I’ve tried to learn as much as possible over the last 10 years with regards to optimal training and longevity. Trends have been and gone, the way we look at athletes has vastly changed as well as our outlook on rest and recovery.

However it’s easy to jump down the rabbit hole and get overwhelmed by all the content out there telling you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. The type of training you do is irrelevant as long it meets your goals and requirements and you enjoy it. Obviously if you’re training for a specific sport or performance marker then of course, the type of training has to be a bit more focused but again there are many tools that will work in each situation, there is no right or wrong way to train.

That being said I thought I would go through some of my most important tips to help maximise your potential in whatever training regimen you subscribe to and improve health and performance.

1) Get Assessed: If you’re truly interested in health and performance then your first step is to get assessed. Any good coach should be offering some form of assessment to see your current level with regards to movement quality, mobility and fitness ability. If you’re not being assessed, then the rest is just guesswork.

2) Earn Your Positions: An assessment isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if you don’t follow through on improving where required. Struggle to get overhead without excessive rib flare? Can’t keep a neutral position during a deadlift or squat? Your coach should be directing you on how to improve these or refer you to someone who can. You should also accept that if you have less than optimal positioning then certain movements may not be suitable for you AT THAT TIME. You want to stay injury free right? Take the advice, work on the problem areas and earn your right to incorporate those movements into your training.

3) Don’t Skip The Warm-up: You don’t need to spend 30 mins foam rolling and another 30 mins stretching, but your warm-up should be focused and relevant. It’s your chance to prime the body for the session and un-do some of the nasty postures and positions from your working day. Check out my article on warm-ups here.

4) Breathe Correctly: A lot of us live in an extended posture, which can lead to poor overhead position, lack of contribution from the posterior chain during hinging patterns and lack of core strength. Learning how to use correct breathing patterns including full exhales can help you get back to a more neutral position over time. It ain’t sexy or fun, but it works. Check out my article on breathing here.

5) Build Solid Foundations: I’ve seen time and time again, people skipping the boring foundational work to get to the fun, exciting throw heavy shit around stuff. It catches up with you. In my opinion, every athlete should spend time building

– Solid aerobic base: The better your aerobic capacity, the more efficient the heart and lungs will become. This leads to less contribution from the anaerobic systems as well as improved endurance and recovery. Read more here.

– Basic bodyweight strength: Everyone should be able to do strict press-ups, pull-ups and dips. In my perfect world, I would also have you doing a 1-arm pull-up and 1 arm press-up but the basics will suffice. It sets the stage for more advanced movements such as muscle-ups and handstand press-ups. It teaches you body awareness and control as well as building great amounts of core strength, which most people lack. I understand if someone is carrying some excess bodyweight this may not be possible……. yet, but once bodyweight has been reduced, build the foundations.

6) Don’t Ignore Assistance/Accessory Work: Anyone who says isolation exercises are useless is telling you lies. Have a sticking point in a lift? Struggling with stability or co-ordination on a movement? Assistance work can develop those weaker muscles and could help improve performance on your weak lifts. Now that doesn’t mean you stop doing the lift itself as you still need to build that pattern to efficiently recruit all the right muscles, but strengthening a weak area alongside can give you some great gains. I’ve seen a woman get strict pull-ups just by adding bicep curls into her training. Every exercise has a value when used in the right context.

7) Grease The Groove: Stolen from Pavel Tsatsouline, he talks about regular practice to improve efficiency and quality. Use an empty bar/pvc pipe/light DBs or KBs and slow the movement down. Feel the muscles firing in the right areas and make the movement become as natural as possible. Apply this to your heavier efforts to improve neural efficiency and therefore performance. Do it regularly, even some press-ups at home or work can go a long way to achieving this mastery.

8) Use Weighted Carries Frequently: If you have read anything by Dan John then you know how much he puts stock into weighted carries and drags. Grip strength is hugely overlooked when it comes to progressing training. Add to that the postural and core benefits when done correctly and you have a highly valuable exercise. Use DBs, KBs, Farmers Handles; whatever you can get your hands on. I also like bottoms-ups KB carries for shoulder health as well as grip training.

