Posts Tagged ‘sport’

Mind over matter. This is a common saying that all of us would have heard at some point in our lives. It’s the type of phrase that is normally grouped with the oh so catchy clichéd ‘no pain, no gain’. Both of these are globally quoted when talking about sports or athletic performance and are also casually disregarded as some cheesy saying that’s been around since the dawn of the Rocky movies and are therefore not really useful phrases to consider when analysing performance.

But are they?

It is widely considered that the difference between greatness and the ordinary is the mindset of an individual. This applies to all areas of life but is most prominent in the world of sport and exercise.

There are millions of people on this planet that undertake a sport or form of exercise. Now what is it that separates someone from achieving their dreams and someone that does not? Is it luck, is it genetics, is it talent or is it a person’s belief in their own abilities or drive to achieve?? I would say that it’s a mix of all of the above. Millions of exercisers take to the streets each day for a run. A certain percentage of these people will be able to run a mile in under 8 mins, some others will be able to break the 5 minute mark whilst another rather drastically smaller number of these people will be able to run a mile in 3 minutes or less. Some people would say that these individuals are just gifted with superior genetics. They’re genes allow their bodies to work within their anaerobic threshold for longer hence being able to sprint constantly for 3 mins. However other analysts would propose that athletes who mentally train and prepare themselves to succeed are more likely to reach that mythic land of the < 3 minute mile than individuals who don’t.

Muhammed Ali, undoubtedly the greatest boxer of all time was not simply brilliant because of his talent alone, his legacy was built upon the mans character and self belief. Yes he was good and he knew it but it was his unstoppable belief that he was the finest boxing specimen of all time that saw him through each round of every fight. Are we only as good as our genetics allow us to be? Hell no! If this was the case, why would we choose particular songs to get us into the right frame of mind when exercising? If this was the case then there would be no need for motivational speeches before important sporting events. Al Pacino’s stirring speech at the end of Any Given Sunday would be fruitless if the power and concentration of an individual or teams mind had no effect on their performance. This one scene for example must have inspired thousands of athletes the world over. I have heard on a few occasions of coaches choosing to play this particular scene to their team before each game in order to help them focus on the game ahead.

When I train my clients I constantly use metaphors of strength and power to help them visualise an exercise. Be it asking them to imagine throwing the bar of a bench press into the ceiling or throwing the bar up when performing a clean. It’s these little things that can sometimes make the difference when you are not mentally prepared.

The biggest contention when talking about the ‘mind over matter’ approach is that a person’s mental toughness and self belief cannot be measured. So it is almost impossible to tell how much more mental toughness accredits to a persons ability than physiological ability alone. This however shouldn’t stop you from harnessing your brains ability to make you a superior athlete! My last blog was about Motivation, and how it can be used to push us to great heights of physical ability. Having unstoppable motivation is the very essence of ‘mind over matter’. If you are working towards a goal, or have a something that inspires you to exercise then use these as tools to close your mind from external stresses and focus on the game/class/exercise in hand! Working hard does not just include concentrating on your physical training; training of the mind in preparation for exercise is equally as important and can ultimately make the difference between success and loss.

As I frequently do I’m going to end by including a quote that summarises this article perfectly:

‘The secret of living a life of excellence is merely a matter of thinking thoughts of excellence. Really, it’s a matter of programming our minds with the kind of information that will set us free’


It’s now more than half way through the year, the summer is finally upon us and so this week’s blog is about maximising the time you spend exercising so that you can be outside enjoying your life rather than being stuck inside in the gym!

Exercise intensity is one of the most crucial aspects to an individual or team’s exercise regime.  You cannot expect to achieve any progress or gains at all if the intensity that you undertake your exercise is not sufficient enough to push your body.  The obvious question that has to be asked is ‘how do I know that I am working at high enough intensity?’  The answer to this is very dependant on what your particular goals are.  From a Personal Trainer’s perspective, physical health and fitness is split into 3 main forms:

  1. Health Related Fitness
  2. Functional Related Fitness
  3. Physical Fitness


The intensity of the exercise in the most part should increase as an individual progresses through each of the above 3 stages.   This is because as an individual becomes fitter and stronger, their C.V fitness, muscular strength and endurance, balance, coordination, reaction time etc will all improve and they will be able to work harder.  However what is important to remember is that someone just starting out will find what might appear to be simple exercises extremely intense!  So the rule here is that intensity can only be measured by what is felt, not by how it is viewed.

Many times I have been in the gym either training someone or training myself and I have spotted someone on the bike or treadmill reading a paper or book.  Now trying not to jumping on my soap box or judging too harshly, someone who is able to read a book whilst exercising is clearly not working out at any level that will produce gains of any sort.  If you are someone that wants to achieve a goal and achieve it fast then please take notice of my following advice!

