Its that time of year again when the Christmas tree has to be carried home.
I exercise to stay fit and healthy, which does sound a somewhat vague goal. What does fit and healthy actually look like, how will I know when I’ve gotten there? And for what purpose?
During covid times especially, when I rarely leave my house, it can feel like I’m exercising at home just so I’m capable of getting through the next exercise session, also at home. When you live, work, and exercise inside the same four walls the benefits of being fit and healthy don’t seem to have any broad application beyond exercise for its own sake.
Thats why the annual Christmas tree carry is something to look forward to. Finally, a years worth of exercise has a practical application!
Hugh Jackman has been known to get into character as Wolverine before starting what he knows will be a tough gym session. Beyonce embodies a fictional, more confident alter ego, Sasha Fierce, when performing on stage. Adopting an alter ego is a form of ‘self-distancing’ and involves taking a step back from your immediate feelings to allow you to view a situation as someone else. Its a technique most often used to help with stage performing, job interviews, public speaking, but really it can be used for any task. Its sometimes referred to as the Batman effect. Batman being Bruce Waynes alter ego.
Although the embodiment of a fictional persona may seem a bit crazy, research suggests there may be some real psychological benefits to the strategy. Self-distancing yourself from a situation by embodying someone else gives you a little bit of extra space to think rationally about a situation and increases your perseverance on challenging tasks. Forget that you’ve never bench pressed more than 100kgs, because this is not you, its Batman, and it can/will be done.
Self-distancing can also increase your intention to exercise or resist junk food. I want that chocolate, but what does the Wolverine want? I don’t want to work out this evening, but what does Arnold want? Okay, Arnold is not fictional but he’s a larger than life character.
Its Halloween weekend so I decided to try a drastic version of the Batman effect. I worked out as Spider-Man. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not tried but it made a positive difference (and its not easy to breath in that suit). I won’t be doing this again, its better that I take a step back from the theatrics before I’m committed or I try to swing from buildings, but a little imagination might help you run that bit faster, lift that bit heavier, push that bit further.
When I starting working out as a teenager I took protein supplements. Maximuscle was my brand of choice. Your standard protein shake. Back then you could purchase protein supplements in gyms, and dedicated supplements stores. Protein shakes, supplements, and fitness supplements in general have become far more mainstream and you can now get them at your local Tesco while doing the grocery shopping. Protein bars are displayed alongside chocolate bars in Centra, Spar, etc.
I don’t take any supplements today. If I was to guess, I’d say I gave up on them sometime in 2012. My thoughts on supplements:
they are important and necessary, if you’re a professional athlete. I exercise 6 days a week, and I get all the nutrients I need from food. Chances are you’re not a pro athlete either, and you’re not training at the level they do, not even close, so you can get everything you need from food alone.
If you believe they work, they often will. This raises the issue of the “nocebo” effect, in which your beliefs can have a negative impact. If you regularly take a supplement, then one day run out, it can create negative expectations and your workout will be poor as a result.
Positive self-talk, “i’m going to have a great workout” can have the same effect on your workout as a pre-workout shake.
If you want to take supplements thats fine. But it you don’t exercise at that elite level, chances are your body is not going to absorb any extra nutrients from them and they’ll just exit the body, you’re almost literally flushing money down the toilet.
I have previously written posts called Training with a baby and training with a new newborn. How long ago those days seem. Now its training with two kids under the age of four. If covid-19 had not happened, I think fitting exercise in would have been easier because my office has a studio and a gym nearby so lunchtime workouts were easy. In theory, they still should be but they’re not. Working from home during the pandemic I tend to eat quickly and get back to work, doubly so if its my turn to cook the lunch. I say lunch, I eat my dinner at 12 so its the main meal of the day.
Between work and kids my free time is squeezed into an evening time slot, between 7.30pm and 10pm. More often than not I’m up later than 10pm getting my life in order but 10pm is the goal so I can get my 8 hours in before the 6am wake up call. Eating up my 2 and half hours with an hour of exercise is a difficult choice to make. I find that when the work day is over, and the kids are in bed, I have an energy crash, “ah, the day is done”. So finding the motivation to exercise isn’t always easy. I’d prefer to relax and watch T.V
While I have some nice photos of me training during the day with my kids, which would look great in a fictitious insta life, the truth is 99% of my training is in the evening or late at night and its really hard. More often than not I’m dragging my tired body and unenthusiastic mind onto the exercise mate. I always feel great afterwards. Such is life, finding motivation is not easy, but you can do it and its always worth it. Stay positive. Here is my fake life where the kids love exercising with me:
When my second child was born in 2019 I took three months paternity leave. It was great to be able to lend a helping hand to my wife, spend time with the newborn, and to step away from the office. I went to various classes like baby massage and got to meet other Dads Moms. I’m not sure I met any other Dads who were on paternity leave, and most Moms were shocked by how much leave my employer offered, and the proportion of my salary they continued to pay. I’m lucky that I work for a large company that offers paternity leave far in excess of Government policy. Not all companies have the will and/or resources to do so. Paternity leave just doesn’t seem to be a thing in Ireland, and thats bad.
