How to improve your pull-up: 2 quick steps

Two simple things that you can do to see vast improvements in your pull-up power

Ah, the pull-up, the ultimate in body weight exercises, often the subject of many a competition between gym goers with a point to prove. The more pull-ups you can do the stronger you are surely, right? Especially if you can do over ten wide-grip pull-ups, you deserve a big pat on the back. But the best way to measure and improve your pull-up power, thus ensuring you see size and strength gains, is not just by always trying to beat your personal best by banging out as many pull-ups as you can do in a row. There are other ways to ensure that you’re making improvements in your pull-up, pushing you to be able to carry a heavier load and perform more reps ensuring bragging rights for many a month.


An essential component of being a pull-up pro is mastering the hang. Being able to hang from the bar is a great form of loading, enabling your body to harness the power of brachiation (hanging and holding all of your body weight, much in the same way that apes do it.)

So if you’re aiming to hit the highs of 25 non-stop pull-ups you’ll first need to train your upper body to hang from the pull-up bar long enough to do that many reps. Try testing it, hang from a pull-up bar for as long as you can and note down your best time, then double that number and that should give you a good indication of whether or not you can hit your pull-up goal. If you’re aiming to hit 25 and you can only hold on for 30 seconds, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to hit your goal. Spend some time practicing your hang. As you’re able to hold on for longer you’ll find that the amount of pull-ups you can do will go up.

Roll out

The pull-up is a fairly contentious move as it can often cause a pain in the elbows as the arms lock when you allow yourself to hang, especially in older gym goers who have put their joints through the ringer for a number of years. Those people are often advised to use the ab-wheel roll out move to mimic the key body movements of a pull-up. It might sound weird, but think about it, an ab-roll out requires tight abs, a hollow core and an explosion over the top when you come to finish.

Working with the ab wheel actually looks and feels like a proper pull-up attempt, the main difference being that it is harder on the abs and is easier on the elbows as you move your body back and forth between movements.

Try a couple of sets of 10 using the ab-wheel next time you workout. With the mechanics of the ab wheel fresh in your mind and nervous system, do a pull-up with …read more

3 gym mistakes and how to change them

What you’re doing wrong in the gym – and how simple changes can help you become the athlete you’re meant to be

Performance coach Mike Robertson is the founder of Robertson Training Systems in Indiana, USA, which has helped athletes and clients from all walks of life get fitter and achieve their performance goals through personalised programmes and a series of fitness books and DVDs. He talks to MF about his three foundations of training – efficient movement, smart strength training and aerobic conditioning – and how you can use them to maximise your athletic capabilities.

Moving on up

I’ve seen people work tirelessly in the gym to get bigger or stronger, only to see minimal if any gains in performance. The reason? Poor quality of movement. The body is built to work as an integrated unit, but if something’s not right – such as bad breathing patterns or a lack of core strength – it’ll ruin your efficiency.

You must be able to move well before you try to move powerfully. In the early stages of training a client, I focus on improving movement by strengthening their anterior core and abs with moves such as kettlebell pull-overs or an exercise I call ‘wall press abs’. I also get them to exhale fully. Try emptying your lungs and holding for four or five seconds – it’s surprisingly challenging and practising it will make your breathing far more efficient.

Most clients are shocked when I won’t let them squat or deadlift for the first month of training. But when they return to those moves they set personal bests within weeks because their movement is more economical. From then on, I’ll start including subtle variations – such as adding chains to the bar during squats to increase core strength gains and lifting speed – so that they keep progressing.

Smart strength

I don’t believe in ‘sport-specific’ strength work, because there is nothing more specific than actually playing your sport. All the guys I see in the gym trying to mimic sports movements with bands and weights are wasting their time. If anything, it detracts from their performance.

Your brain has an image of how a particular movement – throwing a punch, passing a ball – should feel in terms of speed, strength and power. When you use something that alters your body’s ability to do that, such as a weight, you change the motor programme, which is counterproductive. Instead, give your body the underlying foundation for better performance by opting for classic exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, lunges, rows – anything that helps you build a bigger, stronger engine.

Use gym training to offset any imbalances your sport creates. Many soccer players I work with have huge quads but their posterior chain – glutes and hamstrings – is practically non-existent. Training them in the weights room gives me an opportunity to strengthen their weak areas [see box below].

