Are you sure that’s healthy?

We should all be eating healthily. Obviously treating ourselves is nice, but our focus should be on giving our body everything it needs in the best way possible. But is the “healthy” food that you’re picking up in the supermarket really as healthy as you think? Here are a few products that you should avoid or cut down on:

ITEMS THAT SAY ‘DIET’ OR ‘LIGHT’ ON THE PACKAGING

Items that pop up in the shops that are labelled as ‘diet’ can seem enticing, especially if we’re on a diet and we want to treat ourselves but don’t want to feel guilty about it. But have you ever looked at the ingredients for some of these products? Do you know what everything is? Instead of the normal item containing sugar, the ‘light’ version will be made from artificial products and other chemicals that aren’t really that great for us. Let’s take diet lemonade for example. Diet lemonade doesn’t have all the sugars that normal lemonade does, but the sugar will have been replaced by artificial sweeteners and chemical flavourings, so it tastes like the original. When you break down what is in diet products, it’s scary, and probably best to stick to a smaller amount of the original or skip it all together.

PRE-PREPARED FOODS

Ready meals and other foods that are all sorted for us make life so much easier, but they can often be full of ingredients no one has heard of before. Companies use flavour enhancers, cheap ingredients, preservatives, and all sorts of chemicals to add to the shelf-life of these foods. Always read the label before buying anything, and if you’re unsure on any of the ingredients, internet search them or put it back. With the time it takes to find something, you could’ve started making something a lot healthier anyway.

FRUIT JUICES

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but fruit juices contain so much sugar. Most juices do contain fruit, but many that line the supermarket shelves just contain chemicals that taste like fruit, so you’re basically drinking fruit-flavoured sugar water. That’s crazy! Even juices that are 100% fruit contain a lot of sugar from the fruit itself and the fiber that is great has been taken out. Treat fruit juices like fizzy drinks. They’re nice for a treat but stick to water.

SALAD DRESSINGS

Having a salad is great, and a great healthy option to go for. However, salads and vegetable dishes can be made unhealthy with on simple step of adding a salad dressing or sauce. So many dressings are loaded with sugar, vegetable oil, trans fats and a lot of artificial chemicals. By adding a dressing to your salad, you make it an unhealthy meal and might not get all the benefits that you would’ve done. Make sure to check the ingredients of whatever salad dressing you use, or even make your own. It’s super simple to do with items that you will already have.

CEREALS AND CEREAL BARS

Many cereal boxes boast that the product inside is ‘low in fat’ or has ‘low grain’, however when you look at the ingredients list, a lot of what’s listed is refined grains, sugar and artificial chemicals. So many people feel that they are getting a great product, but with what’s inside cereal, it’s scary to think about what we’re actually eating. Leading into cereal bars, these are also full of sugars and are often covered with chocolate or contain sugary pieces to make the bar look more appealing. Always look and think about what you’re buying, especially if you are getting cereal bars to eat after a workout or even to put in your children’s lunchboxes.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES FROM THE SUPERMARKET

Finally, let’s look at someone hardly anyone would think about. Obviously, fruits and vegetables are the healthiest things you can eat, however produce can easily sit out in boxes or on shelves for weeks after it has been harvested. In this time, nutrients can deplete, meaning they are not as good for you as the day they were picked. A way around this is to pick your own fruit which can easily be done this time of year, or shop at farmers markets where products are fresh and organic, meaning they are better tasting and better for you.

You’re probably thinking that you’re a bit stuck after reading this, but you shouldn’t. Everything eaten in excess is unhealthy, but if you think about it, look at the ingredients, and really put some effort into what you’re doing, you will be eating healthily. The truly healthy foods are the ones that don’t need to claim that they’re healthy, and the real foods don’t need an ingredient list because the real food is the ingredient. Next time you go shopping, look before you buy, you will thank yourself for it.

How Much Should Workouts Hurt?

You need to be in tune with pain if you want to safely train.

THE NOT SO PAINFUL TRUTH ABOUT PAIN AND EXERCISE
By Emma Hogan

The transformative effects of exercise don’t come when you take it easy. But how much should you be suffering in order to get results?

We all know that you don’t get results when you sit in your comfort zone, but is there an ideal degree of “discomfort”? When it comes to how much exercise should hurt, says Bryce Hastings, Physiotherapist and Les Mills Head of Research, there are no hard and fast rules. For the most part it depends on the type of suffering – put simply, while it’s okay for exercise to feel uncomfortable, it should never be painful.