How quickly you achieve your goals is down to a few key factors.  Firstly you have to have the will and motivation to want to get there!  If you feel that you don’t have the focus or the motivation to reach your goals then you have a couple of options.  Firstly you can employ a personal trainer.  Our profession wasn’t created for egotistical pumped up guys to shout at people while they train.  Were here to help our clients find the right path to reach their goals.  Were here to help motivate our clients, help keep them focused, on plan and working at an intensity rate that will produce progress!  But ultimately were here to show our clients that exercise is fun!  Your second option you may have is to find someone to train with.  Or find a group of friends that also want to exercise.  Having a friend or group of friends as a support network is a great way to find the motivation to succeed.  Much like how slimming clubs are used by thousands of people worldwide as a tool of support and as a morale booster, having a support network can be a fantastic way to keep you on track. 

If you have the motivation to succeed then the next thing that is required of you is to train smart.  So many people come into the gym and workout at a slow pace or have huge rests in between sets.  Apart from the small amount of stress that those individuals are placing on their bodies that is unlikely to produce results, they are increasing their chances of injury.  Ceasing exercising for periods of time before going straight back into it cold increases an individual’s risk of muscle tears and tendonitis. 

My one recommendation for how to train smart is to train to an appropriate intensity!  Some people tell me that they train 5-6 days a week and feel that it’s the number of days that they train for that really matters when in fact it’s actually how you train and the intensity that you train at that matters most.  Someone who trains hard for 3 days a week can in many cases reap larger physical rewards than someone who trains light for 6 days a week.  How can this be so?  When you exercise intensely, each movement you undertake causes muscle fibres to contract and release.  This requires a lot of energy and as a result of the movement and chemical reactions that take place within muscles, damage is caused to the muscle fibres which can take time to repair.  Intense training is more likely to produce greater stress on the muscle fibres and therefore will require more rest. 

Another important factor for guys in particular is to make sure that workouts are generally no longer that one hour long.  After this period of time the levels of the stress hormone Cortisol increases in your body and levels of testosterone take a bit of a beating!  Both of this combined, result in a more catabolic (breaking down) affect on muscles.

There are many ways to make a workout intense.  You could drop the rest that you have between sets, you could superset muscle groups or exercises.  You could also include circuit type workouts to prevent individual muscle fatigue during a workout whilst maintaining a high level of intensity.  If you really want to do something nuts and include a training method proven to be one of the most intense styles, then try adding Tabata Training to your plan.  This style of training was developed In Japan by a Mr Tabata (believe it or not)!  The basic idea is to undertake a compound full body exercise (such as dumbbell Blasters, sprints etc) for 20 seconds.  Take a 10 second rest then repeat for 7 more times at least.  This style of training was designed for intense workouts as it targeted both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and ensured that the individual’s heart rate is high throughout.  It is a very short but extremely hard workout!  Please take note that I would not recommend this style of training to anyone that is not already in fairly good shape.  This style of training requires good form and if you are not at a decent level of fitness your muscles are likely to fatigue quickly, you will lose form and the risk of injury will increase.

My last tip is to keep your training fun, keep it intense (that way you won’t need to train for hours at a time), keep it dynamic and learn from any mistakes you make along the way.  Don’t be afraid to change a routine or ask advice off of people that appear to know more than you do.  You’ll find that most of the time, even the most intimidating looking people in gyms are more than happy to part with some of their wisdom to help another person’s training!

Over the past week or so since the World Cup started a few things have dawned on me.  Firstly how average the majority of the games have been and secondly, the World Cup presents a fantastic opportunity for underdogs to shine on a global stage. 

What is it that makes a group of individuals rise up and create greatness as a unit?  How can eleven men, all from different parts of their native country who play for teams of varying degrees of quality come together to mould as one and go onto beat the best in the world?

Last Friday I watched one of the most disappointing England performances of my life.  This lacklustre display of football is what really inspired me to write this week’s blog.  There we had eleven men, all who display great class and skill in football week in week out for their club team’s, struggle to play as one.  It seemed as though Fabio Capello had picked eleven guys that had never met each other before and put them on the field expecting them to play as a team.  This got me thinking about what really makes a team.  It’s not just eleven men who walk onto a field wearing the same shirts under the banner of 3 lions.  It’s not those eleven men singing their national anthem knowing that they represent an entire nation that makes them a team.  What truly makes a team is a unity of minds bonded together under a common cause.  In this case the World Cup.  It is how the players bond with each other and how much they want to succeed that makes a difference on the field.  I feel that the current England team do not have that bond quite yet.  Perhaps our football team will continue much like our England Rugby team did in the 2007 World Cup where we started slowly but built up a magnificent pace taking us to the final?

