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In Search of a Wheat Free Lunch

 by jonathan.youngblood

by jonathan.youngblood

I’ll just start by I’m not a celiac and I’m not (knowingly) wheat intolerant. However I am trying to cut down on wheat and other grain products at the moment.  

It’s not easy. 

So much of the food in our modern society is based on grain products. This was brought forcefully to my attention today when I was looking for something to eat for lunch.

I popped into the local Sainsburys looking for a healthy lunch to take away. Obviously the common sandwich was out of the question, as was the now standard wrap or sushi pack. What I was really after was some kind of vegetable and meat based salad. I wasn’t even going to be too picky about organic meat. How difficult could it be? As it happens – very difficult.

Quite apart from the large range of named pasta salads, I found that virtually every salad in the store seems to have a pasta component. I looked at rocket salads, vegetable salads, different varieties of chicken salads, a caesar salad and a salad niçoise. All came with pasta. 

Now I’ve been to Nice, and for the sake of research I’ve spent some time reading about the composition of a salad niçoise. There are furious debates over anchovies, what kind of beans and olives to use, but nowhere, nowhere is there any discussion or reference to pasta of any kind.

I did eventually find one that was pasta free – Moroccan Spicy Chicken – with couscous. Not really achieving my wheat free goal.

And in case you think that I’m having a go at Sainsburys, I later had a look in Tesco, and late last year I was in a huge Asda (one of the ones that have their own weather climate) and they were no better.

Now I can appreciate that pasta is a cheap filler, but surely not everyone expects or desires pasta with every salad version. Even a few options might help those like myself who would prefer not to, or those with intolerances or allergies who can’t have wheat products.

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Why I’m Traveling to Birmingham for a Personal Training Course

by allygirl520

by allygirl520

It’s a rather chilly evening (code for sleet and snow) in the UK and I’m on the plane flying down to Birmingham for a Personal Training Course. For the next few days I will be covering the snappily named Health Screening and Fitness Assessment module as part of the Lifetime Diploma in Personal Training.

I’m more than a little aggrieved that I have to travel across the country in order to do this course. When I signed up for the course last year in September I knew that I would have to complete about half of the modules in 2009. However I was assured by the staff at that although their schedule wasn’t finalised the remaining modules would be run in Edinburgh early in 2009. 

Part of the reason that I chose Lifetime for my Personal Training Diploma was that they ran Edinburgh courses which meant I could avoid travel and accomodation costs. All the candidates in Scotland feel the same way, and booked on the basis that they would be able to complete the whole Diploma without major travel headaches.

So when the long awaited schedule was released, I was more than a little annoyed to see that not only was the first module in Edinburgh not until March, but there were a number of modules that simply were not scheduled in Edinburgh at all. Since Paola and I will be leaving the UK at the beginning of March, I have had no choice but to arrange all my remaining modules in whatever locations are available throughout the UK.

This means that not only will I attend a two day course in Birmingham over the next few days, I will travel to London for a two day course at the end of February, and fly back down to Birmingham for a day to sit exams! My carbon footprint will be just a little less than that of China by the time I’ve finished.

Update: After talking to the trainer at the course today, he has informed me that there will shortly be a trainer working full time in Edinburgh. It’s too late for me, but it will certainly make life easier for those based in Scotland.

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Short High Intensity Workouts are Better for Health


by johnthescone

by johnthescone

I’ve written a few posts recently about how I’m incorporating more sprints and high intensity workouts into my routine. 

Now a study published in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders by James Timmons a Heriot-Watt University professor of exercise biology provides evidence that it’s also better for health reasons, and specifically because it increases insulin sensitivity.

Why does this matter?

It’s important because weight gain and type 2 diabetes are closely linked to insulin insensitivity.

The study used six sessions of sprint interval exercise on a stationary bike spread over 14 days, with 1 or 2 days of  rest between each session. The individual workouts consisted of 4-6 repeated 30 second all out efforts with up to 4 minutes between efforts.

What was the effect of this low volume training? The study notes: 

The low volume, high intensity training utilized in the current study significantly reduced both glucose AUC (-12%) and insulin AUC (-37%), with a sustained improved insulin action until at least day three after the last exercise session. 

This was considerably better than the control group, and better than that achieved by usual low intensity aerobic sessions. Note also that the effects last at least three days after the end of the session. Professor Timmons calls the results ‘remarkable’.

All this on under 8 minutes of intense exercise per week.

