Fitness journalist: unplugged (Gravity Training System review)

December 13, 2010

As a writer, I spend most of my time in my home office: head down, researching and writing, speaking only to the dog. Days out are exciting! A week ago, I was invited into London to try out a bit of fitness kit. Here’s how it went down.

I met up with Cheryl and Katherine, two sport and fitness PRs, for a trip to the lovely Nuffield Gym in the City. Our mission: to try out the Gravity Training System.

Now. Here’s the thing. As a freelance journo, I get asked to try out a lot of sport and fitness gadgets and gizmos. A lot of them promise the world and say they can do it all, and I normally reserve a healthy level of skepticism. So it was when I went along to try out the Gravity Training System. As I tend to write for and about multisport and competitive sport, I am always after things which challenge, condition and really cut the mustard. Gravity is a bit of equipment used in 60 minute and 30 minute classes in various Virgin Active, Nuffield Health and independent gyms. (For a list and more info, see here). But I was curious: would the GTS really be all that?

Gravity, please accept my humble apologies. After just a few minutes on the contraption, I was feeling the burn.

As you can see from the pics, the GTS uses…well, gravity (!) to create a challenging body weight workout which can be used for the entire body without having to faff with weights, clips or plates.

I asked the lovely trainer Michael Steel (awesome name for a fitness trainer, don’t you think?) for his explanation of our session. All I can remember is that it was a tough workout which both got the heart-rate up and most definitely challenged my full body. Here’s what Michael had to say:

“We started the workout in an upright supine position to work the legs with bilateral squats. We set the level on the Total Gym to 6 (of 8 levels) and this was perfect for the amount of bodyweight we wanted involved in the activity. This is a great way to get warmed up. To increase the intensity and challenge the core we progressed to unilateral (single leg) squats. This instantly increased the load and, by varying the pace we challenged the glutes, quads and hamstrings. Without stopping, we introduced sports specific plyometrics (jumping activities). This increased the O2 consumption and got the heart rate up but reduced the impact on the joints.

“After training the legs, we adjusted the level to 3 for all the upper body and core exercises that were to follow. In an upright prone position, we lay chest down on the glideboard and we used the cables to work the upper back, lats, triceps and trapezius. We moved from one exercise to another and completed 8-10 reps of each exercise. We completed 6 different exercises in this position and we did the set twice. This ensured that we achieved a level of overload and fatigue. By the way, how did you feel the next day…?

“From this position we simply turned sideways and trained the body in a lateral position. We did exercises in a high kneeling position, but you can also do these exercises seated or low kneeling. The high kneeling challenges stability and requires the body to work as an integrated unit rather than isolating one muscle group at a time. We started with torso rotation (woodchops) and by simply moving the handle from one to the other we worked our chest in a fly position. Then we did a compound bicep/shoulder press using the same side of the body, then swapped hands and did a high row followed by a reverse fly. Although each exercise was targeting the chest or shoulder or bicep, we also felt our back extensors and abs, adductors and glutes firing up to create the stability and support to provide the strength in both the concentric and eccentric phase of each movement. Very effective and very representative of every day movement patterns!

“We then faced the tower in a low kneeling position and started a series of exercises that utilised spinal flexion and extension with arm activities. We call this the β€˜surfer’ series: narrow rows, shoulder extension, biceps curls, triceps, upper back and lats as well as shoulder flexion. Every one of these exercises also challenged our core.

“We did a quick change here and rolled down the glideboard onto our backs in an inverted supine position. Here we focused on the front of the arm (biceps) and the deltoid group by doing upright rows, long lever shoulder flexion and deltoid raises. In the same position we also disconnected the cables from the glideboard and used the footholder to do some hamstring work for the posterior muscles of the leg and some reverse crunches.

“To finish we raised the rails again and we did a big set of partial weight bearing pull-ups and chin-ups, varying the pace in both the concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) phase of the movement. The great thing about this exercise is that most people can not do a pull-up or chin-up. Here we can moderate the load and ensure great technique. To increase the intensity we add plyometric pull-ups which required a combination of speed, power and control….fun and challenging.

“This was just a fun, total body workout that was designed to give you a sense of what working out against your own bodyweight, on a moving glideboard (surface) and controlling your body in space feels like. Total Gym and Gravity really is designed to provide an option or everyone, any client and any trainer in a very efficient and effective way.”

Thank you Michael, it was a fun session, challenging and tough and yes I definitely felt it the next day! Whatever your sport or level of fitness, I urge you to give it this bit of a kit a go if your gym has a Gravity Training System class. If I had access to one, I would use it. Gravity and Michael are on Facebook.