Unconditional recovery

Don’t neglect your …read more

New way to keep fit at home


Health & Fitness

Aug 6, 2014

Bring the tools of the gym to the comfort of your own home

If you’re one of the many people that don’t like going to the gym or you don’t have time due to family or work commitments, now there is an alternative: home fitness equipment hire from the UK’s biggest supplier, Hire Fitness!

Most of us have bought a piece of fitness equipment with the best intentions, only to find it ends up as a cloths horse somewhere gathering dust until the car boot sale looms upon us.

Hiring a piece of equipment takes all the hassle and risk out of getting fit at home. Home hires are a minimum of 4-weeks or you can sign up for longer to get discounts. You can hire all the most popular pieces of cardio equipment like treadmills, cross trainers, exercise bikes and rowers and they deliver and install it for you and take care of any technical problems should any arise.

Sally from Hertfordshire said “I wanted to get fit after my second child but wasn’t sure what would suit me. I called their customer services and got some advice. I decided to hire a treadmill and two days later it arrived. I was really impressed. It was sturdy and folded when I’d finished. My best friend wanted one too so hired a cross trainer as she wanted to exercise her bum and legs.”

If you’re in Ireland, fitness equipment hire is also a big hit over there. Hire Fitness Ireland has 3 offices across Ireland including Cork, Dublin and Ballymena in the north of Ireland.

What are you waiting for? Get fit at home!

…read more

5 reasons why you don’t have a six-pack

MF highlights the 5 most common mistakes preventing people from seeing their abs

Mistake one: Ignoring the importance of compound exercises

If you only concentrate your abs workout on performing isolation exercises you’re missing a trick. Compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and overhead presses will engage your entire core, strengthening your abs from all angles. Don’t leave them out of your training program.

Mistake two: Having an entire workout just for your abs

Don’t make the mistake of feeling as though you need to waste an entire session at the gym just on your abs. 15 minutes is all you need. If you are already taking the above advice and doing compound exercises in your workout then you only really need one or two different abs exercises for maybe 2-3 sets at the end of each workout.

Mistake three: Thinking that crunches are the be-all and end-all of abs exercises

This is a common mistake. A lot of people seeking out a six-pack tend to think that they can just crunch one out. No other exercises, just crunches. Not true. There are a plethora of exercises that are actually just as effective, if not more effective than the overused crunch. The dumbbell led abs moves outlined above target more of the muscles in that area than the crunch so change it up and inject some life into your six-pack workout.

Mistake four: Forgetting about your lower back

Often when people train their core they only think of it as the front and the side, but the core has a back too. The lower back muscles often suffer from neglect, a cardinal sin amongst many a six-pack seeker. If you want your core to be strong, treat your lower back just as you would your abs. It might not get you as much female attention but it’s important to train it hard for muscle balance and core strength.

Mistake five: Trying to out-crunch your diet

No, doing 100 crunches a day will not burn off that kebab so stop wasting your time. The secret to visible abs isn’t how many crunches you can do but how low your body fat percentage is. You won’t burn off that excess fat by doing endless crunches, you can train your abs all you want but no one will ever see them if you don’t have your diet in check. Amalgamating cardio workouts, abs exercises and a strict diet is the golden triangle to six-pack


Andre Jackson

7 Aug 2014
<a class=”colorbox” rel=”nofollow” href=”″ typeof=”skos:Concept” …read more

50 best fat loss tips

Why build muscle only to hide it under a layer of fat? Strip away the flab with our expert tips

1. Start sprinting

‘Short, sharp bursts of anaerobic exercise create an oxygen debt that must be replenished,’ says trainer Nick Mitchell. ‘Repaying this debt elevates your metabolism so you continue to burn fat long after you’ve stopped exercising.’

Boost your cardio

2. Ditch long runs

‘Plodding around the block for hours on end isn’t an effective way to lose fat,’ says Mitchell. ‘In fact it can be detrimental to trying to get a leaner stomach because the stress on your body of long-distance cardio encourages the release of the hormone cortisol, which causes you to store body fat and also eats away at lean muscle mass.’

3. Get intense

You can also do high-intensity interval training. ‘After a warm-up, vary between bursts of fast, all-out effort and periods of medium- and slow-paced effort to recover to keep your body guessing,’ says Mitchell.

4. Over the hill

‘Find yourself a good hill with a steep gradient or a stairwell and sprint up it as fast as possible, then slowly jog or walk back down to recover,’ says trainer Pete Geracimo of KX Gym . ‘The ascending phase should be an all-out burst of between ten and 15 seconds, so aim for enough reps so the workout lasts between ten and 15 minutes.’

