Change, good or bad?

Posted: August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

We don’t like change. It is implanted in our beings. If we have to go do something different, we shy away from it or worse yet, we speak out against it.  We feel empowered when we voice our opinions and we do it everywhere. It is especially powerful because of social media and the power of these platforms. Some of our opinions are very valid but sometimes we are really just scared of the truth.

What am I babbling about? Well, the bulk of my thoughts are about nutrition and our eating habits, but let’s go back a bit. Just remember some of the things we used to do (and many of us still do these things out of habit or we really just don’t believe that it hurts us of don’t give us the results we want, or we just don’t like change). Two of those things are sit ups and crunches. It has been proven over and over and over again that sit ups and crunches hurt your back. Maybe not today or next month or even next year, but all these repetitive, lying on your back does absolutely nothing and it can seriously injure you for life. (I am talking back ops the works here) The second thing on my little list is slow, long, boring cardio. Again, it has been proven that a couple of quick but really intense sessions will do your body some serious favours in the fat burning department. Do some hill sprints once or twice a week and you will see how your body changes in front of your eyes. But come Monday, you will see the cardio brigade on all the possible cardio machines in the gym. Why? Maybe because it is just easier to go at a slow and steady pace for an hour than to really put that incline up and speed the belt up for a few hundred metres for 20 minutes.

Training like a bodybuilder when you are not? Awesome for bodybuilders due to the aesthetics that they have to nail during competition season. Most of us, however, are not bodybuilders, we just want to look good and feel good and use our bodies effectively when we have to catch a running toddler or dog, pick up the sofa to clean under it or carry our groceries to the car. We need to train for the every day. So drop the bicep curls and do some barbell cleans, deadlifts and presses. Get hold of a kettlebell and learn how to swing and snatch it or throw a sandbag around. These will not only get the heart pumping. It will train almost every muscle in your body and in double quick time. But the single muscle group exercises are easier to do so we stick with them.

I think my biggest gripe at the moment is eating. People are very quick to “hate” the concept of higher fat and higher protein diets out there. Again, it is all about what we were taught all our life, that low fat and higher carb diets are what keep heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure at bay. There are so many people out there proving otherwise but no way are we listening to them. We speak out against these authors and scientists before even reading everything you can get your hands on about the subject. Nope, it is much easier just to sit in our corner and tell everybody how we feel about the subject.

The point of my blabbering today is just to let yourself out of your comfort zone every so often. We did not know everything, ever. We learn these things by putting nose to book (or internet or whatever your means of learning is) and get to know what goes on behind a statement before we condemn. A long time ago I also did sit ups and crunches and believed they were good exercises. I learnt that they are not by reading a lot.  Give new ideas and research a chance.


Brace yourself

Posted: July 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

Do you ever wonder why you drag yourself to your specific training facility or just get up from the couch and get your home equipment to train? Some days it really just feels like too much (especially in winter) and the questions and doubts start in your mind. Do you play along and just skip your workout today to get back into it tomorrow? Or do you tell your mind to shut the hell up and do it anyway?
Now, obsessions aside, (meaning, some of us want to be at the gym or do some kind of training 6 – 7 days per week) (oh and of course those of us with obsessions with food, just saying….) we need to understand why training and eating healthy is not just an obsession of a small group of people around us (and no, I am not referring to a certain group or institution here). We all know these friends. They never sleep in on a Saturday morning because they don’t want to miss their morning workout. They very rarely miss a session during the week and they always try and eat healthy, even when they go out with friends. Shame on you for trying to bully them out of their workouts or wanting to shove half a burger down their mouth just to make yourself feel better about your eating and training habits.
So enough bashing people around here. We need to understand that, yes, it is a choice (to some extend) but what if it wasn’t? What if your doctor sat you down one day after a routine check-up and told you that you are basically going to die if you do not start training and eating healthy? What would you do? Stop eating and drinking so much and start walking the dog? Hell yeah! You don’t want to leave your loved ones alone too soon!
So why do you want to brace yourself for bad news before you get your behind in gear? It really doesn’t take much. Before your doctor tells you that you suffer from high cholesterol or blood pressure, take control. It is so much better mentally if you do it yourself without someone basically telling you that you are holding a gun to your own head and your finger is on the trigger. Squeeze and die now or change. Change regardless.
Make small changes. Just take the dog for a leisurely 30 minute walk 3 times a week after supper (or before, no biggy when you do it just get going) (I almost said just do it but I might get sued, so I didn’t) Drink one less cup of coffee each day and add a serving of vegetables and fruit to your daily list of things to eat today. That is an awesome start and don’t let anybody tell you differently.
Brace yourself for then feeling better about yourself, more energetic and even fun filled (and your dog will also get in better shape due to those walks) Take control of that gun that you are holding against your own head and make the most out of life. You owe it to yourself and your family (and that gorgeous dog of yours)

