Monday, 28 January 2013

Bare Foot Running Part 2: The Best Technique.

This post follows on from Bare Foot Running Part 1 which introduced the concept of Bare Foot Running and laid out exercises to build up the foot muscles in preparation for starting your natural running.

(Slight side note, while doing some researching into barefoot running, I came across the theory that it is supposed to be very good for you because it allows free radicals and pent up energies to be realised into the ground... Really? Really? Just to state, I don't support bare foot running for these reasons. Also, she was still wearing Vibrams, so how many more free radicals can escape through those compared to normal shoes? I'm sure they have an answer, but I think my mind might cry hearing it.)

So, today we are going to look at the necessary changes in your technique to run injury free while bare foot.

Most people think that running is a very natural movement that doesn't need to be trained or taught. Well, just stand by a jogging track and watch people go by for long enough and you'll realise this isn't actually the case. There are lots of variations on 'how to run' and some of them look really painful. (I can't stand watching people run with their shoulders up around their ears, it makes even my muscles ache.)

Further, even if you have been trained in good running posture and technique, there are a lot of adjustments that need to be made when reducing the cushioning in your shoes (which is a good thing in the long run (pun was not intended! I'm not becoming my dad!)).

I'm going to outline the basics, and then if you have 10 minutes free I highly recommend the video by Terra Plana I've added below. They are makers of a minimalistic shoe, so do have a vested interest in promoting the method, but they give a lot of good advice and some exercises to do before running to prep you with appropriate posture, etc.

1. The Foot Strike.
The biggest difference that needs to be made (and almost automatically will be made because it's rather painful not to) is that you stop 'heel striking'. When you jog in shoes, you lengthen out your stride and hit the ground with your heel first. However, without the cushioning, this becomes very jarring, and you should move to a mid-foot or ball of foot strike. Just think of when you jump off something, you try to land on the balls of your feet because they absorb the most shock, you wouldn't try to land on your heel.

This photo from Science Daily demonstrates the difference in movement.

2. Length of Stride
One of the consequences of striking with your forefoot is that you will need to shorten your stride. Barefoot running requires faster, more dynamic movements than a lot of people might be used to. The aim is to keep the movements light, easy and fast. Initially this can add extra strain on your Achilles tendon and calves, so be wary of overworking these. However, once they strengthen up, you will have much stronger legs.

3. Posture.
A lot of people lean forward when they run with shoes, but with the shorter strides of bare foot running, it is always best to be as vertical as possible, which also allows you to breathe better. Your foot should be hitting the ground almost under your hips, which will be in line with your shoulders.

Those are the big three. I highly recommend you take the 10 minutes to watch this video, which will give you a much better idea of what to do:

Next time we will look at the various products you can get to help you go barefoot.

Other resources you might want to check out:

Science Daily. Barefoot Running: How Humans Ran Comfortably and Safely Before the Invention of Shoes. This article looks at the research into heel versus mid-foot strikes, and how running without shoes encourages a more natural gait. 

One Life. Is Barefoot Best? The Truth About Running Techniques. This offers a balanced view from a physical therapist who doesn't recommend barefoot running for everyone.

BareFootRunning. Running Barefoot, Forefoot Striking and Training Tips. This covers the same information about heel verse forefoot striking, but has some very useful tips on transitioning to barefoot running. 

BareFootTed (the whole blog, basically). Anyone who has read Christopher McDougall's 'Born To Run' will know of BareFoot Ted. He is a big advocate for barefoot running. In his blog he covers all the different issues you might face trying to transition. (By the way, if you haven't read 'Born To Run' and are interested in natural running, I highly recommend it.)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Barefoot Running - Part 1

Barefoot running. Surely you've heard of it by now? Also known as minimalist running? Natural running?

If you are a regular exerciser, but don't spend your spare time browsing fitness magazines and books, then you might not have heard of this. My little sister hadn't until my brother and I mentioned (me because I'm interested in fitness, and my brother probably more because he's interested in fads. Love you Dave, but you know it is true!)

So, for all those faithful exercisers who haven't heard about barefoot running, this post is for you!

Let's start at the beginning. What on earth am I talking about?

I first heard about barefoot or minimalist running in a fitness magazine. Then the Maffetone method brought it up again. Then it came up again in 'Born to Run' and I started to do some more investigation.

