The Ultimate Resolution Solution

4 Comments

Get there, this year!

By Raymond Onyango.

New-Years-ResolutionI hope you all had a great start to the year 2013. I know that many of you have made fitness resolutions this year, like every year before it, and I also know that the vast majority of you will fail to keep those resolutions. This is not prophetic, its fact. Exercise attrition rates are notoriously high within the global health and fitness industry.New Years Resolutions Are Easily Broken Here in United States of America it is estimated that up to half of all individuals that take up an exercise program at the beginning of the year drop out within the first 6 to 8 weeks of commencing their training.

This is what we are going to address over the course of this article, and it is my hope that when you’re done reading this you will be armed with a few ideas to keep you from faltering along the way. Maybe 2013 will be the year when you finally make it happen, and here is how:

Get Social

Get SocialSocializing is the key to long-term exercise success. As a matter of fact, one things I do religiously with all my personal training clients is to introduce them to as many other gym members as possible. Even in my group exercise classes I make a point of learning my students names and referring to each individual by name throughout the course of the class. I do this because I realized early in my career that my most successful clients were invariably the ones who had a strong social support network. I learned that connecting my clients to other gym members in a meaningful way gives them a strong sense of belonging, helps to make them feel more at ease on the gym floor and ultimately leads them to cultivate an more enduring fitness habit. Friendship is a powerful thing, and when you have friends at the gym, who are Friends Help You Maintain An Exercise Habitcommitted to exercise you will be more inclined to go there often rather than duck into a pub immediately after work. Your gym friends will look out for you when you don’t show up and they will encourage you when you feel like giving up. So this year when you go to gym, leave your Ipod behind and avoid the temptation to plug the world out; instead go out and make the effort to meet new people. Join a group class, pick up a sport or get a personal trainer. Anything that will allow you to expand your social circle and take the monotony out of exercise. Trust me, you will be more successful for it!

Watch your Sugar Intake

Fat FreeFat has long been the whipping boy of the fitness industry; so much so that a whole industry has been born with regards to fat reduced food. We now have fat free milk, low fat cookies and fat reduced yogurt, just to name a few. Labeling foods ‘fat free’ has been an outrageously successful marketing gimmick, but it has so far been unsuccessful in stemming the tide of rising obesity rates worldwide because most fat free foods are laden with sugar to substitute for the loss of flavor when fat is removed. Here in the United States of America you will find a form of sugar known as high fructose corn syrup in just about every food product on the supermarket shelves form macaroni and cheese to ketchup and bread. The result is that Americans onRethink Your Drink average consume about 22 spoonfuls of sugar everyday. It’s no wonder that almost half of the entire American population are classified as obese. This over consumption of sugar spikes your body’s production of the hormone insulin, which in turn controls your blood sugar by mopping up the excess sugar and converting it to fat. This means you can eat all the fat free products you like, but inevitably you will still gain weight unless you make an effort to reduce the overall amount of processed foods in your everyday diet.

Drop your goals

Yes you heard me right! Throw out the scale, ditch the tape measure and put away the fitness magazines. The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to make the commitment to move everyday. Fitness goals are great, for motivation, but they can also create a disconnect that leads us to think of exercise as something that is separate from our everyday lives. I know for a fact that 90% of the battle to stay in shape comes down to lifestyle change. We are not talking killer workouts in Aim for consistencythe gym here; we are talking about creating opportunities for movement in your everyday life. Walking when you can as opposed to driving everywhere, getting active with your kids or spouse by turning off the television and playing a game of touch football or taking the dogs out for a walk. Many countries in the developed world have virtually engineered movement out human life. I still shudder every time I walk into a supermarket here in America, where they even have motorized shopping carts for individuals who are literally too obese to get around a supermarket on their own feet! It’s shocking!

Daily activity is what serves to bridge the gap between the amount of calories you take in and the quantity that you burn. You want to make it your first aim to accumulate at least 30 minutes of physical activity of whatever kind everyday. If you can do that and then throw in 3 supplementary, hour-long workouts every week, you will see the pounds drop off without too much fuss.  My overall philosophy in fitness is to strive for consistency and not to worry about numbers. If you dwell on pounds and inches you become shortsighted and invariably you loose your way. But if you strive for consistency, the numbers will always add up in the end. Have a fabulous and successful  year 2013.

Advertisements

This is what real people look like!

Leave a comment

How the mass media contributes to negative body image.

By Raymond Onyango.

If I had a dollar for every time that a client has walked up to me in the gym, with a celebrity photo cutout from a glamour magazine and asked me to make them look like that, I would be a millionaire several times over. As a personal trainer, I would say that perhaps the most delicate aspect of my job involves helping my clients to manage their expectations, without diminishing their enthusiasm and motivation to stick it through a consistent exercise program. This can be especially difficult in the current media saturated environment in which we live, a world where Kim Kardashian’s butt routinely commands more media attention, than the millions of people suffering the ravages of war and starvation in several parts of the globe.