5. In the deep end

‘Water running is a great option if you want to burn more fat and protect your joints at the same time,’ says Geracimo. ‘Faster movements create greater resistance and intensity. Intersperse a length of “sprinting” with a slower recovery pace.’ And don’t worry about the strange looks.

6. Keep rest brief

The key to keeping your heart rate elevated and muscles working to burn fat is to keep the period between sets and exercises as brief as possible. ‘Only rest for as long as it takes to recover enough so you can attack the next set head-on,’ says Mitchell. ‘Taking any longer than that means you won’t be working to full capacity.’

7. Feel the burn

‘If your sets end before you feel a burn in your muscles, either you’re not doing enough reps or you’re not lifting enough weight,’ says Mitchell. ‘You want a high build-up of lactic acid when training because this prompts your body to release more fat-burning growth hormone.’

Form good habits

8. Get complex

Grab a barbell and don’t stop lifting until you’re sweating. ‘A complex is a series of moves done back to back without putting the weight down,’ says Mitchell. ‘Do squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows and overhead presses.’

9. Don’t go on a diet

‘It’s far easier to change your diet than start a new one from scratch,’ says health author Jason Vale ( ‘Try removing sugar from your tea: it may take a week to get used to it but after that you won’t want to go back to sickly-sweet tea again. All these little changes add up.’

10. Get …read more

How to burn fat effectively using cardio

Choosing the right kind of cardio can be the key component to ensuring that you burn fat as efficiently and quickly as possible

I have been running for years but I don’t seem to lose any weight. Why is this?

Low-intensity cardio training, such as jogging, is one of the most popular tactics for weight loss but it’s far from the best. Long-duration, steady-state cardio isn’t an efficient way to burn fat – if fat loss is your primary objective, you’d be better off doing other activities.

Why isn’t this form of cardio best for fat loss?

Slow cardio training can lead to an increase in your levels of the stress hormone cortisol because of the stress this type of training puts on your system. Cortisol encourages the storage of abdominal body fat – in other words belly fat, the very fat most men want to lose – and also lowers testosterone, which is vital for building muscle and burning fat. Training like this is often also accompanied by the desire to eat a lot of carbs and not enough protein, which will also lead to fat storage.

What type of training should I do then?

Lift weights and do high-intensity cardio training. Lifting weights helps to promote the release of growth hormones that burn fat and you’ll also add more muscle, which has the effect of making your body burn more calories, even at rest. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is also great because it has the same effect on your body as weight training and doesn’t stress your body too much.

What is HIIT?

Short, intense bursts of sprinting, cycling or any other type of traditional cardio. Typically it’s a short period of all-out effort followed by slower periods to recover before repeating this pattern. Like weightlifting, it creates an oxygen debt that your body must balance afterwards, which has the effect of burning far more calories and releasing more growth hormone.

How do I create a HIIT plan?

Due to the nature of this training and level of intensity, you don’t want to be doing it every day. Done daily, it will quickly cause excess fatigue on your nervous system, at which point it stops being effective. Instead, do two or three workouts a week in which, after a thorough warm-up, you alternate between 20-30 seconds of all-out effort and 45-60 seconds of recovery. Repeat this eight to 12 times and finish with a warm-down. The beauty is that the exercise you do can be sprinting, cycling, swimming, rowing, punching – whatever your favourite activity is. As you get fitter, increase the length of the work period and reduce the recovery period.

Should I still do longer, slower cardio sessions?

If you love getting outdoors and going for a long run or ride, then definitely still do so occasionally because the benefits to your sense of health, wellbeing and mood are undeniable and shouldn’t be ignored. However, treat it as a recovery session and …read more

50 best muscle-building tips

Want to get bigger? You need to shock your muscles, then help them recover. Here’s a half-century of ways to do just that

1. Chalk up

More weight means more muscle, and using chalk means more weight. ‘Chalking up to improve your grip can add 10kg to some exercises instantly,’ says strength coach Sean McPhillips. If your gym doesn’t allow it, try the liquid variety – or change gyms.

Lift heavy

2. Think big

Big, compound moves such as the squat, bench and deadlift should be the staples of your programme. Studies have shown that they’ll lead to surges in testosterone and growth hormone as well as recruiting huge numbers of muscle fibres – all essential for growth.