The basic theory is this: our foot was designed to run without any cushioning or stabilization. The foot has a massive number of bones which give it a natural shock absorption when running on the middle to balls of our feet. However, with the introduction of more cushioned shoes, we have started landing on our heels, which is not how we are designed to run and leads to a lot of the injuries runners seem plagued with.

The solution? Go back to running in bare feet and very soon your posture and foot fall will go back to the more natural movement (possible with some retraining).

Generally, there is a lot of internal logic to this argument.

1. striking the ground heel first does seem an unnatural and jarring movement if you aren't wearing padded shoes.
2. deconditioning elements in your feet and legs that usually stabilize the foot would lead to injury.
3. runners are generally plagued by injuries.

So, the movement is not altogether crazy. If you watch some of the videos out there, a lot of the proponents of the movement seem slightly on the hairy palm side of normal, but the general principle that you should reduce the padding in your shoes and try to run with a more natural mid to ball striking gait seems sensible.

So where can you sign up?

Now slow down. If you are anything like my eldest brother, and a large proportion of men appear to be in some respects, then you will jump straight in, kick off your shoes, try to run a marathon and end up injuring yourself. 

First warning: obviously the skin on the bottom of our feet is not as tough as it would be, so some form of footware is necessary at least to begin with.

Second warning:  after years and years of running in shoes, a lot of the muscles and stablizers that normally would be super strong are not so strong and can become inflamed if you go straight into long runs in anything close to bare feet.

Have you ever spent a day at the beach and after walking on sand for a hours the next day your foot is cramping and sore? Well, that's because you are expecting it to adjust to the moving sand, something it's totally not use to and the muscles fatigue just like any muscle with a new exercise.

Going straight to barefoot running is a milder, but similar form of this.

So, if you are interested in this movement, I recommend working towards it in three steps:

First, try to get a pair of runners with the least amount of padding and the most flexibility that you can tolerate. Usually, super cheap running shoes work well for this.

Second, actively work on building up your foot muscles.

My top exercise suggestions:
- If you can, walk on sand as much as you can.
- Walk around your house barefoot. 
- Every night while cleaning your teeth or chatting on the phone, balance on the ball of one foot, and work your way up to doing it with your eyes closed. This will strengthen all the stabilizers.

Third, look into getting some of the minimalist shoes out there once you feel comfortable. The five-fingered vibrams were some of the earliest, but a lot more have come onto the scene. Just remember that you should always start with a few sessions just walking in them, then build up to alternate walking and jogging and finally jogging/running normally.

In the next post I'm going to look more at the technique for barefoot running, and then in the third post I'll review some of the different barefoot products out there, as well as looking at how to make your own... just because you know you want to.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Sugar Detoxing Fail

From Stock.xchng uploaded by silviogs
Sugar detoxing is hard!

It's probably even harder if you manage to actually cut out the sugar. But even just trying to do that is difficult.

So, on Sunday I said I was going to cut out the sugar this week, caffeine next week, and increase my low level cardio in line with the Primal Blueprint, before going on my health retreat in two weeks' time.

The fact that I had to have a fasting blood test on Monday did not really help. Almost passed out again in the doctor's surgery, but that could also have been because I'm not great with needles, and tend to do weird breathing while one is stuck in me.

So needed something quick, but without sugar. So I got a juice, which faithfully said it had no added sugar. But is juice cheating? It feels like it should be cheating.

I also got a turkey wrap for my late breakfast because I couldn't find much else, and fear that the cranberry sauce probably had sugar too.

For lunch I was super good and had sausages, steamed veggies and a roast tomato. So definitely going well on the extra veggies and protein.

Walked for 2 hours after work (only one hour was intentional, the extra hour was because the tram didn't come.)

Shopping for meat for dinner I found that so much of it is basted in... sugar! Ended up getting these mini pork roasts with chilli and corriander which were really nice (and supposedly sugar free). I also roasted some eggplant, tomato, capsicum and chunks of garlic (I live by myself, who cares if I have bad breath?) with some olive oil along. And that was it for the night.

This morning I had sausages and salad for breakfast (weird, I know, but breakfast salad is becoming a thing, just wait.) But then at work one of the girls brought in Mochi, which I love, and turns out to have like five different types of sugar in it. I admit I cracked.

Then at lunch grabbed an iced white tea, only to find after I had bought it that it had cane sugar as the second ingredient after water! Natural cane sugar, though, does that make it any better? (Don't worry, that one's a joke).

