Personal Trainer Questions and Answers

Ask the Personal Trainer

by wlr Personal Trainer Carla van Traa REPS L4

Get answers for your exercise and fitness questions from WLR's Personal Trainer, Carla Van Traa (REPS L4). Carla gives help and advice to members on the Exercise Expert Q & A message board inside Weight Loss Resources. Here's some popular questions and answers from the board.

Q - How can I get a flatter tummy?

Please could you give me some advice on getting my tummy flatter. 

I am 47 and suffer with a bad back from 2 previous accidents - a serious car accident about 15 years ago and a fall down the stairs about 5 years ago. I also have rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. These problems make it difficult to get down to do exercises on the floor.

I do Leslie Sansone walking workout dvds about 3 - 4 times a week and some light gardening but nothing else.

I have lost, over the last few years, about 2 stone and although my body shape has altered I don't appear to have lost much off my tummy. I still have about another 2 stone to lose. Is tummy fat the last to go? Or can you suggest something else I could do?

PT's Answer

The exercise you are undertaking at the moment will be assisting you in your weight loss journey. 

Unfortunately we cannot choose where we will lose our body fat from, though our diet will play a part.

I think doing some Pilates will help you, as a Pilates instructors we are trained to assist people with a variety of health and mobility restrictions, a thicker mat, or even 2 mats can make it more comfortable. The exercises you would do, would all help to increase your range of movement, improve your posture and strengthen your tummy and back muscles, thereby releasing some of the pressure on the joints. You may be able to find an instructor that could come to the house and do a session with you and point you in the right direction.

You mentioned in the string of replies you are a full time carer for your husband. I am sure that this is a very stressful role for you along with dealing with the stress of your husbands illness too. I mention this because “Stress” has been proved to lay down belly fat. It is part of the fight or flee response and the insulin and cortisol hormones that get released. 

When you are stressed… could be a phone call, a meeting anything. The body goes on high alert and cortisol causes the release of extra sugars into the blood stream to feed the fight or flee response. There is no dragon to slay, it is emotional stress so the extra sugars get stored back as fat, the body gets used to this routine and gets clever, it stores the fat on the belly so it can get to it quickly next time you release cortisol. It is a vicious circle going on and you may not even realise it. 

How do you change this? In a way you cannot change the immediate reasons why, e.g. your husband, but you can take steps to have “less stress” at other times, making time in the day when you can say “it’s me time”. Even for 10 minutes, do some meditation, practise some deep relation breathing techniques, make a hot drink and lock yourself away for 10 mins with some calming music. Standing or chair based Pilates or yoga will help too.

Avoid food and drinks that create a response, e.g. caffeine, this creates a heightened reaction, as will sugar. Try and get lots of sleep, if you are tired you are more likely to turn to sugar or caffeine to “keep you going”. You could try eating more “fermented” foods, these are known to help heal the gut and bring balance and are linked to the statement below. 

You are hormonally changing too, probably peri menopausal which will also alter how and where you lay fat down, making us all more “apple” shaped as the female hormones drop away. There is a great book called “fat around the middle” by Marilyn Glenville which is good read and may help. 

Gosh this is a long answer for you and in a way maybe just touches the sides of your problem. I hope this gives you some ideas for change, please take the time to schedule some “me” time, maybe when your husband has another carer at home or when he is sleeping? Use this time wisely for your health and well being too.

Q - How do I get started with Kettlebells?

Looking at websites and saw dvd's for kettlebell workouts. I am a strong believer in weights for toning rather than just exercises but do you think they would be too much for me? 

I am 18 st now. Just don't want to invest in kettlebells if I can't do the exercises. I did used to do weights for years and classes using a weighted bar. Do you think I would have any strength left over from that, although last time I did a class was probably 2 years ago? 

If you think it might be a good idea, do I need to buy 2 (one for each arm like weights) or just one and what would be a good weight to start with?

PT's Answer

Thank you for your question, kettlebells are a really great tool not only for strength training but they get the cardiovascular going too. You mentioned in a previous post you were just getting back into exercise, hoping to get walking etc. I would keep going with that and use the hand weight you have first, to get your body back on track with movement.

When I qualified as a Kettlebell instructor we were told not to teach people at all, unless they had been using free weights competently and regularly for at least 6 months or more. There are lots of kettlebell moves you can do with a weight instead. 

You need a good strong core to get the most of kettlebells, and should be able to lunge forwards without a bow forward, keeping your back upright. 

The key thing with this equipment is technique. When we as instructors undertake extra training to be able to teach kettlebells, part of the course is getting the posture right. Also, the use of the legs to assist you is really important. If you use your back too much as a lever it could, and probably will, lead to problems.