If I was structuring an interval exercise session I would probably keep the work:rest ratio at 1:3 rather than the 1:8 ratio used in the study. This would also reduce the time taken for the overall session.


Sunday: Sprint intervals – 4 rounds of: 400m run, 2 min 30 sec rest; 4 rounds of: 200m run, 1 min rest.

Monday: 3 rounds of: sprint 100m, 20 squats, 20 pushups, 20 box jumps.

Wednesday: Using a barbell: 10 x overhead press, 10 x lunge, 10 x front squat, 10 x power clean, 10 x hang clean. Repeat complex with 8 and 6 reps. 

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What is Your Training Philosophy?



Socrates from Wikopedia

I just read a thought provoking article by Alwyn Cosgrove entitled Developing a Training Philosophy. I have a high regard for Alwyn’s writing in general, but I particularly liked this one. He discusses the need for a trainer to have certain principles that they base their training upon. 

It made me think about what kind of trainer I will be, and the direction that I will take over the next few years.

What is my training philosophy?

I don’t want to be pigeonholed as “The Crossfit Guy” or “The KettleBell Guy”. At the moment I’m trying a lot of stuff, but I’m not wed to any one programme or tool. At the moment the closest to a philosophy is  “Use what works”. 

The following are some concepts that I’m currently using in my training:

  • Compound movements above isolation exercises
  • Free weights before machines
  • Correct form before adding weight

This is a topic I’ll think about over more over the next few weeks and I’m sure I will refer to again in the future.

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My Ideal Home Gym

Got weights...

Weights by alandarker

I was asked what I equipment I would buy for a home gym. And although there is what seems like an infinite range of exercise equipment available there is only a small range of items that I’m interested in. 

  1. Pull-up bar. Nothing else will get you so much bang for your buck. Every person should be able to control their own weight, and if you only did body weight exercises, then you could still be extremely fit and strong.
  2. Olympic bar. There are a huge range of exercises that can be performed with a barbell, and many of them can only be properly performed with an Olympic bar. If money is no object. Or a more reasonable option.
  3. Rubber weights. Saves your floor, and is much quieter. If money is no object. Or a more reasonable option.
  4. Power cage. If you are going to squat or press with heavy weights, and especially if you do it alone, then a power cage is a must and might save you from serious injury or death. The right model will also have a pull-up bar – see above.
  5. Concept 2 Rower. It’s the standard of rowing machines – so much so that there are international indoor rowing competitions using it. Seriously
  6. A pair of training rings and somewhere to hang them.
  7. Dumbbells. Ideally a set of hex dumbbells, but if you don’t have the money then go for a set of adjustable dumbbells.
  8. A set of kettlebells. It’s a luxury to have a whole set when I’d probably only use then for swings, turkish get-ups and snatches, but as I mentioned before this is an ideal setup.
  9. Parallettes. For gymnastic progressions.
  10. A medicine ball. For throwing.

I would need somewhere to run but if I want to run I prefer to run outside. I’ve run in rain, sleet, and snow in the Scottish winter, so I don’t feel any great need for a treadmill. I’m not that fussed about cycling so there’s no bike.

There’s a few bits and pieces I’m sure I’d accumulate, like a jump rope for instance, but I think I could perform just about any of my current workouts with the equipment above.

Saturday: Back Squat 5×5; Bench Press 5×5; Deadlifts 3×10

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Open Access to Arthur De Vany’s Site

Scottish Borders in Winter

Scottish Borders in Winter

Arthur De Vany has opened access to his blog and articles that normally require a subscription. Take advantage of this now since it’s only for a limited time. 

I am opening temporary access to my private blog for awhile as we migrate both the open and the private blogs to our new site.

I will disable this open access later. Enjoy. If you like what you see, then you can subscribe later when the new site is up and running. 

To login to the private blog go to LOGIN in the header, click and when you are asked for a Username enter Art and use the Password EFit.

De Vany has a range of interesting articles on fitness and health, most of them based on what he calls Evolutionary Fitness. He contends that our current lifestyle is that of a lab animal, rather than that of a wild creature.  We should be living like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, eating meat and vegetables, fruit and berries. We should avoid grains and processed foods.

On the exercise front he recommends short intense weight workouts, sprint sessions and play. And it seems to work – at 70 he looks as good as men half his age. Have a look at the pictures on his website.

An article in the Sunday Times by Bryan Appleyard covers the views of De Vany better than I ever could. Or look at De Vany’s website for more information from the man himself. In particular check out his essay on Evolutionary Fitness in the subscribers section.