Continued on the downhill slope with sweet chilli salmon for my mid-afternoon snack, but was good after that with most roast pork with veggies and some apple for dinner.

So, starting all over again tomorrow.

Anyone know: is juice and fruit allowed when trying to detox from sugar?

Think I'm going to make up some date and almond balls, as had them at a yoga retreat recently and it was just as good as chocolate. Will let you know how they go.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

How To Get Started On The Primal Blueprint Diet

To be honest, looking over the various different requirements, mirco-nutrients balancing ,etc. involved in the Primal diet can be a bit overwhelming. I know I said I would put my money where my mouth was and try it, but help!

However, Mark has put together an e-book of questions he asked his faithful followers to answer. One of the questions was basically where should a beginner start?

Most emphasised that you should start slow, as it is a lifestyle change, not a 'diet' as such, which is generally good advice. Some recommended throwing out everything in your pantry that didn't fit with the program (or giving it to charity), while others just suggested only buying primal from now on and slowly get rid of the rest. I'm thinking I'll go the slower approach. If I'm going to crack, it is most likely going to be while I'm at work or coming home passing the supermarket anyway.

The three practical steps that kept coming up again and again were:

1. Cut out sugar.
2. Get rid of grains.
3. Start doing more exercise.

Looking at those three things, and taking it slow, I think I might be able to do this, for a little while at least.

I also have some added incentive now. I've got two weeks of annual leave starting next week, and am arranging to spend the second week at The Golden Door in New South Wales at their 7 day health retreat!

(Okay, have always wanted to go there, and it is super expensive, but I'm really, really looking forward to it. You will be getting full details on all the different exercise classes and wellness programs I do, don't worry.)

As my best friend pointed out, if I'm going to be spending all this money and doing this for a week, I might as well spend these next two weeks getting ready for it so I can really see even greater changes and enjoy it more.

The biggest problem is that you can't have any caffeine while you are there. Now, I don't drink that much coffee or coke, but I do go through about 6 - 7 cups of jasmine green tea a day. While not bad for you, it does have a lot of caffeine. Just to check, I didn't have any today and have developed quite a headache by late afternoon to the point where I had just one cup to try and nullify it a bit.

So, will need to detox from caffeine before going as well. Therefore, don't think I can do everything.

I can see the dangers in sugar, and know that it is meant to be as addictive as crack. Grains I'm not so convinced that they are trying to poison me. Exercise, however, is always good to do.

So I'm going to try to sugar detox this week, up my exercise and get off the caffeine next week. I'll try to reduce the carbs I have and focus on increasing my protein and veggies, but I'm not going to cut them out altogether.

Sound pretty fair?

(Or course, all I can think of now is almond croissants, but still...)

Wish me luck!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Primal Blueprint Fitness Program Review

In the last post I looked at the diet plan of the Primal Blueprint, the brain child of Mark Sisson. Today I thought I would look at the fitness aspect of the program.

It is based on the same fundamental principle as the diet aspect: what is best for us is what we were doing for tens of thousands of years.

What makes the best fitness program? Something that mimics the types of movements and activities we needed to do while hunter-gatherers.

He points out we have been walking, lots and lots, sprinting in a few cases, and then lifting heavy things.

Most of that is pretty self-explanatory, but what types of exercise mimic the lifting heavy things?

"Humans have been squatting, horizontal pressing, vertical pressing, climbing, and using their torsos to resist pushing and pulling forces for millions of years."
(See A Fitness Plan So Easy A Caveman Did It.)

How all this should fit together is best summarised by Mark's Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid:

fitness pyramid flat 2012

He explains this further:

Lift Heavy Things – Resistance training is the cornerstone of fitness. Stronger people live longer, survive hardships better, and are able to enjoy life more fully than weaker people. Two to three Lift Heavy Things workouts of 7-30 minutes each week, employing the Four Essential Movements.

Run Really Fast Every Once in Awhile – Sprinting is the biggest “bang for your buck” exercise. It’s brutally effective and highly efficient, promoting growth hormone release, fat burning, and lean mass building, but you know why I really like sprinting? It’s over in ten to fifteen minutes, and you only gotta do it once a week.

Move Frequently at a Slow Pace – Slow movement is the foundation of fitness. Walking, hiking, gentle cycling… these aren’t about burning calories, they’re about maintaining the movement and the ability to move. Three to five hours a week.

