What is Heart Rate Variability and how can you benefit from it?

Heart Rate Variability has quickly been reaching buzzword status. It's been a standard measurement amongst athletes in high performance facilities for years but not something that has been particularly easy to monitor for the average exercise enthusiast - until now.

So what is heart rate variability (HRV)? Why should you be aware of it? How can you to measure and track it? And why can measuring it completely change your approach to training and recovery?

What Exactly Is Heart Rate Variability

I'm sure you've measured your own HEART RATE at some point, whether that's by placing three fingers on a superficial artery and counting the beats or by strapping on a heart rate monitor, you'll get a figure measured in beats per minute. However, this number doesn't tell you everything...

A resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute doesn’t mean that your heart beats exactly every second, it will vary from beat to beat - hence the term Heart Rate Variability.

So what does this mean?

As a (very vague) rule of thumb, the higher the HRV the better, the lower your HRV, the worse your current wellbeing. Human physiology is such a fascinating and complicated topic and there are a number of other factors to consider but let's keep it simple to start.

Your heart works automatically. There are bundles of cells that get excited and send the electric impulse through the heart via the electrical conduction system and this causes the heart muscle to contract.

These pacemaker cells generate impulses at a higher rate than is actually required of a normal heartbeat and it's the role of your autonomic nervous system to slow them down.

Your autonomic nervous system has two divisions. The sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system. Stick with me here!...

The parasympathetic system is responsible for slowing things down and promoting "rest and digest" mechanisms, while the sympathetic nervous system fires you up and is your "fight or flight division". In a normal healthy individual you want the parasympathetic influences over the pacemaker to be stronger, meaning that your heart rate is slower than it would be if the heart only functioned automatically, unfortunately stress, poor sleep and even being over-stimulated from your mobile phone can stop this from happening and keep us in a constant switched on fight or flight mode.

Why Change Is Good

Your body is constantly under changing conditions. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and their opposing actions, are there to ensure that your internal organs respond to these changes. That's why if your heart rate variability is higher, it's a sign that you're more adaptable.

On the other hand, if your HRV drops, there's a good chance that you're undergoing a lot of stress. Low HRV is a good indicator of low resilience and adaptability. It can also signal mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD, or chronic illness, From my perspective as a human performance coach, I use it as a marker for athletes under stress, still recovering from training sessions, poor sleep or even a bad diet.

How Do You Measure Heart Rate Variability

HRV was first noticed on ECG strips. ECG is reliable, and widely used in clinical practice. However, outside of hospital settings, the machine is simply not practical. Not only is it time-consuming to hook up the electrodes by yourself every morning, the device takes up space, and it's very pricey if you're not on a private hospital budget!

Thankfully, new ways of measuring HRV are emerging and wearable technology and mobile apps are leading the way in providing cheap, simple and incredibly easy and effective ways to monitor yourself.

Tracking HRV on your mobile phone

For the last few weeks my morning routine has consisted of strapping on my bluetooth heart rate monitor and opening the Elite HRV app on my phone. Yes, I know there's an app for everything! But this one has been really useful for me and simple to use. I sit perfectly still and relaxed and allow the app to measure my resting heart rate and HRV and after just two minutes it gives me a score and tells me if I'm all set to push hard with my training or need to look after myself a bit more in the day ahead.

It may not be a perfect measurement but it gives me a good idea of where I’m at. You need to control the conditions as much as possible, for example taking it at the same time of day and in the same position. Even small changes in your routine can affect your score. There will undoubtedly be mornings where you have slept less, where you had to get up to go to the bathroom, or when you had a big meal late the night before that you still haven't quite digested. All of these will change HRV and ultimately make the measurement unreliable, BUT I still believe it's well worth tracking.

From my own perspective it has been really beneficial for me to start the day in a very calm manner. I get up very early each morning and I'm on the go straight away either into my studios in London, off to Red Bull Racing or out for an early morning training session. The process of stopping before I've even started has been incredibly beneficial from a psychological perspective as well as seeing the physiological benefits. I've also enjoyed the process of listening to my own body. I recognise if I haven't slept well, if I'm feeling a bit under the weather or I'm stressed in any way about the day ahead or just sore and stiff from a tough training session earlier that week. After measuring myself for the past few weeks I'm getting pretty good at predicting what my score will be and most importantly adapting my day to reflect this.

I must stress that this is only a rough guide and in no way

How To Use HRV Information

While heart rate variability is a novel and highly effective way of tracking health, I have to stress that it will not be 100% accurate.

However, I enjoy using it myself and I recommend it to a number of clients that I work with. From a performance perspective I think it's incredibly useful in determining how I pitch the training sessions for myself and my clients. I find that most people get very lazy with their approach to training. Yes you may be training several times per week but what are you actually doing during those sessions? Are you pushing beyond your previous capabilities? Are you following a proper training programme? and are you factoring in enough time for sufficient rest, recovery and proper nutrition?

My experience tells me that most people probably aren't. Instead they do the same old workouts day after day that may actually be doing more harm than good. I'll explain more about this in a later article...

My advice? Check your HRV, enjoy the process of slowing things down and listening to your body, push hard on the good days and learn to ease off on the low score days. I guarantee your results will improve - and that's what it's ultimately all about isn't it?

Cheers,

David Osgathorp


The Hierarchy of Fitness: Performance is more than just exercise!

I get asked a lot about the best exercises for fat loss or how often someone should train each week...

In my role as a Human Performance Coach I believe that performance is more than just exercise. There is never a one size fits all programme for each client to follow and I often find that the exercise programme I create is usually the last thing that is going to have an impact on the performance of an individual, let me explain...

I believe it is my job as a coach to enhance high performance by obtaining a clear picture of each clients overall health and well being. (I will go into details of how I achieve this in later posts)

Each programme I create is founded on the premise that energy is the currency of high performance and I aim to focus on strategies to increase energy and manage it more effectively.

So how do you create more energy?

The Holistic Approach To Training

I have found that unless you treat the body as a whole, you won't experience any real/ lasting change. One thing always affects another. We are often told that exhaustion from too much training has a negative effect on your energy and progress in the gym, but I don't believe in the concept of "over-training", the whole purpose of a training session is to push beyond your previous capabilities and overload the body. Where I find problems with energy levels is when clients under recover.

