the joy of strength training


January 8th, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Keys to success: learn, aspire, believe

For me, the key to success in changing your life can be summed up as: learn, aspire, believe.


If you want to be slimmer, fitter, stronger and healthier, learn how to do it. What else in life did you achieve without any learning? You had to learn to read, drive your car, play your sport and carry out your trade.

How you learn best is up to you. You can read books, find an expert to learn from, or simply plunge into the deep end and learn by doing.


Aspire to be a better version of yourself, not to be someone else. Aspiring to be better comes from an understanding of where you are now and where you want to be.

Aspirations are different from wishes. Wishing something was different doesn’t change anything. Aspiring to something for me implies a journey, a gradual progression to a goal.


Believe in your ability to carry out a programme of work and get the outcome you want. Believe in your ability to cut through the crap and make decisions for yourself. I believe that everyone can become an expert in their own change.

Self belief is the most important quality: you have to believe that you can learn, change and get to where you want to be.

So go on, make it happen!


December 25th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Christmas Day workout

My traditional Christmas Day workout this year was done to the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It includes bodyweight exercises only as I do this in my nearest open space.

So we start with exercise 1for 1 rep, then do exercise 2 for 2 reps and exercise 1 for 1 rep, then 3 for 3, 2 for 2, 1 for 1 and so on – like the song! These are the exercises I chose:

  1. Squat
  2. Pistols
  3. Tricep press up
  4. Jumping lunges
  5. V-sit ups
  6. Press ups
  7. Jumping squats
  8. Supermans
  9. Divebombers
  10. Mountain climbers
  11. Burpees
  12. Tuck jumps

Merry Christmas everyone!

November 16th, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Review: Weight Training for Women: A Beginner’s Guide

Weight Training for Women bookThe recently published Weight Training for Women: A Beginner’s Guide by Lesley Harrison aims to fill a gap in the market by providing straightforward weight training advice for female beginners at the affordable price of £9.99 (the ebook version is even cheaper).

It is written from the point of view of an enthusiastic practitioner of weight training who wants to share her passion with other women and persuade them of the benefits of weight training.

The author is a powerlifter but doesn’t have any formal qualifications in strength coaching or personal training. This however is not necessarily a bad thing.

She knows how to train and isn’t encumbered by personal training jargon. Her advice is that of a knowledgeable friend in the gym – quite refreshing really. In fact, this is what I was aiming to achieve with when I first started blogging around four years ago.

The book covers basic exercises,  training for various goals, including physique, sport and strength, along with tips about diet, injuries and so on. It includes, succintly, everything you need to know to get started with weight training, delivering what the title promises.

I was happy to see some information about strength sports; not everyone wants to compete but it is good to treat this as a normal progression for women, should they want to take things further.

I also like the information on gym etiquette – it is one of those topics that is often neglected in the ‘serious’ training books but is very useful information for people not used to the weight room environment. The author is clearly very aware of the challenges and barriers facing women who want to take up weight training and has addressed these well.

The book is suitable for complete beginners to weight training and those who have done a bit of weight training but want to explore it further.

Where it comes up short for me is the information on programming. Perhaps this is where the author’s inexperience in coaching shows through. The fat loss programme looks too much like a strength programme and the physique programme is somewhat unbalanced (it includes only one chest exercise but five exercises involving shoulders, two of which are isolation).

Fortunately there are plenty of good beginner programmes available on the internet. I recommend the training information on Stumptuous as a great place to start. A link to Starting Strength is included in the book’s appendix and I would also point beginners to this programme if they want to improve strength and technique.

In conclusion, then, this is a broadly successful book covering everything you need to know to get started with weight training, whether at home or at the gym.

If I’m completely honest, there are better tomes out there on weight training in general – but what this book has in its favour is that it is inexpensive and approachable.

This book could be a nice gift for a friend or partner who doesn’t know where to start and would appreciate a small, friendly book to get them going.

Weight Training for Women: A Beginner’s Guide is available from Need2Know Books.

October 10th, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Be different

Lifting alone

If you are reading this article, on this website, you are already craving something more than a run-of-the-mill training experience.

Being different is a good thing, but that is often one of the hardest things to convince people when they start training.