I dare say our preoccupation with celebrity and the lengths to which we are willing to go in order to achieve it, has reached what is arguably an unhealthy apex. For instance, even as obesity rates continue to soar around the world, dress sizes on the other hand have steadily shrunk from the 60’s to the present day. According to a 2006 article authored by Jennifer Freeze in the Southeast Missourian, clothing sizes have changed so much that a woman who wore a size 8 in 1950 would wear a size 00 today! She goes further to observe in the same article that in the 1940s, the smallest available size was a 10. By the 1950s the smallest available size was an 8 and today there’s a size 00 on the racks. Just to put that into perspective, consider this; even Marilyn Monroe, size 8-10 and perhaps the most iconic movie star of the 60’s would be considered a plus size in this day and age.

Celebrities As Normal People

The question is, ‘Does this obsession with physical perfection driven by the showbiz industry and perpetuated by the media, actually reflect the real image of your everyday woman on the street or even the starlets in Hollywood for that matter?’ The answer to that is an emphatic No!

Not only is the sort of physical perfection espoused in the mass media simply unattainable, it is also just plain downright fakery. A quick Google search with the key words, ‘photoshopped celebrities’ yields well over a million results in just 0.14 seconds for images of celebrities before and after they have been photoshopped. A closer look reveals that many, if not all of them are just regular folk like you and I, with moles, freckles, wrinkles, love handles and belly fat to boot. In a nutshell, they are not perfect  – just normal.

Striving For An Unattainable Ideal.

The saddest part of this story is that for many 14 and 16-year-old girls and beyond, flipping through these photoshopped magazines, the real truth is not immediately evident. As a direct result, there has been an explosion in the prevalence of eating disorders amongst this most vulnerable of groups.

Just recently, the artist who goes by the name Lady Gaga and is renowned for her outrageous wardrobe choices and often controversial media statements, found herself once more in the eye of the media storm – this time stemming from an article in the Daily Mail of London, ridiculing her for being ‘decidedly meaty around the hips and thighs’ during a recent concert in Amsterdam.  The ensuing feeding frenzy that followed that particular performance as media houses competed amongst themselves in speculating on the reasons behind her weight gain led to a candid admission on her part of a long concealed struggle with eating disorders including bulimia and anorexia.  She later released untouched photographs of herself posing in a bikini and looking very much like the girl next door, as part of a campaign she has dubbed – the body revolution. This is a campaign aimed at helping young women own up to their struggles with extreme dieting and eating disorders, in a bid to reclaim their bodies.

Naturally Lady Gaga is not the first public figure to catch some flak from the press for gaining weight, but her status as an ‘uber’ hip icon amongst the youth, with almost 30 million followers on twitter, served to reignite the debate about whether there in an unrealistic amount of pressure on public figures to look thin, a fact that maybe responsible for the huge prevalence of eating disorders amongst that demographic.

The Ultimate Price Of Extreme Diets 

Ultimately for many of these celebrities and the myriads of young girls they influence, there is a very steep price to pay for years of engaging in the sort of extreme dieting that now seems to be a staple in the upper echelons of the showbiz industry. A case in point, just a few short years ago Gwyneth Paltrow, the Hollywood actress, was diagnosed with the brittle bone disease – osteopenia, a precursor to arthritis that is usually found in much older women. Several experts have suggested that this may be a result of excessive dieting and an overly intense exercise regimen, both of which come with the territory in Hollywood. In the worst-case scenario, certain death is not a far-fetched possibility. On August 2nd 2006, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia reported the death of two sisters, both Uruguayan runway models who died of apparent heart attacks within months of each other. Luisel Ramos, died from a heart attack caused by anorexia nervosa, while participating in a fashion show during fashion week in Montevideo, Uruguay. Her father told the police that she had gone several days without eating and she was reported to have subsisted almost exclusively on a diet of lettuce and coke, for the three months prior to her death. On February 13th 2007, Luisel’s 18-year-old sister Eliana Ramos, also a model died at her grandparents home of an apparent heart attack believed to be related to malnutrition. In April 2007, Hila Emlich, an Israeli runway model also succumbed to anorexia related complications that led to her subsequent death.

The tragic deaths of these beautiful young women, played a huge part in a decision by Italian fashion designers to ban size zero models from walking down their catwalks and setting a minimum BMI of at least 18 for all models. Above all it should serve as a pertinent reminder to the rest of us that it is not worth sacrificing your life in the pursuit of an unattainable ideal. Love yourself and love the body you are in, because ultimately that is exactly how nature intended for you to be!

Celebrate your body this week, will you!

What Does ‘Fit’ Look Like?

Leave a comment

Why Being Thin Does Not Always Mean You Are Fit!

By Raymond Onyango.

Thin Is Not Always Fit!

It seems there are a lot of preconceived notions about what it really means to be fit. Television, Cinema and Print Media are all dominated almost exclusively by thin people. The Fitness Industry is no better; you will seldom see a gym advert featuring a heavy individual unless it is a ‘before’ picture. All this has helped to foster the widely held perception than thin people are fitter and healthier than their more substantial counterparts!

Jennifer Hudson Before & After Photos

As a fitness professional however, I am hardly ever swayed by physical appearances. It has been my experience from years of conducting Fitness Evaluations, that a thorough physical assessment can reveal a very different  internal picture from the rosy one that a tiny waistline conveys. I have come across a significant number or very slim looking men, who are plagued by elevated cholesterol levels or sky rocketing, blood pressure. This just goes to prove that overweight individuals do not have a monopoly on health complications. A slim individual living a sedentary life, fraught with high stress and poor nutritional habits is just as susceptible to heart disease, and other co-morbid conditions including diabetes, as his overweight counterparts.