I’m very aware that putting a client through a tough session when they aren’t eating properly, sleeping properly or are under excessive pressure at work, will do a lot more harm than good.

The stress hormones will reek havoc with their body. High stress hormones equals low energy, less progress, and ultimately - less health.

If this is getting you thinking then take a look at my hierarchy of fitness below. Understand that human performance is much more than just exercise and remember that you can't move up unless you improve the basics.

Sleep, Sleep, Sleep

Yes, my first and most important item is the foundation for your hierarchy of fitness is rest. Even if you got every single other thing right, if your sleep schedule is off, it wrecks havoc in your entire system.

Within just four days of poor sleep, your body can no longer use and regulate insulin properly. Insulin is the hormone that tells your cells to use the glucose in your blood. When you are short on sleep, insulin sensitivity drops. This means that you need more insulin to properly use up the glucose and so your system starts producing more.

The catch?

You can't burn fat when insulin is high. It's biochemically impossible.

But the trouble doesn't stop here. Research has consistently shown that sleep deprivation can also:

  • Mess with leptin, the satiety hormone, this will therefore make you hungrier.
  • Significantly decrease cognitive function, including memory and decision making.
  • A risk factor for deadly chronic disease, including cancer.

Bottom line? Strive to get at least 6- 8 hours every night. If this isn't achievable can you incorporate an afternoon nap? Or catch up at the weekends? Research has shown that keeping a weekly sleep target can still be effective and not cause you to stress too much about the odd late night. Understand that sleep is vital, but you don't have to miss out on life by going to bed at 9pm each night in order to hit your target!

Hydration

Water is literally the essence of life, staying hydrated will protect your joints, help your body rid itself of toxins and it is also key for maintaining optimal health.

Every cell in you needs water to function properly. And yet studies show that most of us live in a state of constant dehydration. One common reason for that is we confuse hunger and thirst. Try this: next time you crave a snack, drink a glass of water first. Your body will thank you.

But how much water do you really need in a day? 8 glasses? A gallon? However much you want?

In theory, your thirst should be enough to guide you. When you are dehydrated, though, you tend to lose sensitivity for thirst. Thankfully, there are tools that could help you figure it out. I personally love this calculator but there are lots of others you can find online.

Food As Fuel

The importance of good nutrition can not be overstated. You are, quite literally, what you eat. It's not just abs that are made in the kitchen, it's the entire state of your body. Without the proper nutrients, your system can't function right. Normal biochemical processes are altered and in the long run, you risk serious damage to your health, not just your figure.

You don't need complicated diets and eating schemes. Focus on eating plenty of vegetables and lean protein at every meal. Limit the processed food you consume. Consider cutting out added sugar and reduce the amount of wheat and dairy you consume.

I know, I know, my advice is hardly revolutionary. The diet and nutrition industry is an industry for a reason. But no matter how hard they try to sell you the next fad diet, the simple tips will never go out of style. Food is fuel for your body and improving your diet will immediately enhance your wellness.

Stress Control

Yes, controlling the levels of stress you experience can be tough. You can't control external factors and learning to manage your responses isn't always easy.

But consider this:

Stressors have real, measurable physiological responses on your system. What begins purely in your consciousness affects everything from hormones to your brain and internal organs.

The over-secretion of stress hormones like cortisol makes you more likely to gain weight while burning fat becomes harder. Even your brain is affected, especially the areas associated with long-term memory.

Since chronic stress can have such a detrimental effect on your performance, implementing stress management techniques will dramatically improve your well-being. My personal de-stressor of choice? Meditation.

We are learning more and more about the benefits of meditation every day. Neuroscientists are only just beginning to discover the power of such a simple exercise.  I love the Master Your Mind Course by Live and Dare and also the Headspace app.

Finally, Exercise

Yes, exercise is the last item on this list. Is it really the least important on this list? In my opinion, YES.

You see a great training programme won't get you great results if your body is completely run down, stressed out, dehydrated and malnourished! Build the strong foundations of sleep, nutrition, hydration and stress management and I guarantee you will turbo-charge your results in the gym.

On the flip side, good habits tend to follow one another, working out will often improve your sleep quality, reduce stress and perhaps even encourage you to eat a little better.

However, it can't and should not be an end in itself. Wondering where to start with fitness? Check out my five favourite exercises to get some ideas!

Change your focus from just simply trying to improve your fitness and aim for ways to increase your energy  and your overall performance.

This is the opening article in a new series in which I will detail numerous techniques, hacks and lifestyle adjustments you can make in order to see huge improvements in your mental and physical performance.

Stay tuned!

David Osgathorp


Workout partners

It Takes Teamwork To Make The Dream Work

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In my opinion, Nobody is truly independent. 

Think of your biggest accomplishments. I am sure you worked incredibly hard to achieve them, but if you take a moment to reflect, I can guarantee you wouldn't have achieved these things without the help of someone else. Even the most egotistical actor doesn’t goes up on stage at the Oscars to say "Yes, thank you, I’m amazing!". Winners know that without their team, they wouldn’t be up on the stage.

Embrace Dependence

There is no denying that we are more disconnected than ever. We’re constantly engaged in social media but we’re lacking the skills to actually socialise. We pursue likes on our posts but shy away from actual heart-to-heart conversations, we have the ability to reach out to millions of people on the Internet and yet some people feel more alone than ever!

Humans are still social animals, it’s through teamwork, not through a single man's struggle that most great achievements came about. Whether your goal is curing cancer or building a leaner, healthier body, nothing can beat having a great team behind you to allow you to achieve it.

Why We All Need Leaders

To put it in the words of John C Maxwell (the author of one of my favourite books on leadership:)

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.

Whatever your goal may be, we all benefit from having someone show you . In your career, that would be a mentor. At home, it's your wiser parents or grandparents who give the best relationship/marriage advice and in fitness, it's a coach.

Without over-glorifying the role of a personal trainer, having a friendly and knowledgeable person to show you the way is a definite advantage. The whole point of choosing a great coach to be on your team is to save you time and effort to help achieve the best results in the most painless way possible.

You Are Who You're With

But hey, who says choosing a leader needs to imply hiring someone?

I am a big believer in small-scale leadership and learning from your friends and loved ones. Look around your friends and colleagues right now. Every single person around you can teach you something. If you are alone, are there books? Books are  a great way to improve yourself through another human's knowledge and experience. No books? Well, there's always the Internet. There are thousands of amazing, inspiring people online that you can choose to spend time with.