9) Build A Strong Posterior Chain: Glutes and hamstrings are typically inhibited and weak in most athletes. Movements such as bridges, hip thrusts, hyperextensions, hamstring curls and single leg work can really bring these muscles back in line and help improve health and performance. Bret Contreras has done some great studies on the effects of hip thrusts on glute activation/hypertrophy.

10) Don’t Cherry Pick Your Sessions: Ignoring your weaknesses will always come back to get you. Whether it be having to scale a workout or creating imbalances such as pressing over pulling or squatting over deadlifting. Yes training should be enjoyable but if you want to be able to become a well-rounded athlete, you need to develop the less enjoyable skills too!

11) Don’t Train Through Pain: Just don’t. If something hurts, you’re either doing it wrong or there is pathology somewhere. Assessments and good coaching should help you sort it. However that doesn’t mean you have to stop training and wish your life away at home. Work around the issue whilst fixing the cause and come back even better.

12) On the flipside: Don’t get scared of every ache and pain you experience. Again, consult a coach if unsure. Training is tough work, you are literally breaking your body down so it adapts and rebuilds stronger and more robust. It’s not always going to feel comfortable and if you want performance, you need to accept this. Listen to your body and ask questions if required.

13) Enter a Competition: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sport, fitness comp or endurance event. The buzz, the butterflies and the adrenaline of a competition environment can really teach you some lessons about your body and mental toughness. This stuff is invaluable and can really help you take the next step on the performance ladder. Even if you only do it once, compete.

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This list is by no means exhaustive but I’ve covered some in gym tips with regards to training. Lets look at some tips for outside the gym.

14) Water: Again, overlooked when it comes to implications for training especially in the age of addiction to coffee and all that jazz. Aim to drink 2-3 litres per day. Simples.

15) Sleep: Hormonal balance is a delicate thing and one of the biggest disruptors to that balance is lack of quality sleep. Not to mention its effects on recovery after training. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night in a dark, cool room. Stop using screens at least 30 mins before bed to start to unwind or at least use an app like f.lux to alter the background colours of the screen.

16) Recovery Plan: Adaptation and therefore improved performance takes place out of the gym. Training is the stimulus; rest is where the magic happens. You should be incorporating rest/active recovery days each week. From there, every 6-8 weeks you should use a de-load/recovery week where you reduce volume or have it as rest/active recovery. Your body will thank you and the gains will continue.

Also think about getting a massage once a month or during your de-load phase. Salt baths, contrast showers, meditation and yoga all have their place on your recovery protocols. Utilising HRV can be another way to auto-regulate your training and keep on top of recovery/training intensity. Check out my articles on HRV here and here.

17) Nutrition: I’m by no means a nutritional expert, but the basics seem to work well with most. Manage your calories in and out, have some good pre-workout nutrition in place and you’re good to go. No restrictions, no ‘diets’, just wholesome food the majority of the time and the rest in moderation. Drop me an email for our free nutritional guide.

18) Supplements: Various supplements are useful for different people and are not always required. However, fish oil, zinc, magnesium ands vitamin D seem to work well. Examine.com are doing some great studies on the effectiveness of the majority of supplements out there.

19) Get Involved!: Get involved with the community at your gym whether it be socials, competitions, events or taking part! It adds so much more value to your training and helps the gym feel less of a chore.

20) Motivate Others: Encourage fellow athletes, congratulate them, and give them a high five or a fist bump. It sounds cheesy but again it builds a more positive atmosphere and makes it that little bit easier to get there when you have close friends training with you.

21) Take Responsibility: You might have a coach or trainer who sees you an hour once a day. Do you really think that’s enough time to get everything done that you may need? Yes they will make the programme as effective as possible in the time they spend with you, but chances are you may need more. More mobility training, extra skills work developing things like your bodyweight exercises, more aerobic work using zone 2 heart rate zones.