In fact being slim can in itself be a major risk factor, because it encourages complacency and leads you to believe that you do not need to exercise in order to enjoy good health. Nothing could be further from the truth – read on and understand why:

How Body Types Influence Physical Appearance.

Male Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

Watch any major athletics championship such as the Olympics and you will be floored by the variety of physiques on display. The 100-meter sprinters are almost always muscled and defined in contrast to the loose limbed, lanky  marathon runners. The Shot Putters generally have huge shoulders and prominent bellies, quite unlike the show stopping elegance of the high jumpers, who are more reminiscent of an Impala gazelle in flight! The only thing they all share in common is the fact they are the best athletes in their respective events, in the whole world and therefore some of the fittest individuals on the planet.

Their physical differences also reflect the 3 major body types, that define the physical shape that each one of us is bequeathed by our genetics at conception. Ectomorphs are like your typical marathon runner, skinny, long boned and narrow in the pelvis. Your average 100-meter sprinter is likely to be a Mesomorph, the natural athletes of this world.  They are the ones blessed with wide shoulders, powerful muscles and bags of athletic capacity. However they remain very likely to gain weight if they stop exercising or start eating poorly. The big guys and girls who throw the Shot Put are most representative of the Endomorphic body type. These guys are not lazy by any means; the Shot Put is one of the most technical disciplines among the field events, demanding a unique combination of intricate, elegant footwork and raw brute strength. Endormorps have big bones and tend to carry a higher percentage of body fat than either the Ectomorph and the Mesomorph even when they are really fit!

Body Weight Vs. Body Fat

Female Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

As a part of my research for this article I posted a question on my face book page, “ Do the words ‘thin’ and ‘fit’ mean the same to you? The first response I got was from one of my regular contributors, Ben Okombo. He says, and I quote “ Ray this is my exactly my story. I am 108.5kg, stand at 6 2’. My BMI reads 31, which means I am obese.  I am not fat however, because I train hard in the gym. So how is this possible?”

It is possible because your weight on the scale does not tell you everything you need to know about your health. For instance it does not tell you what percentage of that weight is fat as opposed to lean muscle. This is another reason why the Body Mass Index Scale BMI is no longer considered the gold standard in terms of determining what our healthy bodyweight should be. A body builder, weighing themselves on the scale and having his BMI calculated, will most likely be classified as obese, despite the fact that body builders typically have very low levels of actual body fat.

Bioelectrical Impedence Machine

In contrast I often use a Bioelectrical Impedance Machine to calculate my clients body fat percentages. I only need to feed your height, weight and sex into the machine, and then have you hold onto the electrodes which send a mild imperceptible electric current though your body. Fat is an insulator and impedes electricity; muscle however conducts electricity readily because all nerve impulses are essentially electric signals. The machine uses this distinction in the physical properties of fat and muscle to calculate your percentage body fat. Men should have an ideal body fat percentage ranging from 10 to 20% while women should maintain a range of 20 to 30%. What is quite telling, is that very slim individuals will often turn out to have very high body fat percentages, especially in the case of women who are naturally slim but have almost no muscle. These sorts of individuals can actually be clinically obese and exposed to all of its potential health challenges and not even be aware of it!

Love Yourself For Who You Are

I personally believe that true fitness is not about being thin, it about being comfortable in your body and doing the best you can to consistently Eat Better and Move More! We must appreciate the fact that the human body comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and we as a society need to pay attention to physical fitness and healthy eating habits much more than physical appearance. As a famous actress once said, ”You are not born second class, you have to learn to be that way”!

Have a first class week will you!

Life Lessons On Fitness

2 Comments

By Raymond Onyango.

I spent my entire afternoon, last Saturday the 3rd of March 2012, attending and participating in a highly inspiring talk session organized by my friend Mercy Mose, a budding and highly talented motivational speaker. The event, dubbed “How to live your dreams” proved to be a highly rousing and exciting opportunity for each and every one of us in attendance, a to re-examine our lives, starting from the way we eat right down to our exercise and nutritional habits.  In fact I was so inspired by the people that I got to meet, connect with and talk to at this event that, that I decided to carry on the conversation on my blog, so this week I am going to share with you some of the most inspiring life lessons I have learned in the course of my career and a fitness leader and activist. It is my sincere hope that you will be similarly inspired and encouraged to keep up the good fight. Living a healthy and consistently active lifestyle does not come easy, even for people like me who do it for a living. It’s a constant struggle to find the time, to keep up the habit and maintain the motivation…I hope these insights help you along your way. Read on,