One thing we all realise a little too late is that you are your tribe. You become the people that you invest time and energy in. It's a scary thought if you're not surrounded by happy and successful people. But here is the deal:

You have the choice. 

Seriously, you do. I know it's scary to have to eat alone at work. It's uncomfortable to fall apart with friends. It is downright heartbreaking to end things with a partner. The truth of the matter is, though, that sometimes pain and discomfort are necessary. Much like ripping a Band-Aid, removing negative people from your life is unpleasant but awfully necessary. I have gone through this process a number of times. Removing people from my business that were too negative, breaking away from friendship groups that were draining the life out of me and walking away from relationships that were taking so much more than they were giving.

How I Surround Myself With More Positive Humans

It's the same approach I recommend with junk food. Rather than removing things, start by adding healthy nutrients. Once you're filling up on nutritious food, the unhealthy things naturally just fall away.

Whenever I notice that I have been spending too much time with negative people, I take time in my day to invest in the fun, exciting, inspiring ones. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Read a book by an author you admire.
  • Text an old friend to check up on them.
  • Go to a lecture or a workshop-style event on a topic you're interested in (the people who speak at these are incredible 10 out of 10 times)
  • Take your lunch break with your most smiley, enthusiastic colleague.

Keep doing that and as you spend more time with amazing people, you will notice how you get more inspired and productive yourself.

Your Gym Buddy Matters

Workout partners

I did a full article on workout partners because they can truly make or break your fitness journey. The most shocking thing there?

Obesity is contagious. 

That's what Harvard scientists discovered when researching health patterns among adults. Thankfully, the reverse is just as true. Spend time with people who treat their bodies right and you will likely get healthy without even realising.

It isn't always easy to find people like that. If you're a Londoner, you know how busy people get around here. Fitness and nutrition are an after-thought for most. It doesn't mean they are not exciting and positive people that will not contribute to your personal growth. It only means that in terms of health habits, you will not always find positive peer pressure in the people around you.

So what can you do?

Find The Diamond

While most people aren't bothered about their physical health, there is the occasional happy-go-lucky diamond that will encourage you to care. These people are rare but if you find one, hold on to them for dear life. You might think you want friends who can say Screw it, let's get doughnuts, yet it doesn't hurt to also have someone who says I've signed us up to a Tough Mudder event next weekend. You can decide if that's a good friend or not!

And if you are struggling to find the diamond among your friends, why not consider coaching. Along with motivation and positive reinforcement, a personal trainer has plenty of knowledge and experience to share.

Psst! If you want me, I'm not available!

It's the beginning of the year and I'm booked up with my London projects and work at Red Bull Racing, BUT, I would like to invite you to check out the new online coaching programme I have created. Spoiler alert: it is the same value and effort on my part but you can access it from wherever you are in the world!

You'll get my expert fitness and nutrition knowledge - and more importantly a positive and friendly influence to ensure that you achieve your goals and leave a positive mark on those around you!

If you're interested then you can find me in the comments below!

Cheers,

David

 

 


Hang In There: The Surprising Benefits Of Hanging

Do you want to add something new to your training programme that can improve your posture, your concentration, your stress levels and even make you look a few years younger?!

Hanging exercises are some of the simplest, most beneficial, and most ridiculously underrated moves you can do at the gym. Hanging benefits virtually all of your body and incorporating it into your routine is easy and fun.

Types Of Hanging Exercises

When it comes to hanging you have two main types of exercises - hand hanging and inversion.

With hand hanging, you grip a bar and, well, you just hang in there. This type of movement is a great tool for decompressing your spine, improving your back strength, and reducing the risk of injury.

Inversion techniques, whether you do them on an inversion table, inversion chair, or with anti-gravity boots, aim to reverse the effects of gravity. It puts your body in a very unusual position and its a way of placing controlled stress on your system. The increased blood flow to the brain, the improved lymphatic drainage, and the radical improvement in your posture are just some of the benefits of hanging upside down.

How To Do Hand Hanging Right

 

To perform hand hanging exercises all you need is a bar. Virtually all gyms have them and you can install one in your house for very low cost as well.  You can do it as a stand-alone exercise during work or study breaks or, as I have recently started to experiment with - as a great way to start your day!

A simple hand hanging technique is to spread your arms a little more than shoulder-width apart. Grip with your thumb around the bar at first. It is a stronger grip better suited for beginners (the same goes for when you are doing pull-ups). If you are comfortable with that, try reversing the grip. Although it will be more challenging, this grip engages your wrist muscles much better. No matter what grip you choose, remember to lock your elbows for added stability.

Start with the goal of hanging for 30 seconds. An experienced athlete should aim for 90 seconds to 2 minutes of hanging.

If this seems a bit tedious and you want more of a challenge, try active hanging. The idea is to maintain the same posture, except with your shoulders pulled down. This is especially good for strengthening the muscles around your shoulder joint. If you have ever suffered from shoulder pain, dislocations or similar injuries, active hanging could drastically reduce these issues. I usually have my clients do both types of hanging but to be honest I prefer active hanging as it gives you the extra shoulder stability.

The Benefits Of Hanging From A Bar

There are four main benefits to incorporating hand hanging:

  • Decompression of your spine
  • Improved wrist and forearm strength
  • Shoulder stabilisation
  • Better back mobility

Most people, unfortunately, spend their days sitting on a desk and lounging on the sofa. As you might suspect, this is really bad for your overall posture, the function of your internal organs and virtually all aspects of your physical well being. Being sedentary significantly restricts shoulder and back mobility, as you spend hours working with your arms by your sides.

Sitting for prolonged periods of time is also very harmful to your spine. The vertebrae in your spine  are connected by softer, 'squishier' lumbar discs. As you go about your day and especially if you sit a lot, the pressure on this discs increases. Over time that could cause injury and severe pain. When you hang from the bar, the compression is reversed. In fact, chiropractors do decompression techniques on their patients all the time and they are one of the best ways to reduce back pain. Hanging is a simple decompression exercise that can prevent plenty of problems in the future.