There’s an interesting assumption that what everyone else is doing is right – the fallacy of the ‘authority of the many’, or the bandwagon fallacy. Where health and fitness are concerned, the many are evidently not right.

How many people do you know who are happy with the way they look, feel and perform?

Now think about how many people you know who go to the gym three times a week but are still overweight, stressed, tired and fighting an ever-losing battle with their aging bodies.

It takes a lot of bravery to stand out and do something different in an environment that is as exposed as a gym. For example, to be the only female in the gym doing weights, when all the other women are on the treadmills or in the yoga studio. Wouldn’t it just be easier to do what the other girls are doing, and hide in the crowd instead of presenting yourself as a piñata to be knocked down by the first jerk who opens his mouth?

To stand out from the crowd, to get exceptional results for your efforts, you need to be the sort of person who knows what they want and goes out of their way to get it, even if it means doing something different from what everyone else is doing.

You seek out people who can help you, people who know what they are talking about and can demonstrate this. You take the road less travelled.

This takes bravery and commitment. But the rewards are great.

When I started this blog several years ago, I was one of only a handful of women worldwide who wrote about proper weight training. People who found my website were ecstatic to find another iron enthusiast of this gender.

But what amazed me was the number of women scattered around the planet even doing this stuff on their own. Each pioneers in their own right. We’d all had similar issues: fear of what others would think, fear of looking stupid, of doing it wrong. Fear of being ridiculed or preyed upon by men, or just intimidated into going away and never coming back.

But individually we had all overcome these issues just by wanting it enough. And being the sort of people who don’t back down just because something is a bit difficult or out of the ordinary.

After some 12 years of going to the gym and learning it all the hard way, I finally became a full time trainer not long ago. You’d think this would make me pretty full of myself but actually I have found it a humbling experience. It has brought me into contact with so many people who – against greater odds than I ever had to face – are pursuing their path to strength and health with courage and purpose.

So this post is by way of celebration of all those people – women and men – who just get on and do it and aren’t afraid to be different. I am very excited when you drop by the website to add your thoughts. I’m always learning new things from you and am continually inspired by your independence, energy and dedication.


August 21st, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Review of The Foundry’s Heavy Weekend

The Foundry Heavy Weekend review

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending The Foundry’s inaugural ‘Heavy Weekend’ training camp: two days in the country at a secret Oxfordshire location, chucking heavy things around with a bunch of like-minded people.

I’ve known the guys and girls at The Foundry for a while now. Based in the City of London, they have a bias – of which I wholly approve – towards resistance training for performance, health and body transformations. It is therefore very much in The Foundry’s philosophy to develop a training camp around lifting, throwing, carrying and sprinting.

The Foundry has added some spice to the usual bootcamp format by getting specialist names in to coach the various skills, including Andy Titterell, pro rugby player and British Lion, Sarah Lindsay, 3-time winter Olympian, Evelyn Stevenson, national title winner in both powerlifting and olympic weightlifting and Sian Toal, Fitness England winner.

The programme ran the gamut of strength and conditioning training: on Saturday we had strongman circuits, powerlifting, touch rugby and some team competitions; on Sunday there was olympic weightlifting, speed and agility, and performance nutrition lectures.

Modified strongman circuit at The Foundry Heavy Weekend

If nothing else, there was going to be about a week’s worth of training packed into two days. Would we all survive?

How the weekend unfolded

Unfortunately I was only able to attend the Saturday as I was teaching my Ladies Who Lift class on Sunday. I wish I had been there to see what state everyone was in the next day! I was certainly rather sore when I did my own training on Sunday.

Squatting at The Foundry's Heavy WeekendThere were about 25 people attending; mostly men with a small number of women – perhaps five apart from me.

However, with more than half the coaching team being female, women were reasonably well represented.

We warmed up with a game of touch rugby out on the sports pitches. This was fast, furious and fun – a great ice breaker to start things off.

We then split into two groups – half of us went off to do strongman-style circuit training with Andy Titterell while the rest went to lift heavy barbells with Eve and Sian- and after lunch we swopped over. Free goody bags containing energy drinks, protein bars and other tasty snacks kept us going. The last event of the day was a team circuit which really got everyone’s competitive hackles up. The final result was very close!

How it felt

The weekend was fun and intense. You needed to be quite ‘up for it’ to cope with the pace and the (at times) competitiveness.

