Personal Trainer or Coach – which do you need?

Upon introducing myself as a “Body Composition Coach”, I often receive a somewhat puzzled expression. To clarify, I respond by using the more well known term “personal trainer”. So what’s the difference? Ultimately the answer to this lies in the notion of training vs exercise.


General view of Personal Trainers 7/7/2013

Our clients are from two main groups. Those wanting to look and feel better (lose fat, add muscle/tone up) or those wanting to reduce or eliminate pain. Both groups need to do specific “work” in order to achieve their goal. Both groups require a gradual, consistent and logical progression plan in order to improve. Both groups need to train, not exercise.

The notion of training vs exercise is an interesting one. Well known and highly regarded international strength coach Mark Rippetoe ( has used the analogy of sun-baking to describe the effects of exercise. If you want to tan, you need to expose the skin to sunlight. If you expose the skin for 20 mins per day for a week, the skin should have adapted to the sun exposure by getting darker.

If you continue to expose the skin to 2o mins of sunlight every day for the next month the skin will not continue to darken as it has already adapted to the stress imposed. You would therefore need to continue to increase the exposure in order to continue to adapt. Some is good but more is not necessarily better as this example clearly demonstrates.

Any exercise with a low skill requirement that can’t be reasonably progressed has an adaptation point that can be reached quite quickly. Once the adaptation point has been reached the body will no longer be required to improve. The requirement to improve is what drives change.

Personal Training Flemington, Kensington, Ascot Vale, Melbourne

Exercise is activity that requires movement. It has no greater purpose. It achieves very little in it’s own right. Training is conducted with a goal in mind. Training has purpose. For our clients that purpose is to change body composition or reduce/remove pain.

In order to change body composition an amount of work needs to be done within an amount of time. That takes planning, That takes progression. In the same way that you can’t get a tan in one day, you can’t just launch in to the required amount of training volume on your first day, the body needs to be prepared and conditioned.

To reduce or remove pain requires a plan, it requires gradual and considered progression. Structural imbalances and the resulting poor movement patterns are often displayed when pain is present. Strengthening weak muscles and developing neuro-muscular pathways is essential when dealing with chronic pain.

Training through a program that is designed to continually expose the body to unaccustomed stress is the key to progress. While this can sometimes be achieved through greater work (more stress) it’s often done through different stress. Intensity, volume, tempo, density, time under tension, energy systems, rest, line of pull are all examples of differing stress. A good strength coach understands how to manipulate training variables to maintain the appropriate stress level.

So in answering the title question of coach or trainer, you only need to ask yourself the following.  Do you need to exercise or train? Do you just need to move more, to exercise randomly with little thought to progression or purpose? Or do you have a goal to achieve that requires a gradual, consistent and logical progression plan? If it’s the latter, you’ll need a coach.



The Alkaline Diet – to alkalise or not to alkalise?

VegI’ve recently been asked my opinion on the Alkalising diet. This won’t take long…

Proponents of this diet suggest that it is possible to influence the ph level of our blood through the foods we eat. Further more, they believe that acidic blood causes disease and alkalised blood cures it. It’s also suggested that an “acidified” body will not permit weight loss.

Every premise is incorrect. It is impossible for a healthy person with functioning kidneys to influence the ph level of their blood through food. The ph of our urine may be affected by what we eat, but not our blood. Blood is kept constant at a value of 7.4 and is done so mainly through the kidneys, not the bones as many claim. Even a small deviation from the value of 7.4 can be catastrophic so the body regulates this process very tightly.

As for curing diseases such as cancer (yes, this has been claimed!), again it’s just not true. Claims are made that cancer grows in an acid environment so if the blood is alkalised (which we know can’t happen) you can kill off or prevent cancer cells from growing. While its true that cancer cells can grow in an acidic environment, they can also grow in an alkalised environment. Enough said…

Now to the weight loss premise. The alkalising diet is not a bad way to eat, in fact many people would obtain great health benefits from switching to this kind of diet. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, little or no processed food, lots of water – what’s not to love about eating this way. Nothing! I don’t have a problem with the diet itself, I do however have a problem with the suggestion that an acidified body  will prevent weight loss.