It’s common knowledge that in any fight or match in life, it is the guy that is willing to go that extra mile, that is willing to endure pain in order to win that will come out on top.  And when I say come out on top I don’t necessarily mean win every time.  Yes, someone that is willing to push themselves to that extra level has more chance of wining than the guy who holds themselves back a little.  But what happens to a team or individual who fight their hardest to achieve something and still lose is something that only those that have been there can understand.  To lose but to have fought hard as a team, knowing that every man did their best despite losing creates a sense of self pride that is unlike any other.  Now I can only guess, but I’m pretty sure that this feeling of pride was completely absent in the England dressing room last Friday night.  That is what separates average teams from great teams.  The ability to give 110% and walk off with your heads held high regardless of the result.  This is something that every English man and woman expects of their fellow country men who represent our nation out in South Africa.  We don’t just hope for our players to go out each game and play well, we expect each and every player to walk out onto that pitch, focused and prepared to give blood sweat and tears in order to bring back the greatest glory that an English sports fan could ask for: The World Cup.  I’m posting this just mere hours before the do-or-die game against Slovenia that will determine our future in this competition.  Perhaps our English team should take some time before the game to watch highlights of Gazza’s heartfelt performance in the semi final of Italia 90.  His tears marked his place in history of a true English Lion.  Or let them watch David Beckham’s inspiring performance in the England vs Greece game in Oct 2001 that took us to the 2002 World Cup.  When you watch how passionately he played in that game, you can see that it wasn’t just his 93rd minute free kick that got us there.  Both of these examples show 2 men playing with their heart and soul.  They display the sort of self and national pride that I talk about above.  Now if only teams could render this type of passion into every game that they play, sport as we know it wouldn’t ever be the same again.

Last Friday I took a break from the world of exercise and worked most of the day in firstly my grandads garden and secondly my nans garden.  As they are both getting on now, gardening has become almost impossible for them due to the bending etc that you have to do.  The weather last Fri in my hometown of Reading was very warm indeed and whilst I was busily sweating away it got me thinking about how great a workout gardening can be for you!  I remembered reading something about how effective gardening could be at burning calories when I was training to be a Personal Trainer so I decided to have a dig (no pun intended) around to see exactly how effective it can be for general fitness and also weight loss.

There are a hell of a lot of figures out there about the number of calories that are expended during one hour of gardening.  These figures range from anywhere between 280-400 calories per hour.  Now this is a very impressive number!  It’s roughly the equivalent number of calories burnt as someone running at a moderate speed of 5mph for an hour!  Except that gardening as a form of exercise is far more functional to daily life than just going for a jog!

Gardening calls upon three of the most important factors of exercise!

–          Muscular Strength

–          Muscular Endurance

–          Flexibility

When you need to dig a hole in the ground for that new shrub you bought, your body calls upon these 3 physiological functions!  For example, the digging motion using a spade of fork requires movements very similar to those that I get my clients to undertake in the gym!

Firstly you need to bring the spade in an upwards movement.  This single movement requires a pulling, upright row motion brought on by your shoulders and contraction of the rhomboid, trapezius and rotator cuff muscles of your upper back.  This also requires a twist of the upper body flexing and twisting your latissimus dorsi (large muscle extending across your back), whilst your core muscles of the abdomen and lower back are called into play to stabilise and prevent you from falling over!  All of this occurring in just the upwards motion of digging!  The downwards force required to push the spade into the ground requires a completely different pushing movement.  It is this repeated pulling, pushing, twisting and bending that contribute to digging in the garden being one of the highest calorie burning exercises you can do at home!  Not only is this great for calorie expenditure, it is a brilliantly functional set of movements. 

Yes if you are just pruning the bushes you are going to burn less calories, but if you have to go on your tip toes to reach that branch at the back that’s just out of reach, your body will call upon your muscles to help you remain stable throughout this movement.

Our every day lives are full of pushes, pulls, twists, bends, squats and lunges.  Gardening incorporates all of these movements and as such almost presents itself as a very viable exercise option.  ‘Gardening as a sport?’ I hear you say!?  That’s preposterous!  Well perhaps as a sport maybe, but as a leisure activity designed to increase a persons health and wellbeing I think it’s a pretty good one.