For some this might have been a bit intimidating, but also potentially exhilarating. I saw many participants grow in confidence throughout the day as they realised what they were capable of.

It also helped that we divided into two groups for much of the day: an experienced group who were confident with all the skills (or thought they were!) and a less experienced group who hadn’t been lifting for long and were less confident with all the techniques.

The techniques involved might be anything from being able to execute a deep front squat to knowing how to flip a tyre.

This allowed the coaching team to tailor the sessions to the experience level of the group and ensured that all participants had enjoyable and productive sessions.

Everyone I spoke to at the end of Saturday was stoked by the day and looking forward to day two.

While I headed back to London, the group was off for a well-deserved gourmet pub dinner and probably a sound night’s sleep before starting all over again the next morning.

So is it for me?

What you get out of the weekend depends on your level of experience and what you are interested in.

It is possible to go in as a complete strength neophyte but I wouldn’t recommend it. You need a bit of a strength base and some familiarity with basic lifting techniques to get the most out of it.

But if you have the basics, it’s a chance to have a go at more complex or unusual events like strongman or olympic weightlifting, where the specific equipment and coaching expertise required mean that opportunities to try these out are limited. You won’t find a yoke in your average gym. Or an internationally-capped rugby player, come to that.

The sessions act like a taster of a particular mode of training; they are a bit short to really master complex skills, but you can pick up some useful tips and try new things.

So if you want a total immersion in all things strength and conditioning and you are looking for a new challenge, this weekend is a great option.

Keep an eye on The Foundry‘s website to hear more about this and similar projects.

July 22nd, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Pre-natal strength training

This is a guest post by strength & conditioning coach Phil Nourse. Phil is a certified weightlifting coach by both BWLA and USAW. And he recently became a dad.

Gubernatrix stated in her manifesto that “I am more than ever convinced that there is a great need for support for women to get involved, break down barriers, educate and be educated and be able to empower themselves through strength training.”

Not only do I wholeheartedly endorse this statement but I want to add an extra dimension to it, namely the vital role which I believe strength training plays in pre-natal preparation.

A very good friend of mine is Jenny Burrell, a lady who is seen as, arguably, the leading pre- and post-natal training specialist in the UK today. To any woman who is planning on getting pregnant, is pregnant or whom has given birth I implore you to get in touch with Jenny. To any coach or personal trainer with an interest in this field you simply have to get onto one of her training courses (

Jenny is someone who eats, sleeps and breathes her field; hell, how many people are so passionate about their profession that they are prepared to be vaginally probed to further their understanding?! More on that later.

Jenny’s approach is far more sophisticated than the traditional, haphazard “just kinda squeeze your pelvic floor muscles every so often” protocol which is basically what the NHS and many other pre/post-natal trainers have long proposed. Although Jenny uses these conscious, ‘squeezing’ techniques, known as Kegels, she largely advocates a much more subconscious approach to training the pelvic floor. If you have read the quite wonderful paper ‘The Myth of Core Stability’ by Dr. Eyal Lederman, then this approach will make perfect sense to you, if you have not then hunt it down.

In this paper Lederman talks at length about his concerns over current trends in training core muscles. At one juncture he states:

“The new models encourage the subjects to “think about their core” during functional activities. One wonders if David Beckham thinks about the “core” before a free kick or Michael Jordan when he slam-dunks or for that matter our patient who is running after a bus, cooking or any other daily activities. How long can they maintain that thought while multitasking in complex functional activities? Maybe thinking about the core is not such a good idea for sports training.”

My contention is that Lederman is absolutely right. In a healthy individual the core muscles work reflexively in sporting environments as generally actions occur far too fast and far too unpredictably for blanket ‘core bracing’ to have any relevance.

There is actually a very strong argument that bracing the core, e.g. setting the transverse abdominis, whilst training for sporting activities impairs that ability of the core muscles to receive a reflexive training effect and thus their function in a real world sporting environment is heavily impaired. I often watch videos of my weightlifters frame by frame and some of the work you see take place in the trunk is quite simply phenomenal…but I can guarantee you they weren’t thinking about that mid snatch or jerk.

