We caught up with personal trainer and fitness model, Chris Zaremba, to find out his inspiration for beginning a career in the fitness industry. Chris also shares his fitness over 50 expertise and gives some great answers to your FAQs!
1) What was your inspiration for beginning a career in the fitness industry and becoming a Personal Trainer?
When I was 50, I was obese, pre-diabetic and not at all a healthy person. I’d spent the last 30 years doing as little exercise as possible. I became the best customer at my local burger, pizza, and fish and chip shops. I also became a pub-crawl expert!
At this stage, the doctor gave me a warning. It shook me to the core, and I decided to change my ways. I started doing more activity – both formal exercise and just walking/being more active in daily life. I also gave up the bulk of my poor eating habits.
Before I began, I thought I would hate it. However, when I saw the pounds and the waist inches drop, I was hooked. After a couple of years, I added some weight training to the mix. With my continually improving knowledge on nutrition, I found I was putting on some muscle as well as dropping fat. I was off the doctors warning list.
A couple of years later, I was on stage and winning competitions for fitness and muscle modelling!
Becoming a Personal Trainer
Fitness had changed in my life. Rather than something I had to do, it had become something I wanted to do. Doing some planned exercise as part of each day became important to me.
At that point, I had the opportunity to take early retirement from my job in software. I decided to take up a post-retirement role as a self-employed Fitness Consultant and Personal Trainer.
I very much wanted to show other people over 50 that a pretty major change in a fatness-down, fitness-up direction, was indeed possible and massively desirable at that age. It was my opportunity to help others discover the joys and benefits of fitness.
I earned my qualifications as an Advanced Personal Trainer, and I now like to help others over 50 progress like I did.
People that aren’t my clients can still see my advice on my TV series ‘Fit Happens’. They can also see my articles, videos, and listen to my radio show on fitness.
The more people I can influence to get fit over 50, the happier I am.
2) How many days a week do you recommend working out?
It very much depends on the time available and the specific objectives.
For most of my clients, my suggestion is six times per week. That is:
Three morning sessions of a cardiovascular activity – running, bike, cross-trainer, or rowing machine. Plus three sessions later in the day with weights in the gym. These three are split by body part into different body parts per day. This ensures you train each body part at least once per week.
Each weights session (correctly called resistance training) should also include some stretching, mobility and balance work. The resistance training sessions could be on the same day as the cardio, or different days. It depends on the client’s own schedules.
However, I have clients who do less than this, and those who do more. It really depends on the individual circumstances and time available.
If a client is looking for a full pack to support this activity – with documentation, videos, and tracking spreadsheets – then it’s all in the Fit Happens System available on my website.
My most active client schedule – which happens to be my own – has six cardiovascular sessions (one per morning Mon-Sat), and six weight sessions per week (one per afternoon Mon-Sat).
This is more intense than Fit Happens. It’s a system I called ABC7 that I devised originally for myself. I continue to use it daily and now also provide it to others. However, I don’t advocate that level of intensity for other people, unless they really enjoy working out as much as I do, and also have the time.
3) How long should you rest between workouts? Do you need more recovery time over 50?
I recommend 24 hours between cardio sessions. But only once you’re used to it and have built up to it. I run 5k every morning, or the equivalent, but I couldn’t do that without having built up to the distance, speed and frequency over time. I started at age 50 and built up to 5k over two years. Three times a week is a good starting point for most people.
For resistance training, I advise against training the same body part on consecutive days. For those over 50, and especially those new to it, I would double that gap and not train the same body part until the third day following.
In my recommendation of three resistance training sessions a week, there is a gap of six days before training the same body part. Even with double intensity of six sessions per week, there is still a two-day gap – which is fine.
4) What is your favourite piece of equipment in the gym and why?
My favourite is the narrow cable machine, with variable stack weight resistance each side, variable height settings of the cable handles, and multiple different handle types or attachments.
A key reason is that it is possible to train every part of the body on this, especially if you have a bench to go with it.
It’s also very easy to adjust, has a wide range of resistances with small increments (great to track your progress), and is also very safe.
It’s safe in that if anything goes wrong in an exercise, you can just let go and the machine returns to the starting point. There’s no concern that something heavy could fall on you!
5) What do you recommend to eat before and after a gym session?