Owning an allotment these days hasn’t been this popular since the Second World War when growing your own food was important due to rationing!  We live in a modern society where people are becoming ever conscious of our impact on this planet and how the production of GI foods such as vegetables are seen as less morally right as those organically grown options.  People are living in towns and cities in modern built housing where gardens are only just big enough to swing a cat!  Owning an allotment presents the perfect opportunity for newly housed couples and friends to ‘do their bit’ and feel like they are going back to our caveman roots where we are providing for ourselves.  Not only this but those people owning allotments are undertaking a form of exercise normally overlooked.  And they are doing it outdoors in the fresh air!

So if you are someone that doesn’t enjoy the conventional methods of exercise be it in the gym, out on the track or on the playing field tell your friends you do gardening!  It’s a whole different approach to health, but if you work hard, you’re not only going to increase the chances of bettering your physical and mental wellbeing you’re going to have a beautiful garden to boot.  How’s that for a measure of success!?

The idea for this week’s blog came to me about a week ago. I arrived at the gym all ready for a workout. Feeling pumped and prepared to have a good session I entered the gym floor and stepped onto the cross trainer for a few mins warm up. After a few seconds my ears were greeted with the rather unwelcome sound of the crazy frog song. Now for those unaware of this pretty darn awful pop song I shall enlighten you. The crazy frog became a brief sensation in 2005, firstly with phone downloads of the frog which were later followed up by an incredibly cheesy song. Now to avoid ranting on about this song I’ll get to the point. This one song being played over the speakers managed, in about 15 seconds to drain nearly all the motivation I had to workout! I struggled through the remainder of the workout and at the end I thought back to how I felt at the beginning and how easily my mood had changed due to the effect of one song.

I then went on to think about how integral music is to exercise these days. Nearly every gym across the globe will have music playing in the background and if you delve into the world of exercise classes then you will be hard done by to find a class that does not involve music.

Now ask yourself this question; How can music effect a persons performance during exercise so easily?

We all have our likes and dislikes. Someone who is really into Hip Hop is not going to be totally enthused if Metallica were to be played over the speakers. With regards to this and the example I gave above, it seems that our prefixed judgements on music can have a profoundly negative effect on our mood and as a result our athletic performance. As we start to concentrate on how much we dislike a song rather than concentrating on the exercise itself, we let the negative feelings take over. But how about the positive side of music and performance?

Numerous studies since the fifties have tried to answer this question, some have been successful, others remained flabbergasted as to why music can affect us so easily. Some science bods however, in a bid to answer this question broke down the effects that music has on us while we exercise into different categories. Some of us may experience only one or two of these affects, others might experience all of them.


This first title basically means that music when we exercise provides a great distraction to the exercise itself. Instead of focusing on the pain or fatigue that we may be feeling, our mind is averted to the thought of music. This is particularly relevant to endurance athletes who may need such a distraction when nearing the end of a race.


Not too dissimilar to Dissociation, this relates to a person associating potentially happy thoughts and memories assigned to the music that they may be listening to, to the activity they are undertaking. Which can then lead to Dissociation as the mind is averted away from feelings of fatigue or negativeness. When I listen to my favourite songs I automatically feel happy and as such, I find that I am able to bring this positive mood into my exercise sessions. Much like Pavlov’s Dog, we are almost able to condition ourselves into associating the good feelings we have with music to exercise.


This is fairly self explanatory as the music in this instance acts as an arousal mechanism for the brain. When the mind is stimulated, the body’s central nervous system becomes more active and as a result, more sensitive and reactive whilst you are undertaking exercise. This is especially important for sports that require quick reflexes like ping pong, or if you are a goalie in ice hockey.

Flow State

This is where the body and mind turn on ‘auto-pilot’ mode and function without any real conscious thought. The mind is fully immersed into the activity that one is undertaking and any outside influences are removed from consciousness. When someone has capitalised on Dissociation, Association and Arousal techniques they are then able to fully enter the Flow State. And music can help you achieve this quicker!

It is also very important to understand that all of the above points are not only achieved when listening to music. Thousands of athletes and participants of exercise may never feel the need to incorporate music into their programs. Martial arts such as Thai Chi for example are designed to bring the participant into a state of ‘flow’ throughout the exercise based purely on concentrating and controlling your actions and breathing. By focusing on each movement, the individual is able to shut out any exterior thoughts or feelings.

It is clear that music may not be necessary for us to achieve anything greater or to enjoy sport or exercise more than usual. It can instead just act as a helping hand along the way or add an extra element to our training. Be it helping to keep tempo while running or undertaking a class. My advice is to find some music you love, try exercising to it and let me know if it had any effect on your workout? I’d love to hear your story (! No matter what context you may use music for when you exercise, enjoy it and reap the rewards that positive thinking and a cracking tune can bring into your life!