Free Weights, Thor, and why I train

My training used to be entirely about lifting weights. But the point of going to the gym is not to become bigger, but to restore or maintain normal, baseline physiological function. After all, greater mobility gives you a foundation on which to build better strength and superior athleticism. I’d forgotten why I starting going to the gym in the first place: to refine skills and develop strength so that it could be expressed somewhere other than the gym. Lifting weights had become the only training I did because I understood it, and was comfortable doing it. Then I had an awakening and realised that bulking up in the weights room wasn’t helping me achieve anything, and I quit the gym and gave up weights cold turkey. From only weights training, to none at all.

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Its been a long time but I’m lifting again

I was reading about Chris Hemsworths training for the movie “Thor: Ragnarok”. When originally cast as Thor, Chris was told he needed to add 9kg of muscle to fit into the Thor suit, which he did by eating a lot of meat and lifting lots of weights. For “Thor: Ragnarok” Chris tried a healthier approach and tried to get as much protein as possible from beans and vegetables and less from meat, and bulked up using a lot more calisthenics and bodyweight movements, though he still lifted weights to make sure he got the “Thor look”.

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The Thor training regime is certainly working for this guy

Its that last part that struck me. The need to lift weights to get the “Thor look”. So why do I train? For sure I’m trying to stay as fit and mobile as I can for as long as I can, but I’d be lying if I said aesthetics meant nothing to me, what “look” do I want. This is why I’ve re-introduced weights into my training, roughly one session every 10 days. The idea is to use free weights as a supplement to, but not as, my main training. A healthy body doesn’t always signify a healthy mind, and more and more men are dissatisfied with their physical appearance. So why not use weights to help with aesthetics? I’m going to try it for a while and see how I get on. Stay happy, stay healthy, and find that one perfect mirror where the lighting comes together in just the right way to make you look great, then take a selfie to preserve for eternity.

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Feeling happy because I found the perfect mirror with the perfect lighting

Taking a break from training

Sometimes it is important not to train. Over the Christmas holidays I’ll dramatically reduce my training. I want to see friends and family, eat Christmas dinners, selection boxes, mince pies, Christmas cake, drink Coca-Cola, and spend a lot of time sitting. Its a big swing from one extreme to the other. My Christmas holidays could be considered unhealthy, especially my Christmas diet. While you don’t need to go to my Christmas extremes and stuff your face with chocolate, cake, and coke, but it is as important to plan breaks from your training.

Even without a obvious breaking point like Christmas, its important to remember that good health is supposed to be a pleasure, not a chore, and scheduling deliberate breaks can stop you forming negative associations with your training. Enjoyment is a crucial factor in sticking to a fitness plan. Without enjoyment you’re likely to quit. Even the most varied of training plans can become stale, so a short break is good to re-energise your enthusiasm.  A scheduled break will also prevent overtraining. Overtraining can lead to spikes in cortisol, which at high levels leads to muscle weakness and weight gain, so a break in your training may well help you achieve your training goals, rather than set you back. So go ahead, take a break. Happy Christmas.

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Tea, Donut, and relaxation

Glimpse into my training

I’m often asked what exercises I do. I take it as a compliment. For someone in their 30’s with a 9 to 5 desk job I’m in reasonably good shape. But the answer is never straight forward, I do lots of things, and when my answer gets more complicated than, “this is leg day, this is chest day”, I think people stop listening. So I decided to capture a typical two weeks of my training in the below 3 mins and 30 second video. I try to keep my workouts varied and interesting. Across the 2 weeks I did 18 separate workouts, and missed 4. When planning the week ahead I always plan a perfect week. A prefect week is very rare, life gets in the way. During the two week period that I captured in the video below my wife went away for a few days, my son got sick, and I had important lunch time meetings. Some workouts had to be dropped, and others had to swap places. Don’t stress over missed workouts, and keep the timetable flexible. The perfect week is there to be aspired to, making it a reality is less important. 18 workouts might seem like a lot, but some are only 20mins long. Not every session has to be an hour long with full intensity. A good workout is more about the quality of the movement than its length or intensity. I’m not telling you how you should workout, I’m just showing you what I do and hopefully you’ll find it useful for creating your own goals.

