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Get HIIT to be fit

Originally published in The Sun.

The buzzword these days in the fitness scene is all about getting HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)! It’s about getting extremely physical.

HIIT describes any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity and fixed periods of less-intense activity or even rest.

For example, a good starter workout is running as fast as you can for one minute and then walking for two minutes. Repeat five times for a 15-minute, fat-blasting workout.

It sounds too simple to be effective, but science doesn’t stretch the truth. With HIIT, you can burn more fat by doing less cardio – burning fat while spending less time in the gym or exercising in general.

You have probably been told that in order to burn the greatest amount of fat you need to do cardio for 20 to 60 minutes at a moderate intensity.

Well, this is still a benchmark fitness advice and will melt the fat away in the long run, but HIIT, as science has proven, is an efficient and athlete-friendly way to train and burn fat at the same time.

A HIIT session often consists of a warm-up period of exercise at medium intensity, followed by three to 10 repetitions of high-intensity exercise, separated by medium-intensity exercises for recovery, and ending with a period of cooling-down exercises.

The high-intensity exercise should be done at near maximum intensity – at level eight or nine of RPE (rate of perceived exertion). Level 10 makes you feel like passing out, vomiting or seeing blank spots and with numb and cold extremities.

Medium intensity should be about 50% RPE, or comfortable.

The number of repetitions and length of each depends on the exercise, some as little as three repetitions at just 20 seconds of intense exercise.

There is no specific formula to HIIT. It all depends on your level of strength and cardiovascular development. A moderate-level intensity can be as slow as walking.

A common formula involves a 2:1 ratio of work-to-recovery period, for example, 30 to 40 seconds of hard sprinting alternated with 15 to 20 seconds of jogging or walking. The entire HIIT session may last between four and 30 minutes.

Super-efficient HIIT is the ideal workout for a busy schedule, whether you want to squeeze in a workout during your lunch break or to get in shape for an event.

Research shows you can achieve progress in a mere 15 minutes of HIIT done three times a week than jogging on the treadmill for an hour.

According to a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine, just two weeks of HIIT improves your aerobic capacity as much as six to eight weeks of endurance training.

You can complete an effective HIIT workout in just five to seven minutes.

Coupled with a medium-intensity warm up of five minutes and a cool down of three minutes, you’ve got your day’s workout sorted where it would traditionally take you 30 minutes.

Another good starter workout is running as fast as you can for one minute and then walking for two minutes. Repeat five times for a 15-minute, fat-blasting workout.

Most people aren’t used to pushing into the anaerobic zone (levels eight to nine). But in this case, extreme training produces extreme results.

Running, biking, jump roping, and rowing all work great for HIIT, and you don’t need any equipment. High knees, fast feet, or anything plyometric like jumping lunges work just as well to get your heart rate up fast.

In fact, equipment like dumbbells can make HIIT less effective as you want the focus to be on pushing your heart to its max, not your biceps.

Anyone who has been on a diet alone knows that it’s hard to not lose muscle mass along with fat.

While steady state cardio seems to encourage muscle loss, studies show that both weight training and HIIT workouts allow dieters to preserve their hard-earned muscles while ensuring most of the weight lost comes from fat stores.

In addition to increased fat burning and more muscle preserved, HIIT stimulates production of your human growth hormone (HGH) and increases metabolism during the 24 hours after you finish your workout.

This is great news since it’s not only responsible for increased caloric burn but also slows down the ageing process, making you younger both inside and out!

Let’s be fit!

Jonathan Tan is platoon leader for the KL Sentral location.

Get eccentric to stay fit

Oriignally published in the Sun Newspaper.

Evert muscle in movement has two phases of work – a load phase and an unload phase.

The load phase – also known as the work phase – is when the muscle is working the hardest in contracting when in movement to lift, push and pull.

Like when doing a bicep curl. From an arm lengthened and suspended, we bend at the elbow to lift a weight up till the angle of the arm is closed.

