Matt answers your workout worries (April)
He’s trained everyone from Naomi Campbell to Samantha Cameron, now top PT Matt Roberts answers your get-fit dilemmas.
Q. I suffer with pain in my neck, down my trapezius muscle and into my right arm. I’ve sought professional advice, but nothing seems to make a difference and every time I exercise the pain returns. What should I do?
As you don’t specify the type of exercise you’re doing it’s difficult to know what needs to change. Poor posture is a common cause of pain in these areas, so try to include exercises in your programme to improve your stance. Start each exercise with good posture (shoulders set down and back, chest lifted and core tight) to avoid tension and prevent these overactive muscles ‘firing up’. Aim for a greater number of retraction or ‘pull’ exercises in relation to ‘push’ exercises to strengthen your back and prevent overworking your chest, as this can cause your muscles to become tight and pull your body into a protracted or forward position. Stretching out your chest will also help. It’s also important to ensure your weights aren’t too heavy as this can encourage poor form and bad posture. You may find that when you start training again exercises will still be a little uncomfortable. Try to persevere as it will take time for your body to adapt and feel the benefits.
Q. Will cycling make my legs bulky?
No. You may find that the tone of your legs improves through reduced body fat, but cycling is cardiovascular and doesn’t create the right stimulus for an increase in muscle size, particularly if you’re only doing recreational cycling or the odd spin class. It’s really difficult for women to put on bulky muscle mass, due to their hormonal make-up. Rest assured, cycling won’t do it!
Q. Is it better to use light weights for a greater number of reps or heavier weights and fewer reps?
The number of repetitions you do and the weight you use is dependent on your goals and the phase of training you’re in. If your goal is to improve your strength then you should be doing fewer reps (say, one to five reps), but if your goal is to increase muscle mass then you should be doing between six to 10 reps. If your aim is to burn fat, a higher repetition range of between 12 and 20 reps would be appropriate. The weight you use should be dictated by your rep range. Aim to use the heaviest weight you can manage while still being able to complete one set with perfect form.
Q. A lot of people take protein shakes. What are the benefits for women?
Muscles are built from amino acids (proteins), so taking a protein shake has many benefits, both for men and women. One of the key reasons people use protein shakes is to increase their muscles’ rate of recovery and to repair them after exercise. This allows you to train more frequently, as you stand less chance of being affected by muscle soreness. Generally, it will also help to increase the quality of your muscle tissue, which leads to a higher metabolic rate. Drink your shake as soon as possible after working out. A standard whey protein supplement will complement resistance and cardio training programmes, but should be used as a supplement, not as a meal replacement. Some shakes are designed specifically as meal replacements for weight loss, but you should try to eat natural sources of protein such as meat and fish whenever possible.
Q. I know stretching is important after exercise, but how long should I stretch for and which are the best stretches to do?
It’s best to concentrate on the muscle groups you’ve used during the session, but different individuals will be stiff in different muscles, so spend some time on these areas, too (an assessment with a trainer can help to identify these). You can hold a static stretch for up to 30 seconds and repeat two to three times.