Training with a baby

Previously I posted a blog called, “training with a new born“. Prior to baby all my training had been moved into the home which I thought would be perfect for keeping fit with the new arrival, but I soon learned that I needed a dedicated place to train and had to join a gym for the first time in years. I also needed to have a more flexible time table, to have shorter workouts when required, to have a few lazy workouts after a poor nights sleep, and of course missed workouts are inevitable. All things considered it was actually easy to manage and the overall effect on my training was minor.

The demands of baby are always changing so where am I today? The end of maternity leave was a big change. Morning workouts have been replaced by creche drop-offs. Lunch time work outs have replaced the morning sessions and I occasionally run home rather than taking the bus, so there is still time for everything. Having a gym within walking distance of the office is still a must, although home workouts have become easier as baby can now entertain himself and as long as he’s within eye shot, he’s safe. Missed workouts still happen, and a flexible timetable is still key. On the plus side, sleepless nights are now much more rare so there are less low energy workouts. Constantly changing, always adapting, and still living the dream.

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My turn on the parallettes

Training is more than free weights

Lifting weights can be the exercise equivalent of those foods in the supermarket that are branded healthy but are far from healthy. Its unfortunate that food companies deliberately mislead consumers, when consumers are trying to do the right thing.

I often think the same thing about weights training. When getting a gym tour (especially as a man) before becoming a member, gyms tend to show off all the free weights they have. And if you sign up for a programme to get in shape, no doubt there will be weights training involved.

There is a mis-match here – “I wanted to get in shape, and they prescribed me some weights training”. But a manufactured body using free weights is essentially an unnatural one, with muscles that bulge in the middle – a product of linear up and down movements that creates a swollen aesthetic. A functional body has long, toned muscles that are as thick where they meet your joints as they are in the middle.

I think its comes down to uneducated or poorly informed personal trainers, who don’t know anything beyond weights training. Or maybe its just telling people what they want to hear because people prefer the benchpress to build pecs, rather than crawling and push-ups. Its not that I have anything against weights training. If you’re trying to attain a certain aesthetic, weights are the way to go. I just fear that people go to the gym to get fit, are prescribed weights training, and instead of getting fit, they get the look of someone who is fit.

Forget about the weights and forget about legs day, chest day, arms day. Instead work on controlled integrated balance movements, integrated explosive power movements, and endurance workouts. You’ll get a well-rounded, proportional body. It will keep you fitter, leaner, and stronger, for longer.

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Free weights as far as the eye can see

Anniversary Blog Post

WordPress notified me that today is my blog anniversary. My very first blog post was about hitting 1,000 running miles on the Nike+ app. I kept the running theme for my next two anniversary blogs post, which you can read by clicking here: Anniversary One and Anniversary Two.

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On this blog anniversary I have to break with the running theme. I stopped using the Nike+ App to track my runs when the App got an automatic update that made it unusable. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an easy way to extract the data into another app so I lost my historical running data. I downloaded a new running app, Runkeeper, but I only use it when I need to measure distance runs in new locations. The majority of my runs are in familiar territory where I know the distances and times, so I only use the Runkeeper app infrequently.

With no prepared blog post ready for my Blogs anniversary, I took my phone to the gym today and recorded a bit of my workout. I was short on time today so I just did some movement flows. Movement like this (see video below) is part of the “smarter, not harder” philosophy I mentioned in my last blog post. Putting together movement flows is not high impact or high strain, but it is a full body, integrated workout like no other, and using your whole body like this is exhausting, and fun, so perfect for a time constrained workout.  Keep blogging, keep training, keep moving.

