Get fit, not fat, this Christmas!

Keeping a control on those Christmas excesses can be a challenge!

Keeping a control on those Christmas excesses can be a challenge!

The festive season is upon us, and that can only mean diet debauchery, abandoned training regimes, Christmas parties and six-hour TV marathons. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little forward planning and a smidgeon of self-discipline, it is perfectly possible to enjoy a happy Christmas and enter the New Year feeling fit and strong, not fatter.

Many people fall off the training bandwagon at Christmas, or rule out the idea of getting fitter during the festive period, assuming there is no point in starting until the New Year. But given that one of the biggest barriers to exercise is lack of time, a break from the usual routine can provide the ideal opportunity to train consistently. Staying active over Christmas not only reduces your chances of gaining weight, it also helps energise you, reduces stress and gives you a break.

Forgoing that Christmas lie in can help you beat the worst of the festive excess

Forgoing that Christmas lie in can help you beat the worst of the festive excess

Exercising first thing may entail not getting much of a holiday lie in but it does ensure that you get your sessions done before other commitments and crises get in the way – and it will kickstart your metabolism for the rest of the day.

Workouts don’t need to be long to be beneficial. “If you’re prepared to work hard, you can fit a high intensity workout into just a 30-minute window. It’s a trade-off between duration and intensity. And if time is of the essence, you can even break down your daily exercise into short bouts rather than opt for one single prolonged session.

If an influx of family and visitors make it difficult to do your usual workout (say, a gym visit or a solitary run or bike ride), try to get everyone involved in something seasonal, like ice skating (click here for a link to the UK’s top ten seasonal ice rinks) or a winter walk. The Ramblers’ Association Festival of Winter Walks has a programme of more than 300 walks nationwide between Boxing Day and 3 January, open to all and ranging in length and difficulty. You can do various kinds of activity to be “training” without really forcing the issue.

As far as timing is concerned, it’s better to schedule activity in after eating, rather than before. Research from Old Dominion University shows that post-prandial exercise attenuates the glycaemic effect of food, minimising blood sugar spikes and dips and reducing the likelihood of further snacking later on. Gentle after-dinner activity also helps to support digestion a lot more than nodding off in an armchair does …

Season’s eatings

While it would be rather Scrooge-like to suggest that you forgo all treats and extras at Christmas, you can limit the damage by selecting your festive foods more carefully. Try choosing healthier nibbles like pretzels, roasted chestnuts, unsalted nuts, dried fruits or satsumas instead of crisps and chocolate. And think twice before you open your mouth. Do you really want it, or are you just eating it because it’s there?

If you're going to go for the Christmas nibbles, go for the healthier ones...

If you’re going to go for the Christmas nibbles, go for the healthier ones…

Starting Christmas day with breakfast is a wise idea. You might be tempted to skip breakfast, but this is just likely to make you overindulge later on. Add festive fruits such as cranberries, dates and figs to your breakfast, to contribute towards your recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

One way of limiting the likelihood of over-indulging is to choose your outfit carefully. Steer clear of elasticated or loose waistbands – a fitted waistband will give you a benchmark of tightness. If the waistband fits in the morning, it should still fit by the evening. It’s a harsh wake-up call when you need to undo your top button to cram in another helping of roast potatoes or mince pies …

Don’t feel obliged to eat more than you normally would, just because it’s Christmas. Turning down seconds doesn’t mean you didn’t enjoy your meal – it’s just that you have had enough.

Similarly, there is nothing wrong with politely putting your hand over your glass when it still has wine left in it, so that you can keep track of how much you’ve had. When the whole season is an excuse for celebration, those alcohol units can really mount up. Mulled wine on Christmas Eve, buck’s fizz with breakfast, wine with dinner, Baileys, brandy … Keep tabs on how much you are drinking, and intersperse alcoholic drinks with soft ones and plenty of water.