I’m sick, now what?

Posted: June 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

We are all a little bit like a junky.  Fitness is an addiction, just a very good one. So when the dreaded sniffles and coughs begin, we seriously want to just cry. Cry because of all the hard work that has to immediately stop because of a cough. Cry because we cannot raise the heart rate for a couple of days and feel like we might lose everything we worked for. Or, on the other hand, we just feel like screw the flu, I am training.

Big words and big decisions and because it is flu season, (and I just had a bout), I thought it important to write about training and being sick and how it affects the big picture. Now without really going into the science of illness and training, just think about it for a minute or two. We rarely follow the rule of 4 weeks on and 1 week off (or some detraining and mobility work during the off week, whatever floats your boat), we just go balls to the walls all the time without a good break to give the body some well-earned rest. So when the flu comes around, just stop training and give yourself time to recover. The body is working really hard to fight the infections anyway, so why put any more pressure on it by training? Just see the sniffles as a chance to give the old body a bit of a break and look after yourself and know that you are going to get back to training, fresh and strong and maybe break some personal bests while you are at it. If you train while you are sick (which is really not a good move) you will take longer to recover, you will feel weak while doing your workouts and you will feel worse afterwards.

Us junkies want to train through anything because we feel like we are superman sometimes and yes, most of the times, you are superman. But even superman needs a night off from fighting crime so he and Lois can go on a date. So just treat your sick time as look after you time. Cook a nice dinner. Rest, relax, watch a movie, or six and give the body time to fight (or, like we would call, get a good workout) Revel in the fact that fit people recover quicker from the flu than people who do not train at all.

Remember the above the neck rule. If you only experiencing a runny nose, a dry cough and sneezing, you are fine to exercise (excuse us then for infecting all the other trainers around us when we sneeze all over them, mind you). If you feel worse after the session, cut back and recover for a few days (some quality time with loved ones count) and of course, anything below the neck is a no no for training. So be a good kid and take your medicine, get lots of rest and sleep and drink loads of water (alcohol is not water guys!)

When you eventually get back to training, you are probably roaring to go, don’t. Take it easy the first couple of sessions and listen to your body. You’ve only got one so take care of it. Listen, we all have our goals and want to look our best, but seriously, take care when you are ill and you will have years of good training in you. Don’t do something silly and have grave consequences on your health.

Skills practice is work

Posted: May 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

ImageWe have entered the fitness era where lines are blurred when it comes to training. We live in the hype moment of metabolic conditioning and high intensity training and we feel like we need to push the body all the time. I have done a lot of reading lately and although I don’t train a lot of elite athletes, the theory makes sense, to be the best at what we do, we need to NOT burn ourselves out with the secondaries to try and perform. Makes sense for top athletes. If your sport is not deadlifting but sprinting, why kill yourselves doing deadlifts and leave nothing in the tank for sprinting? Rather work on your sprinting and leave deadlifting as a supplement to power your sprinting. How do you do that? Well, never leave the deadlifting rack exhausted, that’s all.

Awesome for athletes, but how does that apply to the normal run of the mill gym rat, like me? (yes, I am just a gym rat with no aspiration to break the 100m record, ever….). Start with the basics. I train because I want to look good without any clothes on. Sounds like a plan? Of course it does, so how to achieve it? By NOT killing yourself training on a daily basis. 