“Too often people don’t distinguish between the discomfort that comes from fatigue and the feeling of pain,” says Hastings.

Unfortunately, the confusion between fatigue and pain can be off-putting if you’re only at the beginning of your exercise journey. “When you’re just starting out you sweat, you get an increased heart rate and you feel uncomfortable – all of this is the stress response that comes from exercise,” says Hastings. It’s not until you become accustomed to regular training that you learn this stress and fatigue is part of the deal. Your body embraces it because you know that it goes away quickly.

Fatigue is your friend. Transformation happens when you push your body into the fatigue zone.

If you want to get gains in fitness or strength, fatigue is your friend. Transformation happens when you push your body into the fatigue zone. But should all workouts push you to the same level of fatigue?

Hastings explains there are five exercise intensity zones, and a sound weekly workout regime involves spending time in each zone. Ideally, you should be exercising at a moderate to hard intensity (where the discomfort of fatigue probably sits between 6.5 and 8.5 out of 10), as this will help improve aerobic fitness and promote fat burn. Pushing your body to its maximum training zone (where the discomfort of fatigue hits 8.5 to 10 out of 10) will help you develop maximum performance, but you only want these spikes of intensity a couple of times a week. He also cautions that feeling flogged during exercise is not the only measure of a workout’s value – while exercising at a very low intensity is unlikely to generate fatigue, low intensity activities like yoga and core training can improve overall health and help recovery.

If it’s not fatigue-based discomfort, it’s a pain.

When it comes to distinguishing between types of pain, there are two things you can do:
1) Mentally split yourself in half and evaluate where it hurts. If you have pain in the same place on both sides and it’s the same type of pain, then it’s probably delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS). In most cases this is nothing to worry about. You can check out some tips on how to deal with it here.

2) If you have a specific point of pain that’s on one side of your body but not on the other, and that pain is above 3 out of 10, and interfering with your function, then you’re possibly suffering an injury. In this situation we suggest you seek professional advice.

It’s the location of the pain that matters most

The benefits of your training come from discomfort in the muscles, not the joints. So if you’ve got any joint pressure or discomfort it’s an issue. Let’s take squats for example. Squats are all about working your quads and glutes, so if you’re squatting and your quads start getting sore that’s to be expected. But if you start to get a lot of pressure in your lower back that’s a warning sign, because that’s not the intended target. It indicates that no longer is the soreness born from muscle fatigue, it’s possibly pain coming from compressed joint tissue. It’s the same as if you’re doing the overhead press and suddenly your neck starts getting sore – that’s not the intended target, so could be an issue.

How much should you suffer?

The amount of suffering you subject your body to should depend on the exercise you’re doing. If you’re using a leg press machine all you need to worry about is pressing, so you are safe to go to volitional failure – which means going to the point where you actually can’t push anymore. But if you’re doing weighted squats it’s a different story. Fatigue will often make things more difficult when you’re at the bottom of the squat, which can be dangerous if you encounter failure at this point, so normally you might finish your set at 85 percent fatigue. You can push the fatigue point further out if you have a safety mechanism such as a spotter, someone who stands over you ready to take the load if needs be.

Warning signs: when to take action

The major warning signs are unilateral (one-sided) pain, any joint pressure or discomfort, and sudden onset sharp pain. And sometimes sudden onset weakness can be sign that something is not right.

Hastings says these are all warning signs: “Pressure in the front of the knee while you squat, pain in your elbows when you grip, pressure in your neck or upper back when you’re doing an overhead press, pain at top of the shoulder while you bench press.”

Of course muscle and joint pain are not the only discomfort people associate with exercise. I am thinking about that awful gasping sensation that comes when you just can’t get enough air in your lungs, or when you’ve raised your heart rate so high it feels like it will pump its way past your ribs and out of your chest. But Hastings says that if you’re fit and healthy you should be able to push your body to its max – reaching high levels of exertion without any significant concerns.

His advice? Don’t shy away from discomfort but always think about what your objective is, and if it feels slightly off, it probably is.

PAIN: WHAT YOU NEED TO REMEMBER
• It’s important to identify the difference between fatigue and pain.
• Fatigue is good – as transformation happens when your body hits the fatigue zone.
• It’s okay for exercise to cause discomfort in your muscles – but you shouldn’t feel any discomfort in your joints.
• Post-workout pain that is equal on both sides of the body is most likely delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
• If you suffer from one-sided pain, joint pain or sudden onset sharp pain seek professional advice.

