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Getting fit for winter: any questions?

"Commit. Get inspired. Sacrifice and make change happen."

"Commit. Get inspired. Sacrifice and make change happen." Photo: iStock

Now that we've run out of public holidays for months to come, and beach season is oh-so-far away, winter is the time where many get back into their health and fitness. And when that happens, the questions roll into my email inbox.

So this week is dedicated to slimming down my mailbag, because whether I peek into my inbox or I'm out and about, I continually hear, “Oh, you're a personal trainer? I've got a question for you.”

Here are some of the most common questions, and my thoughts:

1. What's the best workout?

From CrossFit to Zumba, from yoga and pilates to F45 Training, from an outdoor jog to a bike ride, the choices are almost endless.

I don't know what's best, only what's best for me. For my clients? I judge each individual as they come in the door. If I have a corporate woman who doesn't like her job, hasn't slept well, isn't keen on the man in her life, and doesn't like her body, and yet I give her a 10/10 session and she's puking? Well, I've done her serious harm.

Whatever you do, aim for a 7 to 8.5 out of 10 effort. I hope my clients are sweating, swearing and smiling during a session – make it your goal, too.

2. I'm eating well, I'm exercising hard, but I've plateaued.

The body doesn't like change, it feels comfortable staying the same. So, change up your routine in the gym and the kitchen, and your body will be forced to adapt to a new regimen. As long as it's healthy, you'll smash through that plateau.

3. What do you think of Isagenix?

When I see programs such as Juice Plus, Isagenix, and various Amway weight loss schemes making the rounds at the gym, I start to regurgitate my banana.

Taking a fruit pill instead of eating an apple? Really? If a friend sells you fruit or veggies in a pill, they're not your friend. Isagenix is the latest multi-level marketing (MLM) wellness system, selling products to cleanse, detox, aid in weight loss, etcetera, etcetera. Yaaaaawn. I get one phone call per week trying to get me into a MLM pyramid scheme, but I don't sell false hope to clients, friends or family.

You cleanse, detox, and lose weight with water, fruit, vegetables, healthy protein and exercise.

4. What pre-workout enhancer should I buy?

Energy drinks and pre-workout powders? Skip 'em. Loaded with sugar, chemicals and crap. Why would you down (in some cans) 19 teaspoons of sugar, then enter a gym for a healthy workout? Before a Perth-to-Sydney drive, you'd fill up your car with quality fuel, not sand - do the same for your body.

Music works. Science shows that music increases performance. Put down the drinks, and put on the headphones.

5. What's the best diet? Paleo? Fasting? Gluten-free? Anti-cancer diet?

The tough answer is this – diets don't work. People lose weight in the short term, and then they put even more back on over time.

The best diet? Nobody knows. It's really up to you. Use your common sense. But if you go by the general rule of eating close to a farmer. hunter and fisherman, you'll do your body good. Fewer pills, powders, and meal replacement shakes - more water, red wine (in moderation, if that's your thing) and real food.

I have a corporate client in Sydney, Karen. She's down 40 kilograms (my role is admittedly small - she's the boss of her own journey) and she hasn't done it by copying anybody's program but rather researching recipes, recommitting to her health, and experimenting with changes she's able to implement into her (long-term) lifestyle. It hasn't happened overnight, and it wasn't easy. But it's her challenge. Her knowledge of healthy foods and fitness starts in her mind, then flows straight down to the rest of the body. That is the best diet.

How did she do it? Karen says: “I stopped settling for a second-rate life. Conscious choice is now my way of life. I choose to fuel my body with real food, preparing on the weekend for the week ahead. I purposely get quality sleep. The alarm goes off at 5am, I choose to get up and exercise. It's all about intention. I got serious about the little daily choices - they are the ones that will accumulate into a changed life.”

6. I'm keen to lose weight, but I just can't give up the drinks … it's my social life. What should I do?

Then your health and fitness journey will sputter. You just don't want it badly enough. Admit it, and crack open another. Or you could change your relationship with alcohol.

7. How long should I work out?

This is a tough one to answer, as your goal should determine your exercise session length. Are you training for a half-marathon, or seeking hypertrophy? Longer workouts will be your thing.

But if you're after weight loss or general fitness, it's time to lift the intensity. People either love or hate CrossFit – I've always been a fan because no matter the workout, intensity is preferred over length of the session.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Tabata training – these types of sessions are superb for beginners and the ultra-fit. Get involved, and you'll find yourself exercising less at a higher intensity, with better results than staring at reality TV while sliding on the cross-trainer.

8. What's the best protein?

Salmon. Steak. Chicken. Eggs. Ohhhhhh, you meant protein powder/supplements? Well, let me ask you - how much protein do you require in a day? How much protein do you obtain each day? And how much protein is in a 250g piece of salmon?

If you're not sure, then it's likely you don't need that Cookies 'n Cream protein box after a gym session. You can get all the protein you need from real food.

9. Travelling for work messes with my training.

Easily fixed. A jump rope is a mobile gym. Pack one, and perform rounds of 150 skips, 15 push-ups, 15 squats, and 15 sit-ups. Perform 20 minutes of that circuit, and you're a corporate champion. Dinners and drinks? Simple advice: just consume less.

10. I want to lose weight. How do I get started?

Commit. Get inspired. Sacrifice and make change happen during a challenging (but fun) journey.

And finally …

I admit it: I don't have all the answers. The health and fitness industry is always expanding, because our waistlines are. We had scientific evidence supporting X theory 20 years ago that has been dispelled by scientific studies that support Y theory from 10 years ago, and today's scientific evidence contradicts them all.

So science still isn't producing answers, but deep down we all know what we need to do.