There are different answers for cardio and resistance training sessions:
I recommend cardio activity first thing in the morning – this maximises the body’s potential for fat burning. I think it’s essential that nothing with calories is consumed in advance – so that means only black coffee or tea, or water. This forces the body to use its own energy reserves – ideally bodyfat – to fuel the activity, rather than the body’s preferred source of fuel, which is recently-eaten calories.
Post cardio, I recommend a meal with a good balance of healthy ingredients and a wide spread of the macronutrients. I like a bowl of oats with hot water, with some nuts and seeds, a few blueberries and raspberries, and some cinnamon sprinkled on top.
Alongside that I have a protein shake, made with water and chocolate flavour whey protein. I also pour a small amount of the shake into the oats to make the oats taste lovely and chocolatey. I call this my Power Breakfast. It has a pretty much perfect blend of calories split 40% protein, 40% mainly slow-digesting carbs, 20% unsaturated fats – it tastes delicious!
Resistance Training Session
For a resistance training session, I recommend a healthy meal including fish or meat and green vegetables, and a small sweet or baked potato. This should be eaten about 1-2 hours in advance. This is a pretty standard recommended meal for me, and nothing special since it’s pre-workout, except ensuring there are some slow carbs in there somewhere (the potato, in this example).
Some people like additional caffeine just before the workout to focus the mind and speed up the metabolism, but that’s not recommended for all people over 50, especially not anyone with heart or blood pressure issues.
Within 15 minutes of the end of a workout, I recommend people drink a protein shake – the second and final one of the day, the first being as part of the Power Breakfast – plus some natural sugar. Usually an apple or pear is my source of the sugar, as these fruits have other health benefits compared to sweeter options.
6) Is it harder to maintain a healthy weight over 50 & what is your top piece of nutritional advice for weight loss?
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
It is indeed harder to reach and maintain a healthy weight and body composition over 50. The human body is hard-wired to favour the storage of fat as we get to middle age and beyond. It actually assists itself in that process through a natural wasting-away process of muscle mass called sarcopenia.
Coupled to that, many people over 50 will move less, both exercise and non-exercise activity. There is no senior citizen equivalent of kids running around a school playground, just because it’s there.
Eating less but better, and moving more in and out of exercise are the keys to reversing this process. People over 50 have to turn the effort and consistency dial up much further than those that are half their age, sadly.
My top piece of nutritional advice is really contained in the last sentence – eat less, but better. The whole western world eats too much. Most people would see benefits by just cutting down the volume of the food they ate. If I asked you to eat double the food you normally eat every day for a whole month, would you expect to put weight on? Yes? That also works in the opposite direction too. Then add the benefits of making wiser choices of what you eat, and you can see how this begins to work in a truly positive way.
My number one top tactic to achieve this is to plan each day’s eating at the beginning of each day. Physically write down what you plan to eat that day. No random food as the day progresses. That way you can plan for a big dinner later by planning smaller portions, and allocate your food types earlier in the day. Plan your eats, then eat your plan.
I’ll also mention another nutritional nugget that I’ve found amazingly helpful – when you eat, do nothing else. No TV, not reading, not on the computer, not on the phone. Just eat. Enjoy the food, savour it. Eat at a reasonable pace, chewing well, don’t just wolf it down.
Maybe you are treating yourself to something that is perhaps outside the ideal nutritional guidelines? If so, you definitely need to savour every drop or crumb. What a waste to miss out on what you really enjoy by concentrating elsewhere!
7) What is the most common injury you see with your clients and what advice can you offer for prevention?
I think the most common injury is to the most complex joint in the body – the shoulder. And ankle injuries (also a complicated bit of mechanics) usually coming second in this lack of popularity list.
There are many causes of injury: using muscles in an exercise that aren’t meant to be used in that exercise, incorrect speed of execution, going too far too fast on weights progress, over-reaching and being unbalanced left vs right in your movements, and incorrect timing on breathing, are just the first that come to mind.
But one that is a generic issue, and can affect lots of people – a soft tissue injury caused by inadequate warm up. You should warm every muscle group up prior to its first difficult, or ‘work’ set of exercises. My recommendation is to do a warm-up set of the first exercise you are going to do for a body part. That warm up should be for twice the number of repetitions, and twice the speed of the work set, but with half the resistance.