And that's the basics of his method.

The things I like about his fitness program:
1. It's pretty simple, you don't have to know much about exercise to be able to do most of it.
2. It's reasonably balanced with some weights, anaerobic and aerobic exercise.
3. The majority of the exercise being done is aerobic so as a fitness program shouldn't be too stress inducing for a beginner. It would be difficult to over-train following this program.

One thing against it is that it requires a lot more time than most people are prepared to give to exercise when they are first starting out. People find it difficult to exercise for 30mins 3 times a week, which only really covers the weights and the sprinting, and doesn't account for the large amount of time needed for the cardio work.

So optimistically I think it is a great program, but realistically I don't know if many beginners are actually going to spend that much time. Most people have trouble sticking to the couch to 5k program which really is only 30mins 3 times a week.

However, if you can start adding in the longer, slower cardio work as part of your everyday life (walk to work once or twice a week, go for a bike ride on the weekend), and then use your 'exercise' time for the weights and sprinting, then you could see real results.

I don't really see that many other downsides to the program. What do you think? 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Diet Plan Reviews: Primal.

Everyone knows that eating right is important. However, with the vast array of different diet plans and programs out there, it is amazing anyone eats anything at all! Yesterday it was no fat, eat carbs, today it is fats are good but low carbs, tomorrow it's eat only lemons!

So, in keeping the the review series, I thought I would start looking at some of the different diet plans out there. Instead of starting with an obvious one, I thought I would start with one that maybe not all of you have heard of. It is a new-ish movement, built on previous movements, called 'Primal'. It has been developed and promoted by Mark Sisson, in book and blog form.

It bares some relation to the low-carbs/Atkins style diets, but developed from the Paleo diet that came out a few years ago now.

Like most diet plans these days, it is not just about food, but includes lifestyle and fitness etc. Mark has created a 10 step blueprint for what life should be like. However, for the sake of this review, I'm just going to outline his dietary suggestions.

Brief Overview:
The basis of the theory is that all creatures function best eating their evolutionary diets. As grains were only introduced to the human diet reasonably recently in evolutionary terms (last 10,000 years), our bodies are not adapted to eating them and do not function at their optimum with a diet heavy with such carbohydrates. Instead, we should be focused on the food available to hunter-gatherers such as meat, fish, fowl, nuts, seeds, fruit, roots and tubers.

His Eating Plan:
In very simple terms (taken from his site).

Protein takes priority.

Limit carbs to just enough to provide glucose for the brain and to provide energy for occasional anaerobic exercise.

Learn to love fats.

(Read more:

My Thoughts:

There are definitely some parts of his logic I don't agree with. For example, he makes the argument that grains have developed natural 'anti-nutrients' in order to stop them being eaten, so that they can fall and grow instead. 

"The grain is anything but defenseless, though. It has an array of chemical defenses, including various lectins, gluten, and phytic acid, that disrupt your digestion, cause inflammation, and prevent you from absorbing vital nutrients and minerals." (see

This seems a rather weak argument, and while not necessarily a central point to his theory, it does suggest that a lot of his theory is based on things he's experienced to be true, but then has tried to justify it with weak logic/cause and effect etc.  So, it might be best to use the same steps he is using but not necessarily buy into all his explanations. 

However, what about the basis that we should eat what our ancestors ate? 

Most of the suggestions for eating are pretty healthy in general: cutting out fast food, reducing sugar and sodium intake and eating fresh are sensible suggestions. Further there is a growing support for focusing on eating nutrient dense food, so more veggies and fruit is great. 

The program is pretty down on dairy, which to be honest I'm not a fan of. I love my milk, cheese and yogurt, and getting enough calcium without them takes some serious planning. With two grandmothers in their 80's and 90's I know what not having enough calcium does to you.  

The big debated issue is the carbs Vs. protein, which comes down to: have our bodies adapted to eating grains in the last 10,000 years?

It is difficult to tell in that Primal eaters point to the reduced stature of cultures that were mainly carb based, and the increase in size with protein, along with the growing obesity epidemic. However, there are so many confounding variables in such historical studies. Often the groups pointed to were peasant farmers who ate little else than carbs, so did not have other micro nutrients, and then there were people within those societies that were eating large amounts of meat but were still very small. And the current obesity problem, I would argue, is more related to the increase in sugar and trans-fats along with a severe reduction in exercise and other calorie burning activities such as staying naturally warm than just carbs.

