Your Health and Fitness Journey


Your Health and Fitness Journey – what you should do!

Embarking on a health and fitness journey and making a healthy lifestyle and exercise choices can sometimes be confusing. With so much information available, it can be hard to know what’s right and what’s wrong its a case of paralysis by analysis!

In this article, PT Pippa Crowther looks at a few Do’s and Don’ts that often crop up in discussions with her clients.


The squat is arguably the best exercise that you can perform in the gym. Ask any Personal Trainer and they will tell you the same. It not only recruits all the major muscle groups in your lower body but your all-important spinal muscles too.

When discussing the advantages of the squat against the leg press the first thing to consider is that one is generally performed as a free weight exercise and the other on a resistance machine. There are of course pros and cons for each. Machines offer more control, a ‘safer’ and quicker workout and will target isolated muscles groups. Great for those who train alone or individuals who are rehabbing from an injury.

In comparison, a free weight exercise will allow greater strength gains, recruit more major muscle groups, as you work to stabilise the joints across which your muscles are working. Improve balance and coordination and generally give your neurological system more of a workout.

The squat itself is a basic functional exercise, one that will enable you to get in and out of a chair i.e. sit to stand without using your hands to assist you!

The squat works your quadriceps (thigh muscles made up of rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermidius), gluteus maximus and medius (butt), hamstrings, gastrocnemius and soleus (calf), hip flexors and erector spine muscles.

The leg press machine will help with the function of getting in and out of a chair and will work your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes too but it will not recruit your muscles in the same way.

A recent study looking at muscle recruitment when either performing a leg press or a traditional squat showed that while the leg press (resistance machine) will provide the same level of muscle recruitment in the vastus lateralis (largest of your quadriceps muscles) as a squat it will not recruit the erector spinae, gluteus maximus or the biceps femoris (part of the hamstring group).

If you are going to perform one exercise then it has to be the squat as it ticks all the right boxes!


Walk into most gyms and you will see people performing preacher curls – either on a specially designed bench, an improvised bench or even on a resistance machine. The same guys who only ever work chest and arms and forget about their back and legs!

Think about the position that you put yourself in to perform this exercise. Your armrests on a specially designed pad and you flex at the elbow lifting the bar before slowly lowering, training your elbow flexor muscles i.e. the bicep, brachialis and brachioradialis.

The problem with this movement is that your shoulder is in a flexed position and in essence only your brachialis (your true forearm flexor) and brachioradialis are being recruited.

Why?    Because of the large amount of pressure placed on the bicep and on supraspinatus, movement is inhibited. The danger of performing this exercise is the position of your shoulder. You place your scapular in a protracted position with forwarding tilt and are at risk of an impingement injury.

This means that the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles of your shoulder get compressed between the tip of the shoulder and the head of your humerus.

By performing a standing bicep curl with either dumbbells or barbell; your shoulder blade will be in its correct anatomical position and you will not be at risk of impingement injury.  You will also need to engage your core muscles to provide a stable base.

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LSD (long slow distance) is training at a constant pace. It is submaximal in nature, can be continued for long periods of time and quite comfortably.  It is a pace of workout where most of us will happily chug along for 30 minutes to an hour or even longer. Often described as working out in your ‘fat-burning zone’. (This zone is approximately 60% Max HR).  We will burn fat as a fuel but not much of it.

LSD is excellent for those who wish to build an aerobic base; it is certainly a component of training for endurance events and for those returning from injury.

To turn yourself into true fat-burning furnaces and meet your fitness goals then you will need to do much more HIT (High-Intensity Training). This may consist of intervals (regular intervals of faster-paced workouts with the use of slower-paced workouts for active recovery) or Fartlek (periods of varying speed and recovery.)

HIT can either be aerobic or anaerobic.

Why is HIT considered more beneficial? The body adapts to the stresses put on it. If you constantly train at one pace without increasing the stressor then you will see no gains. By introducing HIT intensity training it will make workouts more interesting, reduce the risk of boredom, make them much more challenging but also continue to develop fitness levels, allowing progression and meeting achieving and setting new goals.

Another benefit is that we will continue to burn fat after we have stopped working out.  When we train at a higher intensity we produce lactic acid it is this build-up in our bloodstream that causes that burning feeling we get when we train. We need to clear the body of this lactic acid and the only way to do this is in the presence of oxygen.

EPOC (Excessive Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption) is when the body uses additional oxygen in the presence of fat to return to normal homeostasis. The harder the work out the more time it takes the body to return to its pre-exercise state. Therefore more calories are burnt!


By learning to cook properly, catering to your own health needs, metabolism, as well as your own personal tastes, you can keep on top of your physical health and mental health, cooking meals you like and engaging in a potential new hobby.

Vegetables are good for you; they are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Vitamins do not provide our body with energy BUT are essential in helping to maintain your bodies function. They are important for growth, the immune, and hormonal and nervous system function not to mention assisting to keep bones and joints healthy, assist muscle contraction, maintaining a healthy complexion, luxuriant hair etc. We can’t manufacture vitamins ourselves so they need to be eaten.

Vegetables also contain antioxidants. Antioxidants combat free radicals and prevent them from being harmful to life.  Free radicals are a by product of the metabolic processes that occur in our bodies. Exercise can cause the production of free radicals. External and environmental factors also have a part to play.

We need to consume vegetables to help maintain a healthy life but the method in which we prepare and cook them to ensure we get all these essential nutrients is paramount.

Put the vegetables into water and boil them even if only for a short period of time and you will lose the nutrient value. The longer you boil the more nutrients leak out into the water.  Folic acid and Vitamin C are the nutrients that are lost most of.

A recent study showed that by steaming broccoli instead of boiling it meant that you only lost 11% of these essential antioxidants. This figure would be much higher depending on the amount of time you boil your veg for!

Steaming is by far a much healthier way of cooking your vegetables.

Learning to cook properly is one of the best ways you can improve your health. Many places offer cooking classes where you can learn about the food you are eating, and how they can benefit, or hinder your health.


We often choose food that looks or tastes good but may not be necessarily good for us. This can result in cravings, low mood, poor health and weight gain. When making food choices we should consider the nutrient density of the food chosen.

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What does this mean? It refers to the amount of nutrients provided in the amount of food eaten. If food is nutrient-dense it will often be lower in calories. If food is energy-dense it will have more calories. Consider the example of an apple versus a doughnut. An apple contains approximately 80 kcal contains fibre, vitamins and essential phytonutrients.

A phytonutrient is a plant compound that will have particular health benefits. Many of these also work as antioxidants. A doughnut has approx 200 kcal and contains no fibre, vitamins or essential phytonutrients but saturated fat and sugar. The apple will help to keep you fuller for longer but with the doughnut, you may want a second one.

Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables are nutrient-dense. Low-fat dairy, salmon, whole grains and pulses are some other nutrient-dense food. Choose nutrient-dense foods and you will be eating a healthy and balanced diet. Nutrient-dense food may be more expensive but what is the cost of good health?

Just following these simple exchanges will significantly increase your diet and exercise results and as the saying goes, while methods are many, principles are few. Adhere to the basic nutrition and exercise principles and you’ll be well on the way to developing the health and fitness levels you deserve!