8) You have won several awards for fitness modelling and muscle modelling. Is it harder to build muscle over 50 & what is your top tip for gaining muscle mass?
As mentioned earlier, it is easier for the body to put on fat over 50 and harder for it to build muscle. The trick is to be patient and consistent. Continue to follow the guidelines even if progress is slower than you would like. It’s bound to be slower than a 25-year old following exactly the same practices.
Keep the nutrition as clean as possible, and follow the nutrition advice of an expert – ideally someone who is of your age group and has personal experience of doing what you seek to achieve.
My top tip on the resistance training side is to keep logs of what you do and continually strive to improve, ideally by only a tiny increment. If you can lift 10kg for 8 repetitions, try 9 next time – then 10 the time after – then 11 – then 12. Then go back to 8 repetitions but move the weight up to 12kg – always keeping good injury-avoiding and muscle-focus form of course.
This only works if you keep a record of what you do and consult it next time. Measurement is motivation.
9) What advice would you give to someone that wants to lead a healthier more active life but doesn’t know where to start?
Looking at that most generically, you can start leading a healthier life just by doing more things that are good for your body, and fewer things that are bad for your body. So, you need a bit more movement – walking more, and walking more quickly, cycling – it’s all basic stuff. Avoid driving for short distances.
If you can walk a 5k, which over time will become a run, then I recommend a local parkrun. It’s a great experience to start getting some outdoor aerobic activity into your life. And is totally free.
On the other side of the coin, the rule for eating is exactly the same. Just start doing more things that are good for your body, and fewer things that are bad for it. Most people eat far too much, so think portion size and keep levels down. And try to eat better quality foods – less processed, less sugar, less saturated fats.
If you want to go one step further, you may want to take some advice from a Personal Trainer who can help get you on the path to exercise. You could also take a look at my Elementary Approach article or my Easy Nutrition videos on my YouTube channel.
10) What are the main services that you offer to your clients?
I offer a few different options for clients, either in person or online.
Individual Personal Training
Performed in gyms located either in Central London or High Wycombe. My Personal Trainer service includes keeping full records of progress and regular body statistics progress monitoring.
Online Personal Training
I offer a continual guidance and support package across any distance. This involves agreeing achievable targets with the client, both on the movement/exercise and nutrition sides. My online programme uses a totally-individualised approach which takes into account the clients own timing and other constraints. Weekly monitoring and catch-up calls with me, allow me to modify the programme as the client progresses.
Fitness Consultancy Service
During a fitness consult, people can discuss any aspects of their fitness desires, goals and achievements. This can be in person in London, or by phone or Skype anywhere.
Online Workout Courses
I have two main workout systems, both of which come with hundreds of example videos, detailed documentation,and nutritional guidance.
One is the very detailed ABC7 System that I use – and have done so for the past few years. It is pretty much for the dedicated gym person, who has the desire to progress and the time available to manage both a morning cardio session and an afternoon/evening resistance training session, both on five days a week.
The other is the Fit Happens System, designed for those people with busy lives but can still manage up to three cardio sessions and up to three resistance training sessions per week. Even though this less intense than ABC7, the Fit Happens System will deliver impressive results if clients follow it.
Finally, I have a range of Motivational Speaking presentations that I provide to groups both large and small. Groups range from major corporates to voluntary organisations and charities. All presentations can be tailored to the audience, but most will focus on how to increase fitness and/or reduce fatness – all while enjoying the process.
About Chris Zaremba
Chris qualified as a Gym Instructor and Personal Trainer in 2012. Since then he has obtained an International Diploma in Advanced Personal Training, and an Advanced Certification in Nutrition for Weight Loss and Nutrition for Physical Performance.
He has made many appearances in the media. Not only is he a regular author on fitness matters, he has also made several TV appearances. In 2013 the Community Channel made a documentary about his fitness journey, and more recently, he appeared in a TV series called ‘Fit Happens’ to give advice on techniques to maximise fitness levels.
Chris is also a Muscle and Fitness Model. The pinnacle of his competing career was winning the Miami Pro World Championships for both Fitness Models and Muscle Models for his age group in April 2014.
Chris has a specialist interest in clients who are looking to improve their level of fitness over 50. This interest led to the creation of his company Fitness Over Fifty.
More personal trainer fitness tips and information relating to all the above can be found on Chris’ website Fitness Over Fifty.
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