  • Physical perfection is an illusion no one ever attains. Part of being fit involves loving and learning to understand your body, even as it ages and goes through the transitions of life.  If you are not happy with your body as it is now, you will never be happy with it even if you looked like a supermodel. In the long run it is far more important to have fun and enjoy whatever physical activity you are pursuing, this is the only way you will guarantee lasting results.
  • It is important to have other ways of measuring your progress outside of simply weighing yourself on a scale. Remember that the scale cannot tell the difference between fat and muscle and cannot therefore give you an accurate picture of how much progress you are making. Pay more attention to your body fat percentage and circumferences. As for the scale, you can get onto it every once in a while but do not be obsessed by the numbers. Numbers have their use, but they don’t tell the whole story.
  • If you eat mostly wholesome, unprocessed, natural foods, chances are you will never have to count calories in your life. The human race has fed itself in this exact way for millennia and obesity was never really a problem until the advent of large scale food processing. With the discovery of antibiotics and the enormous improvements in medical care, humanity has brought infectious diseases largely under its control, what is killing us today are lifestyle diseases.
  • The best gift you can ever give your children is to teach them how to cook and eat healthy. Not being able to cook deprives you of the ability to control your food choices and regulate what goes into your own body. Cooking is an essential life skill, one that your kids should not miss out on.
  • Understanding your body type and how it responds to food and exercise is ultimately more important that following any type of complicated fitness routine. I workout most days of
    the week, running, cycling, weight training, yoga and Pilates and provided I keep this up, I have the liberty to eat just about anything I want to. But that is not universal formula that works for everyone.  What works for me might not work for you. In fact the bigger part of getting fit and staying that way, depends on your capacity to make accurate observations of your own body and respond by modifying your lifestyle choices, rather than blindly following some ‘great’ fitness program.
  • Most of the ‘revolutionary fitness gadgets’ being advertised in the mainstream media are nothing but a complete waste of time, deigned to fool you into spending money. Study after study has shown that most individuals who invest in expensive gym gear hardly use it much after less than six months. You don’t need gadgets you need knowledge! The ability to use your own body as prop. Push ups, Pull ups, Lunges, Squats, and abdominal crunches among others are still the most effective exercises you can count on to get you into shape and keep you that way for a lifetime. If you have to buy something, buy a good fitness book that really teaches you the fundamental principles of safe and effective exercise.
  • Spot reduction is a myth. Unless you are a professional body builder, you
    really have no business doing 10 different exercises for your biceps, legs or abdomen. If you are still obsessed with the idea that you can influence individual parts of your body without reference to others…forget it! It never happens! You cannot transform one part of your body to the exclusion of all others. Do yourself a favor and stick with huge compound exercises which involve movement of at least two joints or more and which require some aspect of coordination and balance. These are the real bread and butter of a successful workout plan.
  • There is no such thing as a short cut to weight loss or muscle toning. If you are looking to loose it fast, especially though extreme practices like radical dieting, I can assure you, you will eventually gain it all back with much more on top or otherwise you will suffer malnutrition and all of its consequences. The plain truth is that all diets fail in the long run, only intentional lifestyle changes make a lasting difference. The secret to permanent weight loss is to do it at a sustainable rate. I recommend that you loose no more than 2 kg every month. It might take you a year to do it, but at least you won’t be left with bags of sagging skin, a common consequence of radical food restriction diets.
  •  Prevention is better than cure. Work out to keep healthy and try to prevent lifestyle diseases before you become afflicted by them. Once you develop high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis…there is simply no turning back. You are mortgaged to a lifetime of pills, lab tests, doctor’s visits and restricted diets. So it is wise to do everything in your power to keep from getting there in the first place – it’s only sensible!
  •  It is never too late to start working out; even in your 50’s you can still build muscle, burn fat and look like a million buck if you do the right things. All you need to do is stop making excuses and start acting in some capacity, however small.
  • It is physically impossible to gain 1 or 2 kilograms of fat over a weekend, even a generous one at that. You don’t need to rush to the gym and horde the treadmill for an hour just to assuage your guilt. That extra weight on the scale is probably water retention. Fluctuations in bodyweight are common especially among women, before and after their monthly cycles. Relax its probably nothing to worry about. The only time you should really be concerned is when you start having trouble fitting into your clothes. Don’t buy a size larger, work out!
  •  Healthy active individuals can enjoy their vices in moderation. There really are no bad or good foods it is a question of habits more than anything. A beer here, a slice of chocolate cake there and such other indulgences are perfectly acceptable – in moderation. Life is simply too short to deny yourself the little pleasures. Balance and moderation are what count.
  • Sugar and alcohol and tobacco are three of the greatest dangers to our health in the modern world. Quit smoking, watch your sugar intake and control you alcohol consumption and you might live to see your great grand children. If you don’t, you are almost certain to pick up a lifestyle disease or two along the way. Diabetes and blood pressure used to be called the diseases of the ‘rich’. But today patients suffering from these two conditions and their related ailments occupy more bed space in hospitals here in Kenya than diseases like malaria.
  • Unless by recommendation from a medical doctor, don’t waste your money on supplements. Many of them are unnecessary and some of them are potential
    dangerous as was evidenced about a some years ago when the substance ephedrine was banned form the United States after increasing alarm following widespread adverse side effects and potential deaths resulting form of health supplements containing ephedrine which often promised rapid weight loss. Virtually everything your body needs to function can be derived from eating a simple, wholesome, balanced diet and that is where you should focus your efforts.
  • In the fitness world, the only time frame that makes any sense is a lifetime. Face it today, that you are going to be doing this for the rest of your life. That is why I always insist that fitness must never be a struggle. Don’t force yourself to jog if you are not a runner, try soccer or cycling. Whatever the case look for an activity that brings you joy and encourages you to move just for the sheer joy of movement. Short-term success is only worthwhile if it can be maintained in the long run …other wise it is just a wasted effort and a waste of life. Have an inspired week, will you!

Be Your Best Self

2 Comments

Your Roadmap To Fitness In 2012

By Raymond Onyango.

