No Pain, No Gain?

Have you ever had a great exercise session and then 24- 48 hours later tried to lift your arm up to turn off the alarm in the morning and felt as if someone has been sitting them all night?? Or had to psych yourself up just to get out of a chair (or off the toilet) because your legs hurt so much?? If the answer is yes then don’t worry as I know your pain (literally!) all too well.

That feeling is known as DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness. This muscle soreness is most frequently felt when you begin a new exercise program, change your exercise routine, or dramatically increase the duration or intensity of your exercise routine.

DOMS is a natural process that the body starts following intense exercise. It usually starts 24 to 48 hours after an exercise session and decreases after approximately 72 hours.

It is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibres caused by activity. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercised and what type of exercise you did. Many researchers believe it is inflammation that comes after the microscopic tearing that results in the ‘delayed’ part of DOMS. After microscopic muscle injury, immune cells go to the site of injury to ‘clean things up’ – in other words, repair the damage—which results in the inflammation and pain. This, believe it or not, is a good thing as the body repairing means it is adapting. This in turn means that the muscles are becoming bigger and stronger.

Any movement you are not used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions seem to cause the most soreness.

A muscle contracts eccentrically when it lengthens under tension during exercise. For example, during a bicep curl, the bicep muscle lengthens during the (eccentric) lowering movement. Other examples of eccentric muscle contractions include going down stairs, running downhill, lowering weights and the downward movement of squats and push-ups.

What Is the Best Treatment for Muscle Soreness After Exercise?

Nothing has been proven 100 percent effective and although some people find the following helpful, it’s best to try a few things to see what works for you.

• Use Active Recovery – this does have support in some research. Performing easy low-impact aerobic exercise increasing blood flow is linked with diminished muscle soreness. This is believed to be due to oxygen and nutrients being delivered to the muscles which aids in repair and recovery.
• Try a Sports Massage – some research has found that sports massage may help reduce reported muscle soreness.
• Perform Gentle Stretching – although research doesn’t find stretching alone reduces muscle pain of soreness, many people find it simply feels good..
• Try Yoga – there is growing belief that performing Yoga may reduce DOMS.
• Listen to Your Body – avoid any vigorous activity or exercise that increases pain.
• Warm Up – there is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness
• Progress Slowly – the most important prevention method is to gradually increase your exercise time and intensity.

Is It DOMS or an injury?
It is important to understand the difference between muscle strain and DOMS. When you strain a muscle from vigorous exercise, you can worsen the injury if you continue to exercise. In other words, if you have severely strained a calf muscle running, you will have problems walking afterwards. If you have DOMS, your muscles will be stiff and sore, but you’ll be able to walk around, and the symptoms will go away within a few days.

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty For Having Rest Days.

Do you feel guilty when you take a day off of exercising?  Training is Easy

Do you become worried you won’t reach your goals if you have a rest day?

Well don’t!  

In order to get fitter, gain muscle mass, lose weight or improve in sport the body needs to be put under a degree of stress (i.e. training or exercise).  Once this has happened, the body needs time to adapt to the stresses and for this there must be a period of recovery

What Happens During Recovery/Rest?

Building recovery time into any training program is important because this is the time that the body adapts to the stress of exercise and the real training effect takes place. Recovery also allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues.  Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from exercise.

Your muscles adapt when you rest. When muscles are put under stress tiny tears are created in your muscles that can only repair during rest. This repair process is what makes your muscles bigger/stronger/toned than before. While it’s important to work your muscles it’s equally as important to give your body enough time to recover.

Lack of recovery can cause a weight-loss plateau as well. We know that regular exercising at the right intensity can lead to weight loss, but most people don’t realise that by not building in rest days to your programme it can also have the opposite effect.   This is thanks to your body’s built-in protective mechanisms meaning overtraining can cause a plateau in your weight loss or even cause weight gain.

Rest and recovery are also important in the prevention of injuries.  Plus building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals.

Getting quality sleep is also an important part of recovery. Make sure to get plenty of sleep as your body uses this time to aid the repairing and replenishing process.

How Many Recovery Days Should You Have?

If you’re just starting out in exercise, it’s important that you build into it slowly to allow your body to adapt to the demands. Maybe try exercising on two consecutive days, but have a rest on the third day. If you just keep going, without any rest, your body will soon start to fatigue and you’ll find it difficult to complete any exercise sessions and may pick up injuries.