So what is the relevance of this borderline tangential debate to pre/post natal training? Well let me sum it up in this way: you’ve just had a baby, you’re up at the Comedy Store, someone tells a funny joke, by the time you’ve thought to brace your pelvic floor you’ve already wet yourself!

Which brings us back nicely to Jenny’s subconscious, reflexive approach to pre/post-natal training. Jenny and I have actually done some very interesting EMG based testing of exercises and the involvement of the pelvic floor in each. As I mentioned previously, Jenny’s passion for this area is so great that she volunteered to perform these exercises whilst wearing (I’m really not convinced that’s the right word!) a vaginal EMG electrode probe. This probe allowed us to measure the activation of the pelvic floor in each exercise, measured in microvolts (µV). The results were fascinating to me. The traditional Kegel exercises, the fundamental shortfalls of which have already been discussed, brought about an EMG response of just over 75µV.

Now when we tested a wide stance squat (unloaded) what did we see? Interestingly the EMG recording showed peak values of almost double that recorded with the conscious, ‘isolation’ Kegel exercises; they were getting on for 150µV!

To understand this we need to go back to the Dr. Lederman debate and some basic physiology.

The pelvic floor is quite simply a ‘figure-8’ of muscles which surround, in a woman, the vagina and anus. In the basest of terms these muscles exist to stop your insides falling out of your body through your holes. So logically if your feet are wide spread and you drop into a squat there is a reflexive, instinctive response contraction (a stretch reflex perhaps?) in your pelvic floor muscles; there simply has to be or else everything falls out!

It appears as if the response is even greater if speed of squat is increased. What is interesting is the magnitude of this contraction, i.e. the EMG signal with a reflexive contraction is almost twice that of a conscious one!

To those of us who understand how to take advantage of the stretch reflex in a countermovement jump, jerk, push press or the transition/’double knee bend’ phase in a clean or snatch, this will make perfect sense. The subconscious is less inhibited than the conscious when it comes to innervation, contraction and force expression.

We then took things a step further and had a look at squat jumping. The results were staggering. We witnessed EMG recordings approaching 900µV! That is 12 times greater than the Kegels!

Clearly under explosive conditions the reflexive, subconscious engagement of the pelvic floor takes what we saw in the wide stance squat to new levels.

So what can we take from this information? Well how about this as a recommendation? “Just do stuff”. It strikes me that what this evidence should be telling women is that if you want to keep your down belows in the best condition possible through pregnancy and after you simply have to move and move vigorously.

The other thing I find interesting is that squatting and jumping give us the greatest responses. Hmmm…squatting and jumping, sounds an awful lot like Olympic weightlifting no? Now if we can get a response 12 times greater with a bodyweight squat jump, imagine what we could produce with a 1.5x bodyweight clean and jerk, or bodyweight snatch!

I will end this discussion with a real world example very close to my heart…and in fact physically close to me as both of the two people I am about to mention are lying next to me as a I write this. On August 25th 2010 I was blessed with my first baby, a beautiful strapping little boy called Dallas David Nourse. Now my wife, Veronika, started training in Olympic weightlifting for about a year before we conceived little Dallas and competed until 3½ months pregnant. Even after stopping lifting competitively she continued to train at a lower intensity and was sumo deadlifting around 50kg (very light for her), as well as squatting, benching and shoulder pressing, until 8 months gestation.

What was Veronika’s payoff? Well the pregnancy was textbook, better than textbook in fact, she actually enjoyed every day of the process. The labour was, dare I say it, easy. Little Dallas came out with so little hassle that I almost missed it parking the car after dropping her at the maternity wing! The midwife simply could not believe how straightforward it was. She said that every mother would like to know Veronika’s secret. None of them could get over it. I, of course, knew the secret.

There is a lesson to be learned here from both the science and the real world experience. Women simply need to be more active, they need to be vigorous in their activity and they need to develop strength and power. They need to move quickly and learn to handle the forces this generates. This is how pre-natal, and eventually post-natal, training should be addressed and it shouldn’t just start when you find out you’re pregnant, it’s too late by then.

As Gubes said, “I am more than ever convinced that there is a great need for support for women to get involved, break down barriers, educate and be educated and be able to empower themselves through strength training.” Ladies…this is ‘The Secret’.