Don’t let age interfere with your training goals

When someone asks what age you are the answer is usually given in years. Its a frame of reference we all understand. A “year” is the name we have given to an observed regularity in nature, namely, the amount of time it takes the earth to revolve around the sun. When someones age in years is the only thing you know about them, you get very little context about how fit and able they are, all you really know is how many times the earth has revolved around the sun whilst they have been on it.

How physically able and fit you are is also a good frame of reference for age. People can be young in years and dreadfully unfit. And the reverse is true, you can be old in years and in great shape.

Don’t let your age in years determine what you are capable or incapable of doing. At the grand old age of 31 I’ve felt my body change. I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been, because as I’ve gotten older, I train smarter, not harder, because my recovery times are slowly increasing.

Floyd Mayweather, at 40, is in incredible shape, definitely worth aspiring to.

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Floyd at 40

This video of a 99 year old racing against a 92 year old at the Masters Indoor Track Championship is nothing short of inspirational.

Photographer Alex Rotas took some great photos at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Aarhus, Denmark which I’ve included below. The first is GB’s Barry Ferguson, 71, and Germany’s Hartmann Knorr, 72, during the men’s 300m hurdles, and the second is Austria’s Marianne Maier, 74, in the women’s shot put. My goal is stay as active as these people. Don’t let your age determine your fitness goals.

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Race Review: RunDisney Virtual Running Shorts

During the summer I ran the RunDisney Virtual Running Shorts. The RunDisney events are great races, but because I don’t live in California, Florida, or France, they are expensive to get to, and usually involve the planning of a holiday around the race date. Previously I’ve taken part in the 2016 RunDisney Paris half-marathon as well as the 2012 and 2014 Walt Disney World half-marathons.

The RunDisney Virtual Shorts event consists of three 5k races, one in June, one in July, and one in August. Registration is done online and you pick your own date and location to complete your 5k races. So you don’t need to travel at all if you don’t want to. Race Bibs can be printed online, and once you complete your race, you can enter your times online to get your finisher certificate. Finisher Medals are sent out in the post. You can sign up for as many or as few of the races as you want, but you get a bonus “Series” medal if you run all three races. Everything is done on the honor system.

The whole process is very easy, from sign up, to printing bibs and certs, to getting the medals delivered. Typical Disney efficiency. No doubt Disney make money from this but its a great initiative all the same. Its a great way to motivate people to get active over the summer. I had fun picking locations and routes.

Without a fixed race date it is easy to let the race slip. I ran the August race in September because I, and my fellow runners, had difficultly finding a date that suited everyone. This isn’t ideal but sometimes life gets in the way. Other than the August run slipping into September everything went well and I enjoyed the RunDisney Virtual Running Shorts. I would do it again, and I’d recommend it if you and your friends / family are looking for an excuse to have an active Summer 2018. Getting fit and active with a bit of Disney motivation.

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June Run
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July Run
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August (aka September) Run
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Medals!!

Race Review: Wild Air Run

On Saturday, August 5th, I took part in the Wild Air Run in Marley Park. I did this race last year too. It seemed almost identical to last year. 5k of running, with some inflatable obstacle courses along the way. Its a fun run, not to be taken too seriously, and it delivered on that. It helped that the weather was good.

The sign up process is easy, its all done online and you get a QR code to be shown on the day in order to get your race number. The queue to get your race number moves fast, but got very long at times. When you’re not running, maybe before you’ve started or after you’ve finished, they have a chill zone with seats, a coffee stand, smoothie stand, and hot dog stand, and a free glass of milk from event sponsor Avonmore.

There are things that could be improved upon. Some of the obstacles briefly deflated, one I was on at the time, a long queue develops for the last obstacle, and the website FAQ didn’t mention if they have a bag-drop (they do). But this is me looking for problems. Its a great event.

My race time? Who knows, who cares, its not timed. Just go out and have fun. Here is 5 mins and 42 seconds of inflatable madness.

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