Lost Your Fitness Mojo?

It’s June. Half the year has nearly gone. All those fitness resolutions you made in January, oh wait, did you remember about those fitness resolutions you made? It’s ok to have fallen out of your routine, but let’s not wait another 5 months, come on, let’s get your fitness mojo back!

What?

What resolutions did you make at the start of the year? If you still have the same goals now, look over them again and really think about what you want to achieve and tell yourself that you will do it. If your plans have changed, change your resolutions too. It’s not too late to start! Write down what you want to achieve and put it somewhere you will always see it, whether that’s on a mirror, above your bed, or even as your phone lock screen. Keep reminding yourself of what your goals are.

Why?

Why did you choose these resolutions? Is it to lose weight, tone up, prepare for an event? Whatever it is, when you don’t feel in the mood for exercise, remind yourself of the reasons why you are doing this. Your goals must be important otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. Tell your friends and family why you have chosen these resolutions, and that they need to remind you of those reasons when you tell them that you don’t want to do it later. Sometimes having someone else to push you on is more motivating than just yourself.

When?

When can you start? Now is best, but if not, take some time to plan a fitness routine that'll work best with you and your life. Whether that’s fitting in exercise when you wake up, after work, or over the weekend, figure out when works best for you and stick to that plan if you can. Obviously it may be difficult at first if you have other commitments or feel you can't reserve a certain time for fitness, but keep pushing yourself to find something that works. The more you stick to the routine, the more the routine will stick to you and it will become second nature to exercise at certain times of the day or head to the gym on certain days.

Where?

Where will you put your resolutions to play? Whether joining the gym or doing workouts at home, make sure you’re doing what’s best for your body and what will help you see the change you want to see. Nothing crazy will happen overnight as change takes time, so wherever you choose to be, put your body first and don't push yourself. Like we’ve said, it will take time, but stick at it and you will see the results you’re aiming for. Wherever you choose to bring your goals to life, make the most of the time you spend there. It can be so easy to get distracted, but get your head in the game and focus on what and why you have chosen the goals you have. Where you then choose to be should come quite naturally.

How?

How will you stick to your resolutions? Well, hopefully you’ll keep telling yourself why you have chosen to do what you’re doing, and with a weekly plan you follow, your resolutions will become part of your routine. Another thing to do is visit your local gym and speak to a personal trainer who will give you tips and help you reach your goals. They’re great motivators and might be the answer you’re looking for. If, however, you feel you will be fine on your own, that’s great. Follow your plan, and hopefully by the end of the year your resolutions will just be a part of your everyday life and you'll wonder why you ever stopped aiming towards your goals..

Will you stick to your resolutions?

It’s Good to Try New Things

Want to try something new? Maybe not. It can be difficult to be spontaneous as it’s scary and you’re basically walking into the unknown. But what if the new thing you try is the greatest thing you are ever part of? What if it teaches you something new about yourself? You won’t know if you don’t try, so here are some reasons to try something new…

Overcome Fear

Most people don’t try something new as they’re worried to do something they haven’t tried before. It’s different. It’s strange. You don’t know what to expect. What if I don’t like it? But what if you do? Fear will always hover over you when doing something new, but fear can’t stop you from doing everything. Overcome your fears and soon big things won’t seem as big and scary, and you will be more open to trying new things.

Increase Confidence

Being more spontaneous and trying things you wouldn’t normally do takes confidence. Showing that you’re able to do new things proves to yourself that you have the confidence to keep doing things you might not say yes to. This increase in confidence can help you in your everyday life too!

Learn A New Skill

The new thing you’re interested in may involve learning a new skill. It can seem hard to try something new and possibly have failure as an option, but if you don’t try, you won’t ever know! With persistence and practice, you will gain a new skill or hobby. How great would it be to add something to your CV or tell your friends and family about? Don’t just stick to the skills you know, keep learning and getting better.

Helps You to Break Out of a Rut

By having the same routine every day, it can become boring and difficult to get out of. Trying something new allows you to break out of a rut which you may find fun, refreshing and enjoyable for you. The thing you try, you might even add to your routine to keep it fresh and exciting, rather than just the same as normal. Whether you choose to just go on a walk or try a new class somewhere, new isn’t always as bad as everyone says.