The lifting of the weight is the load phase and that’s when the muscle contracts to work.

In jock jargon, we say the muscle is in concentric phase. That’s when the muscle get ‘pumped’ up in contraction and blood vessels get dilated.

Upon completion of the lift contraction, whether it is to push or pull, a muscle at most times goes into an unload phase. That’s when a muscle unloads the weight in a movement to a relaxed mode.

Thus, in a bicep curl, the muscle is still in a form of contraction to release the weight to its origin relaxed point. When this happens, the muscle lengthens while still in contraction mode as well.

If this doesn’t happen, the load carried will drop gravity-assisted, possibly causing much harm to the joints involved, in this case, the elbow.

The unload phase is also called the eccentric phase.What is not commonly known is that muscles are also at work in the eccentric phase.

Strength and energy is just as much required in any unloading process.

You are stronger during the eccentric phase of any lift – as much as 1.75 times as strong as during the concentric phase!

Think about it: if you are asked to lift an extremely heavy weight, you might not be able to lift it, but if that same weight is passed to you suddenly, you might be able to control the placement to lower it down safely.

Now, that ability is how the muscles are working eccentrically.

Remember, the eccentric phase of a lift occurs when the muscle lengthens. This is the down motion of the bench press, biceps curl, or squat.

The concentric phase of the lift occurs when the muscle shortens, as in the up motion of the bench press, biceps curl, or squat.

So, how can you benefit your workout from this?

Well, you can maximise strength and muscle growth by controlling the eccentric phase of every lift.

You probably know that you can increase muscle growth by focusing on the eccentric phase of your lifts because it is well accepted that the lengthening motion of an exercise triggers hypertrophy or muscle growth the most.

There are a wide variety of ways to manipulate the eccentric phase for a more muscular physique.

For strength and mass gains, never ignore the eccentric motion of an exercise and let the weight fall with gravity.

You should always lower the weight in a controlled fashion and follow a prescribed tempo. If a lift is in one second, then try unloading in five seconds.

When power is the desired quality of the exercise, then fast eccentrics are essential.

The reason is that learning to switch rapidly from a fast eccentric contraction to a fast concentric contraction is essential for power development.

By programming the eccentric motion of your exercises, you can achieve the greatest muscle growth by ensuring you have the right intensity of load and use the ideal time under tension to cause maximal muscle fibre damage.

Studies suggest that protein synthesis is greatest after eccentric-enhanced lifting.

This is because the eccentric motion damages the myofibres and it preferentially recruits fast-twitch fibres.

This means there is a greater amount of stress per motor unit with eccentric exercises, producing greater muscle growth.

Still, studies indicate that the best stimulus for hypertrophy is training that uses both the eccentric and concentric motions but favours the eccentric motion.

Eccentric training is well known for strengthening tendons.

Just like eccentric training is a robust stimulus for muscle growth, it also rebuilds tendon tissue.

It is commonly used to rehabilitate ruptured tendons, but including eccentric training in your programme can help you prevent such a debilitating injury.

Eccentric training has been shown to be one of the very best methods for increasing flexibility.

It’s much more effective than static stretching, and a new analysis found that eccentrics can increase hip range of motion by an average of 22%.

Range of motion in all joints measured was found to increase by at least 13 degrees.

Just about everyone wants to be more flexible, and the more technical lifts require a large degree of flexibility to perform them correctly.

If your deep squat, deadlift, power clean, or front squat technique suffer due to poor flexibility in the ankles, hips, shoulders, or wrists, you won’t be able to get the most out of your training.

Eccentric training is the solution. So go ahead, get eccentric.

Let’s be fit!

Jonathan Tan is the platoon leader of KL Sentral

How to exercise correctly

To get results from your exercises, you need to be knowledgeable about how to go about doing it right.

Supersets combine two or more exercises with similar motions to maximise the impact on an individual muscle or group of muscles. The exercises are performed with no rest in between.

An example of a superset is doing the bench press, which predominantly works on the pectoralis (chest) and tricep muscles, then moving to triceps extension or pushdown, which works on the triceps.