If you’re simply not prepared to raise your glass to a healthier festive season and intend to enjoy every over-indulgent, slothful moment, take comfort from research from the University of Oklahoma, which found that the average festive weight gain was little over 1lb (surveys show that most of us feel that we gain a lot more than that). “It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not the amount you exercise and eat between Christmas and New Year that is the problem – it’s what you do between New Year and Christmas that makes the real difference,” says Hodgkin.

‘I’m going to start in the new year …’

For those of us who fully intend to shelve health and fitness resolutions until the New Year, here’s some advice:

Be realistic. If you wake up on 1 January with a hangover and a strong urge for a double espresso and a bacon sandwich, is this really the day to begin the first day of the rest of your year? Start on the 2nd, instead, and use the 1st to finish up the stilton and the Quality Street and to clear the cupboards of any other tempting food that is not in keeping with your new regime!”

Set goals. Spend some time formulating and writing down your health and training and race goals, ensuring they are challenging but realistic. Be positive and confident about your ability to achieve them.

Be patient. Fitness, speed and power don’t happen overnight. That’s why it is important to have a time frame for your goal. Set mini goals to work towards along the way – these give you something more immediate to aim for, and help you build confidence and faith in yourself.

Keep track. Keep a food and/or exercise diary to monitor your progress and help motivate you to stay focused on your goals.

Is Christmas a great time to exercise, or is it the one time of the year when it’s OK to stay on the sofa?

Treadmill Running to Avoid the Weather #RunFormFriday

Treadmill Running to Avoid the Weather #RunFormFriday

With the weather becoming increasingly nasty, there are different ways that you can approach your winter running. You could go for a winter training camp . You could wrap up, get off road and enjoy the extra resistance – and cushioning that the mud provides. Or you can run on the treadmill…

The running machine can be a great tool for running generally. You can still get that same endorphin high, a great sweat, and an awesome session – even if you lose the scenic element.


Treadmill running doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom!

For the days that I run on the treadmill, here are some of my tricks to make it the best experience possible.

1) Wear the right clothes. You are bound to get hot while running on the treadmill because, unlike outdoors, there will not be any wind to cool you off. I stick with lightweight tops and shorts to keep me nice and cool.

2) Have everything that you need in the cup holders of the treadmill. Water, fuel, more water, a towel, your music, and whatever else you need to finish your run without having to stop. Being able to have all of your stuff at arm’s length (especially lots of water) in the cup holders while you run is really convenient.

3) Distract yourself. In the same way that you might watch videos on your turbo, you can do the same with the treadmill. You can now even get treadmill training videos – we reviewed the first by a few months back.

4) Test yourself. I love playing around with the speed and testing out my current fitness level. Most of my runs on the treadmill are progressive runs where I turn up the speed each mile. I also love throwing in fartleks or doing 400/800/mile repeats. Try some chorus sprints where you set the treadmill to a sprint during the chorus of the songs that you listen to!

5) Switch up the incline. Do you have an upcoming hilly race? Try to mimic the course by creating similar hills on the treadmill. You can bring the race elevation chart with you so you can mimic the course. Hill repeats are an incredible workout, the treadmill may be your best option to do them. It is amazing how quickly heart rate goes up when you throw in a few hills on the treadmill.

6) Focus on your form. For every 1/2 mile of your run, focus on different parts of your form (arm swing, legs, stride, posture) and try to improve them. For the last mile of your run on the treadmill, put all of those parts together for some good looking running form.

7) Use the treadmill to force yourself to slow down. Are you one of those runners that loves going fast every single day, and are feeling burned out or constantly injured? Then try using a treadmill to slow you down on those days. You can set it at a slower speed, zone out and force yourself to relax.

8) Use it as mental training. If the treadmill is really hard for you, then every time you do have to use it, just think of it as great mental training. You are accomplishing something that is really hard, which is making you mentally tougher. If you can run miles and miles on a treadmill, just think of how easy it will be mentally when you are running outside again.