One reason I assume Dads don’t take leave or lobby the government for more generous leave is embarrassment. Dads work, they don’t coo over babies. And I admit, I felt a bit of this too. I only took three of the four months on offer, crumbling to the self-inflicted pressure of coming back to the office. I only know of one Dad in the company who has taken all four months. It’s one thing to offer paternity leave, quite another to change Dad culture.
Japan has one of the most generous paternity allowances in the world with 30.4 weeks of paid leave – yet only about 3% of new dads take it. According to a study by Kyushu University most Japanese Dads said they wanted to take their full paternity leave but didn’t feel that they could, because none of the other Dads did (I know how that feels). Those “other Dads” are also “most Dads” so they too actually want to take leave. Collectively, Dads are unwittingly propping up their work-comes-first culture.
In the UK, the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service discovered that embarrassment was one of the biggest obstacles to taking paternity leave. A third of new Dads were worried that their manager wouldn’t be understanding and a fifth were convinced that it would affect their chances of promotion. Did taking paternity leave impact my career, actually yes, a bit, but you come out of it believing that theres something more fundamental to chase than just a good career.
I’m not sure I’d have been that productive even if I had been in work. The chaos created by a newborn baby doesn’t exactly lend itself to a successful working life. Those first few months I wandered around in a sleep-deprived state.
I have zero regrets about taking paternity leave. Hanging out with baby, helping/watching baby experience the world, its really exciting and great fun. It’s great for kids too because time spent with their parents in the early stages of their lives benefits their emotional development and can have a positive impact on their mental health.
Dad taking leave is also a huge benefit to Mom. Having taken leave, it seems bizarre that Dads role could be, “right, well good luck with the baby, I’m off to work” – no wonder some women suffer post natal depression. They’re being asked to handle a life changing event largely by themselves. Also, because I was a stay at home Dad for three months, I know its much harder being at home than it is in the office (and I had help). It meant that when I was back at work, I didn’t come home expecting to relax after a hard days work, because I know which one of us actually had the harder day, hint, not me.
We need to take our lead from the Nordic countries, no surprise there. Sweden is a world leader when it comes to shared parental leave. Their allowance is 480 days with 90 days reserved for each partner, and for the majority of that time they receive 80% of their income, paid centrally through the government. In Finland, Moms maternity pay is linked to Dads leave, if he doesn’t take paternity leave, the maternity pay decreases.
If you’re lucky enough that you can take paternity leave, then do. I came out better for it, as did my family. As a society we’re not where we need to be, but it’s getting better all the time.
Yes, it was, but covid-19 has resulted in gyms being closed. I can’t help but wonder what the post-covid world will look like, and will everyone just pick up where they left off, or will time away from the gym have changed peoples views on fitness and what the gym actually offers.
In any gym I’ve ever been a member of, the men tend to cluster in the weights room. I was once a member of a men-only gym that was nothing but a weights room. And the reason, men want to add muscle mass and get bigger. But men often confuse wanting to get bigger with getting leaner. Often they already have muscle, its just obscured by fat.
If you instead focus on burning fat, you’ll dial up your definition and bring your muscle mass to the fore. For most people its unlikely you have weights at home to rival the gym so you’ve probably already turned to something like running and may well be seeing the results you always wanted from the gym but never got.
As well as confusing getting bigger with getting leaner, men often confuse getting bigger with getting fitter. But bigger isn’t fitter. Fitness is the combined power of your heart, lungs, and muscles to enable you to do meaningful activities. A bench press isn’t a meaningful activity. I learned this first hand when I worked as a furniture delivery man. A bigger muscle is a stronger one only to a certain extent, because strength is largely neuromuscular, it’s about your brain connecting to your muscles in the most efficient way possible, for example, when you’re carrying a wardrobe up a flight of stairs. So to get stronger you should be learning new skills, not endlessly repeating bicep curls.
I think time away from the gym will reduce the enthusiasm for the weights room, as people realise they were mis-informed as to what you can achieve in there.
With the restrictions in place under covid-19 my gym is closed. I use the gym for the odd free-weights session and the pull up bar. The office I work in has a studio, and this is also closed. The studio is a big empty space that I use for bodyweight exercises and handstand drills.
Staying at home to prevent the spread of covid-19 does not mean the end of exercise. Long ago I started moving much of my exercise into my own house. If you’re looking for ideas on how to exercise at home, the links below to some of my previous blog posts could be useful.