I’m sure you don’t want to pay someone to watch you foam roll or spend 30 mins on a treadmill do you? Take responsibility and put in the extra work to help take you to the next level. Not sure what you need to do? ASK! The coach/trainer is a resource to tap into. I love it when athletes ask me for help as it shows a dedication to their training beyond showing up for an hour and going home to forget about it all. However we can’t help you if you don’t ask us.

22) Consistency: All of the above don’t mean a thing if you don’t show up. Consistency is king when it comes to results. You could have the world’s best programme, nutrition and recovery plan – but this means nothing if you’re not consistent. You should be aiming to train at least 3x per week if you’re serious about progress/performance and at least 2x per week for more general health. Just get through the door and the rest will take care of itself.

Training isn’t about suffering through the grind and hating your life every session. Training should be a lifestyle choice and something you want to do rather than something you feel you have to. With so many ways to get fit and strong available the first step is finding something you are excited about doing then start to implement some of the strategies outlined above.

Here at Warrior we offer comprehensive assessments and fitness testing for members and non-members alike. We can also help you direct your training in the right direction to unlock your true potential. Interested? Email info@warriorstrength.co.uk to find out more.

If you missed part 1 of this series then check it out by clicking here. As a quick re-cap we spoke about how heart rate variability (HRV) is your way of testing the robustness of your nervous system and in terms of training and fitness, when you should push hard or back off.

I touched on how your HRV usually comes in the form of a score of 0-100 and usually the higher the better. This is pretty much where part 1 ended and part 2 kicks in. Your HRV score isn’t as straight forward as the higher the better; there are also frequency markers that need to be correlated to that HRV score. If you remember we talked about how the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems need to work together to deal with stressors such as exercise. This nervous system balance can be shown through monitoring the low frequency (LF) and high frequency (HF) values when taking your daily reading. Ideally, you want these two numbers to be as close together as possible and the higher the better. What you may find though is you have a super high LF number meaning you are sympathetic dominant i.e. in a stressed state. So even though your HRV may be ok, if your LF is high and way higher then your HF, you could be doing more harm than good if you train.

Monitoring those 3 values is your first step into analysing and improving training, however they are just numbers if you don’t start to correlate them to training sessions, stressful events, sleep, hydration etc. The reason is that your HRV can be sensitive to all the above and more, even breathing, so if you test one day and have seen a drop in your score, it may be something as simple as not drinking enough water the day before. If this were the case then I would argue that normal training should go ahead. So its not always as cut and dry as low HRV = don’t train and high HRV = go ahead and train. Add to that a high score combined with a chronic sense of low energy or fatigue could mean you are in a state of overtraining (very unlikely for most).

In short HRV~ is a simple way to measure readiness for training providing its taken in context and applied intuitively. Now that we have looked a bit deeper in to HRV and how to use it, we obviously want to know if there are ways to increase our score right? These suggestions aren’t all backed by research and may just cause acute (short term) increase in HRV, but they have been shown to increase it nonetheless. Most methods also have many other benefits to health and performances so are great for anyone who trains.

1 – Rest. Obviously. If you find you have as low HRV then you are in a higher state of stress and inflammation within the body. We want the parasympathetic nervous system to begin the recovery process so if you start piling on more stress i.e. exercise, then you won’t fully recover. This will also lead to a low HRV score over the long term.

2 – Green Tea. In studies conducted on the effects of green tea on diabetes, it was shown to increase HRV and reduce hyperglycaemia. Granted the study was conducted on rats, but we already know about the restorative qualities of green tea so it can’t harm to try. If you don’t like green tea, L-Theanine , one of the compounds can be bought in supplement form.

3 – Fish Oil. As mentioned before, stress can lead to an inflammatory response in the body. Chronic inflammation has been associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer and other nasty issues. Fish oil has already been touted as being great at reducing this inflammation along with other benefits. In some studies it has also been shown to increase HRV providing the dose was high enough (3.4g/day).

