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5 fitness secrets I learned from doing a personal trainer’s course (that PTs NEVER tell you)


Editor Anna Magee has been doing a personal trainer’s course – here she shares some of the inside fitness secrets that no one ever tells you about fitness

Every other Sunday I used to find myself in the gym telling my girlfriends how to squat properly, what kettlebell swings could do for their gluteual muscles (aka bootay, junk in the trunk etc.) and how plyometrics were essential to their training. Then, when one suggested I do a part-time PT course, I thought, why not?

It’s been enlightening. I have learned lots of new things. But what has really gob-smacked me is that, over the years I have interviewed probably hundreds of personal trainers, had my own for about 18 months and written thousands of words about fitness and exercises for national newspapers, magazines and this site.

my loyalty starts and ends with you guys, so I want to share some of the inside fitness wisdom

But there is so much incredibly useful stuff no trainers have ever told me, that only they know. It’s the knowledge they get paid the big bucks for (and why the course is taking me exactly three years to pay off!) so why would they share it?

But my loyalty starts and ends with you guys, so I want to share some of the inside fitness wisdom here. I can’t claim to know everything about it (yet) but if you’re as into your fitness as I am, some of it is worth some extra research – it could transform your body.

Just don’t ask the Bros in the gym (unless they’re qualified) – most Bro science is not really science, it’s mythology. Ask a reputable trainer.

  1. LISS is the new HIIT when it comes to fat-burning

There was a point when literally everyone was talking about doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and little else if it was fat-burning you wanted.

That’s short sharp bursts of exercise at very high intensities alternating with periods of rest at low intensity.

But during training, your body is using different energy systems, depending on the type of training you’re dong.

During HIIT, you use your lactate or creatine phosphate energy systems, not your aerobic energy system.

That sounds complicated but what you need to know is that for maximum fat loss, you need to use all three systems, not only one. But doing HIIT training is tough on the body, so it needs to be built up to, and also to be part of a weekly routine that uses different systems.

Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) training – for example a long run, cycle, power walk or row – done at about 70% of your Maximum Heart Rate is ideal for burning fat, as this is the fat-burning training zone. A few of these sessions a week are essential if you want to drop weight.

The trouble starts when it’s ALL you do. Your body – efficient machine that it is – will become more efficient at doing LISS, the more you do of it. So you need to increase your pace, or the length you go for.

By then adding some HIIT training to your weekly routine, you’re forcing your body to work harder, which quickly conditions your cardiovascular system and makes you fitter, faster, enabling you to be more efficient during your longer sessions.

The ideal cardio line-up for a week if it’s fat burning you want is 3-4 sessions of LISS and 1-2 sessions of HIIT and of course, your resistance training about three times a week.

2. Not all stretching is created equal

I used to wonder at some people in the gym who looked like they knew what they were doing (and had the bodies to prove it).

At the beginning of sessions they would be doing these big swinging movements – swinging of their legs back and forth and side to side, or doing fast, deep squats and lunges.

Now I know they were doing dynamic stretching, which is the best type of stretching to do at the start of your workout because it helps release synovial fluid into your joints.  Synovial fluidis the prime lubricator of the bones, making you more mobile and decreasing the chances of injury.

Do about 8-15 reps of about four dynamic stretches before your session and focus on the body parts that you will be working.

For example, if it’s leg or full body day, do some deep, fast squats with arms swinging down and up overhead. Go for as much range of movement as you can muster (this simply means squat as low and then reach as high as you can when you come up). Do about 8-15 reps of each dynamic stretch.

Here’s a video of some dynamic stretching.

Then, when you finish your workout, you can do static stretches. That’s where the stretch is held, ideally for 10-15 seconds or more to help release the muscle and relax the system after exercise.

Stretching afterwards is essential because your muscles contract during exercise, and they need to be stretched adequately in order to prevent soreness and injury. Again, focus on the parts you worked during the session when you’re choosing which moves to do.

3. There are SO many different ways to lift

I had a PT for years and I never knew the incredible amount of technical expertise that was going into planning my workouts. I just thought, we’re doing three sets of 12 reps of everything, right?

