Realistic Aesthetics

Recently I saw Sylvester Stallone posted the picture below from the set of Rocky 3. He describes how between scenes, he had to go to the corner and turn up-side-down to get blood back into his head. In order to look the way he did, his body fat was 2.9%, which made him light headed during scenes, and in order to continue, and not faint, this up-side-down trick was needed. Stallone goes on to say that while he looked in great shape, he was far from it. Transforming his body for Rocky 3 left him very unhealthy on the inside, despite outward appearances. I admire Stallones honesty.

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I’ve read similar things in the pages of Men’s Health magazine from today’s action heroes. Daniel Craig became a vegetarian for a time after James Bond because the diet needed to get his Bond-look was, in his opinion, disgustingly high in meat. Chris Hemsworth was eager for a run because his Thor training regime specified zero cardio work, at one point he stopped training when he outgrew the Thor costume. Henry Cavill says the Superman physique disappears very quickly after filming because it’s not designed to be sustainable.

The action hero physiques you see in the movies are built on training regimes designed to make you look a certain way for the brief period that you are filming. They are driven by aesthetics, not health, and they are ephemeral, not sustainable. That’s not to take away from the effort that these guys put into attaining their physiques, the hard work is very real, but the results are primarily aesthetic in nature, and the schedules not conducive to even their own lives. Aesthetics are important for your mental health, we all like to look good, but don’t base your training goals on what you see in the movies. I work in an office from 9 to 5, so more realistic goals are required.

Gym Review

 

After years without a gym membership, curcumstances required me to join a gym. I’ve been training at Raw gym so thought I’d write a gym review, a first for my blog. 
 
For any gym, location is key, and this depends entirely on the individual. For me, Raw is ideally located. I don’t use the free weights or the cardio machines but they are there. The free weights selection is very big, the cardio equipment less so, but that being said, I’ve never seen anyone have to queue for either. Membership numbers seem to be well matched to the gym size.
 

The only two things I really want from a gym is open space for some movement drills, and a set of Olympic Rings, and Raw has both. There is only one set of Olympic Rings, but I’ve never seen anyone other than me use them so I’ve never had to queue for them.
 

Knowledge is power and although I arrived at this gym with my own training routine, I was happy to meet with one of the Raw Personal Trainers and he gave me some new exercises to add to my routine – its always good to get a fresh perspective, you might learn something. Classes, of which there are loads, are free for members and I’ve been training handstand work Lauren Sweeney and flexibility with Kate Finegan. Between the Personal Trainer, Lauren, and Kate, I’ve made changes to the way I train for the better.
 

Aside from that, the price is reasonable, the changing room clean, the lockers are decent but could do with an update. Overall, a good gym which I’d recommend and that I’ll keep using as long as circumstances require it.
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Plenty of free weights to get your pump on
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Rings, ropes, and a pull-up bar, sure thats a complete gym right there
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A rare commodity in a gym, free space!

I’m not adapted to this

I was recently on a months paternity leave. Paternity Leave went something like this:

  • Wake up in the morning between 6 and 7am, and going to bed at 9pm. Essentially rising and falling with the Sun
  • Following my work-out routine as normal or as best I can
  • Lots of time outside, in the fresh air, under the sun, walking baby
  • Constantly on my feet – the days passed so quickly taking care of baby and trying to get everything done

I returned to the office this week and my routine was something like this:

  • My day revolves around a 9 to 5 schedule
  • Workouts are either done very early in the morning, or very late in the evening
  • Lots of time inside, in air-conditioned air, in artificial light
  • A sedentary lifestyle, sitting at my desk for the majority of my day

What happened with this sudden change from home to office? I was sick by day four. Take any animal, remove it from its natural environment, and it will get sick, either mentally or physically. In animals its sometimes called Zoochosis.

Humans live in a self built cage. We’ve used our intelligence to advance medical science so we live longer, and at the same time, we’ve completely altered the world we live in so that our environment no longer matches the one our evolutionary adaptations make us suited to. Evolution is about adaption, and if I listen to the warnings my body is giving me, its saying my body is poorly adapted to life in a chair, under artificial light, breathing recirculated air.  Being outside and moving, is the best path to staying healthy, its just a pity that won’t pay the mortgage.

