Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken

Rory Aitken from the Fitness Factory is joining us in the Personal Trainer Zone this week. Rory shares some top fitness advice including the healthy way to lose weight, how to improve your posture, and the importance of  individualised training plans for getting results.

1) What was your inspiration for beginning a career in the fitness industry and becoming a Personal Trainer?

I have always practiced competitive sports. From basketball and swimming at school, to rowing and squash at Uni, to IronMan triathlon in my 30s and 40s.

My day job used to be Risk Management IT sales to investment banks in London. It was high pressure with big financial rewards and mega stress levels. I was burning out, and my release was relentless training.

Working 50 hour weeks and training for 15 or more hours meant I was very absent from my wife and kids. However, my passion for exercise planted the seed in my head. I decided to change career and work towards running my own fitness business.

After a few more years saving and paying off the mortgage I was lucky enough to be able to afford to quit the City and set up a small Personal Training and Health Centre in Totnes, Devon. Here we also do Spinning, Weights, Pilates and other quality body work.

Best of all, my wife is my business partner, she also instructs classes like Spinning and Pilates. Now we are together every day, working towards a common goal and our relationship is stronger than it ever was in London.

2) How many days a week do you recommend working out?

Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken | PT | Linked FitnessIt’s a personal thing! So many factors affect the frequency and intensity of training: age, gender, fitness history, injuries past and present, fitness goals and objectives, time availability, family and work constraints. The list goes on.

There is no right or wrong answer. Broadly speaking, training less than three times a week means that your fitness can dwindle. Overtraining however can also cause injury and demotivation, mood swings and appetites changes, sleep pattern disruptions and other side effects.

For complete novices we recommend three hours training per week at moderate intensity. You should spread this evenly between Cardio, Strength and Core work. For someone just wanting to maintain their fitness that would do.

However for people wanting to progress, or to make significant advances towards goals like triathlon, marathon or other sporting achievements, you need to incorporate much more training.

What matters the most is the ability to ABSORB workouts, recover, and start again the next day. Recovery is KEY to this (see below). If you haven’t recovered from yesterday’s workout, today’s will be a bad one, so change plan and go easy or skip it altogether.

If you’re training for IronMan on the other hand, two workouts per day six days a week  including a long ride (6+ hours) is not uncommon or too much.


Related: How to Get Fit Over 50


3) How long should you rest between workouts?

See above! There are a dozen factors affecting your ability to recover and absorb the punishment that hard workouts dish out. Primarily it’s an age-related restriction. As we get older we need more recovery between hard sessions.

Nevertheless, with improving fitness the ability to recuperate and go hard the next day improves over time. So to start with one might work out three days a week, with 48 hours’ recovery in between sessions. As one gets stronger (and adjusts one’s nutrition to take into account the extra load), then the frequency of workouts and their intensity increase hand in hand. Gradually and progressively is the key to avoiding injury and burnout.

Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken | PT | Linked FitnessAnother factor to take into account is the intensity of each workout. After a super-hard, long ride for example, it would be advisable to have 24 hours complete rest. However, after a gentle Pilates class, for instance there would be no harm in training again that same afternoon, or first thing next morning.

Another consideration is the body part you are training e.g. a long bike ride could make your legs very heavy and tired but if you wanted to do some strength, and upper-body/Core work, there would be no harm in doing that the next day.

4) What is your favourite fitness class and why?

It’s got to be Spinning! We love the music and the buzz it creates among our clients. Sweaty, happy, exhausted at the end but driven and kept motivated by the banging tunes.

Music is INTEGRAL to that experience, so we spend as much time seeking new tunes as we do planning workouts.

In winter especially, as the days go dark, the disco lights come on, the volume goes up a notch. All our competitive riders return for their winter training, laying the foundations for their successful races, classics and triathlons in the following year.

It’s in winter training that one lays the base conditioning for the following season’s peak fitness. Between September and April our spinning classes are heaving and we get a massive high from teaching it.