The Crazy Benefits Of Hanging From Your Ankles

 

Did you know that being hanged upside down was one of the cruellest and most agonizing execution techniques during the Middle Ages? A couple of centuries later and we are discovering that inversion, when performed correctly and with caution, can actually have some very impressive (and surprising benefits). Defying gravity by hanging upside down can:

  • Improve blood flow to the brain
  • Improve your posture
  • Improve flexibility and overall mobility
  • Reduce stress and help with concentration, productivity, memory, critical thinking
  • Better your overall circulation (essentially, by resetting it)
  • And even improve the appearance of wrinkles and blemishes on your skin!

The list goes on and on. The benefits of hanging upside down can significantly improve your well-being, quality of life, and athletic performance. There are some downsides as well, though. For instance, the 'getting back on your feet' part could make you very dizzy and even nauseous. Inversion is dangerous to perform alone, especially by beginners. Therefore, only perform this exercise under the supervision of an experienced trainer.

Benefits Of Hanging: Some Concluding Words

 

I really hope that you've  learned something new in this article. This is something that I have been introduced to in the last few months and now that I have seen and experienced the benefits first hand I am hooked!

Get yourself a pull up bar from home or try out an anti gravity yoga class and let me know how you get on...

If you have any tips for hanging exercises or favourite techniques you would like to share, please do so in the comments below. I would also love to answer any questions you might have for me!

Cheers,

David

 


Clicking Joints: What Is The Real Reason Your Bones Moan And Groan?

 

I’m sure you've experienced clicking joints at some point in your life... Whether it's a daily occurrence as you get out of bed and take a walk to the bathroom, or from your knuckles - that you enjoy cracking maybe a little too much!

Why do clicking joints happen? And more importantly, is it an indication of something more serious? It's another question that I get asked a lot and I thought I'd take the time to give you the low down on clicking joints, what actually causes this, and when it could be dangerous. Read on...

What Makes A Joint

Fit woman stretching
Stretching is great for your joints!

 

The bones are arranged in a way that means under normal circumstances they don't touch. The ends of each bone are covered in cartilage which is a resilient and smooth elastic tissue with rubber-like padding that covers and protects the end of bones at the joints. A joint is basically two bones coming together, bound by some tendons, ligaments, and muscles. More importantly, though, each joint has a capsule and contained inside this capsule is a tiny amount of synovial fluid that reduces friction between the joints.

How Synovial Fluid Causes Your Knuckles To Crack

 

When you pull the joint capsule ends either with normal movement or forceful actions like knuckle cracking, you essentially make the joint capsule bigger.

The amount of fluid within the joint does not change but some of the gases dissolved inside are released. "Air" bubbles form very quickly to fill the empty space. The process of these bubbles forming is called cavitation and because the release of gas happens so fast, a sound is produced and that sound is the infamous crack.

Why Cracking Your Knuckles (Or Any Other Joint) Could Be Bad For You

Clicking joints are not usually a cause for concern. They click because of the gas and this is a completely natural process. If you crack your joints often, though, the change of pressure will inevitably affect the ligaments. In fact, micro-injuries can happen with every single click. That is why I encourage my clients to slowly stretch before and after exercise. My rule of thumb here is to focus on active (yet still gentle) stretching and mobility exercises before the workout session and on slower passive stretches afterwards.

When Clicking Joints Are A Cause For Concern

Although clicking joints are usually nothing to worry about, there are some cases where an underlying condition is causing them. These usually fall in one of two categories: inflammation or injury. The difference is in the timing. It would be days, weeks, or even months before an inflamed tissue around the joint cause’s pain. If there was injury, though, you would know right away, especially if you tore a thick tendon.

Injuries That Could Cause Clicking Joints

At the extreme level one of the loudest sounds your body can make is if your Achilles tendon snaps. This is the thick cord that connects your ankle to the back of your lower leg and if it ruptures the sound is similar to a gun being fired!

A tear is more subtle and if it didn't happen at the moment of high tension on the tendon, the tearing of your heel cord could resemble a joint cracking. If you hear your ankles clicking and you suspect there could be some injury, observe yourself in the next few hours. Is there any pain or swelling? If so, chances are you could have damaged the tendon and it would be a good idea to have it checked out by a doctor.

Another common injury is twisting your knee. This type of injury usually happens to football players but with a bit of bad luck, you could even injure your knee running on the treadmill. The clicking sound, in this case, often means you may have damaged the cartilage as well. Once again, talk to a doctor and try to put as little pressure on the joint as possible.

Clicking and pain in your feet or toes could be the unexpected consequence of wearing uncomfortable shoes. I have seen it happen to a few of my female clients that were particularly fond of high heels. As hard as it might be, try to switch to flats and the problem usually subsides.

Clicking Joints And Inflammation

Arthritis is the generic term used to describe inflammation of the joints. As scary as it may sound, joint inflammation happens to a lot more (and more diverse) group of people than you might expect. It’s not just reserved for the elderly, I have met girls as young as 17-18 suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Although there are over a hundred types of arthritis the two most common are:

  • Osteoarthritis that comes with age and it affects virtually all joints in your arms and legs
  • Rheumatoid arthritis which is an autoimmune disorder, essentially your own immune system turning against your joints.

Sometimes clicking joints and pain can mean a serious underlying issue

Although arthritis patients require complex therapy (that this article won’t do justice), there are a couple of tell-tale signs that your clicking joints could be arthritis:

  • Trouble moving the joint
  • Pain and stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Muscle aches around the joint
  • Secondary effects on your entire system - weight loss, poor sleep, fatigue, loss of muscle flexibility or even function. Make sure you watch out for these and seek medical advice if you notice any of them.
Sometimes clicking joints and pain can mean a serious underlying issue

 

More Reasons For Clicking Joints And How To Improve Them

Sometimes the problem just can't be explained. An old injury that didn't heal properly, an incorrect alignment of your joint, over-exercising, all of these could cause clicking joints. Here are a few tips to minimise the cracking:

  • Stretch properly before exercise. It improves joint mobility and it also increases the flexibility of the tendons. This way, you are less likely to suffer an injury.
  • Have at least one rest day per week. Less can sometimes be more! Especially if you are a beginner. Overdoing it could cause injury.
  • Make sure you have enough nutritious food in your diet and you’re properly hydrated. A few of my favourite, joint-friendly foods are nuts and berries(loaded with healthy antioxidants that fight inflammation), oily fish like salmon (for the joint, and brain, healthy omega-3's), and the occasional steak (that contains all important amino acids for your joint fluid).