There are various ways you can bring a kettlebell up, and what you do with it will go beyond a basic swing. You do need a decent weight, but the weight you need will change depending on the exercise, and some do require 2 bells at the same time. 

You don't need to buy 2 though as kettlebells are generally done one side at a time - you learn to change hands without putting the bell down and to keep it moving through various means.

Kettlebells recruit loads more muscle than traditional weights, so take it easier to start with. 

I would suggest you find a personal trainer or a trainer at your gym and get a 1 to 1 session to get you started and keep you safe. A qualified trainer can advise you on what weights of bell you would need.

Please ensure that the person whom you ask for help has actually been on a course and is qualified in kettlebell use. All the time I come across trainers using equipment that they have no formal training in, they make it up as they go along, or watch Youtube. There is a reason why there is a course - its to keep you safe! And for insurance purposes, no certificate = no insurance.

Q - Should I eat before going to the gym?

Just a query about eating before my workout, prompted by the fact that this morning I actually left the gym before finishing my workout because I was so hungry I could only think about getting home and eating something!

I eat dinner about 8pm most nights, then usually nothing until I get home from my morning gym session (around 9am). My usual workout is all cardio, pretty intense, and I have increased the intensity this week. It is 50 mins of work.

I have never eaten before the gym - just had a glass of water - as I hate the feeling of doing vigorous exercise on a full stomach - I feel like I can't breathe or something!

But I'm feeling now that I'll have to start eating before the gym or I'm not gonna make it all the way through my workouts.

What sort of thing would be the best thing to have to keep me going until breakfast without 'weighing me down'? It would need to be something I could shove down and then start my workout about 15 mins later, if that isn't a no-no (I roll out of bed and put my kit on and drive the 10 mins to the gym). I'm allergic to bananas and most other fruit.

PT's Answer

Pre workout eating is a minefield.

1.    Maybe it was a one off because over the previous 48hrs you had not consumed enough food, this coupled with the extra cardio pushed you over the edge.

2.    Just upping the Cardio may have done it, did you feel hungry or sick/jittery and hungry? The latter being low blood sugar levels again maybe going back to option 1?

3.    Eating before a workout can leave you sluggish like you are finding. When we eat – anything – the body has to break it down so we can use it as fuel. This requires lots of blood and energy to do, so when we eat and then exercise we stop that process and the blood etc get perted to the working muscles and the digestive action slows down or stops.

4.    If we turn to sugar to beat the hump then the body will use that as its primary fuel when you workout and not get to use your body stores so quickly, and of course you will get the sugar crash mid workout. Caffeine as a get you going does work for some people, but you say your hungry. So…

5.    Maybe consider a small carbohydrate snack before bed and see if that makes a difference? Eating just before you workout is not really going to help. If you do lots of cardio and then go onto weights, then snacking between those two may help you. A protein shake with some carbs in?

6.    You could also try a glass of milk. Loaded with protein and the sugars from the Lactose. Though some people find it changes their saliva- makes it gloopy, but again you could give it a try.

Hope this will help you.


Q - Are there exercises to help osteoarthritis in the knees?

I have osteoarthritis that effects my knees. At present the weight I have lost plus exercise has improved my mobility and decreased pain.

I was offered knee replacement but have put it on hold as I live on my own and worry about the recovery time especially not being able to drive for months after.

I have been doing Pilates for about 7 months and one of the frustrating things is that I cannot straighten my legs. I also cannot kneel for some of the exercises though I have built up some muscles in that area that I can do the 'box shape' for a little while. Having my knees in a permanent bend is what is difficult.

Is there any exercises that can help? Aside from Pilates I swim a few times a week, attend 2 AquaFit classes and do Zumba Gold, which is low impact.

PT's Answer

Thank you for your question, unfortunately it is a common problem. 

Are you still aiming to lose more weight? 

The closer you are to your target weight helps the situation, as you know the knees are load bearing and so reducing the load helps all round. 

Pilates will really help, as it strengthens and stretches your legs out and so increases the muscle around the knee joint, this helps with stability and support of the knee. Do you have a foam wedge or similar that you could kneel on? this would change the angle of your knees and make it more comfortable, and having a thick mat will help too.

Swimming will be great, no load bearing and if you can both crawl and breast stroke legs.

Zumba gold will help with your bone density, as we need the impact (high or low) to make and keep our bones strong, something that the swimming and aqua wont help with. So keep going with this one! 

You are doing everything right, just keep at it, mobility is easily lost and range of movement will continue to improve over time. As for the knee replacement. I would consider it. They do them one at a time, if your knees are impacting on your lifestyle choices greatly and really limiting your options then give it some good thought, the short term hassle will be worth it in the long term.

Have a great weekend


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