If you are an experienced exerciser it is important to have at least one day of recovery every 7 days to allow your body rest.  If the thought of not doing any form of activity fills you with dread, going for a 20 minute walk or gentle bike ride will still allow recovery and will psychologically fill your need to be active.

What Happens If You Don’t Have Enough Recovery/Rest?

If you have too few rest and recovery days this can lead to overtraining.

The most common signs of overtraining include:
•    Decreased exercise performance
•    Agitation, moodiness, irritability or lack of concentration.
•    Excessive fatigue
•    Chronic or nagging muscle aches or joint pain.
•    Injuries that will not heal
•    Frequent illnesses especially colds.
•    Insomnia or restless sleep.
•    Loss of appetite.

Remember to plan your exercise routines carefully making sure you include rest days for your body to recover and adapt to the training you are doing.  This will allow you to reach your goals in a potentially quicker and injury free way.

So, the next time you are fee guilty for having a ‘day off’ from exercise STOP IT!  Think about all the changes that are happening in your body moving you ever closer to achieving your goals.

Don’t be fooled by the fat burning zone

The fat burning zone is one of the biggest myths in the fitness industry.  It is everywhere – in magazines, books, stickers and charts on gym walls and there is even a ‘fat burning zone’ fat-burner1button on most CV machines.

During exercise your body uses energy stored primarily in two places: your fat stores or your glycogen stores (your glycogen stores come from the carbohydrates you consume).

The fat burning zone gains its name because in this zone (approx. 60% – 70% of your maximum heart rate (MHR)) you are working at an intensity where the majority of your energy is coming from your fat stores rather than your glycogen stores. So in theory it sounds great however here is the full science bit!

Take a look below at the example calories being used in two 30 minute session on a treadmill.  In session 1 the person is exercising in the fat burning zone (60%-70% MHR).  In session 2 the same person is working at a higher intensity of 70%-80% MHR.

Session 1 – 60%-70% MHR Session 2 – 70% – 80% MHR

30 minutes

30 minutes

Total calories



Glycogen calories

56 (40%)

114 (60%)

Fat calories

84 (60%)

76 (40%)

Due to the increase in intensity in session 2 there is a larger amount of calories being used overall and even with the differing ratios of fat between both sessions the fat calorie figures are very close.  However the best is still to come………

The Afterburn Effect

Basically when you use your glycogen stores during activity the body has to restock them once the exercise has finished.  In order to replenish these stores your body uses an energy system called the Aerobic energy system.  The Aerobic energy system favours your fat stores as its main source of energy.  Therefore the more glycogen stores you use (as in session 2 above) the more of your fat stores are used to fuel the replenishment of them which is great for reducing fat!

Next time you read about the fat burning zone or use a CV machine and see the Fat Burning Zone button you now know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

Take a look here to find out more on interval training and the afterburn effect

Why Women (and Men) Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Gaining Muscle

Here it comes I thought to myself. ‘I can’t do THAT, I don’t want to have big muscles and look like a man!’ my friend proclaimed.  She has been trying to lose weight for a few months and wanted a boost to her efforts and had asked me which exercises would help her.

My answer, well that was quite simply all she has to do is include some form of resistance I Love Weightsexercises to her workout.  Sadly, her response is very common from females when it comes to using weights.  They are terrified they will suddenly look like Arnie or see an image of themselves as a female body builder. The truth is it is physiologically impossible for women to gain muscle in the same way as a man because women don’t naturally have enough testosterone (studies have shown that women have 15 to 20 times less testosterone than men).

Yes, there are female body builders but those ladies train up to 2 times a day and 7 days a week.  Their diet is extremely prescriptive to building muscle and dropping nearly all of their body fat.  In some cases they may even take artificial testosterone in order to build muscle.

So, why should you include resistance exercises in your workout?

You’ll Have Less Body Fat – By using resistance, you will elevate a hormone called Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which helps burn fat in the body.  This hormone also helps build muscle and the more muscle mass someone you have the more energy you burn (mostly in the form of fat) even at rest.  For every 1lb of muscle mass you have you burn an additional 50 calories per day.

You’ll Look Amazing – Using resistance exercises can give women amazing curves…in all the ‘right’ places. Once you have started to lose ‘fat’ you will be able to see the muscles underneath which will give you a great looking bum, stomach, legs and arms.  Your posture will start to improve as a strong lower back and core will help you stand up tall and will help you develop better body awareness.