Workout: Single DB Farmers walk, DB deadlifts, handstand push-ups, L sits 

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What to do if you swallow a fishbone


Fish bones by asobitsuchiya

Fish bones by asobitsuchiya

On Monday Paola and I had cod for dinner  and I noticed some bones in the fish. But as I said “Watch out for the bones.” I felt a sharp pain in my throat, and strangely up into my ear.

I coughed like a cat with fur balls, drank water, and tried to dislodge the bone with more food from my meal. It was to no avail, so I did what anyone would do when faced with a medical problem – I checked the Internet.

After looking at a few articles along the lines of “I swallowed a fish bone – will it kill me?”, which also suggested swallowing bread (I did) to dislodge the bone, I found this article by Dr Ravi Seshadri, an Otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist to you and me). In the article he suggests that it can be quite serious and to seek medical help. The fish bone suddenly felt as if it was cutting through my throat from the inside out.

Suitably worried by now, I phoned NHS24, which provides online and telephone medical help in Scotland. After leaving details about my condition, I was phoned back with the recommendation that I go to hospital to get it checked out in the A&E. This did not help alleviate my worry.

When I was finally seen by a doctor (over two hours later) she had a good look down my throat. She said that she could see a scratch but no bone, though I still felt something there. Her next advice surprised me – she said to buy and drink something fizzy. Apparently this can help to move any foreign bodies in the throat.  She then checked again, still couldn’t see anything, and sent me home.

She told me that even though it still felt as if the bone was there, there is no difference in feeling between a bone lodged in my throat and a bad scratch. She told me that the vast majority of people who can in reporting a bone lodged in the throat simply have a scratch. The bigger concern in my case was to prevent infection so I was to gargle salty water twice before bed and again in the morning. If it was still painful the following evening, I was to return and get an x-ray.

Although it was irritating to go into the A&E, I was reassured to have a doctor check it out and proclaim me OK.

The next day as promised there was no pain.

Note: I’m not a doctor and this does not constitute medical advice.

Monday Workout: On the minute for 10 minutes, 5 DB deadlifts, 5 hang cleans, 5 thrusters; followed by 3×5 DB Presses; 5 DB Snatches

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The Edinburgh Great Winter Run

Holyrood Park by icelight

Holyrood Park by icelight

The Great Run series of running events is the world’s largest running programme. Based on the Great Northern Run in Newcastle it now has events throughout the UK – and even in Australia!” 

I’ve run in the two Edinburgh Events – the Great Edinburgh Run (10km), and the Great Winter Run (5km). The Winter Run follows the road around Arthur’s Seat, making it one of the most scenic city runs you could hope to compete in.  I first ran these runs when I was training for the Edinburgh marathon and wanted some additional goals along the way.

This year is the third year I’ve run the Great Winter Run, and being the middle of the Scottish winter you don’t quite know what kind of weather you’re going to get. Last winter the ground was snow covered and painfully cold. This year was not as cold, but was extremely windy with gusts above 40 mph at the base. Anyone who knows Edinburgh will realise that this will understate the wind speed at the road at the top.

The wind was right in my face during the steep ascent (104m according to MapMyRun) and although I finished strongly in the last two kilometres I was 11 seconds slower than last year.

I did however place better in a field that was about 300 larger than in the previous year. This suggests that even though my time was worse, the conditions made it difficult for all runners.

My goal for this run was to better my previous time while doing less running training. While I certainly did less running than in previous years, I didn’t manage to beat my previous time. One lesson I will take away is that I would do more hill training next time. However I do feel that if the conditions were the same as last year I would at least have equaled, if not bettered my time. So because of this I will claim a tentative success.

Workout: 5 km run – 20:00 minutes

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Picture by ericmcgregor

One of the major influences in my training over the past year has been Crossfit. If anyone has a familiarity with the Crossfit prescription then some of my workouts will look suspiciously familiar.

What is Crossfit?

According to the main Crossfit website:

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports. 

What does this mean?

Basically – Crossfit is a programme for General Physical Preparedness (GPP) with the tag line of specialising in not specialising. This (despite what many will tell you) is not a program for you if you are only training for most sports – particularly pure endurance or powerlifting events.

However, for most of us this is not the case – GPP will often more than suffice as training for weekend athletes – we don’t need to sacrifice all other fitness for our sports. For police, firefighters and the military this lack of specialisation is ideal, since they never know exactly what each day will throw at them. And despite the initial impression of impossible workouts, scaling is encouraged, so that the workout principles work for everyone.

