Monday, 18 June 2012

Staying In Shape On Holiday

Now obviously if you go on an active or adventure type holiday then you will at least stay in shape, if not make improvements. However, when you go on a "lazy" holiday it can be very easy to forget the exercise regime. So here I have a few tips to keep in shape while on holiday.

Now first is your type of accommodation, try to avoid going all inclusive, because the temptation to go over board and eat way too much and drink throughout the day is very hard to resist when it's already paid for (I often just have pizza for every meal when I am all inclusive). Going self catered is best, as you can control your intake much more. This does also lead to another area where you can often slip up, eating out. Now there is nothing wrong with eating out, as long as you eat the right stuff, try to go to as many different places as you can and try the more exotic dishes, this will most likely lead you to eating healthily but it also gives you many new experiences (which is what a holiday is for right?).

As I mentioned in a recent post, your NEAT (Non-Exercising Activity Time) contributes largely to the amount of calories you burn. Now if you sleep in late and sunbathe all day your NEAT is going to be rock bottom. What you should do is go out and explore wherever you're staying, the more time you can spend on your feet, the better. By exploring you can walk for miles without really noticing because your mind is focused on other things, you're effectively tricking yourself into exercising and enjoying it! Many hotels etc often have on site gyms and swimming pools, make sure to take full advantage of them whenever you have some down time.

Theme parks and attractions are another great way to get plenty of NEAT as you spend much of your time on your feet, along with the elevated adrenaline levels if you go on any rides, which will mobilise your energy stores and help to increase your metabolism further.

If you follow these tips you will be able to stay in shape, whilst hopefully having an amazing holiday!

As Always, Good Luck.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Parkour: The Best Sport for Getting In Shape

Now taking part in any sport that involves a lot of cardio will get you in shape fairly quickly, but here I have a fairly new sport that is, in my opinion, the best for getting in shape, Parkour.

Now there is some confusion as to what Parkour is about. Parkour is a sport that was founded in around 2003 and has exploded into the media as one of the fastest growing sports on the planet. This is because it can be what ever you want it to be. If you want it to be competitive, artistic, social, or anything else you want from a sport, Parkour can be that sport for you. It can be either a team or individual sport. By definition, Parkour is the art of movement, which involves moving in an environment in a fluid or explosive way.

So here are the benefits of Parkour over other sports, it improves your balance, agility, co-ordination and overall knowledge of what your body is capable of dramatically. You become more aware of how you are moving through your environment, which translates well over to any other sports that you participate in.

There are many approaches to Parkour, and no single one is the "right" way of doing Parkour. You may want to leap over great gaps, run up walls, show off by flipping from great heights, or merely try to move without stopping.

Parkour, requires great explosive strength as well as a lot of cardio, training consists of fast runs and intense body weight exercises, which will give a six pack in a matter of weeks! You can either train alone or with friends, however you should always remember to never overstep your limits. If there is a move you are not comfortable with, don't do it.

So what do you need to practice parkour? none, all you need is your self, a pair of trainers and a place with plenty of obstacles. Many people hire gymnasiums to make use of the equipment in there, which is fantastic for making obstacles.

So how do you get started? youtube is overflowing with videos of people showing off their skills, as well as many videos that teach you how to do all of the moves, as well as some training exercises, these links should help you get started:

But most importantly, Get out and move!!!!!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The 3 Easiest Ways of Getting Healthy

Now getting healthy is not the same as being fit. Being healthy is merely the absence of illness (physical and mental) and a general well-being. In the developed world, we often lead very sedentary lifestyles. Just think of how long you spend a day sat down, and how many things you can do without actually standing up. This IS making us fat. Americans top the scales as 33% are obese, but the rest of the western world is not far behind, with the UK at 26% and the rest of mainland Europe between 20 and 30 %. However, just because you aren't obese doesn't mean that you aren't overweight. In the UK 44% of people are overweight. This is also coupled with the fact that less than a quarter of people get their 5 portions of fruit and veg per day and only 20% take part in any form of exercise for more than 11 days out of a month! This is giving people unnecessary health risks by sky rocketing the likely hood of heart failure, stroke, hypertension etc etc.

The worst thing is that being, or becoming healthy is not actually that hard. These 3 easy changes you can make to your daily routine will make vast improvement to your health. This will not get you in shape, but it will significantly reduce the amount of fat in your blood and can decrease the risk of many weight related illnesses by up to 70%. If you don't do any formal exercise at the moment, I urge you to commit to these changes, it could save your life.

The first change is obvious, diet. Just changing from whole milk to skimmed milk, or having brown bread over whole meal, or even making the same meal from scratch rather than a pre-prepared meal will make vast improvements to your health. For a simple way of improving your diet this might interest you; An Alternative to Calorie Counting

Secondly, is something that has taken off greatly in the last couple of years, NEAT. This is your Non Exercising Activity Time, which basically means how much time your are active for when you aren't in any formal exercise. This is typically very low in the western world, as we spend most of our time at work, class and home sat down. Just being stood up for half an hour out of 24 can give profound health benefits, but you should aim to maximise the amount of time you can stay stood up for. There are a number of ways to increase your NEAT; walk/cycle to wherever you need to go, if it's within a 5 minute drive then you should be walking there. Take calls outside, if you work in an office you should make an effort to stand up at your desk, and whenever you make a call be sure to get up and walk around outside. Even sitting down on an exercise ball instead of a chair can count towards your NEAT as it engages your back and leg muscles in order to stay upright.