You Will Reduce Some Of The Effects of Aging – Building muscle mass helps strengthen connective tissues, which increases bone density.   By strengthening these areas, you are reducing your risk of injury, and your chance of developing osteoporosis later in life.  As you get older your muscles start to naturally ‘waste’ (known as Sarcopenia).  By using weights you will be able to reduce the effects of aging on your muscles by keeping the fibres stimulated.

Remember Muscle Won’t Turn to Fat – Resistance training will not “turn fat into muscle,” nor will muscle that has been built turn into fat. Find out more here on this.

Hopefully, you can now see the benefits of including resistance exercises into your program in order to build up muscle mass.  My friend (thankfully) saw the benefits and looks amazing as a result…..and no she doesn’t look a thing like Arnie!

Why Muscle Cannot Turn Into Fat?

Whilst out shopping last week I overheard 2 ladies talking about the exercises they do at the gym, in particular using weights.  One lady was telling the other that she did not want to start using weights as it would mean she would have to use them forever as her muscles would turn into fat once she stopped.  By the time I turned around the ladies had moved away and it took all of my willpower not to shout after them THAT’S NOT TRUE!!!  So I’ll just explain it to you!People Exercising at a Gymnasium

Fat cells and muscle cells are completely different things and one cannot turn into the other, it is simply impossible.

When someone’s exercise plan involves using weights or body weight exercises their muscle cells will start to increase in number and size (by how much depends on the type of training they are doing).  The more muscle cells we have the more energy we burn throughout the day therefore reducing the number of fat cells we have as the body will start to use these for some of that energy.

If someone stops using these types of exercises, over time their muscle cells will reduce in number and size. The effect of this is that the toned or muscley look they had will diminish.  This reduction also means the energy needed by the body to support those muscle’s cells will reduce therefore less fat cells are used for energy.  This can cause weight gain if the person does not adjust their eating or exercise accordingly.

In fact as we get older we lose muscle tissue naturally and as a result our fat cells will increase unless we are active enough to stimulate the growth of more muscle cells.  Some studies have shown that in people who are not active their muscle mass can start to diminish as young as 20 years old.

The rate we lose muscle mass increases with age, with it significantly reducing more after the age of 50 years old (hence the dreaded ‘middle-age spread’).

So you can see now why I wanted to tell those ladies muscle cannot turn into fat, it’s simply not true.  In fact what they (and you) should absolutely be doing is including some form of resistance work into their workouts whether by using weights or using their own body weight in order to stay healthy and stop those muscle cells disappearing………….. Oh, whilst we are talking about muscle it does not weigh more than fat and Ladies, using weights will NOT make you look like a body builder but we’ll talk about that more next time!


Why do high intensity interval training and what exactly is it?

 High intensity training involves challenging yourself by working out at a high intensity for a set amount of time (for example 2 minutes) and then reducing the intensity to allow you to recover for a set period of time (for example 1 minute).  This type of training can be performed inside or outside using CV equipment, weights, kettlebells or body weight exercises like circuit formats that work all the major muscles.  Research has shown you could still be burning fat up to 38 hours after finishing a workout; turning your body into a fat burning machine rather than a fat storing one due to the after burn effect.
What exactly is the after burn effect? 

When we are active our body needs to use more oxygen to help the muscles work.  This creates an oxygen ‘debt’ within the body.  Once we begin to recover after intense activity the body pays back this ‘debt’ by increasing the amount of oxygen coming in.  A good example of this is when you walk up a few flights of stairs and even when you stop you find yourself breathing harder than you did whilst you were actually walking up.

After activity your body essentially tries to bring itself back to the state it was in before you started.  It replaces the fuel the muscles have used and repairs them in order to make them bigger and stronger.  For your body to do this (plus payback the oxygen it needs) it has to burn FAT!

Research has shown that high intensity interval exercise using a mixture of cardio, resistance and body weight training can greatly impact the body’s after burn.
Working out is supposed to be fun and there is nothing like a high intensity circuit to make you smile, especially at when you think about all of the fat you are still burning afterwards.  So next time you find yourself mindlessly walking on a treadmill or reading a book on the cross trainer, I want you to set yourself some small goals for the remainder of your time on there. Increase your speed for 1 minute and allow yourself to recover on a lower speed for 1 minute. Do this for at least 8 minutes.  Then jump off the machine and start doing some back to back weights and body weight exercises.  Remember to allow yourself time to rest when you need it so you can push hard again into the next exercise.

Burn baby burn!