To help you get started on your way to healthier joints, here is my favourite pre-workout active stretching routine:

  • Push-ups with a twist - a regular push-up except you extend an arm when you come up. I usually do at least ten. If you can't do a standard push-up yet, going on your knees is perfectly fine as well.
  • Stretch walking lunges - I have my clients do a few laps around the gym, alternating legs on each step. Just make sure your knees never pass your toes.
  • High knees with a knee to chest - Essentially, you do three to five high knee jumps and then you hold your knee to your chest for five seconds. Spend at least five minutes on this and your knees will thank you.
  • Inward and outward foot rolls - The most basic of exercises but it makes the world of a difference, especially in clients with feet issues or pain.

So in closing are your clicking joints anything to worry about? Well, if you don’t experience any pain, then NO. But if the joints are painful, swollen or restricted in anyway it could be the signs of something more sinister and you need to visit your GP to find out exactly what is going on.

 

 

What helps your clicking joints? Do you have any tips or questions for me? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

David


Compression Socks: Get Your Facts Right

Your grandma wears them on long flights and now apparently nurses, waiters, and even those with a 9-5 office job are testing them out.

What is this trend about anyway?

Are compression socks any good?

And are there any performance enhancing benefits for runners or are they yet another over-hyped product?

Let's separate fact from fiction once and for all!

What Are Compression Socks?

Compression socks (or compression stockings) are designed to make your veins drain faster and more efficiently. By doing that, they can prevent blood clots from forming in your limbs, travelling all the way to your heart or lungs and causing an embolism.

Do Your Veins Need The Extra Help?

While arteries have a thick muscle layer that contracts or expands in response to changes in the blood pressure, veins don't have anywhere near enough muscle to do that. Instead, they have valves that keep the blood flowing one way only. The valves are pretty efficient in a healthy adult. However, as you age or if you are inactive, they begin to suffer damage.

When the valves are damaged, blood can flow in both directions and it often flows backwards. It can pool and that pooling is what causes varicose veins.

What Could Go Wrong With Your Veins?

Long flights can hurt your veins

Your body is a smart machine but not everything goes to plan all the time. There is plenty that could go wrong with your vein function. Starting with the obvious, inflammation.

Virtually all tissues in your body can become inflamed and the veins are no exception. Phlebitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the veins. It could happen after an IV line is removed, as a result of trauma, or in people with conditions like lupus, and certain types of cancer. It can damage the lining of your veins and cause blood clots to form. Having varicose veins puts you at a higher risk for phlebitis.

Speaking of varicose veins, they happen when a valve is damaged or destroyed. Spider veins is the equivalent of varicose veins for your smallest blood vessels. Both are a result of a sedentary lifestyle, as well as a certain predisposition some people have.

Blood clots might form even if your veins are intact. Deep-vein thrombosis is a life-threatening condition in which clots form in the deep veins of your leg (or more rarely, your arm). That blood clot might travel to your lung or heart where it causes an embolism. Plenty of factors put you at risk for developping deep-vein thrombosis:

  • A decreased blood flow in veins - spending long hours without moving (i.e. during a flight, while you are working, or if you are on bed rest) often causes that.
  • Changes to the blood vessel wall - inflammation and high cholesterol are two things that damage the lining of your vein.
  • Increased clotting tendency - this could be congenital or related to a disease (lupus, cancer, hormone imbalances, including the ones related to pregnancy)

So How Do I Look After My Veins?

Relax. I know virtually everything you do on a normal day is a risk factor for deep-vein thrombosis. While you can't entirely prevent it from happening, there are easy steps to take for prevention. Here is where the compression socks come in.

Doctors usually tell all patients with venous disease to use compression socks. They are cheap, have virtually zero side effects, and they help a lot. But before I tell you why here is a little reminder. I get clients and people who follow me online constantly asking me about the next great 'health hack'. These can range from supplements to compression socks, to new massage techniques or fancy treatments.

I hate to break your bubble, but you can't 'out-health' an unhealthy diet and exercise programme. If you want healthy veins, healthy circulation, a healthy heart, a healthy you, it starts with cleaner eating and a little more movement.

This reduces inflammation in your body, keeps your muscles happy and doing their job as best as they can, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. So before you jump onto the compression socks bandwagon, try to simply stand up a little more while you are working. Take a bathroom break, go talk to a co-worker, or take a stroll to the water cooler.

It is that simple.

How Compression Socks Can Help Your Veins

Unlike your normal socks and stockings, compression socks use a very strong elastic material to put pressure on your leg. By compressing the muscles together you get an effect similar to that of the skeletal-muscle pump. The socks are tightest around your ankles and they get less constrictive around your knee and thighs. This is the direction in which blood should normally flow.

By constricting the veins of your lower leg more than the ones in the upper part, compression socks increase the pressure and encourage blood to flow to your heart. It is as though your muscles were doing it. Since they imitate the skeletal-muscle pump, compression socks are good for people who sit a lot, as well as for those who stand too much. Either way, they increase blood flow and improve vein drainage. That is how they prevent deep-vein thrombosis and how they could potentially save your life.

Compression Socks: The Verdict

Although they will not make your veins instantly healthier, compression socks live up to their reputation by assisting with any circulation issues. I'd recommend you grab a pair and wear them on your next long flight. Or your next 8-hour sitting day.

Looking at it from a performance perspective, will they make you run faster?

Put simply, No.

They've become a big fashion accessory, particularly in the running and crossfit communities and many athletes swear by them, but in my opinion you won't see any performance enhancing benefits by wearing them.

Of course there may be some kind of placebo effect and if you really believe in them or just really like running in stockings then Who am I to stop you!

I guess they'll keep your legs warm on those cold winter mornings, but they are not going to turn you into a world beater over-night, my advice would be to give them to your granny for her next holiday flight!

Do you have any questions or any other health trends you would like me to share your opinion on? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Cheers,

David


My Favourite Home Exercise Bike and My Ideas for the Best Home Workout

Having a blog is an amazing thing for me because I can now reach more people than I have ever dreamed of. Connecting with you has pushed me to be more flexible and creative with my fitness advice. After all, you guys come from all walks of life (and so many different places), so what works for my personal clients isn't always a viable solution for my readers. Even going to the gym is not an option for many so in this article, I am giving you my top tips for building one in the comfort of your home. Read on to find why you need a home gym, how to choose the space, and what equipment to get(including a recommendation for my all-time favourite home exercise bike)!