Studies have shown that making an effort to maximise your NEAT can increase the calories you burn per day by 500! Studies have also found that people with more active jobs, such as labour or working in a busy bar/cafe etc burn more calories per day than those that work in an office and then do 2 hours of cardio at night, because they are doing absolutely nothing for the remainder of the day. By maximising your NEAT you can actually make vast health gains without doing any formal exercise.

The third way of getting healthy might strike people as being strange, but you can improve your health dramatically by exercising for just 3 minutes a week. Now if you want a six pack then you need to do a lot more than just 3 minutes, but from a pure health perspective 3 minutes is all you need. This is by doing something called High Intensity Interval Training (HIT), which consists of you either running, cycling or swimming for 30 seconds at your very maximum intensity, then resting for 10 seconds, repeat 3 times and do this twice a week. These short bursts of highly intense exercise help to maintain healthy internal organs and can prevent many heart diseases along with many other, yet to be fully tested, benefits. It maintains your body's ability to perform at high intensity and boosts your metabolism throughout your day, by making you more energised and active.

While these will not give you a six pack, just exercising for 3 minutes out of a week, maximising your NEAT and steering clear of  unhealthy food will put you well and truly on the right track and could greatly improve your life expectancy, as well as your quality of life.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

How to Measure Your Progress Properly

If you're training for performance, then the best way of measuring your progress is how your performance improves. However, many of you will be exercising to "get in shape". Now this is quite a subjective term, so this means it is hard to accurately measure how your progress is going.

Many people think that your weight is the most important, or even the only way of measuring your progress. However your weight can be deceptive. This is because, as you burn fat, you also will most likely build muscle. So say you lost 2 lbs since last time you measured, this might seem a little poor but you may well have lost much more than 2 lbs in fat but gained a lot of weight in muscle aswell. So your weight may not have changed much, but the composition of your body has changed for the better. This leads to what is probably the best numerical measure of progress, your body fat percentage. these can be found at most gyms as well as pharmacies etc. Now be warned, body fat measuring machines can lie. It may say that your percentage is higher or lower than it actually is. But do not worry, although these machines may be inaccurate they are very consistent. This means that, as long as you use the same machine, the change in your body fat percentage is very accurate (even though it will always over or underestimate your fat percentage as it is always off by the same amount) which is what you really want to be looking at. If your fat percentage is going down, that's all you need to worry about.

The next methods are somewhat more subjective, but they also give you more more insight and a better sense of achievement when you have made good progress. Firstly is how you feel, if you feel stronger, fitter, happier, more energetic or better in any way, then you're making good progress.

Finally, the most subjective but also the most satisfying way of measuring your progress, how you look. If people start noticing that you're getting thinner, then you're making great progress. When you look at yourself in the mirror, try to work out where you lose fat the fastest, or more importantly, where you start to put on fat first (although you can't control it you do lose/gain fat in different places at different rates). You should look at yourself at the same time of day and in the same mirror, as lighting and different mirrors can change the way you look significantly.

So to summarise; your weight can be deceptive, just focus on the direction your body fat percentage is going, and if you feel and look better/ fitter you're making great progress.

As always, Good Luck.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Home Workouts vs The Gym

A lot of people have preferences either to working out at the gym or at home, others do both. Here I will try to help you decide which is the best for you.

We'll start with the gym, this is generally perceived as the best option. It has the most equipment, including many more weights and machines than someone would most likely buy for home use. However it also has some downsides. It can be very intimidating to a beginner, especially the free weights section, as it feels like people will judge you or laugh at you for not going hard enough or not lifting heavy weights. This can increase the risk of injury greatly and may discourage you from coming back again. Although it has the best equipment, you also have to share it with other people, so it can be hard to stick to the workout you want to do if the gym is busy, or even get to do any of the exercises you wanted to at all. Furthermore, gyms can be far away which is often an inconvenience and membership is often expensive, which can put people off massively.

On the other hand, home gyms are convenient, they have no closing time, and you have all the equipment to yourself (assuming you have any). There are masses of exercises you can do with just your bodyweight, which are great for fitness, toning, beginners and recovery. If you want to, you can buy some equipment, such as dumbbells, a portable pull up bar, a barbell, etc for about the same price as a month or two's gym membership. Home workouts, therefore, would suit the student, or busy lifestyle that wouldn't be able to travel to the gym. However, this means that you are limited in the muscle gains you can make (if this is your target), as you would have to buy new weights every time you wanted to progress, for most this would probably be a happy compromise for the amount of money saved, just because you won't be a body builder doesn't mean you can't get in killer shape from home (plus you can watch tv, films etc. in your lounge whilst working out). I have heard of gamers that are trying to get in shape doing short workouts in between games or even doing as many press-ups as they can between the time they die and respawn.