I love this time of year. I love the sense of opportunity it brings. It’s a great chance to wipe the slate clean, to make a new beginning. It is an excellent time of year to put into action a strategy that will see you end the year fitter, healthier and looking better than you do now.  Of course many of us have already made big promises to ourselves this January. We have promised to loose weight and get into shape, we’ve promised ourselves we will eat better this year, get up early in the morning and take a walk around the block if not a jog. But the ugly truth us that we did this last year too, and maybe the year before…and we failed! Some of us failed because we didn’t put our plans into action. We simply talked about it, harbored good intentions but never made the effort, and an even greater number of us failed because we didn’t have a plan in the first place!

Not having a plan is, essentially setting yourself up for failure. My experience as a personal trainer has taught me that the great majority gym users are highly resistant to the idea of planning our fitness activities according to a schedule. Most will refuse to submit to an evaluation and of the few that do, a very small handful actually go ahead and make use of the programs I write. In fact most of the time as I write out my fitness programs I am aware that they will hardly be followed if at all; that the client will just as soon cast the program aside and prefer to work out in a totally random pattern. ‘I got bored’, is answer I get the most when I ask why? Another popular one is, ‘ I just don’t have the time’. What is clear from these answers is that the majority of us fail because we are both insufficiently stimulated and interested in exercise to get a regular rhythm up and going, or other wise way too ambitious in the scope of what we are trying to achieve in a very short time frame.

I have also come to learn there are two important things that are hugely motivating as far as adherence to an exercise program is concerned.The first of these is that you can only transform your body by choosing activities you really enjoy. Forget what you have heard about ‘no pain, no gain’. Truth is that most of us will bolt away from a fitness program the moment we perceive it to be painful or punishing. The other thing is that effort and progress are not always inversely proportional to each other. Many of us, I daresay the majority of us, put in lots of effort, but have very little to show for it. Many of the fellows who spend 3 hours at the gym are not exactly in great shape.

You could of course change all that this year, through this simple, cost efficient and hugely interesting approach to fitness, incorporating just 3 simple concepts that guarantee you a better body by the end of this year.

Here they are:

Cardio

The human body is a cardiovascular machine, the heart is the engine of the whole thing, and it runs the show, literally! That is why Cardiac arrest or heart attacks claim so many victims every year. If your heart stopped beating for just 3 minutes, you are almost certain to suffer serious brain damage, just 5 or 6 minutes and certain death is on the cards. But the heart can also kill you slowly, lack of Physical activity and poor nutritional habits often combine to impair heart function, courtesy of elevated cholesterol levels that coat our arteries with plaque, creating hypertension and precipitating strokes, heart attacks and metabolic diseases like diabetes.

The culprit is the kind of fat which settles around the waistline, also known as Visceral fat. Of the two types of body fat Subcutaneous, meaning under the skin, is the easiest to get rid of and most visible. Women in particular experience this as cellulite in the hips, thighs and under arms. IT may be a major cause of concern from a purely cosmetic viewpoint but it hold far fewer dangers for us than the other kind of fat; Visceral fat, which can hide even in slim individuals tucked around internal organs, such as the liver, from where it easily finds its way up to your heart…sending you to an early grave.

Men are statistically more likely than women to suffer heart disease precisely because they mostly carry their extra weight around the waist. In women of postmenopausal age incidence of heart disease and metabolic disorders increase when the body’s estrogen production shuts down. In younger women a link has been established between obesity and growing incidence of breast cancer. Anyway you look at it, the truth is that you cannot afford to miss out on cardiovascular exercise, the question is how to do it in a sustainable manner.

My number one suggestion is to pick an activity and build your fitness program around it. It doesn’t matter what it is, golf, soccer, jogging, basketball, squash. The only qualification is that you must enjoy it sufficiently enough to stay interested and stimulated. Most of us stop playing games right after high school or collage; right about the same time we begin to put on excess weight around the waistline. Games are fun because you move for movement’s sake, you are not counting calories or observing your heart rate, you are simply running after the ball because it feels good to score.  Games also fulfill many of our needs as well, we make good friends on the neighborhood soccer team or the squash ladder at the gym; and because so many people hold us accountable if we don’t show up, we are more likely to stay consistent. It works!

My number two suggestion is, ‘ get yourself an ipod, if you don’t already have one’. The ipod has revolutionized the way the world keeps fit; thanks to the power it gives its users to create individualized play lists. I have play lists on my Ipod for every conceivable situation, some that pick me up when I am under motivated, others I use for speed runs others yet for slow hills. In my spin classes’ participants will gladly make it up the most brutal hills if the music is great because outside of play, music is the one other powerful force that motivates human beings to move. An ipod can make you enjoy running, it can turn a stationery bike on the gym floor into something alive and happening, because good music is fun, and its motivating.