Everybody Needs A Home Gym

Home workout equipment can be pricey and complicated but building your own home gym doesn't have to be. In fact, most of the time all you need is some space for bodyweight exercises. When busy clients ask me about incorporating exercise into their schedule, I tell them it doesn't take more than an empty corner (whether it's in their living room or in a hotel that they are staying in) and 20 minutes. You can get an awesome workout with basic exercises like squats, push-ups, lunges, and planks.

If you can only buy one thing for your home gym make it a thick, high-quality yoga mat. This gives you the grip and support to perform so many different floor exercises. Besides, you can replace weights with random objects but nothing can prevent the dreaded crunch-induced friction burn.

How About Cardio?

Great question. You can't fit many cardio machines in a small home gym space. You could do bodyweight interval training but people often aim at a higher intensity than that. If you have been following me for a while, you know how much I love high-intensity interval training. Here are just a few of its benefits:

  • It's quick and efficient. 15 minutes of HIIT, three times a week give you better results than an hour on the treadmill every day. I have personally witnessed it plus there is science to back it.
  • A HIIT workout burns more calories both during and after the session. For the 24 hours after you have done HIIT cardio, your metabolism speeds up and the fat melts off.
  • It can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, even in people who already struggle with cardiovascular problems. In other words, HIIT not only prevents future problems but it actually makes your heart healthier.
  • HIIT exercise reduces insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when your cells don't respond to the insulin telling them to use up blood sugar. It's a risk factor for type 2 diabetes plus it makes losing weight essentially impossible (you can't burn fat when insulin is up).

In the gym, I love putting clients on the rowing machine and on the bikes for some HIIT cardio. Then there comes the air bike, which essentially combines the two. It is efficient, it doesn't take much space, and it gives you a five-star HIIT workout. My personal favourite home exercise bike is the Schwinn Airdyne AD8 because it's easy to set up, sturdy, and it gives you a lot of options to monitor your workout.

But What Makes A Home Exercise Bike Great, Anyway?

I get asked a lot about the best cardio machines to have at home and my usual response is which one do you think your laundry will look best hanging on?! As sadly this is what usually happens to so many home gyms. If however you are serious about setting up a training space at home then read on... There are so many different stationary bikes available on the market that choosing one gets quite confusing, even for gym rats like me. The basic difference between the various types is simply the resistance. Exercise bikes use either friction, weights, magnets, or a fan to give you resistance.

On most bikes, you set up a certain resistance much like you would set up a treadmill to a certain speed. On my particular favourite, the air bike, has a fan in the front (where a wheel would usually be) and the faster you spin, the more friction between the fan and the air. Essentially, the harder you pedal, the harder it gets, which allows bikes like the Schwinn Airdyne to have infinite resistance levels.

Another major pro of the air bike is that it engages both arms and legs. It's a full-body exercise machine that adjusts to your level and in turn gives you a higher calorie burn. Plus, this form of cardio removes the impact of hitting the ground (or the treadmill) so your joints and ligaments get a break. A home exercise bike is probably the safest and most effective form of cardio you can do by yourself.

The Perfect Home Gym Workout

Over the years I have seen so many people with good intentions of improving their fitness levels but sadly with no plan whatsoever to actually make this happen. As a result they see no changes and usually quit within a few weeks.

If you want to see change, you can't just spend 20 minutes doing random exercises and call it a day. You need a program that fits your level and fitness goals. This is where I come in to help build and adjust a program. There is a lot that goes into it, but here are my basic tips for building a home gym workout that will give you actual results:

  • Figure out your goals and be honest about them. 'I want to be healthier.' will not get you out of bed if a flat stomach and a toned backside are what you are really after!
  • Don't fear weights. For every workout, aim to spend at least 70% of the time doing strength training exercises. Squats, lunges, push-ups pull-ups and twists should be a part of every training programme.
  • Don't just stick to the standard 3 sets of 10. As you've read in previous blog posts I'm a big fan of Time Under Tension Training. Slow things down and aim to push yourself to the limit. I would suggest that you pick 5-6 body weight moves (that you know how to do properly) and perform each of them slowly for time or until failure.
  • You can choose your own intervals during HIIT cardio. My favourite is 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off. During the on time, you need to go all out and earn your rest period! The air bike is great for that because you can really push yourself and there is no limit. Then during the rest period, you just bike at whatever speed is comfortable. Don't stop but don't worry about the speed or rpm.
  • Avoid doing HIIT on consecutive days. Three times per enough, if you are really pushing yourself.

Finally, I thought I would share how my own home gym looks like!

I would love to hear your questions and thoughts in the comments down below! And if you have a home gym space that you are proud of, share a pic on Instagram and don't forget to tag me @davidosgathorp.

Let's get inspired together!

 


My Five Absolute Favourite Exercises

As a personal trainer, I often get asked what my favourite exercises are. Truth be told, that is a bit like asking a doctor what his favourite medications would be. I will never get tired of saying that fitness is a very individual thing.

Without taking you through an individual assessment I'm unable to determine exactly what type of training programme is right for you. Some of the exercises I love might hurt you if you have certain issues or there could be better options for your particular needs.

The bottom line here is that you should work with a trainer to find what the best exercises for you are. But still, to answer the question, here is my personal top five. These are all moves that I use myself, performed correctly, I am sure they will benefit you a lot!

The Overhead Squat

Woman doing ovehead squat

This is a slightly intimidating version of the traditional squat but trust me, it truly is for everyone. More than a simple leg exercise, this one is perfect for mobility training. It's a great exercise for your legs, but more importantly, the overhead squat trains stability and mobility in the core and shoulders.

It is one of my favourite exercises to use as an assesment tool. When a new client comes into my studios the overhead squat is one of the first things I have them do. Simply performing this movement will show me any tension or restrictions that exist in the hips, shoulders, and back.
Hunched back, rounded shoulders, rigid spine, and weak core are just some of the issues that you can notice. The overhead squat can also help you correct them.