However, going to the gym and working out at home do not need to be mutually exclusive. It would be a very smart idea to get a gym membership and then have a couple of dumbbells and an exercise mat at home for those days when you can't make it to the gym, or just to supplement your gym routine. 

If you are going to get a gym membership, then you should go 2 or more times a week, in order to get decent value out of your membership. This doesn't mean that you have to go and do weights or hit the treadmill all the time, there are lots of other facilities (pools, courts, sports halls etc) that you can also utilise, and therefore get better value for your money. 

You can't go far wrong with either, if you're a total novice then try a few exercises at home so that you know what you're doing and what your body is capable of before joining the gym. If you're after massive muscle gains then the gym is probably the best bet, but you can still gain muscle and get in shape for a lot less money at home.

 What I'm trying to say is that, everyone has specific goals, and specific circumstances. If you don't want to or can't join a gym, don't. Just be sure to make sure you workout at home. Try to work out which is best for you, whether it's home, the gym or a blend of both. 

As Always, Good Luck.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Why Swimming is the Best Form of Cardio

Now then, when I say cardio I am referring to the three classic forms of cardio; running, cycling, swimming. There are others, such as interval training and plyometrics that are more modern approaches to cardio, but these will be covered in another post.

 Swimming can have many more benefits than both running and cycling. First off, it could save your life. If you don't know how to swim, stop reading this and get some swimming lessons NOW, it could quite potentially save your own or someone else's life.
Next is a quite well known point, but it is still valid. Swimming is much better for your joints, this means that you can enjoy going for a swim, long after you are too old to go for a run. This also means that it is a great method for physiotherapy and generally avoiding injury if you have weaker joints.

But now we'll get into the main reason why swimming is much better than cycling and running, it uses your whole body. This means that you burn more calories, as you are using more muscle groups at once. It also leads to a more proportional gain in muscle mass (think of how good a swimmer's body looks) as opposed to running, which doesn't really lead to any significant muscle gain, and cycling, which leads to massive legs but an underdeveloped torso. It also helps your overall body co-ordination, as you are synchronising your legs, with your arms, with your breathing.

Finally, swimming can greatly improve your respiratory system; due to the fact that you have to control your breathing, alongside with the increased resistance to expanding your chest in water as opposed to air. This leads to bigger, more efficient lungs that will aid you in all other exercises. In other forms of exercise, such as running, some people (such as myself) struggle to breath properly and get out of breath quickly or become wheezy (due to asthma or other conditions). Personally, I have found that swimming allows me to exercise for much longer without getting out of breath whilst in the pool, but has also allowed me to stop my breathing from going out of control whilst on a run. Although I have heard of other people having their breathing worsen due to swimming, so be careful if you have any respiratory conditions.

In short, swimming could save your life, and leads to a more rounded, whole body workout that can increase your cardiovascular fitness greatly, whilst going easy on the joints.

Alternatives to swimming that also give whole body workouts include; interval training, rowing, plyometrics (jump training), as well as yoga, aerobics and many more that burn a lot of calories, and help to build muscle.
It would be best to try all of these different methods, to see which one suits you best. Find the one that you enjoy the most, as this means you are more likely to stay motivated to keep at it for a long time, but also switch it up so that it doesn't get old.

As always, Good Luck.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

How to Rehydrate Properly

After an intense workout, you're going to be sweating a lot. As everyone knows, this means you have to drink something in order to rehydrate yourself. But how? Most people don't really think about this, as they assume that as long as they're putting liquids into their body it must be rehydrating you properly right? well I'm going to show you that what you drink during and after workouts can greatly change how effective you rehydrate yourself.
If you don't rehydrate yourself, you will stay dehydrated (which everyone knows is dangerous).

 Now there are two main options here, just water or a sports drink eg lucozade. These both have their limitations.
Drinking a lot of water at once (as you would be tempted too after a hard workout) can rehydrate you fairly effectively.  However, water absorption is dependant on ions and nutrients being absorbed aswell, if these are not present, then water is not absorbed. Meaning that not much of what you drink is actually absorbed and just passes through your body, resulting in delayed rehydration.

This is where sports drinks claim to come in. They do contain these nutrients needed for effective water absorption. However, they often also include high glucose. Glucose has been shown to actually reduce water absorption in levels present in most sports drinks.
So what should you drink?

The best way of rehydrating yourself is to drink water with the nutrients needed for effective water absorption, without the glucose. The most important ion involved in water absorption is Sodium, which is in salt. So what you should do is put 1 tablespoon of salt into a cup of water. Then put one tablespoon of that salt water into the drink you'll take with you to your workout, this is all the salt that you need to put in, as not a massive quantity is needed to have a big effect on water absorption. If you forget, or don't have time to do this. The next best alternatives are to sip normal water. This means that the water can be distributed by the body, and doesn't have such an effect on the nutrients in your body. If you must by a sports drink, then try to find the one with the least glucose.