Strength Training

From the very moment our ancestors got off their front paws and took to walking on two feet, the human race has been locked in a constant struggle with a silent but ever present force called gravity. The entire human machine is held upright and manually operated thanks to a mind-boggling number of skeletal muscles all of which function together to maintain posture and generate movement. Skeletal muscles operate on a ‘use it or loose it’ principle. Its simple, if you use your muscles actively on a regular basis they remain strong, defined and up to the task of holding you upright and facilitating your movement. However in a world where many of us spend the better part of our day seated behind a desk, muscle wasting begins in our early 30’s. Each year on average we loose one pound of muscle and gain much more in fat, thanks to our sedentary lives. In a few years, back pain is almost a given, with up to 90 percent of all men experiencing some kind of back pain in their lifetimes, while aches and pains in the weight bearing joints of the knee and hips tend to affect women more often caused by a combination of uncontrolled weight gain and poor footwear choices such as high heels among other reasons. Along with your muscles, your bones also get more brittle and thin as you age. With better medical care human life spans are increasing, which means many of us are living long beyond the age our bones we initially designed to work. Bone fractures sustained from taking a fall are one of the leading causes of injury in individuals over the age of 65; many of them also have to cope with degenerative bone diseases such as arthritis and its precursor osteoporosis.

Strength training on a regular basis from an early age can greatly improve your quality of life in your senior years…and make no mistake, you will get old someday! The simplest movements are often the most effective. Push ups, Lunges, Plank, Cycling, Squats, Dips, pull ups..None of these exercises require any special equipment. The burglar proofing grill in your house will do for pull ups, you can do push ups on the floor, a dinning char will come in handy for the dips while the squats and lunges need no equipment save for your own bodyweight.

Talking of bodyweight, I am a dyed in the wool believer in bodyweight training also known as calisthenics. I have always maintained that my clients have no business getting on an isotonic gym machine or lifting weights until they have some mastery over their own body weight. The reasoning behind this is informed by belief that what you do in the gym should serve you well outside the gym. A good program needs to help you live your life better. It should definitely make you look better, but is should also improve your health and boost your energy levels on the job. For this reason you need to perform exercises that challenge you to remain aware of what your body is doing, so that you can learn from there how to correct your posture or lift a load carefully without overloading your spine, or sling a travel bag on your shoulder without throwing out your lower back.

Do not listen to anyone who tells you that you cannot build muscle tone from bodyweight exercises alone…even the worlds most elite military cadets are still trained primarily through basic body weight exercises such as pull ups and pushups, and we you can see for yourself how fit they are! The beauty of a bodyweight based strength exercise program is that you can take it everywhere with you. For instance you can do it at home in your bedroom or on the roadside after your jog anywhere you can find some space you will be able to workout, and that will help you stay true. If you need some ideas to get you started look at great websites such as crossfit.com, suddenly the whole world can become your playground!

Stretch

Your entire body, the whole of it is clothed in a translucent, tough sheath of connective tissue known as the myofascial sheath. Its helps muscles glide over each other during movement and also gives shape and structure to the muscles themselves. As we grow older however this tissue looses it pliability and alignment, restricting physical movement, binding muscles and nerves and creating pain in countless number of ways.

In yoga philosophy we hold that the body is the ultimate receptacle and store of all emotional energy, both positive and negative. It explains why your body language often speaks loudly even when your words don’t. Your good friends will tell when you have had a bad day from your drooping shoulders and defeated posture. On a good day you will walk taller, posture has a lot to do with confidence! Whatever the case regular stretching is the only way to gently realign your muscle fibers, release trapped nerves and keep all manner of body aches at bay.

One ingredient you need to stretch safely and successfully is heat. Never attempt to stretch cold muscles like I see so many people do in the gym. Heat is what enables your muscles to stretch safely by increasing their pliability, much the same way a glass blower manipulates molten glass into countless fascinating shapes – heat is the core ingredient. On a practical level this means you should save your deep stretching for the end of your work out during cardiovascular exercise or do it in between the sets of your strength exercise while your muscles are at their warmest.

The other thing that really influences a good stretch is your breathing. Each successful stretch should held for a period of time accompanied by at least 5 to 10 deep slow breaths. Breathing in this manner clams down your nervous system and inhibits the involvement of specialized nerve cells known as muscle spindles, which are embedded deep in your muscle belly and act to trigger muscular contractions. If you watch a man dozing on a chair, you will see him involuntarily jerk his head up every time the muscles spindles kick in.

The Golgi tendon organ on the other hand, which is also composed of specialized nerve cells embedded in your muscles does the opposite, by acting to get your muscles to relax and stretch further so as to avoid injury. By regulating your breathing you can get much deeper into any stretch without running the risk of injury. Stretching is something we should aim to do everyday or at a minimum, 3 times a week. Try a yoga class; once or twice a week this year and it will have a profound effect on your mobility.

Next week we begin to look at how we can take these concepts and turn them into reality! Until then, have an inspired week, will you!

Find The Right Fit!

Leave a comment

Decode Your Exercise Personality!

By Raymond Onyango.

One of the undoubtedly indispensable skills you need in order to thrive within the fitness industry is people skills. Every single fitness professional faces one huge career challenge; essentially, ‘ captivating the clients attention, keeping them interested and motivated enough to stick it through and long enough to see a real difference”.

This challenge is not easily met, especially when you consider that your average fitness facility attracts a huge diversity of clients all of whom are possessed of their own idiosyncrasies.

Some clients expect you to be a military drill sergeant, barking orders and cracking the whip. Others expect you to be a teacher and help them make sense of complicated fitness concepts. Then there are those who need you to be an entertainer. To keep them laughing and take their minds away from the exercise itself. The only thing they have in common is that all of them expect you to help them achieve their goals.