Oh, and that wasn’t the end of my day out. Ha, no. I then went and met my PT Kat and we did an hour’s leg workout together. (We also discussed my next fitness challenge and put some firm plans in place – I can’t wait to tell you guys all about it! So exciting!)

As a fitness journalist, I like to “walk the walk”. Days like this make that a little bit of a challenge. For the next couple of days I could hardly walk at all!


8-week personal training challenge: results

November 23, 2010

Whew! I did it! πŸ™‚

A little over 8 weeks ago, I contacted personal trainer Kat Millar, asking her to help me focus after the triathlon season, with a view to cleaning up my diet, giving me some goals in the weights room, and seeing where those two things led me. I wasn’t bothered either way about losing weight (which is pretty meaningless to me), but fat loss was one of my goals.

Kat is a figure (bodybuilding category) competitor, and I’ve long admired those women’s dedication, training and physique, so I told Kat I’d be happy to train and eat roughly like a figure competitor (albeit one who is a very long time away from any competition!)

And so it went. You can read about the challenges, my workouts and my thoughts on the 8-week plan in the following posts: the start of the challenge, what’s involved, obstacles, weight training, whilst on holiday and progress with one week to go.

There’s been a lot of this

and a whole lotta this

I know you probably want hard facts, and you can have them. I said at the beginning that I wasn’t going to post my weight or any other stats. It’s not that I attach any emotion to them, but other people might, and I believe bloggers have a responsibility to anyone who may be reading.

In 8 weeks, I:
– progressed from 3 unassisted chin-ups to 10 (yes, I did it!)
– lost 4.2kgs of body fat (as measured by a bio impedence test which I recognise can be slightly out)
– dropped 5.3% body fat
– lost just 2kgs of lean weight (this was the important one for me – no point in losing weight if it’s all good lean tissue!)
– interestingly, despite being a fair bit lighter now, my BMR (basal metabolic rate – the amount of energy you expend doing nothing, just existing) has apparently dropped by fewer than 30kcals a day. That’s the power of weight training, my friends!

But what about the cardio?

I should add that all of the above has been achieved with very, very few traditional cardio sessions. Although if you do weights heavy and/or fast enough, believe me your heart-rate will climb! But I did go for a run the other day and had lost none of my pace (over a 5-mile run) – I was still doing sub-8 min/miling for a relatively easy run. So it’s all good!

Pictures, or it didn’t happen.
(Me yesterday, fake-tanned and hamming it up in my front room. PS – Can you see my hernia? Hint: it’s just above the scar from where they were meant to fix it last year…not that I’m cross about that or anything…)

What’s next? Who knows. Stay tuned!

PS If you fancy dropping a few % points of body fat yourself, take Kat up on her offer of 4 weeks nutrition and PT….it’s a completely bargain price but not for long. Look here.


8-week gym challenge – one week to go!

November 15, 2010

😦 Only one week left of the 8-week challenge I’ve been doing under the guidance of personal trainer Kat Millar.

Kat initially provided me with three sessions to do in the gym: one for upper body, one lower body and one full body circuit. She then gave me a couple of kit-free sessions I could do in our hotel room when we went to France. Since then, she’s given me another three sessions to replace the initial lot, so I can keep on challenging myself.

One of my personal goals when we started was to be able to do 10 (unassisted) chin-ups. I could do three when we started. Yesterday, before heading to the gym with my trusted weighted vest (my favourite little black number πŸ˜‰ ), I did a chin-up test at home just to see how far I’d got. Not to 10, as it turns out!

Video below (excuse the less than perfect form – if anyone has any tips or feedback for improving my chin-ups, please comment!) I’d done a session of upper-body supersets the day before (got to get my excuses in, right?)

My husband came to the gym with me today, so I got him to snap some sneaky pics on my phone whilst no-one was looking.

I’m meant to be getting funny looks, not giving them…. (step-ups onto a bench with lunge)

Improvised Woodchoppers (we have no cable machine). It later dawned on me that I could use a resistance band.

Very serious clean and presses πŸ˜‰

Even more serious one-handed tricep dips πŸ˜‰

I look very cross in most of these. I wasn’t! πŸ™‚

I’ve also been doing a few sessions with my weighted-vest on. The easiest way to carry it is to wear it so, yep, I’ve been walking through our neighbourhood to the gym with a 10kg vest on.

Hi! I’m a nerd!

One more week to go! I’ll do a round-up post this time next week πŸ™‚ In the meantime if you want to see how I’ve been getting on over these past eight weeks, all the posts I’ve written (not that many) are here.

