I recovered quickly. Will be interested to see effect on metabolism (hunger?) later today…

Thank you, Ellie at Barnes Fitness! 🙂

The Conditioning Chronicles: Barnes Fitness is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

The Conditioning Chronicles: Locker27

July 30, 2012

With 6 weeks to go until my first bodybuilding competition of the year, it’s time to step up the conditioning and get shredded! I’ve called in various favours and asked some people in the biz to blast me, beast me and generally put me through my paces.

First up: Locker27.

Remember when I had a session at Locker27 last year (I blogged about it here)? Locker27 is a fantastic facility in Weybridge, Surrey, which began life two years ago as an academy to coach kids in the technical side of sport, proper movement patterns and the basics of gym work. That’s still where owners Matt and Steve do a lot of their work, but now the Locker offers lots to the regular gym-goers, amateur sportsperson and general public, too: classes, PT, small group training and programmes.

I emailed Steve with the simple plea: “get me lean!”

This is how he rose to the challenge:

First up, warm up and mobilisation work including foam rolling (nobbly foam rollers – nice), hurdle work (for hip mobility), various “crawls” (for shoulder strength, hip mobility, hamstring stretch and general warm up).

Then a bit of pad work/boxing with Alex. Now, I usually really dislike boxing training, I don’t feel I do it properly, I feel unco-ordinated and general like a bit of a dork. I loved the stuff I did with Alex! It was a revelation! Thanks, Alex.

After that, a core and activation circuit: band pulls, Russian twists, band walks and sledgehammer work (ay caramba, I’ll feel those in the morning!)

Then we were on to the first of the circuits Steve had devised: supersets of deadlifts and burpee/chins (which were actually burpee-press up-jump to a chin up, drop and repeat). Steve explained that this is a mini version of a session they do as a group class, and is typical of the kind of structure and content of all their hybrid conditioning sessions. Mixing upper body and lower body, concentrating on movement and the process/outcome – performance training.

10 x deadlifts (all at 50kgs) + 2 burpee/chins
8 x deadlifts + 4 burpee/chins
6 x deadlifts + 6 burpee/chins
4 x deadlifts + 8 burpee/chins
2 x deadlifts + 10 burpee/chins
I did that for time and took 05:55 – no idea if that’s good or bad.

After that, we did some work with the prowler, much to my delight! I’ve never had a go on one before and I couldn’t wait. I did:
– 1 length back pedalling (walking backwards)
– 1 length squat to pull
– 1 length “truck pull”
– 1 length pushing the thing
3 round of that, with 50kgs on the prowler

Then (!) for one more thing, I did two rounds of another superset: 150m on the SkiErg (er…. ow!) and pulling the prowler the length of the room via a rope (er…. ow!)

Then I sat down, tried to interview Steve and couldn’t actually write. Seriously, you should see my handwriting, it’s barely legible.

Verdict: beasted!

Thanks Steve and all at Locker27. If you’re in the Weybridge area then lucky you cos you get to go to Locker27 all the time. What’s that? You don’t? Well why not – go!

The Conditioning Chronicles: Locker27 is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

Welcome to deload week

February 7, 2012

Shhh. Did you hear that? That gentle “thunk” was the sound of my shoulders dropping by several inches, from up around the region of my ears back to where they ought to be. Aaaand relax.

Coach has given me a deload week. I knew it was on its way but didn’t know it would start today. The relief! It’s partly physical – I’ve been working damn hard and need a break – and largely mental. Bodybuilding training is hard work, and sometimes the easiest part is the bit you do in the gym. The rest of it is what takes its toll: planning, prepping, thinking, overthinking, rethinking, and trying to fit the rest of your life in around it all.

When you take into account time spent driving to and from the gym (I train both at a gym which is a few minutes’ walk from my house, and at one which is a 30 minute drive away), time spent training, showering, etc, I’ve essentially just been handed 10+ hours, all gift-wrapped with a tag which says “Dear Nicola, please use these over the next week in any way you wish, as long as it’s restful”.

Thunk. That was my shoulders dropping a bit further.

I do love a good list, even when things are meant to be unplanned. So, here is my Deload Week List of Things I’d Really Like to Do If The Mood Strikes (<—- catchy!)

– extra long walks with the dog, listening to podcasts or audio books
baking (for my husband, not for me – yes, I find that restful. Husband, I know you’re reading this, any baking requests?)
– catch up with neglected loved-ones over Skype and phone (shamefully, this includes my own parents and my best friend)
– redeem Groupons (I am a hoarder of Groupons, etc and stockpile things like facials, manicures and other fripperies for occasions like this)
– get a sports massage (this is a definite. As is the phoning of the parents!)
– catch up on blogging (I owe a lot of nice PRs their product reviews!)
– and the ultimate, the big kahuna, the daddy of them all: the DuvetD Day. Don’t know what a DuvetD Day is? It’s a day (ideally) or an evening (poor man’s version) where you go and get a load of DVDs, get the duvet off the bed, make a nest out of duvet, cushions, pillows and living room furniture, ensure drinks and food are close at hand and then hibernate for hours. I think I last did a DuvetD Day in….erm….2007 or something.

I’m already missing training (crazy, I know, but I’m sure any of you who have had enforced rest days or weeks will know what I mean) but that’s just one more example of why deload weeks are so important. They give your body time to rest (and grow!) and your mind time to unravel, regroup and get ready to hit the next block of training even harder.

Do you take deload weeks? What would you do with 10+ “bonus” hours? Which DVDs should I get out of Blockbusters?

Welcome to deload week is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

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