On the flipside, there is growing evidence of a number of digestive diseases related to grains. So obviously some people do have problems processing these. 

So, overall: the aim of eating primal, with a focus on fresh, natural food that is nutrient dense is a great goal. 
Whether you should cut out dairy and healthy grains and legumes (so, maybe not croissants and poptarts) is something I'm not completely sold on. 

But, I should put my money where my mouth is, shouldn't I? 

Over the next week I will do more research into the Primal diet, and try implementing it for a month. 
If anyone wants to join me, give a shout out and I'll send you more information (or you can check out Mark's Daily Apple which has all the info, you can also get his book from Amazon: The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy (Primal Blueprint Series)

Monday, 14 January 2013

Too Busy Feeling Sorry For Myself...

What is the point of having a blog if you can't occasionally have a sulk on it?

So, was being all super sporty and active riding my bike home from work. The sun was out, it was a beautiful day, there were people everywhere for the Australian Open Tennis. I had just rounded a corner going slightly up hill, so luckily not going too fast and then...

Well, not quite sure what happened. It appears I fainted.

Lost vision, felt like I was still going forward until the ground side swiped me from the right.

Rolled onto my back and waited for my vision to clear again and found a small crowd of people staring at me, in a very nice, concerned sort of way.

Luckily did nothing major. Scrapped my elbow and hand, and have a growing bruise on my hip, but other than that came out pretty unscathed. Except for my pride that is. Everyone got me to sit down, and wanted to work out why I had fainted. Had I had too much sun? Had I drunk enough water that day? As I had been inside at my desk all day, couldn't really claim heat exhaustion, or anything else particular.

Then had to walk the rest of the trip home as the rest of the path is beside the river, and if I lost it again and fell in, that could be quite bad.

So, this is my explanation why I haven't found something more interesting to tell you, too busy feeling sorry for myself :D

Until next time...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Gym Reviews: Fernwood

This is the first of a series I'll spread across the posts on different gyms and health centres in Australia (well, particularly Melbourne at the moment, but give me time and I might travel, or get guest reviews).

Please note: what I'm present is only my opinion and I'm not receiving any kick backs of any kind for this. Though, if anyone wants to through kick backs my way... : D

There are so many different gyms out there at the moment, that it can be difficult to choose a good one. When looking for a gym I'm particularly interested in:

1. Location: I want one near me or near my work, and its an added bonus if there are ones around Australia I can use when I travel.

2. Price: yeah, duh. I want to be getting something for my money. I'm also not really a fan of joining fees, and try to avoid these as much as possible. How long I have to sign up for is also an important feature. 

3. Facilities: what's on offer is important, and there is no use paying for extras if you don't want them, but I happen to love a gym that offers me little extras like massage chairs or saunas, even if I only occasionally use them, at least I know they are there. (It's like owning a boat compared to hiring one.)

4. Opening hours: I really dislike not being able to go to the gym at times that suit me. Particularly the assumption I wouldn't want to workout on the weekend. Okay, so maybe not many people go there, but on regular occasions, like tonight, I think 'damn, I need to go to the gym, but it is too late they have closed already.'

5. Extras: sometimes gyms have little extras like good specials or extra programs you can sign up for which can make a difference. 

6. Friendliness and attitude: each gym has a specific 'attitude' or 'culture' among the staff and sometimes the clients. It's good to get a feel for this before signing up.

The first non-Uni gym that I signed up to in Australia was a Fernwood Fitness Centre, quite a few years back I have to admit. I started off at the one in Chirnside Park, as I was living out in Lilydale at the time, but after almost a year, I moved back into the city so tried the city centre then settled for the Carlton gym.

I will put the disclaimer in that it was a few years ago now, so I don't know how much things have changed. If anyone is currently going to a Fernwood, please feel free to leave a comment.

General Details

Fernwood is a franchised gym aimed specifically at women. So if you are hoping to work out with your partner, this is not the place for you. However, if you are slightly nervous about how you look in leggings and want to exercise in a sleaze-free zone, it can be wonderful.

Please note that since it is franchised, rather than centrally organised, I've found that there is quite a bit of variation between gyms and what they offer.


They are all over Australia, with about 25 gyms in Victoria.  I had no problem while I was living in the city finding a gym, but move out a bit and it gets a bit harder, which is why I eventually left, there just wasn't a gym near me.