Here is what I love to do. Start without any weight and simply extend your arms over your head. Watch yourself in the mirror while you perform the squat. Be mindful of any tension or pain you feel in your body. Do ten slow and controlled reps and notice what feels uncomfortable.
Is it difficult to keep your arms extended?
Does it create tension in your upper back? Are the fronts of your shoulders feeling really tight?
Or is your lower back taking too much stress?
How is your balance?
Are you able to perform a deep squat or does the tension in your hips, knees or ankles prevent this?
Is your right side tighter than your left in any of your joints?

Everyone will be different. Use this movement to find out more about your own body. Work on the overhead squat focusing on that weak link. Once this has been addressed you can gradually progress things by adding a small amount of weight each time. This way you can improve any issues you have with your posture, prevent back pain, and strengthen your core and lower body all at the same time.

The Deadlift

How do you build lean legs, a sculpted butt plus some solid core? Deadlift. It belongs in everyone´s list of favourite exercises. The deadlift builds upper and lower body strength like no other exercise. It is the quintessential compund exercise. One thing I particularly love about deadlifts is they build strength around ligaments and tendons. Over time this will really protect you from injury.

The flipside here is that technique is crucial. Here are a few tricks to perfecting your deadlift (a.k.a. not wrecking your back):

Keep your back strong and flat, learn to flex forwards from the hips don't round your back. If you can't help but round it then you need to lower the weight.

Push, don't pull. Yes, your upper body will be engaged in the movement but don't think about lifting with your arms, your glutes and hamstrings should be doing most of the work.
Your feet should always stay flat on the floor, find a position where they are as stable as possible.

Move in time. Make sure your shoulders and hamstrings ascend together. If either lags it means you are using your lower back.

Pull-Ups

Going fancy on equipment is not always the way to go. I believe bodyweight exercises are the true measure of strength. The pull-up in particular is a great benchmark for overall athletic ability.

Learning to use your body is truly empowering. The pull-up is challenging, yes, but it is also very rewarding. Most clients I work with hate it, I admit. At least they hate it at first because it seems impossible. But in fact anyone can progress to a pull-up. Here are the steps that have helped even complete beginners to achieve it:

Start with a row.
Move on to bodyweight row (in an upside down pushup position).
Go for band-assisted pull-ups.
Attempt the real deal.
Progress your training by working with a partner have them assist you to top of the movement and lower yourself down. This eccentric development will turbocharged your pull-up goals!
The Plank

Yet another bodyweight move. The plank belongs in my all-time favourite exerices as the king of abdominal work. Much like the deadlift, the plank is compound, it builds strength to protect you from injury, and it improves your posture big time.

There are studies that show planks to be the single best exercise for abs. They provide 100% activation of your abdominal muscles. Crunches only give you around 60% depending on your technique and the type of crunch.

I recommend planking every day and you will see a serious boost in fitness level in no time.

My secret tip for holding a plank longer is to relax the upper body, draw your belly button in and really focus on the core. When you tighten your abs your entire body becomes more stable. Less shaking means you can stay in the plank for longer. Of course, you have got to start small. 30 seconds to a minute is a good bench mark for a first timer but try to increase that by 10 seconds every other day. You will be surprised at the difference this makes! The goal of a serious "planker" is to achieve a 3 minute hold.

The Kettle Bell Swing

You can`t have a full list of my favourite exercises without mentioning Kettlebells. There are so many options, infinite modifications, ways to target every single muscle on your body. In my opinion, though, nothing can beat the simple, well-executed Kettlebell swing. It is a full-body workout in a single exercise.

What makes the Kettlebell better than other weights? The design. With the handle on top and the weight concentrated in the bottom, the center of gravity is significantly lower. You are forced to use muscles which builds strength and mobility.

The swing is mostly a hip movement, not a shoulder exercise so my biggest advice for you is to loosen up your upper body. If you grip too tight you put unnecessary tension in the back and shoulders. Hold the Kettlebell as you hold the remote control. Strong enough not to drop it but no additional clenching. Focus on the rhythm and really activating your glutes with every swing.

Do you have any favourite exercises of your own? Which of these do you think everybody should include in their workout routine? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Cheers,

David


Body Fat Percentage Calculator

It's well established that being fat is terrible for you. It's bad for pretty much every biological system in your body, it places unnecessary stress on your vital organs (including your heart) and makes you look less than your best. But. What can be measured can be changed. And that's why I recommend that all my clients trying to lose fat get their hands on a body fat percentage calculator.

This is what 5lb of fat looks like - disgusting isn't it? - this is at at the lower end of what you can expect to lose on my Can Do Chef diet (below).

The bottom line is it's well worth it and it's best to have your own at home so you can keep the time and conditions consistent each and every week so that you get an accurate, reliable reading.

The body fat percentage calculator scales I recommend are these ones

 These ones are wireless and connect to bluetooth and are low profile for ease of storage.

I'm sure you've seen them around. They look like regular scales but do so much more and link up to your phone so you can track your progress.

If you're still using simple scales to weigh yourself week in week out, you're missing out on key indicators regarding your body composition that your overall bodyweight alone will not reveal.

For instance, if you are trying to lose weight by following a weight training regime, you could have lost fat and gained muscle but still be the same overall bodyweight on traditional scales.

A good fat loss calculator, on the other hand, will give you a full panel of data that explains the numbers.

Traditional scales are almost certainly giving you imprecise results

What does a body fat percentage calculator tell you and how should you interpret the results?

Getting down to the nitty gritty of the data, a body fat percentage calculator can tell you a lot about your overall health. I'm going to pick out the key indicators I use with my clients:

One of my female clients kindly agreed to share a screenshot of her doing well on the Can Do Chef!

  • Weight - a body fat percentage calculator will give you an accurate and exact total body weight which it will use in combination with your height to give you your BMI.
  • Your BMI - your body mass index, the universal measure used by doctors to determine if you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese.
  • Body fat percentage - useful for measuring actual progress in fat loss and excludes water weight and changes in muscle volume density - unlike traditional scales.
  • Body water percentage - how well hydrated are you, this number is usually around the 50% -65% mark  if it is much less than 50% then you probably need to recover better with proper hydration.
  • Visceral fat - this is the nastier kind of fat that hangs around around your vital organs and has a higher likelihood of causing conditions such as diabetes. Avoid.
  • Muscle mass - increased muscle mass starts a positive feedback loop for fat loss, the more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn. Weight training is shown in countless studies to be excellent for your physical and psychological well being.