For what to eat after a workout please see my previous post, Why you Should Always Eat After a Workout,

As always, Good Luck.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Why You Should Always Eat After a Workout

It is well known that you need to burn more calories than you take in, in order to lose that body fat. A lot of people think that this means a crazy workout scheme and starving yourself. And while that can be an effective way of losing fat, it can also be dangerous.

Once you've finished your workout your body goes into what is known as a catabolic state. This means that it is breaking down your energy stores in order to make enough energy available, in the absence of food. The problem with this is that, when your body is in this catabolic state your body will begin to break down protein (muscle) as well as fat in order to make enough energy available. Therefore if you workout really hard and then don't give your body the nutrients it needs, you will start to break down the muscle that you just worked so hard to build, instead of your unwanted fat. 

So you should have a decent, low fat, high protein meal within 40 minutes of working out, however the sooner the better. This makes your body realise that it needs to keep breaking down those fat stores, but it doesn't need to get desperate and start breaking down protein. A lot of people often take a protein shake to the gym with them, this is a great way of quickly replenishing your body with the supplies it needs. 

Another problem with not eating after a workout, is that your body doesn't have enough nutrients to repair itself. This means that your recovery time after workouts will be slower, plus you will more sore the next day because your muscles are still tired from the workout. Most importantly this means that your body doesn't have enough nutrients to grow. This means you won't be able to gain muscle, and your progress will be much slower. 

Many people think it is a good idea to workout hard in the morning, before breakfast. This is a VERY BAD IDEA. As I mentioned earlier your body needs nutrients to repair and grow, in the morning you probably haven't eaten for a long time, so your stomach is completely empty. This means that just being awake before breakfast is burning fat. When you add a long hard run or an intense workout, your body will resort to burning muscle much quicker than normal. This doesn't mean that you can't do anything before breakfast, as it would be a waste to ignore this prime fat burning period. What I recommend is a short, nicely paced walk. If you break a sweat, or can't talk normally then you're probably going too fast. You should do this as soon as you can after you wake up. If you have a dog, try taking it for a walk before breakfast and see how you feel after. You shouldn't be awake for more than half an hour before eating, as again your body will start to breakdown that muscle. 

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You should try to get in some high fibre cereal, aswell as a good, low fat source of protein, such as eggs or a protein shake. If you don't eat breakfast, then your body will not function at it's best for the whole day. You will probably end up eating more throughout the day in snacks and other meals that you do have, which would exceed the amount of calories you would take in at breakfast. Ideally, you should eat 6 small meals a day, but we'll get to that in a later post. 


You should eat within 40 minutes of finishing your workout (the sooner the better), alternatively bring a protein shake and drink that immediately after your workout and then have a large snack when you get home. You can exercise before breakfast but only at really low intensity for no more than 30 mins, and have breakfast IMMEDIATELY. 

As Always, Good Luck

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

An Alternative to Calorie Counting

Every one knows that most diet plans focus on low calorie intake, which inevitably leads to calorie counting that often involves all sorts of complicated maths and points etc. So here I have an alternative way of keeping your diet in check.

One of the most important parts of your diet is often overlooked by many people, and that's fibre. In a healthy diet you should eat about 30-50 grams of fibre each day. Which I'm sure not that many people often achieve. The benefits of a high fibre diet are that it gives you a much healthier and cleaner digestive system, but a lot of people don't realise that fibre (as well as protein) is really effective at keeping you from feeling hungry throughout the day.

By looking at the amount of fibre in foods instead of the amount of fat or calories etc you only have to worry about one part of the nutrition, instead of all the annoying calculations. Generally speaking, the high fibre foods are often much healthier, as they are often lower in fat and less processed than other foods. A lot of people think of fibre and just think about cereals and bread but all fruit, vegetables, roots, nuts, berries, seeds are high in fibre. By making sure to eat high fibre foods, you will also cut the amount of calories you take in, the amount of fat you take in and also the less processed and preserved your food will be as a result of just choosing high fibre foods.

Two simple changes you can easily make to your diet, that will definitely help you on your way to a healthier and fitter body, are the cereal you eat at breakfast (always always have breakfast) and the bread you buy.

Buy choosing a high fibre breakfast you will feel fuller throughout the day (so you won't feel the need to snack as much) as well as avoiding all the high sugar, processed cereals that won't keep you full for nearly as long. Two great choices would be Weetabix or Fruit & Fibre. Secondly, you should change to brown bread, the more seeds and grains in there the better, not only does brown, or wholemeal, bread keep you fuller for longer than white bread, it also contains less calories than white bread. It often has many other nutritional benefits such as minerals and vitamins, that you wouldn't get from white bread (as that part of the grain is removed).

By making these two simple changes you will easily reach 50 grams of fibre a day (one medium slice of wholemeal bread contains 16g of fibre on its own!)  this will aid weight loss as well as significantly lowering your risk of digestive disorder (irritable bowel syndrome etc) as well as many other diseases (such as coronary heart disease).