Stimulate Creativity

When you try new things, you allow your brain to think outside of its normal routine which pushes it to be more creative. Putting your brain into new situations forces you to really think, and by training your brain like this without even realising, it will eventually rub off in other areas of your life, allowing you to see everything in a new light. Many creative people say the key to their success is trying new things, allowing them to grow and express themselves in new ways.

We bet trying something new doesn’t seem that bad anymore. Go on, do something you’ve never done before and see how much you enjoy it!

Why Sweat is a Good Thing

HOW GETTING SWEATY MAKES US HUMAN

By Margo White for Fit Planet

Working out and working up a sweat go hand-in-hand. But perspiration is about much more than keeping cool. According to Dr Vybarr Cregan-Reid it also sets humans apart from other animals, and has helped us climb to the top of the evolutionary ladder.

MARGO WHITE: Why do we sweat?

DR VYBARR CREGAN-REID: We have different kinds of sweat that is produced on different parts of our bodies. It’s mainly our thermoregulation technology, which allows us to stay cool on a hot day. It also creates our scent, our body odor. Everybody knows about the smelly parts, the groin and armpits, but that involves different types of sweat glands, to create a specific scent that is as unique as our DNA. But the main function of most of our sweat glands is thermoregulation.

Before we go on, you’re a lecturer in Victorian literature, so how did you become so interested in (and a bit of an expert) in sweat?

It’s all because I wrote a book on running, Footnotes; How Running Makes us Human. A lot of that is about how running inculcates creativity, how this almost meditative activity has very specific neurological effects on the brain. So I’d go out for a run, and come back with an idea, and this interest in sweat was one of them. It suddenly became clear, when I was out running, that sweat is an evolutionary imperative that has given us an advantage over other mammals, in terms of hunting.

Sweat is about as essential to being human as having a brain is, and has played a key role in the evolutionary success of our species. We think of it as a sort of throwback to our previous animal selves, but the reason we’re at the top of food chain is partly due to the fact we sweat, but also the way we sweat, on particular parts of our body.

Can you elaborate?

We are terrible sprinters, as a species. Animals the size of our palm can run faster than we can. But in certain environments, we have distinct advantages over other animals, because animals, like antelope or deer, aren’t able to lose heat as efficiently as we can. And because they’re quadruped, more of their body is exposed to sun on a hot day. So not only do they capture more heat from the sun, but they’re less efficient at losing it. We’re two-legged so we’re slower, but we don’t take on as much heat, and we have efficient cooling technology all over our body.

So two legs are better than four? 

Yes, if you start chasing an antelope, it will skip away with the airiest disdain. But if you keep plodding along, at a jogging pace, you’ll catch up with the antelope. It will run away again, but once you’ve repeated this several times the antelope won’t be able to lose enough heat and will get to the point of heat exhaustion. Any animal that is good at sprinting is not good at running long distances, but many aspects of the human body are optimized for running long distances.

But horses sweat, don’t they?

Horses are the only animals that sweat in a way that is most similar to the way humans sweat. But they have a sort of waterproof coat, so they have a different protein in their sweat that allows it to foam up, pass through their waterproof coat and evaporate. So horses lose heat by sweating and we do too, and when you compare us to other animals, we really shift a lot of heat.

As you said, there are types of sweat, released on different parts of the body.

We have two main kinds of sweat glands, eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands – the thermoregulation glands – are the most numerous type. They’re found all over the body, particularly on the palms, soles of the feet and forehead. Having eccrine sweat glands on an exposed forehead, for instance, means the blood going to your brain is kept cool, so we can think while we’re in motion. The top of the head, meanwhile, is shaded by hair, so it also takes on less heat. I think that’s amazing.

The other type of sweat, the apocrine sweat, is mainly for scent and found in the armpits and the groin. Unfortunately for us, its job is to smell – it’s like our olfactory fingerprint. And because it’s released in areas where it can’t evaporate quickly, it comes into contact with bacteria, starts to break down, and starts to smell. It’s a different kind of sweat, with a different function.

The sweat on our arms, legs and forehead doesn’t smell because there’s quite a lot of salt in it, and the bacteria doesn’t like it. This means it usually gets to evaporate before bacteria get to work on it.”

What about the smelly feet?

The sweat from our feet doesn’t smell like the sweat in our groin or armpits. The sweat on our feet is clean sweat, but the problem is that our feet stay covered for such long periods. Shoes have been around for a long time, about 40,000 years, but we’ve been around for two to three million years, on and off. We have smelly feet because we put them in a warm closed-in environment – we put them in ten-inch coffins, which gives the bacteria plenty more time to go to work. If you wore something similar on your hands all day, your hands would smell too.