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Don’t forget, if running is getting you down (or the runner/triathlete in your life!) we do run technique 121 sessions, and we can always do gift vouchers as well!

Playing With Surface Area 2 #SwimTechTuesday

Playing With Surface Area 2 #SwimTechTuesday

Previously we’ve written about swimming with paddles to increase the feel of pressure on your hands and forearms – and getting used to pulling stronger.

However not everyone owns a pair of paddles, so here are some ways you can experiment without having paddles.

Why Do It:

By varying the shape of the hand AND FOREARM, but setting the goal of keeping the same number of strokes per length, the swimmer has to adapt various parts of their stroke to compensate for the changes in connection size.  You also feel the water moving in different directions – or your your hands. These compensations teach a more well rounded overall stroke.

How To Do It:

1. Swim a couple of 25s with closed fists. Think about pressing your forearms on the water to make up for the smaller paddles.

2. Swim a couple of 25s “Texas Longhorn” feel the water on your knuckles and rushing between your fingers. You should still be looking to press your forearms onto the water – your forefinger and pinky won’t add much pulling power!

Texas Longhorn hand position

3. Swim a couple of 25s “ok” with your thumb and forefinger together as an “O”. If your hand slips through the water now, you should hopefully feel the water rush through the gap!

“ok” hand position, try not to feel water rushing through between thumb and forefinger!

How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

Do this set a few times, but alternate between drill and full stroke. By doing this, you can really feel the difference pulling with your whole hand rather than just different parts of it. This will allow you to develop more power throughout your underwater phase, and travel further for each stroke.

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Don’t forget – with Christmas coming up, you can always buy (or have bought for you!) one of our vouchers for a swim with us – either in the pool or in the Endless tank at The Triathlon Shop.


Lactic Acid, Lactate, Effect & Training #RunFormFriday

There’s a lot of fuss in the running world about lactate. Or, depending on who you ask, lactic acid. It’s been blamed for fatigue, soreness, overtraining, and probably more. Until recently, the phenomenon of lactate accumulation during intense exercise was poorly understood.

This article will dispel some of the myths about lactate, lactic acid, and how they relate to exercise and fatigue.

lactic acid

How lactic acid got a bad reputation

The association of lactic acid and lactate with fatigue during exercise has a long history. During intense effort, muscles lose power. The growing fatigue with exercise can be resisted for a while through great concentration and mental effort, but eventually everyone falls to fatigue.

Early physiologists studied the origins of muscular fatigue using electric impulses sent to muscles from frogs. Even these dismembered muscles fatigue after a while, proving that there is a chemical component to fatigue. When these muscle fibers are analyzed, they show a high concentration of lactate and acid (hydrogen) ions. Therefore, physiologists concluded, the reason for muscular fatigue during exercise is accumulation of a compound called lactic acid.

This theory remained more or less unchallenged for much of the last 100 years. It was only after the body’s energy supply systems were subjected to rigorous biochemical accounting that some discrepancies turned up. For one thing, the body doesn’t actually produce lactic acid, just the negatively-charged ion, lactate. “Acid” (hydrogen ions) is indeed produced, but not from the exact same biochemical step.

Furthermore, the ratio of lactate to hydrogen ions produced during exercise isn’t 1:1, as you would expect if lactic acid was being produced. These ambiguities led to a reexamination and eventual overhaul of the “lactate paradigm” in the early 2000s.

lactic acid

The real science behind lactate

Biochemists took a hard look at each step in the metabolic process that turns sugars (glucose in the blood and glycogen in the muscles) into energy when you exercise. Most runners have heard the following story about energy pathways: Aerobic respiration turns sugars into fuel using oxygen, and doesn’t have any harmful byproducts. Anaerobic respiration, which doesn’t kick in until you’re operating past your aerobic limit, can generate energy from sugar without using oxygen, but results in waste products—lactate and acid.