3. Add volume

Heavier weights and more volume will both work – but they’re better together. ‘Lift heavy at the start of each session, using sets of one to three reps,’ suggests strength coach Ben Coker. ‘Then, in your assistance moves, drop down to six to eight reps per set, with more focus on muscle damage and metabolic stress. The heavy lifting will recruit the fast-twitch fibres for the whole session.’ Try mixing heavy bench presses with lighter dumbbell benching for great results.

4. Get fired up

‘Post-activation potentiation’ sounds complicated. It isn’t. ‘Do a heavy single at 90-95% of your one-rep max, then go straight into a working set,’ says Coker. ‘This will recruit more type 2 fast-twitch muscle fibres, which you’ll fatigue throughout the work set.’ And that means growth.

5. Cluster up

To add more volume, try cluster sets. ‘Let’s say you can get four reps at 90% of your one-rep max weight,’ says Coker. ‘If you “cluster” those sets by taking ten seconds’ rest after each one, it’s likely you could manage six reps. Across several sets that’ll make a huge difference.’ This works better on moves with minimal set-up time – think deadlifts, not overhead squats.

Supercharge your warm-up

6. Wake up

A solid warm-up will let you lift more weight later, meaning added muscle. ‘Remember, the point of your warm-up is to open joints, stretch ligaments, tendons, increase your muscle temperature and wake up your nervous system,’ says McPhillips. ‘If you’re doing a heavy session, start with basic bodyweight movements to get things firing.’

7. Unleash bell

Add kettlebell moves to your warm-up to prime your muscles. ‘Swings and presses will get everything firing,’ says McPhillips. ‘It’ll mean you can move more weight for more reps later.’ It’ll also add a bit of volume to your workout.

8. Ramp it up

Don’t just jump in at the heaviest weight you can lift. ‘Working up to a top set of three to five reps after seven sets of progressively lighter weights allows you to do speed work early on, and then go on to some heavy work too,’ says strength coach Joseph Lightfoot. ‘It also keeps the volume high.’ So make sure the bar’s moving fast when the weights are low.

Add variety

9. Rest/pause

This technique is highly effective …read more

10 Ways to Lose your love handles


Aug 14, 2014

Show that plateau who’s boss and blast through the last stage of your weight-loss mission


Keep a food diary

Aside from helping you stay on track with a healthy diet, keeping a diary allows you to pick up patterns in your eating habits.

If you notice that you’re eating the same things regularly, aim to get more daring with your palate to keep your body guessing and your digestive system cranking.


Lift weights

If cardio is your exercise tipple and you’re neglecting weight training, you need to get to grips with the barbell. Big, heavy lifts like squats and deadlifts will build lean muscle mass to rev up your metabolism, as well as mix up your workout.


Change speed

A good way to shock your body into

a fat-blasting reaction is to vary the tempo at which you perform resistance exercises. For example, try taking four seconds to control the lowering phase of a move,

while sticking to one second or as fast

as you can on the upwards phase.


Take time out

If your body is stressed, your cortisol levels will be high. Although this stress hormone is essential to your body, an elevated amount may cause you to store

fat on your tummy. Find time to meditate, have a relaxing bath or just take it easy and have some ‘me’ time.


Load up on vitamin D

Us Brits aren’t often given the sunshine treatment, and unfortunately, sun exposure is the best way to get a dose of the crucial vitamin D. Top up levels with a high-quality supplement like BetterYou DLUX 3000 (£7.96, to keep cravings at bay and improve your body’s absorption of fat-fighting nutrients like calcium.


Eat more fat

Are you cutting fat from your diet thinking that it’s hampering your fat-loss quest? Actually, good fats from oily fish, nuts and avocado will give you energy and nutrients – without making you fat. Don’t try to force your body to run on empty while trying to boost your calorie burn.


Dial it down

You need full rest days every now and then, but every four to six weeks, try

to dedicate a whole week to ‘de-loading’. This means performing your regular routine at a much lower volume and intensity. It’ll force you to recover while you stay moving, which means you’ll come back stronger, making a bigger impact on your results.


Treat yourself

Some experts swear by ‘cheat’ meals. They reckon that treating yourself to a blow-out feast once a week can actually help you achieve your hot-body goals by stopping you from caving in to cravings during the rest of the week, and preventing your metabolism from losing steam. So, go on, treat yourself to a big juicy burger with

a side of crispy fries once in a while!