Folks, Phil originally wrote this piece last year. I bumped into Veronika a few months ago at a weightlifting competition;  I thought she had come to watch, but she was back competing about 6 months after the birth.

If you are interested in more real life experiences, check out my friend Sally Dixey‘s Crossfit-while-pregnant blog, and for a great post-natal story read about my friend Lieke’s experiences via Stumptuous.

More from gubernatrix

How low should I squat?

Mythbusters! The best of the web

Strength standards for women

Turbo charge your fitness with a simple deck of cards


June 29th, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Should I use protein shakes?

Protein shakeThis has to be the most frequently asked diet question, both in the real world and online. In fact, many people skip this question altogether and proceed straight to ‘I’ve got my protein shakes, how do I use them?’

I don’t blame them – the supplements companies have been immensely successful at creating a link between their products and getting bigger and stronger, or indeed slimmer and fitter.

Many people struggle to attain their goals in the gym and don’t make the progress they have been led to expect, so the idea that you might need aids and products to help you seems intuitively right. Surely ordinary food and ordinary training can’t bring extraordinary results?

Working out exactly how to eat and how to train isn’t easy; it took me years and I’m still learning. If you don’t know what you are doing and you are not getting results, you should really think about hiring a personal trainer who does – but in the meantime, back to those protein shakes you don’t know how to use.

What is a protein shake?

First of all, understand that protein is food and a protein shake is a food product. Protein shakes are generally made from whey or casein (milk protein) or a mixture of both.

Treat a shake like you would any other food. Consider it part of your daily diet, count it in your calories. The protein in protein shakes provides exactly the same amount of energy as the protein in a piece of steak or a pot of yoghurt, which is roughly 4 kcals per gram.

That said, there are reasons that many athletes and gym goers of all shapes and sizes utilise protein shakes. Protein shakes are a tool, like belts or gloves or kettlebells. They can be used successfully to reach goals, or they can be used abominably and create more problems than before.

Your goal is to understand what protein shakes are useful for, and then decide if there’s a place for them in your grand plan.

What are protein shakes for?

While nobody needs protein shakes, they are a useful tool in some situations, relating to one’s lifestyle, type of training or body composition goals.

Convenient: many sources of protein require refrigeration or need to be cooked/prepared in some way. If you lead the sort of lifestyle where you are rushing around, or don’t have access to a fridge at work, or can’t find somewhere decent for lunch, then keeping a tub of protein handy can be very useful. The powder is stored dry so will keep for a while, and only needs water adding to it to make a shake.

Fast acting: protein shakes are fast acting, particularly whey protein; they are processed by the body more quickly than other types of protein. For this reason, they are often used post-workout in order to start the muscle building and repair process as soon as possible. For people who care about muscle building or maintenance, this is important. However, having a meal that includes protein within an hour or two of training also does the job for most of us.

Low in saturated fat: many sources of protein, such as meat, eggs and dairy products, are also high in fat. So upping one’s protein intake (for training or body composition purposes) often means upping one’s saturated fat intake. Protein shakes don’t contain much saturated fat, so for anyone concerned about saturated fat intake, protein shakes can be an advantage over other sources of protein. Of course, there are sources of protein that aren’t high in fat, such as beans and legumes, but not everyone likes them or can eat them in the sort of quantities they need.

Easy to consume: for those who are bulking or need to increase their overall calories for some reason, eating enough food can be difficult. There may be times of day (such as first thing in the morning) where you simply don’t feel like eating. Protein is particularly filling, meaning that you might eat less of it. So adding in some protein shakes can be an easy way of increasing your calories without feeling stuffed all the time. This can be particularly useful for endurance athletes, who don’t want to train with a lot of food sloshing around but need to get the calories in.

But how much protein do I need anyway?

Sources of protein include meat, fish, dairy, leafy vegetablesAy, there’s the rub. For people training on a regular basis, the usual prescription is 1-2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. So a 70kg person would require 70-140g of protein per day. This amount is obtainable from normal food but, for some of the reasons above, a person may get some of it from a shake.

Someone training very frequently or doing a lot of resistance training would be at the top end of that range, 1.5-2g/kg. Someone training less frequently (2-3 times a week) and not doing much resistance training would be at the bottom end of the range, 1-1.5g/kg.