If you're working out hard and eating the right foods, you CAN have your cake or wine and eat or drink it, too. Get some quality sleep, some good lovin', and have a positive outlook throughout the day. Long-term health and wellness should follow.

Any other mailbag questions? Agree or disagree with the above? Cool. Let your opinions be heard in the comments below.

You can email me here or follow me on Twitter here.


  • This may be one of those 'it depends' questions, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Is it smart to keep exercising when you've got a cold? Obviously there are some levels of sick that can't be argued with and a decent cough usually stops me running because as soon as I get going, I'm hacking away. But I never can work out whether it's better to just get out there and deal with it, or whether I'm making the cold worse. It's hard enough motivating myself to run in the dark and wet of a winter morning but especially so if I've had a minor cold...

    Louise ...  People are susceptible to illness when they are stressed, tired, and run down.  Relax on the exercise intensity, and look after your body.  Water, relaxing, and rest are your friends.  If you need to keep moving?  Jump in the water, or just get some Vitamin D in the sun with a relaxing walk. Breathe, and get well.

    Date and time
    June 11, 2014, 2:17PM
    • Precisely. I'm usually the one that suffers least when people gets colds and close relatives but this time I intensified my running schedule and caught the cold. It took me 3x longer to ward it off due my body being taxed than the loungers.

      Great Sir Paul
      Date and time
      June 11, 2014, 4:25PM
    • I was feeling a bit ropey & run down before easter, but decided to push on with my swimming schedule.

      The result? Six weeks off swimming altogether feeling rubbish with a cold.

      Taking a week off just as I was starting to get run down could've easily saved me a couple of weeks of sickness. Maybe more.

      Rest is good
      Date and time
      June 12, 2014, 10:48AM
  • The two most important things are to (1) want it, I mean really really want it, and (2) make it an immutable priority. You don't train when you can "find the time," you train first then find the time for all other activities later. It might be a bit crazy for the first few weeks, but you'll quickly work out how to balance your life around your training schedule without having to become a social hermit.

    Date and time
    June 11, 2014, 2:18PM
    • Not true - because I have a 3 hour/day commute, between walking in the door and turning the light out at night I have a three hour window. In that time I have to prepare my dinner, eat it, wind down, clean up after dinner, and get ready for bed. Fitting a visit to the gym is impossible, and it's not safe to walk around my neighbourhood except in high summer - too dark, and no footpaths.

      If I added visiting the gym, I'd have _no life at all_.

      I walk ~5 km each day on the weekends; that's all I can manage.

      Date and time
      June 11, 2014, 3:33PM
    • @/anne... I also travel about 3 hours a day and I mange to fit in a 1hour workout Monday - Friday. And yeap I do most of the cooking and cleaning for my wife and I. It is possible to do. I am lucky that I have a flexible workplace. That helps a lot. But even if I didn't I would still be able to get in a 45min workout at least. It just takes planning and willpower.

      Date and time
      June 11, 2014, 4:31PM
    • @ /anne
      My two pennies. You don't need to go anywhere at all. Get some space on the floor and do exercise. Micheal suggests a routine with a skipping rope and pushups etc. which seems pretty good. There are other exercises you could do too (yoga?).

      While you probably get up pretty early with a 1.5 hour commute, It might be worthwhile to do it all in the morning to set you up for the day - before breakfast. Even 15 mins of intensive work a day will do you pretty well. And that can all be done before shower/heading off.

      And it still leaves you with your 3 hour window in the evening.

      Date and time
      June 11, 2014, 4:48PM
    • @/anne
      The best way is to fit exercise into your commute. I have the choice of an hour commute to work on public transport or an hour on the bicycle. That is tough to start, but maybe drive and park closer to work and cycle in. With foldup e-bikes you don't even have to get much of a sweat up on the way in, just turn off the power on the way home to get a workout. I go a wee bit mad now and get up earlier to also get in a 1/2 hour run once I get to work. It is all about making it a habit and making it fit around your lifestyle.

      Date and time
      June 11, 2014, 5:23PM
    • In reply to Anne - my travels take up about 3 hours each day - but I always make time for fitness. Usually this is riding a bike between 13-18 hours per week. Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays are 5x5 intervals, these take about 1 hour. I do them at about 92% effort and cadence of 55rpm. Tuesday is a 1 hour easy ride with all cadence above 95rpm and power no higher than 150w - that's for recovery. Friday is the day off. Saturday is 4.5 hours endurance ride at zone 2 heart rate and again, cadence of 95rpm or better. Sunday is 3 hour endurance ride, again at 95rpm or better cadence. Those non interval days are important - that 95rpm or better cadence is done for a reason, it's to reduce muscle soreness. What also helps is the recovery drinks (mixed up from a powder) and a foam roller - this is particularly useful and a cheap way of massaging out tired, sore muscles.

      Usually this routine will get me between 350-400km per week. On those long rides, I tend to do about 500ml of water each hour.

      When I'm done with those low cadence intervals, I might change it up with some HIIT. On a bike, it's much the same as running - you do lots of short and hard sprints with fairly short recovery periods. Despite what some might say, they have a great effect on your anaerobic capacity and also burn up calories. These take about 1 hour - and you'll typically do about 10 intervals, with a steady warm up at the start.

      I'm busy too - but this is something I'm committed to. Anyone can do it. I used to be totally unfit.

      Don't lose faith so easily
      Date and time
      June 11, 2014, 6:31PM
    • @/anne..Havn`t you heard of jamie Olivers 15 or 30 minute meals,or dont you posess a slow cooker so your meal can be ready when you walk in the door at home.

      Date and time
      June 11, 2014, 7:17PM

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