4- Yoga/Meditation/Relaxation/Controlled Breathing. Now I’m not grouping them all together because I think they are the same, I’ve grouped them merely because they look to achieve something similar – mindfulness. Clearing your mind, relaxing your breathing and living in the now. All methods have been shown to improve HRV as these exercises are great at activating the parasympathetic (rest and digest) response. I personally like to use box breathing as prescribed by Mark Divine (creator of SealFit) as a way to relax or even as recovery after a tough workout.

5 – Foam Rolling. Not only does self myofascial release (SMR) give acute increases in flexibility, it has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels (inflammatory stressor) and increase HRV. Click here for our article on SMR.

I’m sure by now you are seeing a key trend in how to increase your HRV. It mainly revolves around de-stressing and rest. I know that this is easier said than done, but even a few minutes a day doing some foam rolling and breathing exercises can make a big difference. If you don’t want to subscribe to the idea of breathing, rest, meditation etc. then at least take on board this final way to increase your HRV. Take a de-load week every 6-8 weeks. De-load means a reduction in total volume i.e. sets, reps and length of session decrease for a whole week. Intensity can remain the same, you just do less. A good time to recover, work on skills and efficiency of movement and feel ready to hit the next cycle hard.

In summary, there is a reason why more and more professional athletes and teams are using HRV and with todays the you can get the same benefits providing its utilised correctly. Add to that the health markers that can be gained from HRV and you potentially have one number to monitor your health and performance. While a piece of electronic equipment will never replace an athletes own instincts and experiences of their own body, it’s a great way to help you make an informed decision on your recovery status as well as those objective factors.

As always if you need help or advice on products, monitoring or analysing don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

Over the past few years aerobic training or cardiovascular training has been made out to be the killer of gains, make you look ‘skinny fat’ whatever the hell that is, and all but useless unless you want to run marathons.

If you’re someone who avoids cardio training like the plague, it could be your missing link to improving performance, recovery and health.

Firstly, let’s look at what fuels our training i.e. energy or Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the body’s currency for providing work such as muscle contractions when moving and lifting. Now to continue this work, the body needs to re-generate this ATP to keep up with the demands of energy expenditure. It can do this one of two ways, with oxygen (aerobically) or without oxygen (anaerobically). Anaerobic energy production has a high turnover rate and can produce ATP much faster than aerobic energy production. However we can only regenerate ATP anaerobically for a short period of time due to either depleting energy stores of phosphocreatine or the inefficient conversion of ATP from anaerobic glycolysis. Not to mention the fatiguing components of this type of energy production.

On the other hand, your body can produce energy aerobically for a very long time and is very efficient at regenerating ATP with the only by products being CO2 and water, meaning no fatiguing effects.  The only downside is the regeneration is much slower than anaerobic production.

So when thinking of things such as sprints or 1 rep max attempts, we assume that these are exclusively anaerobic and therefore aerobic training has no bearing. This assumes there is some magical switch where the body depletes one energy system and moves on to the next. This is wrong. All 3 energy systems are active at the same time with the type of activity determining how much each energy system contributes to ATP production.

Let’s relate this to activities that you would consider anaerobic. During 200m sprints a study found that the aerobic system contributed 30% to energy production. Even a heavy set of 5 reps has the aerobic system contributing up to a 1/3 of the energy required. So now we know how we produce energy and how our aerobic system is more active than you think. How does aerobic training fit in if all you want is to get stronger/build size?

Well as we said earlier, while the anaerobic systems produce energy quicker, it also produces a lot of by products resulting in muscular fatigue. This means you gas out, slow down, or hit failure on a lift. The aerobic system produces no fatiguing by products so if we could produce more energy aerobically for any given activity it means we would have to use less energy anaerobically meaning those fatiguing by products would be offset or delayed. This is known as the anaerobic power reserve. If we had two athletes with the same background and same overall power output but athlete A had a higher contribution from anaerobic energy production and athlete B a higher contribution from aerobic energy production, athlete B wouldn’t fatigue as quickly. This means athlete B would be able to perform better. Relating that to lifting weights, athlete B could do the same weight as athlete A and experience less fatigue, feeling more prepared for subsequent sets. Or athlete B could lift more weight and experience the same fatigue as athlete A lifting less weight, therefore increasing performance.