How’s your training going? And what’s keeping you focused, motivated and working hard?


Guest post: Kat Millar, personal trainer and figure competitor

November 9, 2010

For the past six weeks, I’ve been working remotely with London-based personal trainer Kat Millar. She’s been guiding me through nutrition and gym-based training with the goal being body-recomposition. In a (healthy fat) nutshell: less fat, more muscle, with some super strength-gains on the side.

In just six weeks I’ve had some astounding results (I’m going to post an update soon) but, more importantly, the programme Kat’s given me has been enjoyable. Not just doable but actually interesting, challenging and – yes – enjoyable.

Kat is a great PT and, in her own right, a very successful “Trained Figure” competitor (a class of competitive body building). She came 2nd in a national contest just a few weeks ago.

If any of you have been considering hiring a personal trainer, I can highly recommend you get in touch with Kat. You don’t have to be training for a competition. Your goal could be general weight loss, fat loss, specific strength or fitness gains. The bespoke programme I’ve been doing is her 8-week virtual coaching one. You can find details here.

I asked Kat to write a little about why she trains and competes as a figure competitor, because it’s a world I find fascinating. What drives her, what does she get out of it and what does she love about the sport?

Here’s what she had to say. And here is Kat’s own blog – check it out for lots of free tips, recipes and motivation! Thanks for the guest post, Kat!

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Being a figure competitor requires a great deal of mental and physical energy, but it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done – and probably will ever do (besides getting married and having babies of course! πŸ˜‰ ) It’s about so much more than looking good on stage. It helps keep me disciplined and focused and gives back so many positive feelings. It’s more than worth it.

(That's me on the far left winning 2nd place at the NPA National Championships)

The lessons I’ve taken from competitive bodybuilding can be applied to so many areas of life. I’m sure most people who play sport – or do anything competitive – will attest to this.

Some of the many things I’ve learned from competing in Figure

– How to push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of
– How to believe in myself and my abilities
– That I do have what it takes (I never knew this before!)
– How important the mind is – in everything!
– The art of self-discipline and sacrifice
– That having a big goal and seeing progress in your work towards it is the most motivating thing in the world
– The art of delaying gratification in order to achieve something greater
– Lessons and skills that I can apply for the rest of my life when it comes to fat loss and body composition (my own and that of my clients)

I now know how to remain within a certain weight range that I’m happy with, and exactly how to get myself there. I recorded everything I did to get me to the place where I’m happiest with my body, so I now have a blue-print plan that works for me. It’s the law of cause and effect in action, right there in black and white. It works: no questions, doubts or confusion. For me, these guidelines provide safety for any future journeys like this, by removing the guess work.

I also understand my clients better. By taking myself through the weight-loss journey, I’ve picked up lots of tips and inspiration I can pass on to those I work with. To me, training hard, proper recovery and eating right is part of ‘walking the talk’ (I never want to be someone who tells people to do things I wouldn’t or couldn’t do myself).

My ongoing focus is helping as many people as I can to achieve success, whatever success means to them. My goal is to help people attain what it is they really desire in terms of their body and health. The enormous benefits you receive from proper training, correct nutrition, and a healthy lifestyle are too great to list. Once people experience a taste of it, they can become very addicted to the benefits!

Kat Millar, personal trainer
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Guest post: Kat Millar, personal trainer and figure competitor is a post from The Fit Writer blog.


Carb-fest in France

October 28, 2010

…(or, how to exercise in the tiniest of floor spaces)

Sorry for being MIA, I’m just back from a lovely long weekend in Lyon. As I’m still in the middle of my 8-week gym challenge, I went armed with circuits-sessions to do in the hotel room and a vague “80/20” rule in mind for matters relating to baguettes. I have returned feeling as if I am composed 80% of baguette (the other 20% possibly being goat’s cheese). I’m not sure that’s quite what I had in mind.

Anyway, here follows a few pics of Lyon (my favourite city in France and where I intend retiring to, shortly after purchasing a French bulldog whom I will name Teddy) and some words on how I did my best to, er tried to um pretty much failed to manage eats whilst in the gastronomic capital of France!

From chicken breast to crepes in four short days

I started off well. I took my own food for the entire journey (we went by Eurostar, so were travelling pretty much all day). But of course once we were there, I was eating the Lyonnais way (veering towards lighter options wherever possible, practical and bearable!)