Weight loss requires calorie deficit. Period. Achieve calorie deficit and you lose weight. What’s the best way to achieve such a deficit?  Now that’s where it gets interesting and it’s to complicated for this blog, perhaps I’ll do another on this topic. Achieving calorie deficit is not as straight forward as just eating less and moving more, in fact I often tell clients to eat more and move less – and they shed body fat.

So go ahead and eat an alkalising diet, it’s great for your health, but it won’t change the ph level of your blood.

Gain Without Pain

At Flemington Strength Studio, many of our clients have previously enlisted the help of a personal trainer and been dissatisfied with the result. The most common reason for their disappointing outcome is that their trainer “pushed too hard” and “just didn’t listen”. That’s unfortunate because personal training, when delivered correctly, can deliver exceptional returns.

Personal trainers are not immune to the pressures of society. The stereotype would have us believe that as trainers we must shout, yell and scream at our clients and deliberately push limits that otherwise would have been respected. While some in the industry may be happy to support such an image, it’s not something that we condone. Limits exist to be respected, they are the body’s way of controlling stress. Deliberately and consistently ignoring warning signs can lead to injury, illness and lack of motivation.

Personal Training Flemington, Kensington, Ascot Vale

In order to improve, the body must be exposed to stress. Physical activity is stress and stress needs to be carefully managed in order to produce the desired outcome. The appropriate stress stimuli will result in a positive form of stress called eustress. Excessive stress stimuli will result in a negative form of stress called distress. By paying close attention to a clients reaction to exercise, a trainer can gauge the appropriate amount of stimulus needed to produce eustress. Failing to recognise early warning signs results in clients being pushed beyond their limits, at which point their training becomes counter-productive.Personal Training Flemington, Kensington, Ascot Vale

I’m not suggesting that personal training shouldn’t be hard work, challenging and at times uncomfortable but the notion of “NO PAIN, NO GAIN” just doesn’t fit with our philosophy. One of my earliest mentors taught me that in order to progress the body must be stimulated, not obliterated. It is this concept that allows us to keep our clients in a sate of eustress, thereby promoting a gradual and continuous rate of progress.

Personal Training Flemington, Kensington, Ascot Vale

“No pain no gain?” We prefer “Stimulate, don’t obliterate”.

Clearing up diet confusion through the use of metrics.

It’s easy to become confused as you set out upon your journey to better health. One “expert” says you should eat low carb, the next recommends high fat, another proclaims that “everything in moderation” is the only way to eat – who do you know who to listen to and why does it seem that everybody recommends a different way of eating?

It’s simply really. Everybody is correct. Everybody is also incorrect. Let me explain.

Nutrition is a science that we know very little about. We learn more every day but our understanding of human metabolism is still in its infancy. So on one hand we have a “low carb/high fat” advocate that achieves great results with many clients. On the other we have a “moderate fat/moderate carb/high protein” advocate that also achieves great results. Both these people understandably believe that they’ve discovered the secret to fat loss. They may have, for the individual they were working with. But the same eating plan may not work with another individual, or even for the same individual at a different stage of their life.

The only way to know what works is to measure. The use of a metric provides data that can be used to formulate your energy and nutrient requirements. Providing the metric is consistent you’ll have a reliable tool to guide you through the confusion.

There are many metrics that provide reliable data. At FSS we use the Poliquin BioSignature method which measures 12 skin folds. By examining which skin fold sites rise or fall, it is possible to determine whether an individual is eating the correct foods for their unique metabolism.  You can read more about the system we use on our website at:

Eating too many carbs? We’ll see that in your skin folds. Not enough carbs? We’ll see that too.

There is no rule for eating. The metabolism is unique to the individual. Metabolisms change with time and from influences such as stress, exercise, sickness and even food intolerance. If you’re not measuring, how do you know what works?

If you want something to improve, measure it!

Stay lean, stay strong!

Why Is The World Getting Fatter?

In a world dominated by diets, low fat food and fitness crazes it seems odd that the population is getting fatter. Could it be that we’re missing something? Read on and I’ll give you my take on the situation.