We tend to have mixed feelings about sweat …

In certain environments, like the gym, it’s a badge of honor, but taboo in other situations. In job interviews it’s rather awkward when someone goes to shake your hand and you have sweaty palms.

The reason you have sweaty palms is you’re having a fight or flight response. If you have sweaty palms you can run and climb up a tree more easily, because sweaty palms gives you extra grip to hold onto things. But it’s an evolutionary throwback, something that happens when adrenaline is released. So sweaty palms and feet might have made sense, because it would enable you to grip better if you were running or climbing.

Do men sweat more than women?

No. There’s variability across our species, and some people will sweat more than other people, and that’s partly to do with the variability in our DNA. But I can’t believe that women sweat less than men. I think there are more taboos around women sweating than there are around men sweating. Things are beginning to change, but for too long there has been this idea that it isn’t a womanly thing to do, which I think is a tragedy.

Dr Vybarr Cregan-Reid is Reader in English and Environmental Humanities at the University of Kent, and author of Footnotes: How Running Makes us Human. He is currently working on his third book, Primate Change: how the world we’ve made is remaking us.

This piece originally appeared on lesmills.com.

Healthy Snacking Options

We all have moments during the week when food seems to be the right answer. The only answer. We’re told that snacking isn’t healthy, but surely, it’s unhealthy to leave our bodies empty. Our bodies know what they want, and if that means a quick snack mid-afternoon, what’s so wrong with that?
Go on, treat yourself to something. But what makes snacking unhealthy is when you eat too much or something that doesn’t benefit your body whatsoever. A chocolate bar or slice of cake may look and sound tempting, but the sugar rush won’t last long, and you’ll be wanting to snack again pretty soon. Choose something a little healthier and something that will keep you full until your next meal.

Here is a list of great snacks you can keep in your bag or desk at work to help you get through the day. Obviously, we don’t suggest you eat a whole packet of the foods to keep you going!

Seeds and Nuts

These are easy to store and carry around with you for an easy snack as they can be kept in a cupboard or draw for weeks. Nuts and seeds are great sources of proteins and vitamins so are a delicious option for keeping you full. We recommend walnuts, cashews, pistachios and almonds but of course you can have a mix or buy a bag of a certain kind and keep them for when you’re in times of need.

Fresh and Dried Fruit

If your sweet tooth needs to be satisfied, fruits are a great way to do that. Whether you choose to pick up an apple, banana, orange, or go for a pack of dried fruits that can be kept in your office desk for the week, you can’t go wrong with fruit. Delicious dried fruit options are apricots and mango pieces as they are sweet and refreshing. Berries are also a great choice, especially if you normally snack on sweets and are looking to replace those.

Cereal/Protein Bars

If you like biscuits or want a snack that feels a little more substantial, healthy bars are the way forward. Whether you go with cereal, flapjack, protein bars, or even make your own, they are a great healthy snacking alternative to quickly fill you up. Just make sure to watch out for bars with a lot of sugar in, or ones that are dipped in chocolate.

Chopped Vegetables

Sometimes you need a snack that’s crunchy and refreshing, and veggies are great for that! Quickly prepare a bag of chopped peppers, celery and cucumber sticks before you come to work. They are great for munching on and can quickly fill you up. Another option is cherry tomatoes which are just as yummy and can be added to your veggie mix or taken on their own! Vegetables are so good for us, and snacking on them is an easy way to fit in your 5 a day!

Hopefully this list inspires you to rethink your snacking habits and pushes you to choose healthier options. Let us know if you have any other suggestions for the healthy snacking list!

Remember to go with the healthier option! Happy snacking!

Clothing & Footwear for the Gym

Whether you’re an avid gym goer, runner, athlete, gymnast, or someone who has recently started exercising, choosing the right clothing and trainers to wear is important. Let’s start by looking at clothing.

Having the right equipment and clothing can boost your confidence, as well as improve performance. Scientific studies have been done, showing us that what we wear can really affect how we perform a task. Wearing workout clothing puts you in a certain mind frame, improving your overall performance. Specialised outfit pieces can also add protection to the wearer, and prevent injuries as it’s specially made to suit certain people and certain sports. This should be important for every sports person and gym goer, as injury can be dangerous. But with the right clothing, you can have more freedom of movement, improving your workout out and sports sessions.