As always, Good Luck.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Why doing situps doesn't give you a sixpack

When a lot of beginners start to workout, me included they often have goals, and the main one is trimming that belly fat and getting a six pack, which is a good target to go for. However, people will often workout the wrong way and don't see the results they want and then give up. One of the most common mistakes people make is concentrating too much on the abdominal muscle at the beginning. If you have a lot of belly fat, ab exercises will not get rid of that belly fat. You could do 300 situps a day and still not get a six pack. This is because some people think that they can target where the fat is burned from by doing specific exercises. This is wrong.

Fat is mostly deposited into what's known as adipose tissue, which is most concentrated mainly in the abdomen, which is why you get a fat belly rather than anywhere else. So you need to to burn that fat in order to get those abs to show.

Ab exercises are some of the worst exercises for fat burning as they don't burn many calories. The more calories you burn, the more fat you will lose. So the fastest way to get rid of fat is to do the exercises that burn the most calories.

There are two broad approaches to exercise; long slow cardio and short intense exercises. While long hours of cardio burn more calories during the workout, there is a crucial aspect that a lot of people don't take into account, recovery. When you do intense exercise, be it intense cardio or using weights or resistance machines you will take much longer to recover, whilst in this recovery satge, although you aren't doing any exercise, you still burn a lot of calories for hours after your workout. This is because you have to rebuild your energy stores and the muscle you just ripped by doing such an intense workout which requires energy. This is why so many exercise plans that have half hour workouts really work (eg P90X and Insanity), and also why some people don't always see the results they want.

When it comes to training in this way, you really have to commit. It's high intensity which means you have to give it your all or you won't get what's known as a big enough "after burn", even if you can't go at a ridiculous pace, you still need to go as hard as you can and limit your rest periods. Only then will you achieve the massive body transformations that exercise programmes say they can give. The pictures of before and after aren't fake, they're the results you can get if you really commit to the programme and give it 100%.

Having a symmetrical body

Practically everyone has a leg or an arm that is stronger than the other, so when you workout it's much easier to  do more reps or put more weight on your dominant arm/ leg. This often results in the weaker limb being left behind, which is not good. You'll end up being wonky and all out of proportion. Naturally you will prefer write with one hand or kick with a preferred foot, this means that you need to compensate for all that extra work the other limb doesn't do during the day. So if you are noticeably stronger with one side than another, you should get the other limb up to the same level before continuing to train your dominant arm. There's no point being able to do super heavy weights with one arm when you can't do nearly as much with the other arm.

A lot of people try to compensate for this by doing exercises that use both at once, they think that by using both arms they're working each arm in equal proportions. That is not the case, when you do an exercise that requires two limbs and one is stronger than the other, the dominant limb will take over, meaning that it takes the strain away from the weaker limb and leaving it behind. So you should actively isolate the weaker limb, this doesn't mean that you should completely ignore the dominant limb as you would be wasting the progress you've already made. For example, if your left arm is weaker than the right arm,  you should do maybe one set of bar curls and then a set of left arm only bicep curls, this way you're working both arms but putting the emphasis on the left arm in order to make it as strong as the right arm. 

If you have a limb that is weaker than the other then I strongly advise getting that limb up to scratch, not only will it make your body more symmetrical, but you will be able to go heavier/ longer in exercises that do require both limbs. 

As always, good luck

Friday, 18 May 2012

Listening to music and revision

A lot of people enjoy listening to music while they revise, and while it helps to get through those long hours without getting bored out of your mind, it won't make your revision as effective. When it comes to just writing an essay it can be helpful, but when you're reading or memorising then you should turn it off. This is because listening, reading, and your internal voice all interlink in the brain. That's why it's hard to concentrate when people are talking loudly etc.

This means that when you're trying to re-write, read or memorise something it is interrupted by the music, meaning that it can't be converted into a lasting memory as easily. Which means you're likely to forget it at a later date.

There are often recordings that you can get of your lectures or you could record yourself reading out your notes and listen to that while you go through the same topic. This way you can time your revision better and also make sure that you didn't miss anything that was said while you were taking notes in class.

The approach I have found is to record your lectures (always be sure to ask the lecturer for permission at the start of the module) and not take any notes in the lecture. This means you can fully focus on taking all the information in and understand what is being said during the lecture. You can then go home and listen to the lecture again in the evening or at a later date so you can hit the pause button while you take notes.

As always, good luck

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Beating Procrastination

In a recent post I talked about how to revise effectively, this is essentially a follow up to that post on what you should do to stop that awful beast that is procrastination. In this day and age it is very hard to focus on one thing at once, as there are so many distractions.

I tried setting myself time limits, say an hour of revision and then 20 minutes rest, but because I would have my laptop on and music blaring I would really only get about 20 minutes worth of real work in that hour I was supposed to be revising.

So, although it might be hard to tear yourself away, you need to turn your laptop/computer off. Facebook, youtube etc are killers for procrastination. So the first thing to do is turn your laptop off and put it in a different room, you need to also do the same with your phone. If you can't safely put them in a different room, maybe hide them under your bed or any place where you can't see them when you're looking at your work.