The missing piece of the puzzle, I believe, is “nutrient density”. Our diet is becoming less nutrient dense as we consume more processed food. Our body requires food to do to two things – to move and to repair/adapt.

The moving part isn’t hard to explain. We eat calories which get metabolised and used as fuel for movement. If we move enough we’ll burn all the fuel – simple. If we don’t move enough and don’t burn the fuel it will be stored as fat – also simple. If you don’t move enough you are more than welcome to visit me for some personal training in Flemington, Melbourne – – I have ways to get you moving!

The adaptation part is actually pretty easy to explain too. I believe the body is driven to consume food not only when energy is required, but also when nutrients are required. Our cells are in a state of constant adaptation. If the food we eat doesn’t contain the required nutrients to satisfy cellular demand, our hormonal system drives us to consume more. By providing all the necessary nutrients, we allow the cells to communicate to our hormones that we’ve had enough to eat – thereby self regulating appetite.

No calorie counting required, no diet needed. If we consume nutrient dense foods, we have no need for diets as our body will tell us when we’ve had enough.

So what is a nutrient dense food? Look to nature. Most foods provided by nature are nutrient dense. Vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, rice, fruit – all simple foods packed with nutrients. I give my clients a general guideline of “lots of fibre, protein and water and don’t be scared of fat as found in nature”. That usually does the trick unless the metabolism has been damaged – and that’s where it gets tricky!

FishGet lean, get strong!

The 7 Secrets to Reducing Body Fat – Secret 1

Eat More!

Many people are convinced they need to eat less to reduce body fat, but this is sometimes not the case. It is true that an excess of calories will result in the accumulation of body fat, but reducing calories can have the same effect.
Body Fat

Restricted calorie diets assume that an excess of calories causes fat accumulation. Obesity can be the result of a hormonal imbalance, not necessarily overeating. The ‘calories in vs. calories out’ theory has serious flaws. Our fat metabolism system does not decide to burn fat based solely on the number of calories we consume, it makes the decision based on the hormones those calories trigger. “Naturally skinny” people have a hormonal profile geared toward fat burning. These individuals can eat whatever they like and not accumulate body fat. This is the hormonal profile we all strive to achieve.

When calories are restricted, the body slows down its metabolic processes to save energy. If the metabolic rate is too low, the body devotes all of its available energy to maintenance and repair, rather than muscle growth. This is less than ideal as muscle growth is one of your most powerful tools for optimal body composition.  If you need help please drop in to my Flemington personal training studio ( where I’ll be happy to show you how to build the muscle that will burn the fat!

Everything you consume has hormonal consequences.
For example, processed foods upset the delicate hormonal balance needed to build muscle and burn fat, and instead cause an inflammatory stress reaction. The body will not build muscle or burn fat for energy in times of stress. Nor will it effectively assimilate nutrients if the digestive tract is in a state of inflammation. Our digestive system, muscle tissue and fat tissue are constantly communicating with our nervous system via our hormones. It is imperative that the digestive system is free from inflammation and that the foods we eat trigger the desired hormonal response.
Further, processed foods are toxic, and the accumulation of toxins in the body enlarges fat cells.

Supporting the natural detoxification system will allow your body to thrive, not just survive. So called “detox kits” are not the answer as these kits can pull toxins out of the fat cells, where they cause little harm, and deposit them in to the blood stream. This sudden increase in toxicity will over-burden your natural detoxification system. The human body is in a constant state of detoxification and with enough water, fibre and nutrients it’ll do just fine on its own!

As you can see from the information provided above, obesity is not the problem – it is the solution! Your body is attempting to neutralise the threat caused by the wrong foods by moving toxins and excess energy to fat cells for storage. The body is trying to save your organs from dealing with the toxins, and obesity is the by-product of storing excess energy for times when food is not available. In today’s developed world, food is so abundant that the saved energy is never required, resulting in a perpetual weight gain.

So if you’ve been on a resticted calorie diet and haven’t seen the results you expected try eating more. What should you be eating more of? Simply eat more, and only, natural foods in their natural state. If it’s made by man, you probably shouldn’t eat it!


Tips on getting lean and strong from the owner of Flemington Strength Studio, Flemington's most supportive personal training studio.