Next, your aerobic system is what actually replenishes your anaerobic systems ability to produce ATP! The more efficient your aerobic system is, the quicker this process can take place. Think about recovery between sets, the more efficient this recovery (aerobic system) the better you will perform on subsequent sets and the more total volume you can handle per session. As we know volume is one of the major factors in training adaptation, especially for intermediate and advanced athletes. So the more volume your body can handle from an efficient aerobic system, the more likely you’ll continue progressing with your training. Along with performance benefits, less fatigue during sets and better recovery between sets means you are less likely to see a drop in technique and thus reduce injury risk.

So that’s how cardiovascular training can help you during your session. What about between sessions?

Aerobic exercise executed correctly (more on that later) is very parasympathetic dominant and helps the body switch into our rest and digest mode (see my article on HRV here). This means recovery between sessions can be enhanced and with minimal impact on subsequent sessions due to lack of fatigue inducing by products. This is where ‘active recovery’ stems from. Aerobic training will utilise this nervous system shift, improve blood flow and clear out waste products. So not only will you elicit the benefits during your session but you can also enhance your recovery ready for your next big lifting session.

Now even though I have gone over the benefits of an efficient aerobic energy system, it’s not the only answer, just another piece of the training puzzle. Sprints/intervals have been shown to elicit aerobic improvements as well as anaerobic improvements and obviously in a shorter time frame. However think about the impact on the body high intensity intervals will have compared to a steady state cycle in terms of recovery for your next session. So goals, training objectives and programming will dictate which one you may need. Goals such as strength may require less aerobic training, however studies show that aerobic training may not have as much impact on hypertrophy (size) as we once thought so I think utilising both strategies according to goals is the way forward. Next we need to determine how efficient your aerobic system is and a good way to determine that is through an assessment. Resting heart rate, heart rate recovery and heart rate variability are all good ways at testing the ability of the aerobic system. Resting heart rate should be at least low 60s to show good aerobic conditioning, however age and some medical conditions can alter resting heart rate which is why I prefer heart rate recovery (HRR). HRR is a good tool to test your recovery after intense bouts of exercise, showing aerobic fitness and endurance. Within 1 minute of ceasing exercise you should see a considerable drop in heart rate, ideally to the 130 bpm mark. Heart rate variability (HRV) is another great way to test aerobic system robustness as well as nervous system activity, helping you to determine how hard you train and when. Again refer to my article here.

So if your assessments reveal some room for improvement, perhaps it’s worth adding in some aerobic training, however due to its recovery properties I recommend everyone utilise some form of aerobic work, even just 20-30 mins 1 x per week could help. This brings us nicely onto what cardiovascular or aerobic training looks like. For the purpose of this article we are focusing on cardiac output i.e. how much blood your heart can pump around the body or more specifically stroke volume. The more blood your heart can pump around the body per beat, the more efficient it will become, reducing resting heart rate and lowering working heart rates.

The method for this is simple, we want to perform an exercise at a low intensity for an extended period of time. More specifically we are looking at performing the exercise within the 130bpm-150bpm range (the older you are the closer to the 130 range you’ll be) for at least 20-30 mins, but depending on goals can last up to 90 mins. Cycling is one of the best choices, especially if your main goal is strength as running is quite high impact and could still affect recovery. Even working on the pads/bags can elicit the response we need as long as we stay within the heart rate zone above. My favourite is the sled and prowler performed at low intensity. I’ll tell you now, this stuff is boring as hell, especially if you’re used to smashing yourself into the ground on a daily basis and lying in a pool of your own sweat. However ask yourself this, do you still struggle to run 400m during your WOD after years of HIIT? Do you struggle to recover between heavy sets of lifting to the point where you have to sit down for a good few minutes just to be able to get your breath back? Chances are you could benefit from some cardio, yeah that’s right I said the dreaded word……As much as quotes like ‘anything above 5 reps is cardio’ sound cool, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you think you’ll elicit the kind adaptations we are talking about here in this article.