It's better to get half an hour of solid completely focused revision rather than 3 hours where you write a couple of pages of notes while only have concentrating, you won't learn anything that way.

You should also set yourself objectives, at the moment I get one lecture done between breakfast and lunch, then one in between lunch and dinner and then two between dinner and bed that way I get 4 lectures done but it splits it up over the day, so your mind stays fresh.

So basically what I'm trying to say here is that you should revise without any distractions, and then take a break where you do no revision at all rather than going for hours whilst only half focusing on revision.

As always, good luck in this exam season :)

Monday, 14 May 2012

How To Cram a Workout Into A Busy Schedule

Most of us have very busy schedules, leaving little time to get in enough exercise. However exercise is one of the most important and productive things you can do and it is often the first thing to be sacrificed in a schedule!

With revision going into full swing, most students reading this probably don't have that much free time at the moment. So here I have a few ways of quickly getting a work out in without  having to sacrifice too much revision time. Also, you don't really want to workout too hard when you're revising as you want your body to have plenty of energy so your brain power will be at it's fullest.

The first way of getting in a quick bit of exercise without revising is to go for a brisk 10-20 minute walk before eating breakfast. Don't go at a high intensity as you will start to break down muscle instead of fat.

Secondly is doing quick exercises at home instead of the gym. Try visiting for some quick and effective workouts that I often use myself.

Try to rest less between sets, this means that you can't do as many reps but it means you'll get tired much quicker and it won't take as much time to workout.

A quick way of doing this is drop sets. This is where you do 12 reps of an exercise at a pretty heavy weight for you and rest for 8 seconds, then do 8 reps and rest 8 secs, then 6 reps and then 4 reps. This counts as 1 set. you should rest between 1 and 2 minutes and then go for another set. You should do between 2 and 4 sets, of 3 different exercises. This shouldn't take you much more than 20 minutes and you will definitely be feeling it afterwards. A second way is doing supersets, this is where you do a set of one exercise and then go straight into a second set of a related exercise without rest (eg dips and then straight into tricep extensions or squats and then into a wall sit). By cutting down on the amount of rest and doing extra sets without rest you will be able to do quicker, more intense workouts that will leave just as pumped, or even more pumped than a normal workout.

By doing short, intense workouts and eating right you should be able to keep revising whilst also maintaining your body, but this method of working out can also be a legitimate strategy all by itself. Just remember to eat enough so that your body has plenty of nutrients and your brain function and revision time won't suffer by keeping fit.

Good luck :)

What to eat while revising

With everything in life, it's important to eat healthily. The same applies to revision, so here I have a few tips about what to eat in order to get the best results from your revision. Please check out my post about how to revise properly aswell for some more tips

So one of the first things I want to cover here are energy drinks, now these are good  if say you've got a deadline for a report or something and you need to pull an all nighter, but when it comes to long term revision, you want to try and stick to a normal sleep cycle, as this helps to consolidate memories and prevents you from being groggy and slow for the next few days (for more see the previous post about sleep). So you shouldn't really be revising really late at night. Also a lot of people tend to have energy drink crashes when they finally stop drinking energy drinks, if you got an energy drink crash in the middle of an exam that could be disastrous, so try to stay away from drinking energy drinks long term (the same goes for coffee).

So what should you eat to keep you awake, alert and energised?

Well the brain only uses one source of energy, glucose, which we can derive from many sources but the best two are sugars and carbohydrates. By sugars and carbohydrates I mean natural sugars and light, slow burning carbs are the best, but sweets and chocolate (dark in particular) are a good choice too, just don't go overboard. Examples of these are pasta, bread and other wheat based products (try to avoid heavily processed foods though) and fruit and veg make a great source of natural, healthy sugars (not sweets and red bull). These foods will keep you full without eating really heavy meals. Try not to eat massive meals but eat a lot of small meals throughout the day, this helps to prevent that groggy feeling you get after eating a big meal and keeps your energy levels more constant throughout the day.

There are also other foods that can also boost your brain's performance, such as fish, leafy green vegetables, berries, milk, nuts, seeds, beans and even chocolate can all help to increase brain function. Supplements are also an option but to be honest the way that the digestive system works means that hardly any of the nutrients actually get absorbed, so it's much more cost effective to eat right instead.

However, probably the most important thing you can do when revising, is drink lots of water. Now it's recommended that you drink about 2 litres or 8 full glasses of water every day, but that doesn't account for individual differences and lifestyle, so what you should do as a general rule of thumb is the obvious, drink when your mouth is dry or as you begin to get thirsty. This not only helps brain function, but helps you feel full and helps to flush out toxins more effectively. You'll probably need to pee a lot more often but the benefits are worth it.

Finally what you shouldn't do is drink alcohol. It can really impair memory as well as cognitive function and of course, if you're hungover there's no way you're going to want to revise anyway. So try to cut down as much as you can, if you absolutely have to drink then try to only have one or two and be sure to eat plenty of carbs and drink lots of water when you get in.