They showed that this common understanding has some flaws. It turns out that anaerobic respiration functions all the time, turning sugar into a compound called pyruvate, releasing some hydrogen ions at the same time. Aerobic respiration works to clean up the pyruvate, using oxygen to burn the pyruvate into carbon dioxide and water, which is then breathed out. The aerobic process also consumes acid (hydrogen ions), which slows the buildup of acid in the muscles.

The production of lactate is actually a side reaction: when excess pyruvate and acid start to accumulate (when anaerobic respiration overtakes the aerobic system’s ability to remove the waste), the body uses a pyruvate molecule and a hydrogen ion to create lactate, another way in which it can slow down the buildup of acid. The lactate can also be shuttled out of the muscles, into the blood, and burned in other areas of the body for more energy.


Practical implications of our new understanding of fatigue

All of this biochemistry is jolly interesting to a physiologist, but are there any practical applications of all this? We can take a few lessons from this right off the bat:

A better understanding of fatigue reinforces the concept that your aerobic strength is a huge factor in your performance. While your body has various ways to buffer the acid produced during high-intensity efforts, all of these are limited. Only increasing your aerobic fitness will allow you to substantially increase how far and how fast you can run.

Additionally, knowing that lactate has a greater role than simply causing fatigue allows you to better understand the place of high-intensity workouts at or faster than the “lactate threshold.” These workouts aren’t just running hard for the sake of running hard—they train your body to produce, process, and burn lactate (as a fuel!) at a greater rate. This can improve your stamina over short and medium races like 5k and 10k.

Finally, there is still the inescapable fatigue that comes with acid overload. There really is no getting around this in shorter races. You can run hard interval workouts and races to improve your ability to buffer the acid produced when running at very fast speeds, but everyone is ultimately limited by the acidity in their muscles and blood.

So, is there such a thing as “lactic acid production” during exercise? Not really. Your body certainly produces acid during exercise, and it produces lactate as well. But it’s the former, not the latter, that’s the main culprit for fatigue. Regardless, it will likely still be a long time before we stop hearing about lactic acid buildup and so on. Understanding the real mechanisms at work when we run hard and get tired can help understand the purpose and importance of the various workouts you use in training.

Straight Arm Freestyle #SwimTechTues

We’ve all seen the textbook photos of how to swim freestyle, how to swim with the classically high elbow and hand close to the side of the body. But what happens when you don’t have the required flexibility in the shoulders to keep that high or relaxed? Or what happens when you swim perfectly slowly but can’t increase your cadence to help swim faster? That’s where swimming with a straight arm recovery can help.

The recovery is the part of the stroke where your arm gets back out in front, in preparation to anchor on the water and lever you forward. By keeping your arms straight over the water, you can gain the following benefits:

– Accelerated back end – this means that you lengthen the stroke at the point where the body is already moving, which means you travel faster and more efficiently.

– Relaxed shoulders – with a faster exit of the water, your arms don’t have to work to get forward, saving you energy for propelling you forward.

– Quicker recovery – less time between strokes means you can keep your body moving rather than waiting.

straight arm recovery

Swimming with a straight arm recovery

Lock & Rotate

After your hand exits the water at the end of the recovery, lock your elbow as your arm comes over the surface. When your hand lands out in front of you, make sure you fully rotate your shoulders to get the maximum pull out of each stroke.

Keep It Quick

Body awareness is absolutely essential while experimenting with this. Concentrate on a strong pull with quick arms. You want to make sure that you’re keeping your arms as stiff as possible to ensure the quickest recovery.

Try It Out

If you are looking at trying this, integrate it into part of a session. Try swimming 4 lots of 25m with plenty of recovery, and trying to turn your arms over as quickly as possible. Don’t worry about technique so much, but concentrate on how your hands exit the water i.e. think about really pushing your hands back past your hips. Follow this up with 4 lots of 25m strong but with good technique and feel for the differences.

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!