If the pairing of exercises is too grip-intensive, the forearm muscles will tire faster, which in turn may affect the performance of the workout.

As the flexor muscles of the hand and forearm are much smaller and weaker, they would tire out quicker.

It is better to pair exercises that are not limited by smaller muscle groups, like the bench press and row, or superset the upper body with a lower body exercise.

Don’t just focus on strong muscles

Some blokes in the gym only train their chest, biceps, triceps and back. Look two feet below their waist and the image of Mr Incredible comes to mind.

You may have a tendency to keep working on your strong muscles. But by neglecting your weak points, you set yourself up for injury due to muscle imbalance.

The thighs, for example, is a synergy of the quadraceps and hamstrings. Most people tend to neglect the hamstrings. By doing so, a pathway of muscular imbalance may lead to injury.

Find out which of your muscles are weak and design your training programme around those areas.

This usually means paying more attention to muscle groups like the back, hamstrings, glutes and core.

Poor form during squats and deadlifts

These two exercises, especially the deadlift, provide the most taxing lifts on the central nervous system and lower back.

When you pull the weight off the floor, you have to generate force from a static position.

Good form comes by ensuring that the core muscles, together with the lower back muscles, are in proper alignment during the movement.

The same goes with a squat movement. Improper form through rounding of the lower back generates overloading onto the base of the spinal cord and its surrounding muscles.

At low forces, nothing happens. It is only when the muscles are not prepared or strong enough to withstand the pressure exerted that they tend to relax – when the muscles relax under heavy load, the spinal cord will be compromised.

Here’s the correct posture: an inward curved lower back and retracted shoulder blades with knees behind the toes. A fitball wall squat is a good rehabilitation to get the posture correct.

Learn to activate a good form and body movement first before exercising.

All abs and no lower back

It is all about the abs. It is easy to overlook the lower back because of all the direct and indirect work it receives during a training week.

The lower back’s main function when lifting is that of a stabiliser, which means it gets plenty of work during main movements when doing the squat, deadlift or any row or press exercise.

Make it a point to do at least one set of back exercise during each workout session.

Be focused

Effectively, you should be able to hop in and out of the gym within a 45-minute condensed, planned and focused workout.

The problem is the gym can be an awfully nice place to socialise – in fact, it is an entertainment centre by itself, hence it is easy to get distracted.

One minute of recovery in between sets can accumulate to 30 minutes in total if you don’t realise it.

To maximise a circuit workout session, you would want to keep your heart rate elevated. You should, therefore, keep your recovery between workouts as short as possible.

Mind-map your workout. Know what your workout targets are and get working on them. Remember to do it right.

Let’s be fit!

Originally published in the Sun. Written by KL Sentral Platoon Leader, Jonathan Tan.

The Marathon

Running has always been my favourite game since I was a wee 13 year old. I did my first long distance run (7 km) when I was in Form 1 and found out that I had quite a knack for it. Fast forward to now, 14 years later, I have now completed ten full marathons, the 10th one just happened a few days ago. For the uninformed, let me tell you what the Marathon is all about.

The Marathon is special. It is the birth of long distance running as a competitive sport, in my opinion. It is unlike all other run distances in that all other shorter distances were created as a build up to the Marathon. I think that every man who have tried their feet at endurance running, should finish up the task by completing a full marathon.

It is 42.195 km long and according to ancient Greek history, this was the full distance ran non-stop by a Greek soldier from a battlefield in the town of Marathon, back to Athens carrying the message that they won the battle. It was said that he ran all the way home and shouted “We won!” before collapsing and dying before the people of Athens.