So, what should you wear? This can depend on what you’re doing, and if there is a uniform, but if you can wear what you wish, make sure you’re comfortable, as if not, you won’t enjoy what you’re doing, and you will quickly become uncomfortable. Lightweight and breathable clothing is recommended for all sports and gym work so you can continue working without feeling heavy and bulky from your clothes. This type of clothing can help you keep cool and dry in the gym also. It’s important your workout wear is appropriate for what you plan to do and for where you are. Make sure you’re warm in colder weathers, and if you plan on really working up a sweat, tight clothing can be uncomfortable to remove after a session. A final point to make if to not wear jewellery. This seems a simple one, but jewellery can be dangerous to wear in sports and around certain equipment in the gym. This is obviously optional, but many sports teams request that you don’t wear jewellery whilst training or during play, but this isn’t always necessary in the gym.

Looking for new workout clothes sounds exciting, and they truly do improve performance, but what are actual benefits of clothes that may cost quite a bit? Like mentioned, workout clothing can keep your muscles warm, preventing strain and injury. It’s important to look after you body and rest as part of your fitness routine, and if your clothes can help in anyway, it takes pressure off of you. So as well as motivating you to work harder, the right clothing for the gym can actually aid you whilst working out. So what about footwear for the gym?

Firstly, if you’re just starting out, you don’t need to invest in expensive shoes. Wait until you know your body and foot type, as well as what kind of exercising you will be doing most. Then you can spend your money on trainers that will work best with you. You also want to watch out for trainers that look exciting with air bubbles, cushioning, and shock absorbers. Even though these look the best, there will still be pressure on your feet whilst working out, and they can be more expensive than other trainers.

Running

It’s important that running trainers fit well and won’t become loose. You don’t want to be uncomfortable whilst running, or risk your trainers slipping which could cause serious injury. As your feet will be hitting the ground as you move, it’s good to have some protection for your feet, so look for trainers with a padded insole, and that are quite flexible to make running easier.

Weight Lifting

Hard and flat soled shoes are best for lifting weights. This prevents you from slipping when you are stood in a firm solid space, as you don’t want to drastically move when carrying heavy equipment. You need to make sure your trainers have good grip, and are comfortable when lifting weights.

Yoga

Our yoga classes at Gym & Tonic and many others ask people to be bare footed when doing yoga. This allows people to have grip of the floor when doing certain positions, without worrying about slipping and falling over. There are special yoga grip socks you can purchase that provide more friction between your feet and the surface you are working on, but as barefoot is a free option, we'd would be more than tempted to choose that!

Cycling/Spin Cycle Classes

For cycling, we recommend wearing trainers with a stiff sole, so pushing down on the pedals is easy and comfortable. You can purchase special cycling shoes that have clips on the bottom of them so your foot doesn’t slip off of the pedal whilst riding. A few spin classes use pedal clips like this so people can go to a faster speed, but they are not necessary.

HIIT Workouts

For fast paced workouts like this, we recommend shoes that are well fitting, as well as ones that provide good grip and stability, so you don’t slip during a section of the workout. We would say breathability is key with these shoes too. As you are moving around a lot, you need something that allows your feet to get some air, so they don’t become hot, sweaty and uncomfortable.

We haven’t listed any shoes or brands to buy, but with this information, you can go to a trainer store with a better idea of what to look out for, and so you don’t end up spending your money on something that isn’t right.

Do you think having the right workout clothes or trainers is important?

BODYATTACK: Designed by Athletes For Athletic Results

By Finlay Macdonald for Fit Planet

Criticized early on for breaking with orthodox exercise theory, the workout that became BODYATTACK went on to prove its creators right and help revolutionize the world of group fitness.

Looking out across a quiet inner-city Auckland park, Phillip Mills remembers when it was the premier track and field venue in New Zealand’s biggest city.

The Mills family home was nearby, and his four-time Olympian father Les Mills was national track and field coach during the park’s heyday. “I remember watching Peter Snell and Kip Keino race over the mile on this track,” Phillip says. “This was the hub of track and field, and this was our lives, at least until I went off to university.”

It’s remarkable to think that this small suburban park, now home to family picnickers and dog-walkers, once hosted legendary runners such as three-time New Zealand gold medallist Snell and two-time Kenyan Olympic gold medallist Keino.

Almost as remarkable is that the skills practiced here would help form the beginnings of a global fitness trend.