Put it this way, this place was just outside our hotel (can you read all the flavours?:

And a wander down the road sent us past about 10 places just like this:

We went to a market on Sunday which was phenomenal: freshly made breads, varying ages of goats cheeses, more types of saucisson than you’d think possible, beautiful fresh produce, lines of rotisserie chickens… I didn’t take any photos but wish I had done. That day, for lunch, we bought 1/2 a chicken fresh off the spit, a warm baguette, some tiny goats cheeses and a bowl of fresh choucroute, and ate in sitting in the nearest square. Divine. In the short-term!

It was a lovely break, but I could tell how differently I was eating to Kat’s plan, and I’m feeling glad to get back to it now I’m home. Holidays are holidays for a reason, right?

How to work out in the tiniest of spaces

Before I went away, I asked Kat to give me some suggestions of how to keep training whilst I was at a hotel with no gym. She sent me not one, but two circuits which needed no equipment, just body weight and a surface to step up on.

Our room was so tiny it was ridiculous. Here’s the two bits of space I had in which to train:

and

Nice, huh?! One bit of floorspace was OK for anything “wide” (pressups, squats). The bit by the door was OK for anything “long” (lunges, tricep pressups). And never the twain did meet. It was…interesting! But doable. There really are no excuses, unless you’re looking for them!

My husband had to either be in the bathroom or on the bed whilst I did my circuits. There was no room for him anywhere else. Happily he is a supportive and sporty sort, so didn’t mind laying in bed whilst I stepped up and down off it (there was nothing else suitable). He was in charge of the iPod and telling me what the next exercise in the circuit was.

Along with my hotel-room circuits (which were tough – proof you don’t need fancy equipment to get a good workout in!), we also walked. A lot. Including up to and around the basilica which overlooks the city:



Just a few steps! πŸ˜‰

So now I’m back, with just over three weeks of Kat’s challenge left. She’s been so encouraging and says I have made great progress. I can’t wait to see how far I’ve come in the full eight weeks.

PS Congrats to Kat who came 2nd in her class at the National Physique Association British Championships at the weekend – incredible! She looked amazing and it’s clear from the pics and her result just how hard she’s worked. I’m hoping she’ll blog about it soon so I can link to her story.


A weighty issue

October 18, 2010

Word up!

A little update on my 8-week gym challenge. It’s all going great and the only thing challenging about it has been the training (which is as it should be). The nutrition (I’d say diet but I know the word has negative connotations) has been easy, enjoyable even. Personally I don’t think anything I’m eating is unusual (it shouldn’t be, since the whole point is to eat things as close to their natural state as possible) but I do realise that a lot of people would disagree! Lots of veg, lots of protein, plenty of “good” fats, and carbs coming mostly from veg (although not completely – oats, sweet potatoes, quinoa etc all feature). I read something recently about this kind of “body recomposition” eating meaning you eat mainly from the fridge, rather than your cupboards. So true!

A virtual-prize for the first person who recognises what this recent delivery (great for omelettes, baking and scrambling….) is:

Ha ha!

I thought I’d focus in on the training here. Since training people is how Kat makes a living, it would hardly be fair for me to list the exact contents of the sessions she’s given me, but I would like to talk about the one which has consistently kicked my gluteus maximus since day one. The full-body circuit.

At first glance, this session didn’t look like much. πŸ˜€ There are no heavy weights (because all the exercises are done in circuit-style, with minimal rest, and I need to be able to do 3+ circuits). There’s no running, or indeed anything that most people would recognise as “cardio”. But, this thing really delivers. I’ve been doing it twice a week now for almost four weeks and it can still reduce me to (literally) a gibbering wreck on the weights-room floor.

(Can you spot me?)

I do each of these exercises a certain amount of times, and then go straight into the next one. Unless I actually feel like I might fall down, in which case I have a little breather. This happens more often than I’d like to admit.

Here’s how it goes down (I’m sure Kat won’t mind just this once):

Plyometric lunges (do a lunge, then jump into a lunge on the opposite side, then continue on each side, on and on and on….)
Bench press with dumb-bells (lie on your back on a bench, dumb-bell in each hand, and press them up to above your face before lowering so your arms are bent at right-angles. Repeat up and down, up and down, up and…you get the idea)
– A killer abdominal exercise on the bench. I still haven’t worked out how and why this is so tough.
Tricep dips off the bench. Done whilst face-to-face with your own reflection, wondering why one of your shoulders is wonky.
Step-ups onto a bench whilst holding dumb-bells in both hands. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? This. Kills. Me. Every. Time.
Bicep curls with dumb-bells. Whilst trying to calm your hammering heart-rate from previous exercise.
Jump squats. Squat down, jump up in the air, land (softly), jump again. And again. And again. Keep jumping!
Press-ups with your feet on the bench you’ve been using. I have lately added my own little twist to this.
– Get up, wait for vision to return to normal. (That’s not part of the original session but I added it in)
Lunges backwards and forwards. Again, sound easy. Nice, even. Yeah, not so much!
Shoulder presses with dumb-bells.
– Aaaaand then you go round again. Ideally another two times (I recently did the whole thing four times and was shaking).