5) What do you recommend to eat before and after a gym session?

Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken | PT | Linked FitnessIt depends on what session and on what time of day it’s being held! It also depends on your objectives e.g. losing weight / gaining muscle mass / fuelling a long cardio workout etc.

There is no right or wrong answer, but broadly speaking you need to fuel your workouts or else the body will “eat itself” so to speak. Insufficient fuelling leads the body to seek energy by consuming its own reserves.

That’s OK when the reserves are from fat and your objective is to lose some of it. However, it’s not OK if you are already slim or at your target weight and want to become more competitive/ faster/stronger etc.

For example, it’s impractical to have a full breakfast before a 7:30am hard spinning class. Instead we tend to do our early spins on coffee! You can enjoy breakfast all the more afterwards!

On the other hand, starting a six-hour bike ride on an empty stomach means that before half way through you will hit “the wall” and “bonk”, i.e. your body’s glycogen (internal reserves of sugar) deplete and you suffer hypoglycaemia (low blood-sugar).

For runners, that means slowing to a near-walk, whereas cyclists sometimes have to dismount! It’s imperative therefore to balance the nutritional loads of the workout in question with the objectives near and long term.

Broadly speaking we use carbohydrate energy drinks during cardio workouts. It is best to do the most intense workouts on a relatively empty stomach as the lactate can make you nauseous.

Again – speaking in very general terms – we would only suggest protein shakes and recovery bars for after very hard strength sessions. This will help rebuild the damaged muscles and enhance recovery. For the majority of workouts it’s OK to wait until normal meal times. Our daily protein intake in the vast majority of cases is perfectly adequate with no additional supplementation.

The answer to this question therefore is utterly specific to the individual’s needs and objectives. It is contingent upon what session they are performing and at what time of day it is being held.

If in doubt – eat bananas! You can’t go far wrong with a banana, up to 30min before a workout, and/or a banana during (or within) 30/60 min of finishing a workout. Bananas are our “go to” snack for emergencies. You can consume them before, during and after workouts (Note: max 2 bananas per day).


Related: A Guide to Nutrition for Runners


6) What is your top piece of nutritional advice for weight loss?

Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken | PT | Linked FitnessPortion Control! Eat slowly – TV OFF – and hydrate.

We advise against any sort of “diet”. The so-called “diet industry” is worth Billions of £ per year. Why? Because they don’t work!

People have to keep doing them again and again. New fad after new fad diet. None of which are based on any sort of science – smoke and mirrors mostly.

As you can tell we are not big fans of the diet industry!

Achieving Balance

We don’t even advocate giving anything up completely. Chocolate, alcohol, bread, pasta, pizza and ice cream are all perfectly OK to eat  – IN MODERATION! That’s the key – BALANCE!

In all our consumption, too much of any one thing will lead to health issues and weight gain. Too little of that thing, or complete deprivation, can often lead to a sense of sacrifice and longing. This can sometimes exacerbate our tendency to overeat as a retaliatory consequence.

Here the human psychology plays dirty tricks on us; we are hard-wired to love sugars and fats, since our ancestors had very little of these. So it’s hard to start eating a chocolate bar and to stop after a few bites. The body begins to crave it, so one square is too much but ten are not enough! Same with alcohol.

It takes discipline and control to balance things out. However, with practice we learn to curb those desires, and to restrict ourselves to small treats every now and again.

Portion Control

As for our regular three meals per day, the best way to reduce our overall consumption is to trick our minds into believing our portions are bigger than they are.

To do this you need to buy smaller plates! A small portion on a small plate looks bigger and the brain is fooled into feeling fuller than when the same meal is lost in a big plate. It looks tiny and makes us feel “it’s not enough”.

Eating Slowly

Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken | PT | Linked FitnessEating slowly and deliberately is also key to this – TV OFF with no exceptions! When you eat with the TV on, it means that one doesn’t appreciate the food going in. Before you know it, it’s gone, and you crave more. TV off always, music off; focus on every delicious mouthful, chew slowly, savour the taste, texture and aroma of every bite.