So in summary, don't drink too many energy drinks, don't drink alcohol, do eat fish, veg, fruits, seeds, berries and carbs, have small but frequent meals rather a few massive meals and definitely drink plenty of water.

Good luck :)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

How to Revise effectively

Why is it that some people can remember things really easily and others can't?

well it could be that they have a better memory, but that doesn't mean that you can't improve your own memory when it comes to revising.

Some people seem to just read over their notes and that's it, done, I've remembered it. Others can read over their notes 6 or 7 times and still not remember it a couple of days later. This is not because they have a bad memory, they're just revising the wrong way for them.

Memory is connected to your senses, that''s why you might be reminded of a certain event when you smell or hear or see something. When revising you can take advantage of this by using multiple senses when learning something, making the memory a lot stronger

So here is the ideal way of revising. Use as many parts of your brain as possible when revising. The most concise way of doing this is by reading a line of your notes once or twice, close your eyes and imagine it in your head, then write it down whilst saying it as you write. This way your brain is using 4 different brain areas at the same time.

Now if this seems a little extreme then at least try one of them. Try rewriting your notes, or reading them out loud. If you have a strong imagination, you can also try making a mind map and remembering the locations of the information on the map. The more brain areas you can use during revision, the more connections between that memory and the rest of your brain will be made. You may find that one way of revising is much more effective than others, it's best to experiment to see which method is most effective and try to incorporate it into your revision.

Revising for a specific exam type: Memory is very context dependant. So say you have an oral exam, the best way to revise would be by speaking out loud, as when you speak during your exam it opens the same neural pathways as when you were revising, so you'll remember better, so say you have to write a timed essay, it's best to write out your notes etc etc.

You should also try to time your revision with when your exam is, as again you're more likely to remember something when your internal environment (in this case your body clock) when you're learning is the same as when you're remembering it.

Essentially what you should do is try to make your emotions, needs (hunger, thirst), body clock when you're revising the same as when you have your exam.

And finally, take regular breaks when revising, not long breaks but say take a 5-10 minute break every 20-40 minutes, this way your brain has a chance to rest and you can consolidate what you've learnt. Try lying down closing your eyes during your break and try to recall what you just went through. If you can remember at least the gist then you're going at the right pace, if not then you're going too fast as you aren't converting the short term memories to long term memories, they've been pushed out of your head by the new information coming in. Which is another reason why you should take regular breaks.

A good way of testing how well you understand a subject is explaining it to someone else. If you know the subject well enough to explain it to someone else, even a pet will do, then you understand the subject at a high level.

The best advice I can give is don't leave it all to the last minute, you can never start revising too early, the sooner the better. I generally start properly revising about a month before the exam but any later than that and you're starting to rush it. If you haven't started revising 2 weeks before a big exam then might struggle if you have multiple exams.

Follow these tips and hopefully you'll get the results that you want. Best of Luck!!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Why We Need Sleep

Sleep, this is probably the hardest to get right as a student or gamer, with late nights and really late mornings. However, it's important to try and get 6-8 hours of good quality sleep every night.

So here are the benefits of sleep,

It is a major time when our bodies recover and grow, which is obviously beneficial.
It also contributes to mental well being (everyone knows how hard it is to focus when you haven't had enough sleep or when you feel groggy after sleeping for way too long) It helps to consolidate memories learning and generally helps your brain to recover from the stresses of the day you just had, often the best cure for a headache is a quick nap.

So here are the disadvantages of not sleeping right,

If you don't get enough sleep then , for one you'll grumpy all day, you won't be able to focus and you won't want to workout or do anything really. This is because your brain hasn't had time to recover and neither has your body. This means you'll be sore and you muscles won't grow (or could even be broken down) just because you didn't manage to get 6 hours of sleep.

If you get too much sleep, then it's not so much of a big deal, as you've got the growth and repair down to a tee. However it makes you slower and lazier. This is because you're asleep at the time of day in which your body clock is at it's highest metabolism, this means you won't get as effective workouts and also you'll miss the time of day in which you should be at your most alert and focused.

The ideal.

What you should be aiming for is 6-8 hours of good sleep, as I've said before. It's also important to time when you sleep well (which we all know doesn't happen that often).

The reason that a "normal" sleeping pattern has you sleep anywhere from 11-8 is that this is the time that your internal body clock makes it easiest to sleep, this means that (regardless of your environment) your metabolism is at it's lowest, your brain function is lowest, your heart rate, your blood pressure etc. are all at their lowest point during the night time hours. This is all because of a specific hormone called melatonin.

So if you are having real trouble getting your sleep in the right place, talk to your doctor and you'll probablyo get some drugs that contain melatonin, it will help to synchronise your wake/sleep cycle with the day/night cycle, if you can synchronise this by yourself then by all means do so.