So there you have it, cardio isn’t the killer of gains and can actually help you to get stronger and fitter provided it’s done correctly according to your goals. If it’s good enough for the top athletes in their fields, it’s good enough for us mere mortals and if you’re truly dedicated to performance, you’ll push past the boredom and think big picture on the future gains.

Before we talk about complexes lets talk about some basic principles to give a bit of background to the topic.

To build a lean body, increase strength and reduce body fat, resistance training is hands down the best method. Muscle is metabolically active tissue requiring more energy to sustain thus burning more calories throughout the day. So the more muscle you have the more energy you require and the more calories burned.

So how can we build muscle? As we said above through resistance training, however more specifically building muscle is about utilising whats know as time under tension, or TUT. When you move an external load, your muscles are under tension as they contract and relax, the longer they are held under this tension the more they will grow. This is where you may have seen protocols like tempo training when it comes to building size.

Finally to help build that lean body we can utilise what is know as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. EPOC occurs when the body can’t take in enough oxygen to provide the body what it needs, racking up an ‘oxygen debt’. The body replenishes this debt post workout burning calories well after you have finished training, burning more body fat.

So how can we benefit from these 3 principles in one sweat inducing workout? Complexes.

Complexes involve performing a series of movements back to back without rest or putting down the external resistance you are using such as a barbell or kettlebell. This means straight away equipment demands are low as you are using one piece of kit.

Complexes typically involve compound, multi-joint movements such as squats and presses as these are proven to give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of mass building and hormonal response, due to their full body nature. So while we can use a variety of exercises I would avoid doing your favourite arm circuit as a complex.

So why do they work so well? Due to the time it takes to perform 1 full complex your body could be under load for 1-4 minutes meaning that the muscle building principle TUT is in full swing and you are getting some great muscle building effects. As the movements are being performed back to back without rest it immediately increases the EPOC demand of the session meaning it is a great conditioning workout as well as helping you burn body fat.

So what more do I need to say? Complexes are a great way to build muscle, increase strength, get lean and improve conditioning all in a short space of time using one implement. However, they are not easy so expect to be in the ‘pain cave’ from set 1 if you have used the correct weight. Here are a few tips to maximise the benefits of a complex.

– Perform the exercises as quickly as possible trying to avoid resting between exercises.
– Do not put the implement down!!
– Use 4-6 exercises to avoid over complicating for 2-10 reps depending on goals.
– Rest 1-3 minutes between sets and keep sets to no more than 5 depending on rep scheme.
– Try and increase either the weight, reps or speed each week. However remember 1 movement will be the limiting factor so only increase weight based on performance of that lift.
– Utilise after your normal strength routine for a real mass building kick (keep reps low).
– Use as an independent conditioning session performing complexes for time or higher reps.

Here are a couple of examples to get you started:

Complex 1 (the mass builder) credit: Dan John

Using a barbell perform 5 reps of each movement back to back without rest or putting the barbell down
– Bent-over Row
– Hang Power Clean
– Front Squat
– Military Press
– Back Squat
– Good Morning

Complex 2 (conditioning heaven)

Using a kettlebell perform all allocated reps back to back without rest or putting the KB down
– 2 arm KB Swings x 30 reps
– 1 arm KB Swings x 20 reps (10 each arm)
– 1 arm KB Cleans x 10 reps (5 each arm)

Fire Breather variation
– 2 arm KB Swings x 40 reps
– 1 arm KB Swings x 30 reps (15 each arm)
– 1 arm KB Cleans x 20 reps (10 each arm)
– 1 arm KB Push Press x 10 reps (5 each arm)

I know I said keep the reps between 2-10 but that applies to strength/mass goals. This is for those with HIIT/conditioning goals.

There you have it, an effective tool to get fitter, faster, stronger and leaner. Any questions at all don’t hesitate to drop me an email to info@warriorstrength.co.uk

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