It’s worth noting that our actual protein requirements are controversial: scientists can’t agree on how much protein we really need, whether athletes require more than the general population, how much protein we can utilise at one sitting and so on. This is probably why the advice is so confusing. Anyway, the prescription given above is probably more than we really need, but won’t do any harm.

There are some people who swear by a much higher protein protocol. Lyle Macdonald, for example, recommends that strength/power athletes should aim for 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day (about 3.3 g/kg). However, there are studies that show that the body doesn’t use extra protein. Protein that is not used is simply excreted.

Nevertheless, there is evidence – both scientific and anecdotal – that:

“diets with reduced carbohydrates and increased levels of high quality protein are effective for weight loss. These diets appear to provide a metabolic advantage during restricted energy intake that targets increased loss of body fat while reducing loss of lean tissue and stabilizing regulations of blood glucose. Initial findings support use of dietary at levels above 1.5 g/kg during weight loss.”
– Protein Quantity and Quality at Levels above the RDA Improves Adult Weight Loss, Donald K. Layman, PhD (J Am Coll Nutr December 2004 vol. 23 no. suppl 6 631S-636S)

In other words, reducing carbohydrate and replacing it with protein seems to help us burn more fat. It is also known that eating protein burns much more energy than eating carbohydrate or fat (thermic effect of food).

Any downside of protein shakes?

The main downside is that flavoured protein shakes contain sweeteners, additives and what-not. If you are concerned about sugar intake, you might prefer unflavoured protein powder. It doesn’t taste that bad, although you can mix it with something else if you like.

Some brands of protein powder also add in other things like caffeine or green tea extract for ‘fat burning’, or carbs (e.g. maltodextrin) for ‘bulking’. You may or may not want this in your protein, so check the ingredients. It is very possible to get just pure protein, especially if you shop online.

Other than unwanted additional ingredients, there’s nothing wrong with protein powder; it’s a simple enough product. Just be aware that it doesn’t contain the myriad other good things, such as vitamins and minerals, that ‘real food’ protein does, so your diet should still contain good protein sources.

So where does all that leave us?

The chances are that you can get all the protein you need from your diet, but protein shakes might be useful when lifestyle dictates that you can’t eat as well as you’d like.

If you are trying to lose fat or bodyweight, be aware that protein shakes contain calories just like anything else and need to be factored into the overall diet plan, not just added in willy-nilly. There is evidence that higher protein (and lower carbohydate) diets do help fat loss.

Most ordinary trainees, that is, people who are not professional athletes or bodybuilders, can make best use of shakes around training (particularly post training) or to replace the odd meal or snack when nutritious food is not available. For hardgainers (people who find it hard to put on muscle) trying to bulk, a couple of regular protein shakes a day can be a useful boost to daily calorie intake.

I trust you have enough information to make your decision. Personally I have used protein shakes on and off for a while and find them useful, especially when cutting or when I have a very busy work schedule. Real food still rules though!

More from Guberntrix

What should I eat?

The low-fat myth

Why muscle building should be your top priority whoever you are

Too many goals?

June 14th, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Sharing the squat rack (or ‘peace and love, man’)

Meathead sniffing a flowerOnce again the issue of too many people wanting to use the only squat rack in the gym rears its head on an internet forum.

This old chestnut crops up time and again but I was inspired to write about it because it reveals an example of what I think is one of the great pleasures of strength training, one which often gets completely disregarded in high street gyms: working with others.

I don’t mean training buddies, but just being able to work together in an environment, help each other out, feed off each other’s energy – even if you are doing different workouts.

There’s a nice atmosphere of fellow feeling as you help each other change plates, shout out a bit of encouragement, maybe spot them on a heavy attempt. Instead of being in your own little bubble thinking nasty thoughts about everyone else, you start to care about how well someone else is doing. Their success often breeds your success, and vice versa.

I believe that everyone lifts better in that sort of environment.

Play nice with others

This collegial atmosphere is something I instill when I teach weight training courses like Ladies Who Lift. A big part of this course is learning how to work with others in the weight room. To take one example, if one of the group is significantly shorter or taller than the others, we change the rack height for every set, even though it might seem a bit of a faff. It’s fair to everyone and, as it turns out, not so much of a faff when you get used to doing it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when, deep down, I’m annoyed if I have to share. Sometimes you are in that ‘lone wolf’ kind of mood, or you have a hard workout to do and just want to get on with it.