Years ago, the renowned Mr. Bill Phillips shook the world by giving us his 3 times per week 20 minute solution to long, dreary and boring cardio. It was great and it was fresh and the wonderful thing is, it worked. The Body for Life program was intense, 6 days of training per week but never more than 45 minutes of training per day and never the same thing over and over again. Weight training one day, 20 minutes kick ass cardio on the next. But what does that have to do with skills practice and resting?

The big thing with training and getting better at what you do is getting better at what you are not good at. This should be taking slow (so that you don’t tear a muscle by doing something your body is not used to) and that is what is called practice. Not to be confused with rest. Practice should be scheduled as part of a training week. So quickly, at the top of your head, what exercise do you hate doing? Squats? Turkish get ups? Do you hate doing them because you suck at it? No offense, but we all suck at something and knowing it is the starting point of getting awesome at it. We need to practice those moves. Slowly at first and then more frequently until we rock at them. To steal a word or 8 from Dan John: “If it is important, do it every day.” So if squatting is a sucky exercise for you. Schedule it into your skills practice day as a start, and believe me, you are going to sweat bullets by practicing this skill.

If you want to get better at anything, in life, in training in anything, you must practice it. This is not an off day scheduled workout. You are training and training hard. You are going through the full range of motion when you do these movements. You are going to rest between every set, to be fresh for the next and then its go,go,go! Over and over, with a light load until the movement is right and then you can start adding weight. 

So take a step back from all the hectic metabolic conditioning training all the time, the HIIT all the time and stop killing your body and doing all the moves you are good at. Practice what you hate, what you suck at and what is just painful when you think about it. You will love yourself and your beautiful body for it at the end of the training cycle. What? Training cycle? Ok, let us leave that for another ramble….

When the body speaks, listen!

Posted: April 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

ImageI really have mixed feelings today and these mixed feelings made me think a little. You see, I went to gym and my workout was supposed to be deadlifts. Nice heavy ones for 5 reps and a couple of sets. Easy on paper, well yeah. Warm up went ok. Did kettlebell swings for 10 minutes with 35 seconds of work and 25 seconds of rest. In my 5th set my grip started going. What? I am 5 minutes into my warm up and my grip is already slipping. Starting to get annoyed with myself but getting on with my warm up. The warm up is supposed to grease the grooves so I am greasing. 

Come deadlifts, I did 2 sets of lighter deadlifts just to get going and get the feeling, hey, I am actually not rushed and doing everything right, but my body is not feeling right. She is tired and niggly and I can feel it. So right into my first heavier deadlift (not I say heavier and not heavy, I am certainly not lifting heavy when it comes to deadlifts, not like the big dudes are doing anyway. My workout is definitely their warm up…) 1st set done and my right hamstring is twitching, stretch it out, load the bar and go for set number 2. This time my right glute feels like it is tearing off, 2 reps and I bail. 

Now why am I telling you my boring story of a failed workout? While I felt like my workout did not go to plan and I decided to not push through the pain, I think of all those people who do push through the pain and end up really injured. So injured that they are out for months with torn muscles or tendons, or even worse, end up in hospital for an operation that might have been avoided. Ok, so you have a war scar and story to share with all your training buddies years from now. But in the meantime, you will be out for months, then months of rehab before you can bend over and pick up a descent weight again. Is one bailed workout then such a failure? I think not.

I really think we should tune in to our bodies a little more. We know when things are amiss. We don’t admit it to ourselves but we know. With all the pressure these day in performing sports and exercise groups, it is just natural for us to try and step up and show people who we are and what we are made of. We are amazing specimens and we push the limits all the time. Just look at sprinters and high jumpers, and that is just the top of our sporting mountain. Even the game of sport gives us big people with amazing all rounded ability. 

We want to be like our heroes, be it a specific sport or exercise in general but don’t let that make us stupid in our ability to listen to our bodies when it needs a break. A couple of days off is much better to handle (and actually, very body friendly because we come back fresher and more eager to perform) than months away from our favourite activities due to a body that just said no when you wanted to push it. 
It is necessary to rest and recover. Do it and you will be able to practice your favourite activities without aches and pains all the time. The body can only handle so much before it forces you to rest in, sometimes, ugly ways. Take the well deserved breaks and for crying out load, don’t ignore a body part telling you, hey buddy, I am tired, give me a break please!