This doesn't mean you can't game or party into the early hours of the morning ever again, it just means that you should try to have a normal sleep pattern for the majority of the time.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to put them down below :)

Monday, 7 May 2012

In Depth: Compound Exercises

What I mean by compound exercises are those that use a lot of muscle groups, for example the squat both engages your legs and your glutes (bum) but also your core (abs and lower back). Just for completeness an exercise that would not count as a compound exercise is a bicep curl. Now there are advantages to both types of exercises.

Firstly, the single group exercises allow you to specifically target that muscle and make it stronger/bigger. It also allows you to vary your workout as there are many more variants of exercises for single muscle groups than there are compound exercises.

When it comes to compound lifts there are three key lifts that you should try; the squat, the deadlift and the bench press. I highly recommend using these 3 exercises as a way of increasing your overall strength as they incorporate a bunch of different muscle groups at one time.

So why is it important to use multiple muscles at once?

Well the key here is the intensity, see when you go for a jog the intensity is very low so it takes a long time and you don't really get your heart going. With compound exercises your whole body is moving to lift a heavy weight, this means that your whole body is using up your energy stores much faster than any other exercise because the intensity is so high! Meaning you can work out for less time and get more results.

It also means that more of your body is tired at the end of the workout. This is especially important. The more muscles that are tired, the more your body needs to repair itself, this means that your body keeps using up it's stores for hours after you finish your workout. This doesn't mean that you can just go to the gym, destroy your body and then sit around for a couple of days. You have to remember that those stores are there for a reason, and your body will (once you finish using them) start to breakdown something much easier to breakdown, your muscle. So it's important to eat soon after you workout to stop your body from breaking down muscle (which is why so many people bring protein shakes with them to the gym, it stops the muscle from being broken down).

Another benefit of using these big muscle groups together is that these bigger muscle groups cause more growth hormones to be released (especially the legs), which promotes your body to build more muscle.

If you have any questions about this or anything else you would like to ask, please leave a comment and let me know :)

How to start getting in shape

There are thousands upon thousands of people who want to get into shape but don't really know how to go about it. This is often why fad diets and gimmicky exercise regimes are so successful, because that is what most people see in the media! I'm going to give you some information assuming you're an absolute beginner, and give you some tips about how to get started.

1- Fitness programmes: You do not have to buy an expensive set of DVDs to get fit, it is recommended that you do try to stick to a plan, I recommend working out 3-6 times a week.

2- The Gym: If you can afford it, get a gym membership, a lot of universities have their own gyms that can be great value for money if you use it. At Nottingham you can get silver membership and go swimming twice a week or book any court/pitch twice a week and you save over £100!  Although it is really useful, the gym can be intimidating, if you feel intimidated by the gym either go with a friend or a group of friends. Alternatively you do not even have to go to the gym to get fit, a lot of exercises can be done at home with little or no equipment.

3-Time: You don't have to do endless hours on the treadmill or bikes to lose weight. If you want to improve your stamina then you need to work continually for at least 20 minutes at a low intensity, this will improve your cardiovascular endurance, which means how long your heart and lungs can keep you going for without getting tired. However if you don't have that much time there are ways in which you can burn the same amount of energy in much less time than running a marathon everyday or something ridiculous like that. Which leads us to my next point.

4- Compound exercises: These exercises are things like squats or burpees, they are basically any exercise that uses more than one muscle group at a time. The more muscles that are working at once, the more energy you're going to use.

5- Lifestyle: These are ways in which you can greatly improve the effectiveness of your workouts and see real gains, these compromise diet, sleep and stress. It is essential to get your diet right, if you eat lots of sugary snacks and junk food, there's no way you'll get that ideal body. It's important to eat lots of veg and protein rich food eg chicken, red meat, fish but you should also eat a good amount of carbs and some intake of a little fat is essential, this can be hard on a student budget as its so much more convenient to just sling something in the microwave or order something, but diet is about half the battle when it comes to fitness. It is also important to sleep right, I know this is hard if you're a gamer or a student but trust me, you will really see an improvement in how you feel by just getting the right sleep at the right time. You should sleep for about 6-8 hours and try to make that be between say 12 and 8 o'clock (reasonable right?). Finally, it is important to try and keep stress down, and with exam season looming that's going to be hard, but if you're constantly under stress you won't be able to grow as well (I'll explain this in more depth at a later stage).

Okay that's all for now. I'll go through some of these points in more depth at a later stage.

If you have any questions or suggestions feel free to leave a comment down below :)

An Introduction

Okay, so I decided to make this blog in order to dispel some of the myths about fitness. I will also give you tips and tricks to get fit fast (or just stay in shape) with a student/ gamers budget and time.

As for me, I am a first year Neuroscience student at the University of Nottingham, I was in shape in high school but ever since I've never really been into exercise too much until the start of 2012.

In January 2012 I decided that after gaining about a stone (14lbs) in 3 months I should probably do something about the way my life was going and decided to get in shape, but I had no idea where to start or what I should do. I have spent a long time looking on the web and watching videos about how to get fit and I thought I would make a blog to direct people to the good videos, as well as giving you quick tips and in depth explanations.