The joining fee is a bit steep: $199 to be exact, which I don't think would be worth it. However, luckily, they often have promotions where they scrub the joining fee (I notice that on the website at the moment, 13th Jan 2013, they have one of these promotions running). If they don't have one running now, it might be worth waiting another few months and keeping an eye out for the next one.

The Melbourne City gym has their basic gym membership (which includes all gymy stuff, but doesn't include their weightloss counseling or personal training etc.) for $22/week for a 12 month contract. They also offer a 3 month contract, at a few extra dollars per week.
There is no option for week by week membership, which can be a bit restrictive if you are like me and unsure of where you will be going next, but 3 months probably isn't too bad. (They didn't offer this when I joined up). However, with this, you can transfer to another Fernwood gym  if you move, which is useful. Also, you can use other gyms a certain number of times a year, great for when you are traveling.

The actual price appears to vary a bit between gyms, as the Ballarat gym is $22.50/week. (Strange, huh? But they probably have a much larger gym, as the city is pretty tiny), while Chirnside Park (where I started) is $21/week. So it might be worth looking around to see if you are getting the best price in your area.

Compared to other gyms this is pretty good. You can get quite a bit cheaper, if you are prepared to get rid of all the extras. But around 20-25/week appears to be pretty normal for a gym with classes as well as gym. 

This appears to vary hugely between gyms, however this is where I remember Fernwood shining compared to a lot of other gyms I've tried.

The Melbourne City gym, when I visited it, was pretty small and a bit cramped (it definitely has 'peak' times). However, in general they are clean and well fitted out.

The City gym boasts:

Club Facilities

  • Member Motivators (aka staff on the ground)
  • Luxurious Change Rooms (better at some Fernwoods than others, but generally much better than most gyms).
  • Hairdryers
  • Group Fitness Studio (with a pretty decent array of classes, and will often take suggestions).
  • Weight Training
  • Stretch Area
  • Cardio Equipment
  • Circuit
  • Cardio Theatre
  • Members Lounge (often just a few chairs and tables in one corner, but sometimes more.)
  • Breakfast and Tea/Coffee Bar (yup, most Fernwoods offer free breakfast of cereal, toast and fruit if you work out before 9am, which was a good selling point. And Chirnside had a proper coffee maker which you could use for free, great for a caffeine dose after your work out. Carlton had one of those pod-coffee machines, but you had to pay for the pods, which wasn't as exciting.)
  • Towel Hire
  • Complimentary Toiletries
  • Gift Vouchers
  • Foxtel
  • Hair Straighteners

Our Services  

If not stated, these are paid for extras, but useful to have at your finger tips. 

  •  Personal Training
  • 30 Minute Work Outs
  • Weight Loss Centre
  • Complimentary Breakfast
  • Complimentary Toiletries
  • Endermologie
  • cell-IQ
Chirnside, which is further out and much larger, also includes a pool (which must be new because I don't remember that) and they used to have a massage chair in a quiet room you could book for 15 minutes. Was really good for winding down after a stressful day, but might not have it anymore.

Opening Hours:
Again this varies, but for the Melbourne City gym they are:
  • 6:00am - 8:00pm Monday to Thursday
  • 6:00am - 7.00pm Friday
This really isn't late enough for me, as I sometimes don't get to the gym until 8pm or 9, and am surprised that it isn't open on the weekends. Yes it might be tailoring to the working girl, but plenty of women also still live in the city.

The St. Kilda gym which is the closest to me now is open:
  • 6am - 9pm Monday to Thursday
  • 6am - 7.30pm Friday
  • 8am - 4pm Saturday
  • 8am - 2pm Sunday
To be honest, this isn't late enough to attract me. Especially on the weekends when I like to go after doing something during the day. I'm annoyed that my current gym doesn't stay open past 5pm on a Sunday, so 2pm would be out of the question for me.

However, it obviously changes between gyms, so you might be able to find one with better hours. 


One of the things I loved about Fernwood is that they were always offering special deals and extra programs you could sign up for. I did the bootcamp through them which I am glad I did, because it did work me harder, and they test you at the beginning and the end so you can see that you are getting fitter. However, a lot of the sessions were pretty repetitive and not what they had advertised (they had shown pictures of people from gyms all over Australia, and my gym just didn't have any of the equipment for what was being displayed.)