But the reality is that there is never enough space when it is busy for everyone to have their own private car parking space, so you are wishing for something that isn’t going to happen. Anyway once you get into the swing of sharing your space and equipment, it ain’t so bad. You might even end up having a better workout!

Peace, man

That all sounds very peace and love but why should you care? Because hating other gym users and dealing with equipment conflicts is stressful and emotional stress is not conducive to good training. In fact, it is the last thing you want to be undergoing.

Let’s face it, just being in a commercial gym at peak time can be stressful, let alone having to navigate these issues of etiquette, all the while wishing your fellow gym users could be blasted into outer space with a massive rocket.

It is in your interests to be calm and friendly, so that all your energy is focussed on your workout and not composing withering forum posts in your head about the imbecility of the unfortunate in the squat rack that is rightfully yours.

Aggression can be helpful in training but psychologists differentiate between ‘channelled’ or ‘instrumental’ aggression, which is directed towards a goal, and hostile aggression. All too often we experience the latter in gyms and not the former. I’ve often seen people with a lot of apparent hostility try to muscle out their own space, only to then do their reps like a complete pussy!

More racks often means more lifters

You might think that more equipment is the answer, but in my experience the more and better equipment a gym has, the more it attracts lifters! My lifting club has around seven racks but at busy times we can still be three to a platform. The difference is that we all know each other and work together.

So what is the answer?

Well, one person can set a tone. You can be the one to start the trend. I know this is possible as I’ve done it myself. I didn’t stand there with a bottle of coke singing while looking at a sunrise, I just behaved in a certain way and people started to adapt to it.

A lot of people don’t share because they don’t know how to; that is, they don’t know what the options might be or how best to organise things. You might not realise how intimidating you look to other people. If you think you are the dog’s bollocks (because you want to squat when they are bicep curling), it’s up to you to take the lead, not up to the newbie who barely knows what they are doing.

So here are a few things you can do to make it better for everyone (including you):

  • Invite someone to work in if it’s obvious they are waiting for you; don’t wait for them to ask.
  • Be aware that a short ‘how many sets you got left?’ spoken to a stranger can sound aggressive and instantly poison the atmosphere; mind your Ps and Qs and try to smile!
  • If there’s an equipment clash, discuss the problem in a friendly way (‘how about if we do this…?’), don’t just storm off giving a dirty look.
  • Don’t compromise your workout just because someone bigger and nastier than you wants to dominate; you are both entitled to get your work in.
  • If there’s an ongoing equipment clash with a regular, work out some sort of schedule between yourselves or train together.

It’s not always sunshine and light and there will sometimes be difficulties but you will get a much better workout if you can find a way to work with people rather than resent them.

More from gubernatrix

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Why you shouldn’t train in front of a mirror

Too many goals?

Femininity and muscle

Basic barbell programmes reviewed

June 2nd, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Gym wardrobe malfunctions

Win a £50 voucher to spend at active wear retailer Find out how below.

When kit goes wrong

Ever had an embarrassing ‘wardrobe malfunction’ while at the gym? Or tried to shield your eyes because you’ve just seen one and it’s putting you off your workout? Here are my top gym wardrobe malfunctions and how to fix them!

Malfunction #1: Trousers splitting while squatting. Very difficult to hide, this one. The incident is usually accompanied by a loud tearing noise.

Fix: Wear lycra or something roomy. And make sure you have nice pants on.

Blue scoop tee from Pure Lime on

Anti muffin-top device

Malfunction #2: Excessive cleavage on view. You have to watch this one, ladies. Everything might seem fine when you are standing up straight, but what about when you deadlift or do press ups?

Fix: Do the ‘bend over’ check when you buy sports bras and wear high necks. Unless you want to show the cleavage off, in which case don’t complain that guys stare at you.

Malfunction #3: Men wearing too short shorts.  Guys, running shorts are for running, not doing crunches. We can see everything! And it’s not pleasant.

Fix: Avoid very short running shorts, especially with a split up the side, if you are going to be lying on the gym floor doing core work.

Malfunction #4: Leaving sweaty marks on equipment. Leave that for the hardcore bodybuilding gyms, the rest of us don’t want to be lying in your sweat.

