Giant sets, spinning and plyometrics for sports ed

GUARDIAN sports editor Graham Smyth samples some of the personal training sessions on offer at Apple Fitness in Worksop, as he reaches week eight of the #getgrahamfit drive.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 7th June 2012, 4:17 pm

SOMEHOW, the personal trainers at Apple Fitness continue to vary the fitness sessions they put me through.

And somehow I keep going back for more.

Last week I had an abs class with Katie Solomons, a ‘giant sets’ session with Joe Palmer and a spinning class with Steve Chambers (and a bunch of ladies).

This week, thanks to the inconvenience and perhaps merciful rest of the Bank Holiday, I’ve just had one session – plyometrics with Joe.

The abs class was tough, the giant sets with Joe were torturous and the spinning class has become my barometer for progress.

Katie had a laundry list of abs exercises – some involving sitting on a balance ball and crunching my stomach, some on the floor involving cycling my legs and pulling up to meet them.

As I tried to explain to her, I’m quite sure I wasn’t born with abdominal muscles.

In between the various exercises I had a minute of step ups, off my right foot, then a minute off my left.

Joe’s giant sets are designed to isolate a muscle group and work them very, very hard.

This particular session focused on legs and chest.

Four legs exercises, including the leg press machine and weighted lunges, and then four chest exercises – the worst of which were the dumbbell flys.

What I like about Joe is that he’s very vocal with his encouragement, but he’s no soft touch.

If I don’t manage to complete the eight repetitions of an exercise, he’ll make me grind them out in single reps until they’re done.]

What I don’t like about him, is the apparent glee in his face as I gasp that this is the hardest physical exercise I’ve ever gone through.

The session that he gave me today, which was responsible for the burn/ache/tingling sensation I’m currently feeling, was all about explosive power.

Plyometrics are aimed at producing fast and powerful movements.

He set up a number of stages, to be completed one after the other in a circuit.

First I had to take a dumbbell in each hand, squat down and jump up onto a box, before jumping back down and straight into the next squat.

After that I lay on the weights bench and pressed dumbbells straight up into the air.

Then I had to take a smallish medicine ball and push/throw it upwards with one hand, and finally I had to do single leg lunges while holding weights.

Explosive power is something I have never possessed, and the good Lord did not see fit to bless me with any kind of speed.

In my brief, limited and largely forgettable junior football career I struggled with aggression and being quick off the mark, and in any of the martial arts I’ve tried the same problem occurred.

So these plyometric exercises are perfect for me, and I’ll be interested to see if they yield much in the way of positive gains.

In between the exercises came work on my core, with various sit ups, variations on the plank and balance ball movements.

Although Apple are well equipped to find out exactly how much progress I’m making, through their extensive health screening tests, I’m able to gauge how fit I feel in the spinning classes.

As Steve, gym manager, instructor and sports massage practitioner extraordinaire, takes the class he becomes part cycling coach, part sports psychologist.

He almost tells a story as the class power through hill climbs, sprint on the flat and pop up and down out of the saddle – all through the use of music and description.

And midway through last Friday’s spin I realised that I was much less fatigued than the last time I was on the bike.

I felt quite strong right through to the finish, and definitely put more effort into the final climbs.

How I felt the next day wasn’t so fantastic, but I’m learning to embrace muscle soreness as another sign of progress.