Get some shut-eye

Sleep to slim down? Sounds too good to be true! Actually, it’s vital to get a proper night’s kip – you’ll need more than …read more

Ultra Running Tips

Jez Bragg – member of The North Face Global Athlete Team gave MF his essential tips for running an Ultra

1. Plan an interesting route

If you’re going to run a long way – make it enjoyable. Plan a route taking in a long distance trail, some local landmarks, or at least make it a journey with a purpose.

2. Look after your feet

If you look after your feet, they will look after you, for miles on end. Your feet will adjust and toughen up to the rigours of long distance running over time, but whilst that happens tape or protect them to prevent blisters. Treat any hot spots that develop early.

3. Keep well fuelled

Feed the machine, it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter too much what it is, as long as it appeals and you can stomach it. Even high fat food will get burned off over many miles. But little and often is the key, for both food and drink.

4. Listen to your body

The most important thing of all is to keep yourself healthy and injury free. It’s all very well following a training plan to the letter, but if it starts to run you down and you’re pushing too hard, it may well end in illness or injury which won’t help any long term ambitions.

5. Mix it up – get on the trails

In the UK we are fortunate to have one of the best networks of public footpaths and bridleways in the world. Don’t think that running has to mean pounding the pavement close to home. Try some off road routes – use the opportunity to explore new places and enjoy the countryside.

6. Stay safe

If you’re running long distances off road, tell someone your plans and your expected return time. Take your mobile phone, and make sure you have suitable clothing and equipment for the weather and environment you’re running in.

7. Ditch the GPS watch

With the latest GPS watches it is easy to get obsessed with distance based goals or average pace, particularly if you’re coming from a road running background. When you’re starting out in the ultra world it’s often better to ignore all that, and just enjoy your route, and being in the moment.

8. Make it sustainable

Consistency is the key to progression, so ensure your training is sustainable i.e. you can realistically maintain it in the long term. Increases in training volume should be gradual to ensure your body has the time to adapt and really benefit. Think about the ways to integrate your training into your daily routine such as building it in to your commute to work.

9. Manage the mind

It is easy to get overawed by the distance ahead of you, so break it down into smaller sections, and focus on one at a time. Perhaps plan in one or two stop offs along the way, maybe a café or shop to refuel!

10. Run with a rucksack

Running with a …read more

Top 5 Indirect Core Exercises

The best exercises you can do to hit your core from different angles

Plenty of gym-goers know they have to work their core for a number of reasons – for better sports performance, body stability and, of course, to get the all-important six-pack. While it’s crucial to work your core muscles, simply doing crunches isn’t all that clever – train a bit smarter and you can work other muscles at the same time. Personal trainer Jamie Lloyd ( suggests some compound moves that hit other major muscles as well as the core for an all-around workout that will get you leaner, stronger and on track for hard abs.

1. Kettlebell overhead press

Overhead pressing – done correctly – presents a tremendous challenge to the anterior core, because you have to brace to prevent excessive arching of the low back. If you make the movement one-sided, that adds the challenge of not side bending. In other words, it becomes a rotational and lateral core challenge.

The kettlebell press offers some very simple, yet challenging, variations. You can perform them kneeling on one or both knees, or simply hold the bell upside down (usually known as ‘bottom-up’) for an added stability challenge.

2. Band-resisted roll-out

You probably think of the roll-out as a direct core stability exercise – and in many cases, I would agree with you. When it’s done with no resistance, the demand on your upper body to roll back isn’t that high. But once you’re proficient at rolling the unloaded wheel or barbell, you can add bands to the wheel or use a loaded barbell. This creates more work for the upper body – and in turn even more for the core, which is trying to resist movement. This will help you not only build a strong midsection, but also target the lats and triceps.

3. Split-stance overhead triceps extension

This one is a killer – and I love it. If you think of it as just another triceps extension, think again. With the lever arm so far away from the lower back, even a small amount of weight can make it seriously difficult to keep the core braced. Plus the need to control the load more, and stay strict with the form, usually leaves people’s elbows feeling a lot better than other extension exercises.

4. Renegade row

Anyone who has ever done a renegade row strictly and with enough weight knows that it’s a brutal test for both the upper back and the core. It offers much the same benefits as a one-arm or gym ball press-up. If you’re hitting your upper body and want an additional core element, this is better than the single-arm dumbbell row.

5. Half-kneeling cable push/pull

The ultimate challenge in moving your upper extremities around a stable mid-section – it requires some set-up, but it’s worth the hassle. Unlike many off-loaded push or pull exercises, you don’t get the opportunity to brace one side of the body and focus …read more