Isn’t that what everyone does in the gym? No, no, NO. In amongst all the chatter about our hair and nails my trainer was doing some serious PT voodoo to get the results on my body she was getting and most of that involved the use of different training systems.

For example, you could do a superset, in which the same muscle is trained for two consecutive sets of two different moves back to back before taking rest. For example, 12 back squats and 12 weighted steps ups. Then you would 60 seconds rest and go through that cycle three or maybe even five times more.  It’s a great way to pound a muscle group (in this case your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps) and help get results.

Another one of my new favourites is the ascending or descending pyramid. You start with the highest, or lowest weight you can do and then do however many reps of that you choose, say 8-15. Then you go upwards, or downwards, increasing or lowering the weight as you go. The idea is that you challenge your muscles throughout, constantly shocking them into toning up (which sounds ominous, but is a good thing).

Other training systems you might want to look into are drop sets, negatives and matrixes (also called 21s).

4. You need to do the big moves and the small moves

An effective training session – especially if toning and fat burn are your goal – will involve a lot of big movements that work more than one muscle, ideally a lot of them.

These are also called compound movements. Examples are the trendy moves of the moment such as deadlifts, squats and bench presses. But it needn’t be only weighted – push ups are also compound movements as they work the whole body. Compound movements literally savage calories as they enlist so many different muscles to perform even one rep.

On the other hand, isolated movements such as bicep curls, or tricep presses or butt clam lifts use only single muscles such as biceps, triceps or glutes.

These are also important as they strengthen the muscles you need to perform the bigger moves, but they don’t use nearly as many calories and they should make up the main part of your workout.

When you’re planning your training, try and plan for the big compound movements first and then the isolated ones. Or, you can use a training system called pre- and post- exhaust that does a compound move followed by an isolated move using one of the muscles the previous move used back to back and then adds rest. For example, a bench press or push up, followed by bicep curls.

5. If you really want to stick to your training, enlist your brain

That mind over matter thing. It’s not really a thing. You can’t actually will your body to do something your brain is not signed up for. That’s because your central nervous system literally rules everything when it comes to what you’re body will do.

So, if you find that you literally cannot stick to a training plan ever or your training has plateaued or you’re just not as enthused as you once were, it’s highly likely that the reason for this is in your head.

But that’s no reason to ignore it and every reason to L.I.S.T.E.N. Very. Carefully.

I remember I used to get so frustrated with myself sometimes in the gym when my body just didn’t want to play.

I once even burst into tears during a deadlift because I thought I would faint from exhaustion. Someone in the gym asked me, ‘What else is going on in your life?’

At the time I thought they were being nosy, but I now know they were referring to the enormous effect that stress and other life factors can have on your training, because of the way they create fatigue in the nervous system, and release and use up hormones you need for your training.

Lo and behold, at the same time that crying-gate happened, my personal life was a train smash and so, SO super-complicated away from the gym, it was keeping me awake, cutting my appetite and stopping me fuelling my body and recovering properly, further adding to the reasons I couldn’t train properly.

In an unenlightening attempt to let off steam I was doing lots of boxing, running and other cardio between lifting sessions and it was making me so knackered that by the time it came to deadlifting 70kg, I was a big fat bumbling, bawling mess. That then made me feel like a big fat failure, and the cycle continued.

So, morale of the story is this. if you’re just not that into your training ask your brain the question – what does my body REALLY want to do?  Your brain really does have the answer. Of course, the answer might be lie on the sofa, so do that for a few days. Rest. Recuperate. Sleep (it’s literally everything when it comes to recovering and gleaming the benefits of your exercise).

Then ask your body again in a days. It might want to do more yoga, and perhaps a little less lifting. Or a routine with some jumping, or a dance class or it might just want to take lots of long walks.

Then try asking your body again after a few weeks of your downloaded plan. You might find it’s ready to hit those 70kg deadlifts again.

Related Healthista content:

16 weight, diet and fitness lessons I learned from doing a body transformation

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Will lifting make me bulky? Fitness fads exposed

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