The Marathon is a test of physical and mental spirit. Ask any full marathoner and they can tell you that from KM1 all the way to KM30, life’s peachy. It is after that that sets aside the strong minded from the weak. It is when your feet are burning with every step, your legs are in agony, your skin possibly suffering from chaffing or sun burn, and any amount of water you drink does not seem to alleviate the pain. It is when the best technologies in sporting gear can no longer help you any more, and when your legs seem to want to fail you, and all you have left is the bare spirit of your mind. Your perseverance. Your determination. Your will power. “Do I want to finish a champion of the Marathon?” You will ask yourself this countless of times and the temptation to just say no and give up is greater than you can imagine.

I have done ten in total, and no matter how many times I’ve been through it, every experience is a humbling one. Pain still feels like pain after hours of running, and victory still feels like glorious victory when you cross the finish line knowing that you never gave up.

So I implore you, man or woman, boy or girl, young or old, athletic or not, to give the Marathon a chance. It will change your perception on life. It will change your life.

Karen is the Platoon Leader for Subang, originally published on her blog.

Pull up your bootstraps!

What boot camp is all about

It’s 6.30 a.m. and you’re on the way to work. It’s a quiet morning and you suddenly hear someone shouting “Hoo-Yah!”. You turn to see a troop of people diligently running with sandbags along the road. At a traffic light, you can see in your rearview mirror that some have stopped and are performing squats, while waiting for the stragglers to catch up. Then they proceed to run up and down the stairs on a pedestrian bridge.

What in the life?

That, my friend, is a typical morning for those who sign up for boot camp.

‘Boot’?

Boot camp is a fitness trend that is taking the world by storm! The term “boot” is derived from the Spanish-American War, when new recruits wore leggings called “boots”, which was in turn used to call recruits. “Boots” had to attend camps designed to get their fitness and combat skills up to par.

Boot camps as we know it mimic the military style of fitness training in general, although the programmes differ to cater to the wider populace. Some are even offered in an air-conditioned environment and are more like recess or playtime.

Most boot camps in Malaysia are outdoors and many hardcore ‘boots’ wouldn’t have it any other way. Some have resorted to wear special leggings to avoid grass rash – it’s come a full circle!

Kickstart your fitness

Boot camp programmes usually include all components of fitness – strength, endurance, balance, flexibility – in their design. Using military-style drills, boot camp workouts typically combine quick bursts of high-intensity cardio like jumping jacks, with strength exercises such as push-ups or squats. This is the best way to boost your metabolism up, with a guarantee of high calorie burn long after the one-hour session is over.

Boot camp is also a fitness programme that targets all major muscle groups while raising the heart rate, making it an efficient exercise routine. Boot camp participants typically lose weight, gain muscle mass, build endurance and increase flexibility.

Other benefits of boot camps include:

  • Exercises are performed on uneven terrain, which requires more body control and activates more joints and muscles than working out on a flat surface indoors. This also improves balance;
  • Exercisers have their minds totally engaged all the time, by dodging tree roots and rocks, smelling the fresh air, hearing birds, feeling the rain, sun or wind on their face and bodies;
  • Exercisers not only de-stress through exercise, but have the added benefit of being outdoors, which research finds to be a healthier option and mood-boosting element for exercise;
  • Most boot camps, for example Rebel Boot Camp (RBC), design programmes with elements of teamwork, which creates a strong bond among participants. In fact, Rebels (participants of RBC) not only holler at each other on the field, but also on Facebook!

Scientific Proof

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) conducted a research study to assess the health and fitness benefits of boot camp styled workouts. The findings were that the average exerciser burns approximately 9.8 calories per minute during a typical boot-camp workout (based on a ‘typical’ boot camp programme put together by the researchers), amounting to approximately 400 calories in 40 minutes!

John Porcari, Ph.D., who led the research team, said, “The biggest benefit is you’re burning an average of 600 calories per hour,” says Porcari. “That’s obviously going to help with weight loss, but you’re also getting the muscle-building benefit from push-ups, arm curls and squat thrusts that you wouldn’t get just from going out for a fast walk or jog.”

IMMag-bootcamp

Nothing to fear!