But I still think that if I'm in the right area at the time, I might do the 'Operation Wedding Dress' program. This is more tailored than just getting a personal trainer, and the staff will be used to listening to wedding talk and might have some useful advice : D


In general, being female only I found everyone to be really supportive. This was more noticeable at Chirnside, where there were a lot of older women than in the city where everyone was trying to fit in a workout before going back to work, or Carlton where they were mostly super slim university students. But generally people are a lot politer about the equipment, and if you are a little intimidated by going to a gym it is a lot easier.

Some women really like working out with the men around, and I admit I like the challenge of working next to the guys at CrossFit, but I also enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere of a female only gym.

Overall Review:

I don't have any particular problems to point out with Fernwood, though I did keep getting sms reminders of events happening a long time after I left, which I found a bit annoying.

They do vary a lot between the individual owners, so try and get a feel for the staff while you are checking it out. 

I would carefully check out the facilities before signing up, and I wouldn't pay the joining fee, but I did really enjoy my time, particularly at Chirnside, and would definitely sign up again if it were closer. (At the moment the nearest Fernwood is 2.5 km away, while I have another 10 gyms in between here and there.)

Anyone else had good/bad experiences with Fernwood? 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Apps I Actually Use: My Fitness Pal

What is it?
My Fitness Pal is a calorie counter, basically. It allows you to put in your details: how much you weigh, how active your lifestyle is, how much you want to lose over what period of time, etc. It then tells you how many calories you can eat in order achieve that goal, and allows you to log everything you consume and burn through a large online database of foods and exercises.

The two features I love the most from this app are:
1. it can scan bar codes and then automatically adds all the data. Great if you end up eating a lot of Lean Cuisine frozen meals. (Okay, so I get lazy sometimes. It's better, I think, than eating take away. Well, cheaper at least.)
2. at the end of each day when you finish logging it gives you an estimate of how much you would weigh in 5 weeks if you ate like that everyday. Can be very motivating and exciting. (could also be a little sad, but I tend not to log on those days... bad Buffy, I know.)

As with all these things, they can be a bit fiddly if you cook a lot of your own food. You can save recipes, but if you tend to just throw things together for dinner, can be annoying to track.
Having said that, it is also quite useful to be forced to weigh your portions so you can see exactly how much you are eating and the difference having a slightly larger portion can make calories-wise.

Overall Verdict:
I believe that everyone in the modern world that eats any premade food should at some stage count calories, just to make that connection between what you are putting in your mouth and exactly how many calories it is giving your body. If you are trying unsuccessfully to lose weight and aren't calorie counting, try it before giving up.

Of the calorie counting apps out there, I find this one comparatively easy to use. The bar code scanner helps a lot, even when putting together your own recipes. Also, it allows you to add in the exercise you have done and adjusts how many calories you can eat for the rest of the day accordingly, which is always quite motivating. The database has Australian brands and can differentiate between Coles tomatos and Wooworth's, which is nice.

There is also a little gadget you can get, the 'fit bit' I think it's call, which sits next to your chest and works out how many calories you are burning throughout the day. It automatically syncs with the program to adjust how many calories you can eat for the rest of the day. 
I have heard of a few people online who have used it (Americans, not sure if it is available in Australia except through the internet) who seem to think it is great. It is around $100, so quite pricey, but if you were serious about tracking how much you are actually burning, it could be worth it.

If anyone has one, give us a shout about how you find it.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Design Your Own Weights Program: Part 2 - The Practicals

In the last post we looked at some of the types of weights training and what they can achieve. Now it is time to put it all together, and create your own program! Yah!

Your Turn:

When putting together a program, there are a number of factors that will determine what type of strength you are building. This has been neatly summarised by the well respected and highly authoritative source: Wikipedia.
Across the top we have our four types of strength, while down the side are the different variables. Choose your load, number of reps and sets, rest duration and speed depending on which type of training you are focusing on in that particular workout.
Training goal
Load (% of 1RM)
Reps per set
Sets per exercise
Rest between sets (mins)
Duration (seconds per set)
Speed per rep (% of max)
Training sessions per week
Table reproduced from Siff, 2003[9]
Key Terms as described by Buffy: 

Load - the weight you are lifting. Duh. 
% of 1RM - stands for % of 1 rep max. With a training partner to watch you, build up to the maximum amount of weight you can hold for one complete repetition of the exercise. This is your maximum weight, 100%. From there, you do your weight training based on a percentage of that max. Every few cycles you should retest yourself to see how much your maximum has increased and readjust all your training weights from there.
Reps - Repetitions. How many times you do the action before resting.
Sets - the number of groups of repetitions.
Scheduling Your Sessions: 
Obviously, for beginners you are not going to be doing the large number of training sessions suggested. Be sensible! It is best to start with two workouts a week (as mentioned last time, female muscle tone starts to disappear after 4 days, so you need to be doing strength training more often than that). Within each session you need to vary between arms, legs and core.