One of my male clients agreed to share his overall health indicators before starting the Can Do Chef

Things to remember when buying a body fat percentage calculator

  • Don't mess around trying to write things down on paper to record them, you'll lose/forget your details.
  • For this reason, you'll want one that has bluetooth and connects to your phone.
  • Always be consistent and weigh yourself under the same conditions in the morning before breakfast.
  • Don't weigh yourself more than once a week, it'll create an emotional rollercoaster. If you keep the time of your weigh-in consistent it's something to work towards. I like to recommend my clients use their body fat percentage calculator on Monday morning first thing.
  • It should go without saying you shouldn't be wearing much other than underwear when you weigh yourself!
  • Use an app so that it instantly sends the results to your phone. That way you can always have easy access to a list of your results and the full data to track your progress in your phone.
  • Get scales that allow multiple family members to use the device during the same period where individual data is stored for each person.

I find the 1byone  interface to be the most user-friendly for tracking progress

Cheers,

David

P.s. the body fat percentage calculator scales I recommend are these ones.

P.p.s....

Lose Fat By Following the Can Do Chef

To get the most out of body fat percentage calculator scales you need to use them in conjunction with a tried and tested diet regime (you get fit in the gym but you lose weight in the kitchen).

Earlier this month I put together the 'Can Do Chef' a very specific diet programme I now insist all of my clients in London follow when they begin working with me. It's designed with the general population in mind (rather than endurance athletes and power lifters). I've since made it available for free online (below).

The thing that works about the Can Do Chef is that it is an exact programme. Nothing is left to chance. There are no cheat days. That's the only requirement is that you stick to the full 30 day programme. During that time most people will lose 5lbs - 8lbs of body fat (depending on your starting point).

The point is you can't just leave things to chance by eating salad and 'health foods' and expecting the scales to move in your favour. You have to be exact (at least at first) and then get the specific data by using a body fat percentage calculator in order to track progress and move forward.

Get the Can Do Chef - 30 day elimination programme


The Overlooked Benefits Of Stretching - You Will Be Amazed When You Try It

Let's face it – stretching is the least glamorous and the most overlooked part of your workout. You probably hear mixed messages around stretching and whether it's all a bit outdated now. Some professionals prioritise so called mobility techniques and using foam rollers, but I’m still a big fan of stretching and in this article I’m going to discuss the amazing health benefits of stretching!

Improve your flexibility, optimise your health

Flexibility

This might seem obvious but a well-designed stretching routine is the best way to improve flexibility. Because most of my clients work desk jobs, they tend to have problems with muscle stiffness, back pain, and headaches that can all be tracked down to poor flexibility. Having a sedentary lifestyle means that over the years you will see your flexibility decrease much more than it naturally would for an active person.

Low flexibility means a smaller range of motion, less effective workouts, and a higher risk of injury. The stiffness in your neck muscles can lead to a poor circulation to your brain which then translates into excruciating headaches. Finally, as you get older, you are more likely to experience postural problems which is why I always encourage my clients to do plenty of stretches to free up their lower back and hips as they can effectively prevent lower back pain with the correct approach.

Improved Blood Flow

When you perform dynamic stretches before a workout, you increase the blood flow to your muscles. This improves performance significantly and it also reduces the soreness afterwards. The benefits of improved circulation go even beyond that. It also promotes cell growth, function, and recovery in your muscles even post-workout. Not to mention that an increased blood flow is great for your brain and it will boost mood and productivity throughout your day.

Decreased Stress

Stretching can be a powerful way to decompress. I usually tell my clients to always stretch after a long day, even if they don't do any other workout. Stretching helps you tune back into what your body is telling you. When you are busy, you can often get too worked up about all the things you need to achieve. A nice stretch once you are back from work allows you to unwind and notice those tight spots in your body that have developed throughout the day and to work on releasing that tension.

Stretching helps you stand taller and straighter, and makes you look leaner!

Better Posture

Stretching lengthens your muscles and soothes the tension buildup. When your muscles are more flexible, they are less likely to pull you into unnatural positions. An example I like to give for this are the muscles in your shoulder region. The ones responsible for rolling the shoulder inward are much stronger than those that roll it back. In some athletes, the muscle imbalance causes a visible change in posture.

Even if you are far from that point, chances are you still have your shoulders more hunched than they should be. This can be helped quite easily with a few stretching and lengthening exercises. An improved posture can prevent so many health issues and it will even make you feel more confident and productive.

How to Build a Stretching Routine?

Not all stretching exercises were created equal. There are numerous different stretches you can incorporate into your routine. When I work with clients, I always customise their stretching routines to their particular needs and goals. However, even if you are not working with a professional trainer, you can build a basic set of stretches that works for you. Here are the main types of stretches to include:

Static Stretching

Static stretching is your most basic sort of a stretch. You extend the muscles as much as you can and maintain the position for at least 30 seconds. If you are using an outside force to help with the stretch, then this is passive static stretching. This outside force could be anything from gravity, to an elastic strap, or even a partner. Active static stretching is when you are contracting the muscles that do the opposite movement to the ones you want to stretch. For instance, if you contract your triceps, your bicep will stretch.

Static stretching is perfect as a cool-down exercise. After a workout, your muscles are warm and very elastic. If you continuously challenge yourself with stretches after a workout, over time you will see a very impressive increase in your flexibility as well as overall performance.

Incorporate dynamic movement into your stretching routine

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is geared around sports specific training and all about controlled movement through an exercise that mimics what you will do during the rest of your workout. I tell my clients to focus on control rather than speed when they are doing these stretches. The point here is to condition your muscles to maintain proper form as well as to improve range of motion, circulation, and mobility.

Some of my favourite dynamic stretches before a workout are twisted lunges, inchworms, and variations on the sun salutation. On rest days, I recommend doing relaxing yoga flows as they provide great full-body dynamic stretching.

When Should You Stretch?

Whenever you feel that you need it. Stretching comes naturally to animals and humans alike. Stretch right after waking up, when you start to feel stiff at your desk, and definitely before and after your training sessions. Stretching in some way will always make you feel better and if anything makes you happy do more of it!

If you have any questions about stretching please leave them in the comments below.

Thanks,

David