As a 400 meter hurdler, Phillip Mills ran on the same park himself, learning and practicing fundamental athletic training principles to build speed, strength and fitness. Taking up a track scholarship at UCLA in California in the 1970s he encountered the beginnings of the aerobics group fitness revolution.

When the two were combined – group workouts based on athletic techniques – the public demand was immediate. “In the family gym we had then, we turned it into a boutique group fitness studio, and it was a revolution,” says Mills. “There were people lined up down the street for 50 meters waiting to get in.”

“We knew very well from decades of sports training that this is what got great results. And we were determined to take that into the gym.” Phillip Mills

One of the early classes taught at the original Les Mills gym was an athletic-based aerobic workout, based on the kinds of exercises used back at the athletics track – callisthenics, running, sprints, agility, and what would now be known as interval training.

As the program was refined and developed it evolved into what it is known as now: BODYATTACK™. Not that it was a smooth process.

“In those early days of the gym industry,” says Mills, “this was completely opposed by the establishment. You had people saying, ‘no that’s terrible, you have to do steady-state basic aerobic training, you have to keep it very gentle.’  They argued that would get you better results. But we knew very well from decades of sports training that interval training was what got people great results. And we were determined to take that into the gym.”

In a sense, the traditional gym establishment – and the science of fitness – had to wait years to catch up with the idea of working out at a high base intensity, adding periodic spikes of even higher intensity.

As Les Mills Head of Research Bryce Hastings explains, “There’s a lot of science now around those spikes of intensity being really effective at transforming fitness and body composition. I think BODYATTACK was one of the first programs to really start to use that as an approach. And I think that was because it was designed by athletes, people who really liked to train. They knew how they’d want to train, and they knew what kind of results they were after, and they just designed the program that way … They transformed the approach to fitness, and now we know they were really onto something. And now everyone is doing it!”

While it might have been intuitive to begin with, these days the research and knowledge around a “cardio peak training” workout such as BODYATTACK is substantial. There is plenty of evidence that it gets results. Says Hastings, “You’ve got your base of intensity, which is going to improve your VO2, give you stamina and endurance. But when you’ve got these little spikes of intensity on top of that – your body goes into overdrive, because the spikes take you to an inefficient training zone. When you do that, the body scrambles to try and get better at that. And then you’ve also got the strength elements – push-ups, abdominal training and squats – so it’s really a very well-rounded athletic training program.”

But let’s not get lost in the science. The other element of BODYATTACK that everyone acknowledges is a major part of its success is the group effect – the added motivation and enjoyment that comes from working out with others.

“I think the first thing BODYATTACK achieved was the use of music to bring people together to exercise,” says Hastings. “It was one of the first programs to create this massive tribal approach to exercise, where people really got into it, and got the group effect from that type of program.”

You might not have to queue around the block any more, but 100 releases into its long life, BODYATTACK is living proof that age doesn’t have to slow you down.

Find a BODYATTACK class or work out On Demand here.

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This piece originally appeared on lesmills.com.

Should I be Counting my Macros?

In a recent article where we looked at building body muscle, we touched on macronutrients and how using the macro system when eating can be really effective for your overall fitness. Today, we’re going to be looking at what macronutrients are, why you should choose to follow the diet, and how you can easily calculate your daily allowances without all the fuss of calories.

What are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients, macros for short, are protein, fats, and carbohydrates. To keep your body healthy and energised, you need to eat the right amount of each of these macro groups every day. Carbohydrates are a staple in anyone’s diet, especially in the fitness world. They are a great energy source and can keep you full and ready to go for long amounts of time, which makes them great to have before a marathon or workout, as the energy is slow release. Protein also provides you with energy, but this macronutrient is needed mainly to help your immune system function properly, and power your nervous system. When exercising, caring for the different parts of your body is so important, and protein is great for helping with that. Finally, fats are brilliant for recovering after a workout, and building muscle in your body. Fats can build up if you eat them and don’t do something to turn them into muscle however, so make sure you eat these in moderation and that you consume less on days you choose to rest.

Why Should You Use the Macro Diet?

Diets can feel restrictive, and let’s face it, they aren’t fun at all. You feel like you’re missing out, especially if everyone around you is indulging in food. This diet is easier than counting calories, and as you can eat whatever you want, it’s less restrictive. Simply, if what you’re eating isn’t going over your set macronutrient amount, you can have it. No food group is off limits, only if it takes you past your daily allowance.