I came to learn early on in my fitness career, that success lay primarily in teaching my clients how to decode their own exercise personality, and play up their strengths rather than dwell on their weaknesses. If I could match them up with activities they enjoyed, and were good at; they were more likely to succeed, because they were able to break through many of the mental barriers had kept them from building a successful exercise habit in the past.

Sunbird or Night Owl

Sometimes very minor adjustments to your workout schedule can make a world of a difference. Simple things such as changing the time of day at which you work out could help you stay true and consistent to a workout program. One of the things you need to figure out early in your workout program is whether you are an early morning sunbird or a night owl.

Sunbirds are the kind of individuals who get up in the morning all revved up and ready to go. In my experience they tend to be more dedicated to exercise because they are good at developing and following routines. They also tend to be very organized and focused people, because they need to get to the gym, workout and get out in time to make it work. The very fact that they are organized enough to pull this off every day is one of their greatest strengths. This is the kind of person who is likely follow a gym program consistently, because it appeals to their sense of predictability and routine. Working out in the morning also leaves you feeling energized the whole day and gets the workout, out of the way so that you can have a social life in the evenings.

Not every one is a sunbird however; I will be the first to confess that I am never at my best in the early morning. My body is like an old diesel locomotive engine that has to be carefully warmed up before use. I tend to come alive later in the day, and that is when I like to workout best. Working out in the evening helps me calm down and channel much of my energy, which in turn makes my habitual insomnia much easier to cope with. I am more likely to relish a good nights sleep after a long hard jog in the evening. But for some of my clients, working out in the evening has exactly the opposite effect. It gets them all worked up and excited to the extent that sleep becomes elusive. It is also much easier to get distracted and pulled away from your workout program in the evening, especially when your friends would rather go to a pub after work rather than hit the gym. Al these are factors that are likely to have a huge impact on your success or lack of it!

Lone Ranger Or Social Animal

Another important distinction to make with regards to your exercise personality is whether you are a lone ranger or a social animal. Lone rangers are usually self-driven, highly motivated individuals or otherwise people who see their workout as quality personal time, where they can retreat into their own minds, ponder life’s big questions or just experience peace and quiet.

Lone rangers do well at individual exercise options such as Martial arts, running, cycling or solo gym workouts, where they can regulate the pace of things and exercise free will and spontaneity in their exercise choices. The lone ranger can make tremendous progress in a short time because they are often much more focused on their actual workouts that your average social animal. If you identify as a lone ranger, you should perhaps avoid the gym at peak hours, where constant conversation from other gym goers might frustrate you.  If you choose to get into a group class, try classes like spinning or yoga, where there is plenty of room for individual expression and where you can still have a personal experience even in a group setting. As a lone ranger your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness, especially when you loose motivation and fall off the tracks like all of us are bound to do from time to time. Without anyone there to pick you up it could be weeks, months or even years before you get the exercise habit going again!

Social animals are a different breed altogether. They are the guys who like to jog as a group, attend aerobics class together or feature prominently in the squash ladder. For the social animal working out is all about the opportunity to meet other folk, socialize and have a great time. This is not necessarily a bad thing because having lots of friends at the gym can in itself help to inspire consistency of habit. The drawback comes when you consider that too much time may be spent socializing and not enough time exercising. For the social animal, a group fitness class is a great place to begin. In a class you will feed off the energy of the people around you to help you push yourself much harder than you generally would on your own. Furthermore, you will be able to kill two birds with one stone by  transforming a social experience into a productive session as well!

The Look Good Factor Vs The Feel Good Factor

Good old motivation, is probably the one thing that plays the single  biggest role in determining your success at a fitness program. In the end it all comes down to one question, “Why do you work out?” When I asked this question on my face book page earlier this week as a part of my research for this article; the response was quite varied as would be expected.

Some people will do anything it takes to look good. If it means getting up at 6 in the morning and running 3 kilometers every day, they will do it. If it means never drinking a soda ever again… ditto, no problem! These are usually the kind of people who have lots of will power, focus and are often very competitive. If you belong here, your greatest strength is that you do not shy away from challenge, and where most would be intimidated you actually thrive. Seek out challenging activities outdoor like hiking and mountain biking or tough indoor workouts such as a Crossfit based exercise program to really get your juices going. You need to look out for activities that challenge both your mind and body in order to keep you interested and motivated to exercise.

Your greatest weakness is that you often get bored easily and you might expect results too quickly.  This can make you give up on an activity before you really get the chance to experience real results. You would work well with a tough personal trainer or in a group setting where the other participants are advanced enough to keep you competitive. Hard as it may be, practice some consistency and try not to skip to quickly from one fitness trend to the next.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who work out mostly because it feels good. They like their dance classes because it feels great to dance. They run diligently because they get a great rush from it and they don’t own a bathroom scale! Your greatest strength comes from the fact that you are not driven by results. For this reason you are more likely to be consistent in your exercise program and therefore more likely to benefit from it, than the purely result oriented individual. You need to build on this strength by finding a sport or activity you enjoy and building your fitness program around it.

Your greatest enemy is routine.  Because running makes you feel good, you may be inclined fall into a routine where you only run the same route every other day and never do anything else. You need to shake up your program once in a while by introducing a new challenge, such as strength exercises aimed at improving your running speed or endurance. This might shake you out of your complacency and push your fitness levels up a notch or two simply by providing you with a new challenge. Your body is highly attuned to adapt to anything you throw at it. As soon as you fall into a routine, your progress automatically slows down and you want to avoid that.