The magic of the lunge

Posted: April 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

ImageWhen you look at the lunge, a lot of people will look at the exercise and pull their faces. Those are the people that think that the lunge is a stupid exercise. What you will find is that they will go try this exercise in the privacy of their own living room when the whole family is sleeping and find out (the next day) that they cannot walk and that it is quite a difficult and highly effective exercise. Those people will never do a lunge in public and that is fine, because they are surely doing them in private and it is better than nothing. 

A lunge is basically single leg work. Maybe it is something that the big lifters don’t look at due to the ladylike fashion a lunge is done, but something to look into none the less. So even if you are a big lifter, go ahead, read this anyway and go do the variations of this single leg exercise in your garage gym when no one is looking, but do them anyway.

No to get into the nitty gritty of this exercise. Again, we need to look at the progressions to do this safely and to progress to the all elusive and powerful pistol. This is the exercise to do for ultimate strength. When looking at the lunge, the big powerlifters out there has one thing right, you have to be able to squat and do the big lifts first before lunge. In fancy talk, bilateral (both legs) work before unilateral (one leg) work. Bilateral work will offer you the stability that you need before you go onto the humble lunge. Yes, all of us usually think that yeah, the lunge, easy, so let us start with it. Big oops if you do. When you do a squat, you do not rotate at all. When you look at the lunge and all its many variations is technically still bilateral because both your feet is on the ground but it doesn’t give you the stability because of a more narrow stance.

Ok so with all the talk, lets jump straight into the progressions of the lunge

Bodyweight static lunge

Bodyweight forward lunge

Bodyweight walking lunge 

Bodyweight reverse lunge

Bodyweight slideboard or Valslide reverse lunge

Bodyweight deficit reverse lunge

Weighted vest walking lunge

Dumbbell walking lunge

Barbell walking lunge

Barbell front walking lunge

Barbell Zercher walking lunge

Dumbbell contralateral load deficit reverse lunge

Barbell deficit reverse lunge

So, loads of variations, start at the top and work your way down the list as you become better and stronger. Remember, the squat is still king and you have to be able to do this properly BEFORE you move onto the magic of the lunge.


The inverted row

Posted: April 16, 2014 in Training

Inverted rows On the back of our discussion on the renegade row, we jump straight into the inverted row. Why 2 back exercises in one challenge? Well, for the simple reason that we are obsessed with our “mirror muscles” the pecs, abs and quads and we totally forget about the back, the mos important part of our bodies to keep us upright in a life that is full of question mark positions in front of computers and televisions.

So in comes the majestic inverted row, hooray, at last a reason to work on the smith machine in the gym! Or for that matter, work almost anywhere because the inverted row is probably one of the most versatile exercises you will be doing (except the push up, of course)

Lets look at the benefits of the little gem of an exercise. Want an upper body exercise that gives you the full benefits? Then look no further than this one. It works your upper back, your lats, traps and then of course your biceps. So now you can stop doing those silly dumbbell bicep curls in front of the mirror. Just do inverted rows for big guns. The biggest benefit of doing inverted rows is for your posture. We all need way more back work than we think, yet we go to the bench press first thing without thinking. So lets think a bit and make this one work for our postures.

Make sure that you pull your shoulder blades back and together, keep your stomach muscles tight and lead with your chest. Be sure not to drop down otherwise your arms and shoulders will still be on the bar and not on your body. Slowly go down back into the starting position, all the way down.  Now the wonderful thing about the smith machine (can you believe it, I said the smith machine is wonderful, hehe) you can set the bar as high as you want, so if you are not familiar with inverted rows or just starting off, set the bar high and work it till you feel confidant enough to set it lower.

You don’t have a gym with a smith machine or don’t go to gym? Not a problem, there is so many variations for the inverted row so don’t let the lack of a smith machine stop you. You can use a stair handles, rings, ropes, swings, a kid’s jungle gym, TRX or any TRX type variation. Just do yourself a favour and type inverted row into any search engine and you will see variations.

This really is a very underutilized exercise that packs such a punch, so start including this move into your workout routine and start feeling better and looking amazing.