For me, pursuing GPP results in less chronic injuries, certainly much less than I suffered as a long distance runner. And since there is so much variety, when I do suffer an injury or niggle, there’s almost always some other workout I can do instead. I still remember the frustration of being injured as a runner and not being able to run, somehow ignoring the vast array of other training that is available.

Now, not only do I look better (I have more muscle mass and definition), I can still run fast. However I rarely run more than 5km now and I no longer see myself as ‘a runner’ exclusively.

Although the main site has a workout of the day (WOD) many of the affiliates post their own workouts on individual sites. In fact one of the reasons for the rapid growth is ‘open-source’ policy and the widespread adoption of the Internet. One of the conditions to become an affiliate is have a website linking back to the main site, and Crossfit encourages regular posting on affiliate sites. This shows great vision of the power of the Internet, and ensures that Internet searches are awash with Crossfit websites. Google returns 829,000 results for ‘Fitness First’, 926,000 for ‘Gold’s Gym’ and 1,100,000 for ‘Crossfit’.  

Advantages of Crossfit

  • Probably the best program for GPP that I’ve seen
  • Variety
  • The functional movements 
  • The program has excellent online support
  • The program is free and transparent

Disadvantages of Crossfit

  • Not ideal for most sport specific training
  • Some of the exercises are relatively complex, and beginners may feel either overwhelmed or perform them incorrectly
  • There is a vocal minority that view Crossfit as the ‘one true way’ and insist that it is the ideal workout no matter what a persons goals are. Even Greg Glassman (founder of Crossfit) doesn’t claim this.
  • There’s some pretty dodgy music on some of the videos on the website!

I was interested enough in Crossfit to sign up for the Crossfit Journal (25 USD a year), which gives access not only to the current journal, but to the entire back catalogue. As well as articles, it also includes videos and lectures. Still a bargain, even with the plummeting  UK pound. Even without paying a penny there is a vast array of free articles and videos on the various websites.

I also attended the iCourse in London run by Crossfit London, which was great fun – I’ll write a review in due course.

And if you thought it was just for athletes and the military check out this Crossfit Journal entry, that shows a workout with a 77 year old woman using the Crossfit principles.

More information is available on the Crossfit Site.

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What can I do about uneven muscle development?

No-one wants to be lopsided

No-one wants to be lopsided - by bibingkalove

What do I mean by uneven muscle development?

I’m not talking about the chest being stronger than back, or quads stronger than hamstrings, although these can cause their own problems. In this case I mean that one half of the body being stronger than the other.

This is not unusual since most people favour my side of the body over the other. I’m right-handed, so I naturally favour my right side. I dislocated my left arm five years ago, so I’ve had a significant difference in strength for some time.

What problems can it cause?

In a word – injury. When one side of the body is stronger than the other then it will take a greater proportion of the load when working. For instance, when pressing a weight overhead, my right hand side presses more than my left. This puts an uneven load through the rest of the muscles in the body. As I noted in this post, my right side is visibly larger than my left, not just in the arms but right through the muscles on the back. These injuries are not limited to lifting weights either – runners with uneven muscle development are just waiting for an injury.

More bilateral lifting (or pulling) won’t help either. Since the stronger side of the body is always lifting more of the weight, it continues to get stronger. The weaker side gets stronger too, but the strong side is always ahead.

What can I do about it?

One of the best ways to tackle this problem is to incorporate unilateral movements into your exercises. Dumbells are excellent in this regard.

Here’s a selection of dumbbell exercises. Although you can do these exercises with two dumbells, for the purposes of muscle balance you should use just one arm at a time.

  • Dumbbell press, push press and push jerk
  • Dumbbell deadlifts
  • Dumbbell snatches
  • Dumbbell rows
  • Dumbbell bench press
  • Dumbbell curls
  • Dumbbell squat
  • Dumbbell overhead squat

You can also use uneven exercises. For instance I used uneven pushups today with one hand on a dumbell and the other on the floor.

Some unilateral exercises

  • Uneven pushups – use a dumbbell, a bosu ball or books
  • One leg squat.
  • Use the cable machine  with one arm for pulling and pushing

Other recommendations are to try and use the weaker arm in day to day activities, like brushing your teeth, turning on a tap or using a computer mouse with the weaker arm.

At the moment I try and have at least one workout a week that consists purely of unilateral work, with the aim of correcting my uneven muscle development.

Workout: DB overhead press, DB rows, DB deadlift, DB curls,  uneven pushups

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