The most common eating mistake we see is eating too fast! If you scarf your dinner down, your brain hasn’t the time to get the gut’s message “I am full” – and you can overeat. Slow down, chew well, and give your body time to let your brain know you have had enough.

Hydration

Finally – HYDRATE! It’s very common, especially when training, to get dehydrated and mistake these feelings for hunger.

So before every meal, drink a large glass of water and another one with the meal. The water helps fill the stomach, and satisfies the thirst component of your hunger.

7) What is the most common injury you see with your clients and what advice can you offer for prevention?

Back problems are without doubt the #1 injury that can plague our members’ lives.

Sedentary Lifestyles

Trouble is, we live in a society that spends far too much time sitting. It is said that up until the 19th C what killed us was illness: a slight infection, viruses, TB, smallpox. These and any number of a myriad of lethal pathogens against which we had no cures.

During the 20th C we started to overcome many illnesses. Antibiotics helped combat bacterial infections, and vaccinations reduced many and in some cases (e.g. smallpox) totally eradicated deadly illnesses. What killed us then was primarily alcohol and tobacco. Those were the biggest deadly threats of the 20th C.

It is now said that the biggest killer of the 21st C is the humble chair. We spend hours sitting at work, in our cars stuck in jams, and at home watching TV. Hours upon countless hours’ resting on our backsides. We are not designed to sit for hours like that.

Posture

Quite apart from being directly implicated in our sedentary lifestyle, (leading to death through obesity), all this sitting is playing havoc with our spine. The lower back is placed in an unnatural curve when we sit in a chair, and the posture gets worse over time as we slouch deeper and deeper.

All the sitting & slouching is causing a veritable epidemic of back problems: the number one most common injury our clients suffer. Luckily for them, we have the answer – exercise!

Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken | PT | Linked FitnessIn particular, designated core training and specific classes like Pilates do wonders for our posture, and by strengthening the core muscles we regain control of the lower back alignment and balance. It’s a tough challenge. Overcoming years of poor postural control through exercise can take a long time and a lot of effort.

Better still would be not to create the problem in the first place, so we encourage our clients to get rid of their sit down desks and invest in standing furniture. We advise companies to ditch the long slow sit down meetings in favour of faster, more efficient and productive stand-up meetings.

On average companies that do this find their employees’ productivity goes up dramatically, since meetings are shorter and time off work with back-ache is much lower.


Related: Strength Training Exercises & Injury Prevention


8) What are the benefits of having a Personal Trainer?

Personal Trainer sessions allow people with time-limited availability to maximise their progress through a fitness programme. If you have a busy lifestyle and struggle to fit in the recommended 150-180min of vigorous exercise per week, having a Personal Trainer can get you on track and make big inroads toward the goal of being as fit and healthy as possible in the shortest timeframe.

Some people however assume that a one hour session with a Personal Trainer per week is enough….. IT IS NOT! The hour of focused hard-core training a well-designed personal training programme provides can be the foundation upon which you build your fitness. However, that hour is the ICING on the cake. The base layer comes from clients exercising on their own, particularly for the CARDIO elements of their fitness programme.

Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken | PT | Linked FitnessSo, for example, I might design a strength conditioning programme for a client, based on their current status and medium/long-term objectives and goals.

At the same time, I would build into the programme a series of solo workouts the customer has to do as “homework” – on their own, either at our gym, or outside – primarily doing the CV part of their fitness.

It seems pointless to pay good money for a Personal Trainer to watch you huffing and puffing on a treadmill or other piece of CV equipment. The Personal Trainer is reserved for the ultra-intense strength elements of the training programme, and those moves which may be technically tricky and for which assistance and/or guidance is needed.