More often than not, most of us are a combination of several different exercise personality types. I am a great example of a Lone ranger who enjoys teaching Yoga, a group fitness activity just as there are social animals who enjoy the occasional solitude of an activity such as swimming. The important thing is to make a lasting commitment to exercise and to find an activity that expresses your individual personality and compliments your greatest strengths. It is called using what you have, to get what you want…and it mostly works!

Have a brilliant week will you!

What Does ‘Fit’ Look Like?

3 Comments

Why Being Thin Does Not Always Mean You Are Fit!

By Raymond Onyango.

Thin Is Not Always Fit!

It seems there are a lot of preconceived notions about what it really means to be fit. Television, Cinema and Print Media are all dominated almost exclusively by thin people. The Fitness Industry is no better; you will seldom see a gym advert featuring a heavy individual unless it is a ‘before’ picture. All this has helped to foster the widely held perception than thin people are fitter and healthier than their more substantial counterparts!

Jennifer Hudson Before & After Photos

As a fitness professional however, I am hardly ever swayed by physical appearances. It has been my experience from years of conducting Fitness Evaluations, that a thorough physical assessment can reveal a very different  internal picture from the rosy one that a tiny waistline conveys. I have come across a significant number or very slim looking men, who are plagued by elevated cholesterol levels or sky rocketing, blood pressure. This just goes to prove that overweight individuals do not have a monopoly on health complications. A slim individual living a sedentary life, fraught with high stress and poor nutritional habits is just as susceptible to heart disease, and other co-morbid conditions including diabetes, as his overweight counterparts.

In fact being slim can in itself be a major risk factor, because it encourages complacency and leads you to believe that you do not need to exercise in order to enjoy good health. Nothing could be further from the truth – read on and understand why:

How Body Types Influence Physical Appearance.

Male Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

Watch any major athletics championship such as the Olympics and you will be floored by the variety of physiques on display. The 100-meter sprinters are almost always muscled and defined in contrast to the loose limbed, lanky  marathon runners. The Shot Putters generally have huge shoulders and prominent bellies, quite unlike the show stopping elegance of the high jumpers, who are more reminiscent of an Impala gazelle in flight! The only thing they all share in common is the fact they are the best athletes in their respective events, in the whole world and therefore some of the fittest individuals on the planet.

Their physical differences also reflect the 3 major body types, that define the physical shape that each one of us is bequeathed by our genetics at conception. Ectomorphs are like your typical marathon runner, skinny, long boned and narrow in the pelvis. Your average 100-meter sprinter is likely to be a Mesomorph, the natural athletes of this world.  They are the ones blessed with wide shoulders, powerful muscles and bags of athletic capacity. However they remain very likely to gain weight if they stop exercising or start eating poorly. The big guys and girls who throw the Shot Put are most representative of the Endomorphic body type. These guys are not lazy by any means; the Shot Put is one of the most technical disciplines among the field events, demanding a unique combination of intricate, elegant footwork and raw brute strength. Endormorps have big bones and tend to carry a higher percentage of body fat than either the Ectomorph and the Mesomorph even when they are really fit!

Body Weight Vs. Body Fat

Female Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

As a part of my research for this article I posted a question on my face book page, “ Do the words ‘thin’ and ‘fit’ mean the same to you? The first response I got was from one of my regular contributors, Ben Okombo. He says, and I quote “ Ray this is my exactly my story. I am 108.5kg, stand at 6 2’. My BMI reads 31, which means I am obese.  I am not fat however, because I train hard in the gym. So how is this possible?”

It is possible because your weight on the scale does not tell you everything you need to know about your health. For instance it does not tell you what percentage of that weight is fat as opposed to lean muscle. This is another reason why the Body Mass Index Scale BMI is no longer considered the gold standard in terms of determining what our healthy bodyweight should be. A body builder, weighing themselves on the scale and having his BMI calculated, will most likely be classified as obese, despite the fact that body builders typically have very low levels of actual body fat.

Bioelectrical Impedence Machine

In contrast I often use a Bioelectrical Impedance Machine to calculate my clients body fat percentages. I only need to feed your height, weight and sex into the machine, and then have you hold onto the electrodes which send a mild imperceptible electric current though your body. Fat is an insulator and impedes electricity; muscle however conducts electricity readily because all nerve impulses are essentially electric signals. The machine uses this distinction in the physical properties of fat and muscle to calculate your percentage body fat. Men should have an ideal body fat percentage ranging from 10 to 20% while women should maintain a range of 20 to 30%. What is quite telling, is that very slim individuals will often turn out to have very high body fat percentages, especially in the case of women who are naturally slim but have almost no muscle. These sorts of individuals can actually be clinically obese and exposed to all of its potential health challenges and not even be aware of it!

Love Yourself For Who You Are

I personally believe that true fitness is not about being thin, it about being comfortable in your body and doing the best you can to consistently Eat Better and Move More! We must appreciate the fact that the human body comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and we as a society need to pay attention to physical fitness and healthy eating habits much more than physical appearance. As a famous actress once said, ”You are not born second class, you have to learn to be that way”!

Have a first class week will you!

Older Entries