How to Calculate Macronutrients

There are a few ways to determine your daily macro allowances, but we will just show you just two here. The first simply splits your daily calorie intake into sections for each macro group. The most common split is to allocate 40% of your daily calories to carbohydrates, 40% to protein, and 20% to fats. From here you can work out how many calories you would normally consume depending on your day (if you choose to workout or not) and then you can work out the amount grams per group. For example, if you aim to have around 2000 calories per day (again, this can change if you are training that day or having a rest day), and choose to split it using the 40:40:20 ratio suggestion above, these would be the calculations you use to work out your carbohydrate allowance:

  • 40% of your calories will be taken up by carbs.
  • 2000 (daily calories) x 0.4 (calorie percentage) = 800 calories.
  • Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, so 800 ÷ 4 = 200.
  • This means your daily carb allowance is 200 grams in total.
  • You can then repeat this process to workout your protein and fats targets.

An alternative to this method is to use a macronutrient calculator to find accurate daily intakes of each macro dependent on your daily exercise and current body weight. Our calculator of choice is the My Fitness Pal app.

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We touched on this app in the muscle gain article. You simply type in your details, and it gives you percentages based on you and your lifestyle, rather than calories. This is an easier option, and great for tracking your food, if you don’t want to do the maths yourself.

Hopefully this article lets you see an alternative to counting calories each day. We hope you’re able to understand macronutrients and how following this method allows you to be freer in how you eat, and still see results.

Have macros worked for you?

Long Distance Running Tips

Whether you run long distances every week or are aiming to run a half marathon one day, everyone should follow these long distance running tips. They are here to help keep you safe and healthy, even when the finish line seems far off. Most of these suggestions are perfect for when you’re actually racing but remember to read in advance and get prepared.

Get Energy from Carbs

Your body uses carbohydrates to produce glucose, which then becomes glycogen. Your body uses this for energy, helping you when running. People’s diets are mostly formed of carbs when leading up to a race, so that their bodies are stored up with ready-to-go energy. This doesn’t mean that you should just eat carbs however. About a week before the race, start to introduce more carbohydrates into your diet (e.g. porridge for breakfast, an extra bread roll at lunch, pasta for tea, etc). This allows your body to begin storing glycogen, ready for race day.

Stay Hydrated

If you’re thirsty, it means you’re already dehydrated. It’s so important to drink water when your body is losing a lot whilst running. Dehydration can be really dangerous, especially if paired with warm weather. Carry a water bottle or make use of water stations if you can. You will truly thank yourself for it.

Pace Yourself

Be a tortoise, not a hare. It’s so important when running to focus on your own safety, rather than trying to beat others. To be able to pace yourself, get to know how your body works and what makes it work best. Set goals of running certain amounts in certain times comfortably. You can then find your rhythm and continue this for the rest of the race. You will be comfortable and confident for the entire distance then, rather than trying to sprint and not making it very far.

Fuel Up Mid Run

It may seem easier to skip this step and just power on but giving your body an extra burst of energy can help you get to the end of the race much easier. It is recommended to begin to refuel 30 to 45 minutes into your run, allowing your digestive system to do its job and give you the energy you need. These regular top ups also help your glycogen levels get back to normal. Everyone has different food favourites, some choose nuts and dried fruits, and other go for chewy, sugary sweets for an instant sugar hit. When training, workout what works best for you, and go with that on race day.

Get a Good Pair of Trainers

Your feet do more work than you think. When running long distances, you are hitting them against hard ground for long amounts of time. By spending money on good quality trainers, you are protecting your feet, helping your overall performance. Find trainers that are well made and have a good sole. You will thank yourself, especially if you will be running over hard, uncomfortable and rocky terrain. Good trainers are worth spending a little more on, they will help prevent blisters and injury, improving your running experience.

Don't Skip the Post Run Recovery

Once you’ve finished a race, it may be something you don’t want to attempt again, but that doesn’t mean you should just stop. Running can be hard on your body, so you need to care for it and help yourself recover after you’ve passed over the finish line. After the race, rehydrate your body. This is so important, especially when running long distances. Take time to cool down, through walking and stretching. This helps your muscles relax. Do light exercise the next day, just so that your muscles don’t become tighter, leading them to not healing well. Finally, rest. Having a good night’s sleep is so important.

We hope these tips will come in handy whether you’re an expert or a novice. Ready, set, go!

What are your tips for running long distances?