A good Personal Trainer will design you a programme that covers all the five elements of fitness, starting with the letter “S” – the five “Esses” of fitness:

STRENGTH / SPEED / STAMINA / SUPPLENESS / STABILITY & Core Balance

Typically it is best to carry out the speed and stamina elements of your fitness programme on your own, e.g. running, cycling, swimming etc. The other “Esses” are trained both with and without your Personal Trainer. He/she can certainly help during workouts to help motivate you to push ever harder, in a safe and managed manner.

So the benefits of having a Personal Trainer are:

  • Safety
  • Motivation
  • Programme design
  • Managed progression
  • Holistic overview of the whole fitness package
  • Faster progression

9) How do you develop individualised training plans for your clients?

Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken | PT | Linked FitnessAssessment and Interview

It all starts with a thorough assessment and an interview. By understanding what the client’s objectives are (sometimes they have trouble articulating it themselves; there may be hidden agendas that we try to uncover in the interview phase) a good Personal Trainer can design a programme that is 100% personal to that customer’s status and aspirations.

The assessment is key to this process. We test not just the client’s CV performance, measure their weight and body composition, flexibility and other key stats (e.g. BMI, waist to hip ratio etc.) but also their strength performance.

Assessing strength performance involves using a standardised set of tests we have developed over the years. These mainly involve doing isometric (static) strength tests like holding a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height with the arms fully extended palms down. When the wrists sag below shoulder height the test is over. The time in hold is a good indicator of shoulder conditioning.

Goal Setting and Planning

Knowing what the client can do and what their physical limitations are (including any historic or lingering injuries) allows us to build a highly individualised training programme that will achieve their objectives within a stated interval of time.

All this is agreed and pre-planned up front. Obviously if a client wants to lose 30kg, this can’t be done in one year (or it could be done but not in a healthy way). We sometimes need to inject a dose of reality into the discussion.

A non-runner could not aspire to break 3 hours in their first marathon in six weeks’ time. We need always to be realistic in our assessment of the customer’s current abilities and projected goals and try to marry the two over a credible timeframe.

Sometimes we have to explain; “this is going to take longer than you thought”. Better to have this discussion at the outset than half way through a 10-week block, when after five weeks the customer expects to be completely different and just isn’t.

Training

Having thus designed an initial training plan, we start the journey together. Week by week we revisit the plan and we refine / fine tune the programme in light of any new data we collect. For instance, when training starts we get a much better idea of the client’s capabilities.

Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Rory Aitken | PT | Linked FitnessWe also repeat the fitness tests at regular intervals, as that can help motivate the customer. Seeing real evidence of tangible progress is the greatest motivator of all.

On the other hand, acknowledging that this month we’ve made little or no progress, and understanding the CAUSE of this (e.g. missed workouts, illness, injury etc.) is also important. It can act as a catalyst to make the client come more regularly, and place a higher importance on the workout than on that after-hours work socialization over beers and burgers.

Assessment and testing / retesting is thus at the heart of developing a totally personal training plan. No two customers are exactly alike, and thus no two programmes are the same either.


Related: Find Personal Trainer Near You


10) What are the main services that you offer to your clients?

We offer the full range: from group classes (spinning, strength, Pilates) to individual one on one and coaching sessions with a Personal Trainer.

The personal training service includes regular testing / retesting and progress monitoring. It covers the ancillary workouts clients must do in addition to their personal training. It also includes nutritional advice, meal planning, and food diary reviews (for those clients wanting to lose weight safely and permanently).

Basically, if you have a fitness goal and want our help to achieve it, we are the right place to come. Whether you just want to slim up a little, run your first marathon or jog your first 5k, complete your first sprint triathlon or shave an hour off your IronMan PB: we can help you do this.


About Rory Aitken

Rory is a Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer based in Devon, UK.

He has been a competitive sport fanatic since his teens and has participated in a variety of sports including IronMan competitions.

Rory opened The Fitness Factory in 2005 and since then he has trained hundreds of people from 16 to 76, with the majority over 45.

Whatever your fitness, health, or weight objectives may be, Rory is confident he can design a programme to help you achieve them.

To learn more about Rory and his services, head over to the Fitness Factory website.


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