Fix: Wear something that covers your shoulders and back.

Malfunction #5: Barbell slides down back when squatting. This is due to the surface (skin or material) being slippery. This is scary and potentially dangerous – you don’t want to squat with a bar that is sliding down your back!

Fix: Wear a cotton t-shirt and/or cover your shoulders with chalk.

Malfunction #6: Unnecessary wearing of compression clothing. You look like a tit.

Fix: You don’t need to wear a compression top to do your bicep curls. Save it for the post-rugby game recovery.

Malfunction #7: Muffin top. When your love handles bulge out over the top of your trousers.

Fix: Avoid hipsters and wear longer tops. There’s no rule that says you have to wear crop tops in the gym. There are some nice long tank tops around that look pretty and cover up the bulgy bits.

Malfunction #8: Developing running sores on your shins from deadlifting.

Fix: Cover your legs. Wear long socks (e.g. football socks) or leggings. Tracksuit pants can also be worn but can snag or slow down the bar.

Malfunction #9: Training in jeans or any other casual trousers. This says ‘I don’t care about working out, I’m only here to do my arms’.  No-one will take you seriously.

Fix: Get some decent kit. Have a look at

Got any wardrobe malfunctions you would like to share?

Win £50 worth of kit!

Men's fitness clothingThe folks at think you guys deserve some new gym gear so they have donated a £50 voucher to be won by a lucky reader.

To be in with a chance of winning, just name one of the brands that stocks. Click here to enter.

Closing date: midnight on 28 June 2011. One entry per email address. No purchase necessary. This competition is open to all as ships worldwide. The delivery costs are included in the £50. Cheapest destinations are the UK, US or Canada. European countries and elsewhere vary but you can check at Your contact details will not be used for any purpose other than the administration of this competition, nor passed to any third party.

May 19th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Practical Kettlebell Training

Practical Kettlebell Training DVDKettlebells have exploded in popularity over the last few years – I think to the surprise of many who thought they would be a flash in the pan or a specialist tool used only by enthusiasts.

In fact, kettlebells are fun, they appeal to the home trainer market and are also popular with women who otherwise mightn’t use resistance training at all.

However, with this popularity has inevitably come a lot of ‘lazy’ training and teaching, and a plethora of instruction of varying levels of quality. I cringe when I see some of the stuff that goes on in gyms across the land, even with movements as simple as a two-handed swing.

So a good, comprehensive, quality DVD is always going to be a much-needed tool and this is what Practical Kettlebell Training represents.

This 2-disc DVD set features the UK’s Stephen Aish, who has been teaching kettlebells and holding masterclasses for many years (and isn’t it great to be promoting a UK trainer for a change?).

Kettlebell windmillThe DVD aims to be the complete package, so covers everything from the moment you first see a kettlebell to the key exercises like swing, snatch, squat, jerk, windmill and so on, to advanced training and competition techniques.

Specifically, the 2-disc DVD set covers:

  • Warm ups and stretches
  • Major kettlebell exercises (shown from side and front)
  • Kettlebell workouts
  • Kettlebell competition training
  • Safety and handling tips
  • Examples of advanced kettlebell training for MMA

I received a copy of this DVD after doing a course with Steve and was very impressed by it. The production values are not the flashiest, but the substance is there. Steve’s approach is quite technical and detailed, which I think is great for people who are home trainers or those who plan to teach others.

In fact, the vast majority of people I see in gyms using and teaching kettlebells should have a copy of this DVD! It’s clear that many people only have the vaguest idea of how to teach or execute these movements properly, particularly the clean and the snatch. Practical Kettlebell Training breaks these movements down and provides effective drills so that people can learn the movements without bashing the hell out of their forearms, ripping up their palms or risking injury because they can’t stabilise the kettlebell properly overhead.

A complete beginner with their first kettlebell could pick this DVD  up and begin to train effectively. A person with some experience who needs more detail on technique and advanced pointers would also benefit – especially if they are self taught or if they went on a course a while ago and can’t remember all the teaching points. And anyone who is teaching others will get a lot from the instruction points and advice on how to train groups.

So this DVD is really a great all-rounder and if you don’t have a decent source of kettlebell instruction, I recommend it.

Buy this DVD in the gubernatrix shop