Therefore, based on the information above and earlier, I suggest the following: 

-  If you are only doing two sessions a week, focusing just on one session dedicated to power and one session to strength is a good way to start out.
- As you can see, both power and endurance require very little weight, so can be done as body weight exercise (pushups, squats, crunches etc. that don't require any additional weights). Circuits are a good way to keep up the speed required for power focused workouts.
- Strength training will probably require you to use weights, but do a day of testing with a friend to find out what your max is first. Maybe just lifting an empty bar will be enough.

Key Exercises For Particular Muscle Groups:
These are just some suggestions on exercises you can mix and match for your training.  
Click on each link to see a demo (mostly) from the CrossFit website, where you can find LOTS more exercises. Highly Recommended. Warning, though, they often have loud music so turn your volume down before opening the link. 
Squats - this is one of the best exercises to do as you can use it for both strength and body weight training. I know they might seem boring, but once you see how cute your rear end becomes, you'll forgive them. (Also, see a more detailed description of how to perform squats without weights).
Lunges - these are good body weight exercises, can be done holding hand weights, and if coordinated can be done with a barbell across your shoulders.(The demon shows walking lunges, but you can also do them stationary). 

Box jumps - these are my favourite killers for power. They have the benefit of a squat, but with added dynamic power. Stand in front of a box or high step that comes up to just below your knee (you can start lower, but try to push yourself a bit, you might be amazed how high you can jump.). You then jump up onto the box both legs together. 
I was taught the key to this exercise only the other day after killing myself for ages. You should lift your feet and knees up so you land on the box in a squat position and then push yourself up. I tried to jump so that I had my legs straight when I landed on the box, which is obviously a lot harder and less effective. 
Chest/Bench Presses - These can be done either with very light weights as a power exercise focusing on speed, or with much heavier weights for strength training. However, if you are using heavier weights, you must always have a spotter on hand to catch it before it crushes your throat. It only takes a second and you really don't recover well. 
Pushups - I know, I know, everyone hates pushups, but they are soooooo good for you. They get your back, your arms, your chest, and your abs. What's not to love about that? (they only hurt so much because they are doing so much good!) If you can't yet do a full push-up there are lots of variations out there, so find one at a suitable level.  (This demo is great because it takes you through variations on a full pushup, as well as some bad technique to avoid).
Kettlebell Swings: I'm trying to keep it a bit different and not just have 'bicep curls' and 'triceps dips' in there, though they are both good. If you haven't used kettlebells or done swings before, they are great because they use so much more than just your arms, and mimic throwing a baby around rather well.

Plank: This is a bit of a classic, but is great for building core strength that includes abs and back. There are a lot of variations, up on your hands, on one side, etc., but start with the basic and once you can hold it for a minute, then try out some of the variations.

Knees-to-Elbows: want a bit more of a challenge than straight sit-ups? Try these. Hang from a bar and try to bring your knees up to your elbows. Make sure you stay controlled on the way up and on the way down. Try to get as far as you can when starting out.
Back Extensions: You should never forget to keep strengthening your back. All the back injuries people have, a lot of them come from trying to do too much without building up the muscles first. Save yourself the pain, and remember your back every workout.  A lot of gyms will have a place for doing back extensions. If not, you can lie on a mat and just lift your chest off the ground.

Action time!
1. First decide how many sessions you can actually do. If beginning, just start with two and possibly work up to three. 
2. Next, with a friend go to the gym and test out your max reps for your key strength exercise. 
3. Sit down and design one body weight/power session and one heavier weights session, calculating how much load you need based on your max strength for that particular exercise, then your reps and sets, etc. 
4. Enjoy! 
Every few weeks swap some of your exercises around to keep the muscles guessing. But keep in mind the 10% rule, that you should only increase the work of an exercise by 10% at a time. Any more and you risk doing damage. So don't step up your weights too fast.

If anyone knows of other great exercises they would like to share, please feel free.