Is it sad that I managed to type that all out with referring to the sheet it’s written on? πŸ˜‰

I don’t know much but I suspect this session works for a few reasons:
– it’s fast, leaving you little time to recover between exercises, so your heart-rate stays high
– the exercises mostly move between upper and lower body, shuttling blood around your body and making your system work extra-hard
– lots of plyometric/jumping movements mean it’s very cardiovascular, even though there’s no traditional cardio in sight
– it’s mostly working with your own body-weight, meaning you can work harder and keep going for longer, but still challenge yourself

Kat, please tell me if that’s more or less correct! πŸ˜‰

Do you do circuits? Or do you hate them? I love to hate them: they’re tough, but you know they really work!

Let’s all wish Kat the best of luck in her next competition: the Natural Physique Association British Championships which take place this Sunday.

A Weighty Issue is a post from The Fit Writer blog


Gym challenge: overcoming obstacles

October 13, 2010

So, I’m now well into the second third week (this post has been sitting in “drafts”!) of this 8-week gym-based challenge. I’m still loving both the training and the “clean eats”, and I’m already seeing some great results both in my shape and my strength. Wahoo! I even did five chin-ups yesterday (I have a chin-up bar on the door-frame of my office πŸ˜‰ )

I’ve tried my best to stick to trainer Kat’s suggestions for food and training but – whilst I’m fortunate in being able to cook for myself and spend time preparing fresh meals – I’m no saint. I thought it might be useful to round up the situations I’ve been in over the past few of weeks which have posed a challenge to my challenge. After all, I’m a real person with a (relatively) normal life.

Overcoming challenges


One was self-imposed, really, but I didn’t realise until afterwards. I cycled off to my weekly voluntary work shift, meaning to stick a snack or two in my jersey pocket. But – as usual – I was running late, so I forgot. No problem, I thought. There’s a tuck shop there, or I could just wait til I get home. Yeah, but tuck shops aren’t renowned for having protein-rich goodies, and this one’s no different. The way Kat’s got me eating is little(r) and much more often than before: essentially breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and then a l’il something. So I ended up going without one or two of my meals, and cycling to and from my appointment. By the time I got home, I was famished, and it threw the rest of the day off-kilter. Note to self: Prepare Protein and Pack…er…Properly?


Then I spent the day with family (my nephew is now 8 weeks old, and he’s fine, thanks for asking πŸ˜‰ ). My Dad, bless him (hi Dad!) said he’d treat us all to curry for lunch. No can do, Daddy-o! Well, I could, but it seems a shame to not stick to a plan for just 8 weeks. But it’s OK, all I did was tell Dad I’d bring my own packed lunch and then we could all sit together in his office, them with their curry and me with my lunch. No big deal. (As it turns out, quinoa salad with turkey breast is remarkably easy to eat whilst balancing a baby in one arm).


Giving blood is a great thing to do, but what of the ever-present tupperware of Clubs and Penguins? Oh, and Bourbons – my favourites (my sister and I used to go through a whole packet together, dipping them in glasses of milk whilst watching Neighbours after school). Even giving my 26th pint of blood (ever, not that day) didn’t deter me from the Path of Protein. I just had a cup of tea, a couple of glasses of squash and then went home for a massive dinner.

I do quite a bit of networking, pimping my copywriting services to local businesses, which is something I really enjoy. But hotel and golf-club food is not renowned for being light and healthy! It was therefore a bit rubbish to get up at 6am for a networking breakfast, only to be presented with bacon rolls. And nothing else. To be perfectly honest, I don’t ever want a bacon roll at 7am. Especially not at the moment. So I went without, got home as quickly as I could, and cracked on with the first of my 5 or 6 meals of the day. It would have been better to pop something in my bag to eat in the car, but never mind.

I’m getting the hang of being prepared. All it takes is a bit of time and forethought, and a willingness to say “thanks, but no thanks, I’ll bring my own”. Happily, I can still indulge in one of my favourite past-times – baking – with a view to proteinising (if that’s not a word, it should be) muffins, loaves and other portable snacks.

Back soon with an update on training. I keep trying to take piccies in the weightsroom but everyone keeps looking at me like I’m weird…? πŸ˜‰


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