Below I’ve linked my most recent review of Rushfit, a home fitness DVD. Don’t think that a home fitness DVD is any less beneficial than a gym membership. Rushfit was so intensive and the benefits so great that I quit the gym when I did it as it made the gym redundant:
And if DVDs are too old school for you, there are loads of fitness apps that you can download to your phone or tablet. I use a yoga app called DDPY which is one such fitness app, you can read more about it in the link below:
Home equipment doesn’t need to be a bench press or chin-up bar, which can either be big and bulky or difficult to set up. The parallettes are a simple and effective tool, they don’t take up much space, and require zero installation:
There are so many options to train at home, and they are so effective, that once the gyms re-open, you might even be reluctant to return. Forcing yourself to be more creative with home workouts might just broaden your training horizons beyond what the standard gym can offer.
My new Vivobarefoot shoes arrived today. Its mad to think that they are the only brand of shoe I wear. Minimalist shoes have really helped strengthen my feet and ankles. Running has become low impact and pain free. As an example, I give you a tale of two races.
Walt Disney World Half Marathon 2012
I had a standard pair of Nike running shoes, nice big soles on them
I trained for the race using Jeff Galloways training programme, two timed runs a week, and one distance run a week that gradually got longer
I ran the half marathon in 2hrs and 5 seconds.
My knees were in agony. I hobbled back to the hotel.
I was in Disney World so after I’d showered and changed, I went to the Disney Studios theme park. With my knees too sore to actually walk around, I spent most of the day on a bench people watching, envious of the other runners I saw with ice packs strapped to their knees, “clever” I thought
Walt Disney World Half Marathon 2014
Between this race and the last I had learned to run with a professional running coach (yes, running is a skill that has to be learned) and on their advice I now wore Vivos, a minimalist shoe
I trained for the race using Jeff Galloways training programme, two timed runs a week, and one distance run a week that gradually got longer
Ran the half marathon in 2hrs, 9mins and 24 seconds.
I felt fine and walked back to the hotel
I was in Disney World so after I’d showered and changed, I went to the Disney Studios theme park. I spend the day in park, went on all the rides and had great day
If you have 9mins to spare, the below video from Vivobarefoot is a great watch.
Running has been a big casualty of becoming a Dad. Running is not something you can do in the vicinity of your children, unlike say, yoga, because its not stationary. And going for a run is nicest during the day, but during the day is when you want to spend time with your kids. After everyone has gone to bed, and its dark outside, I’m less inclined to go for a run. I ran for a bus today and not that it was hard, but it wasn’t as easy as it has been.
I’ve run a few 10k’s in recent times but the last half-marathon I ran was in 2016. How is it already 2020? I’d like to get half-marathon fit again this year so I think I’ll go search for a race that I can take part in.
Theodosius Dobzhansky stated, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. And we have evolved to be endurance athletes. The homo sapien is very much the running ape. Running is the most species specific exercise there is. In 1984 the Stanford Runners Study took 538 runners, and 423 non-runners that were otherwise healthy to use as a control group. All 961 people were over 50. Twenty years later the running group had a 20% lower mortality rate and a 50% lower disability rate than the control group of non-runners.
I bought Rushfit way back in 2013 and wrote a blog review on it which you can read here. Rushfit consists of multiple DVDs and an 8 week training programme with nutrition guide. I remember finding Rushfit intense enough that I stopped all my other training to focus on the 8 week programme. And once I’d finished the 8 weeks, I did the programme again, and then again, I think I may have gotten through it 5 or 6 times because I found it so beneficial and enjoyable.
I still do Rushfit today but I no longer do the programme. In my ever evolving routine, Rushfit still has its place. I typically do one of the Rushfit workouts every 8 days or so. I’m actually amazed the DVD’s still work after nearly 7 years of constant use. I can’t remember how much I paid for the Rushfit DVDs, I think it was somewhere between $100 and $150, but after 7 years, its probably the best return on investment on any fitness item or service I’ve ever bought.
I went looking and the Rushfit website doesn’t seem to exist anymore, I certainly couldn’t find it. Georges Saint Pierres own website doesn’t have Rushfit available in their online store either. Amazon seems to be the only place its available to buy. And if you don’t want to buy it, its easy to find on Youtube for free. The lack of a Rushfit website makes me think that this was a one time thing and there won’t be any sequels coming, which is a shame because I’d love to see an updated version.
I have two kids so exercising at home is often the only option available. If you’re strapped for time and can only train at home for whatever reason, I can think of no better combination of exercises than the Rushfit DVDs combined with the DDPY yoga app. If you’re not fit, and your resolution for 2020 is to get so, and you asked me to recommend one thing, it would be Rushfit.