No, the sergeants are not like Jillian Michaels. Jason Moriarty, founder of RBC, says, “We don’t shout (unless its encouragement), blow whistles, or any of that other rubbish you might hear about. There is discipline, but all great achievers have discipline. Look at any of the top teams in any sport. They turn up on time, give it 100% while they are there and get the results.”

Aside from the health and fitness benefits, Jason says there are other takeaways to look forward to. “A lot of clients find they are more focussed in daily life. They just get things done,” he says, “They have more confidence, because we teach them how to do things they thought were impossible for them.”

This is echoed by Jonathan Tan, also an instructor of RBC, who adds, “Some of our Rebel recruits have said to have gained other non tangible results, such as increase in mental capacity, confidence, alertness and the ability to face working life with boundless energy.”

Written by Daniel Chandranayagam. Originally published in IM Magazine

Making things happen

By Daniel Chandranayagam (originally published in the Sun newspaper)

“Mental strength before physical fitness,” Senior Sergeant Jason Moriarty of Rebel Boot Camp used to say to me (and all new recruits). For a few months, I never put much thought about that, but an awareness grew over time.

I noticed that people who gave up easily never got the fitness they sought, and left somewhat disappointed. Then, during the course of my career in fitness, I have witnessed the same, whether in boot camp, personal training or yoga. When the mind isn’t ready or strong, good things rarely are received.

Obviously, a strong mind is a positive mind. Someone who is negative from the get-go will be someone who is unlikely to see any results. “This sucks!”, “The ground is wet”, “We should have music”, “This is too hard”, “I can’t do this”, “You suck!”, “My hands will get dirty” etc. Is it surprising that success is out of reach?

Unsurprisingly, the negativity causes them to stop sessions. Some will blame the weather, their work, their children, their lack of time etc. But at the end of the day, it’s their negativity that stunts their development.

Our job as trainers is to motivate them, flip negativity to positivity, help them enjoy the sessions and all this will bring them closer to their goals. Executing this might be challenging but watching the mind shift and physical changes are part of the rewards of the job. Along the way, if they turn everything in their life to positivity, that’s even more rewarding.

On the other hand, those who come to sessions positive from the start usually achieve their fitness goals. Of course, everyone has his or her grumpy days, but watching them lose kilo after kilo usually comes with seeing them become more and more positive and vice-versa. Brighter people. Shinier Malaysians.

I decided to test this out on myself. I hate mathematics. But because of my work, I find myself having to deal with my old nemesis pi, radius and diameter. Good old trigonometry. I sat down in front of the computer, doing searches and trying to understand the formulae (yes, I am quite useless in math) but after five days, I managed to get everything tucked neatly into my brain. I was positive, open and receptive and pi came to me! I look at mathematics (and science) very differently now.

So on to mental strength. We all know what makes the difference between a good athlete and a great athlete is their mental strength. And this is the same in daily life. If one is positive and focused, at the very least, one would have learned or experienced something.

Yet, I know people who had huge dreams but never pursued them because “it’s not possible” or “I’m too old for that” or “what about the children” or “what about the mortgage” or “I’m too fat” or “I’m too thin” or “I like food”. Whether these dreams are career-related or health-related, the possibilities stop existing merely because it was nipped in the bud by none other than themselves. Sometimes, I wonder how many dreams, ambitions and lives are never realised because of this.

So positivity leads to mental strength, and mental strength leads to a host of goodness, including good health and physical fitness. It sounds trite, almost like a multi-level marketing cliché, but the thing is – it’s true.

On Thursdays, when I go for yoga classes myself, the class immediately after mine is a therapy class for those having suffered a stroke or who are living with Parkinson’s disease or other mobility conditions. When we are about to lie down for savasana (or yogic relaxation), we can hear them laughing and talking to each other. And during class, you can see they are focused on getting their leg to move or their hand to stop shaking.

When I watch these people, I sometimes find myself holding my breath. They are to me what positivity and mental strength is all about.

Daniel not only coaches @ Rebel but is also a yoga teacher. He leads the supercharged 1 Utama Central Park platoon.