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I’d rather be outside

Race Review: Virgin Media Night Run

On Sunday the 23rd of April I ran the Virgin Media Dublin Night Run. I ran in this race series a few years ago when it was called the Samsung Night Run, and excited by the prospect of a new route, new medal design, and a new commemorative tee shirt, I signed up again.

The online registration was easy, Virgin couldn’t have designed an easier to use website. Event communication was timely and clear, with three days available to collect your race pack in Trinity Sports Centre. Race pack collection was also easy as Virgin had placed floor markers guiding you from the Sports Centre Entrance, to race pack collection, and back out again, a nice touch.

On race day, I had planned on running the race in about 60 minutes so I tried to find my way to that section on the starting line, but bad sign-posting meant I found my way to the 45-55mins group. Thats not a big issue as I’ve only rarely seen race organisers enforce this and most runners don’t seem to care. Its the one thing and only thing that could be improved on.

The course was enjoyable, it was a nice way to see Dublin at night. As with all races it was packed at the beginning but thinned out slightly as the race went on, it was never lonely. I ran a respectably 59 minutes and 7 seconds. Maybe I could have improved on that time had I not stopped to take photos, but half the fun of these races is enjoying the sights and sounds. If you’ve not done this race, its one for the list. Below are a few photos I took during the race, trying my best to capture the beauty of Dublin at night.

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Conference Centre
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The Spire. Bit disappointing it was not lit up
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GPO – lit up in red
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The Custom House
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Samuel Beckett Bridge
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Bord Gais Energy Theatre

My Shoe collection

All my shoes are made by VivoBarefoot. They say we are in the second barefoot revolution. The first revolution took place a number of years ago when minimalist and barefoot shoe brands started gaining popularity, but the revolution seemed to end in lawsuits against shoe makers and injured runners. We are now in the 2nd barefoot revolution as minimalist shoe brands are again gaining popularity, only this time there is a greater level of education among the wearers. Runners sustained injuries the first time around mostly because of a lack of education and small bit of arrogance. Runners don’t want to be told that a lifetime of wearing an inch of rubber beneath your feet has warped your natural stride into an unnatural one. In contrast, todays barefoot runners seek advice from professional running coaches before running in minimalist runners. I recommend these coaches.

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My shoe collection

Reading up on the subject of running is likely to lead you to a large and confusing array of articles and publications that will range from telling you that you’ll be running ultra-marathons with ease the day after you go barefoot, to the other extreme that you’ll lose the ability to ever run again such is the destructive force of barefoot running. Articles like this one make me want to steer clear of too much reading. The best thing you can do is to try yourself.

I’m absolutely not a running coach but I can tell you the benefits I’ve experienced after I switched my running and everyday footwear to Vivo shoes. This is of course anecdotal and applies to me, I can’t speak for others:

  • increased toe dexterity – my toes move much more than before
  • better proprioception through my feet – I didn’t notice this until a day when I had to wear “normal” shoes and the lack of feedback I was getting from my feet about the surface I was on was unnerving
  • Stronger soles – the soles of my feet are just tougher
  • No more knee pain – I used to be immobile on the coach the day after a race. I’ve never experienced this since I started wearing minimalist runners.

I do think the term “barefoot” is off-putting and misleading. As you can see from the photo, I’m anything but barefoot, I have 5 pairs of shoes. I don’t walk around outside in my bare feet, even in my house I usually wear socks. What I am doing is wearing shoes designed around the shape and movement patterns of the human foot, shoes that have a wide toe box, and a thin, flat sole. I’m so pleased with my Vivo’s, I even invested a small amount with them when they were crowdfunding, see this article.

 

 

Training with a New Born

Having a new born in your life makes it harder to fit in exercise. Along with the usual demands in your life, a 9 to 5 job, cleaning, cooking, shopping, eating, you now have the all-hours demands of a baby taking up all your energy. Time is definitely more scarce, but you might also have a new-found desire to stay healthy and active to set a good example for your child, and to keep up with them. Here are some tips:

Find a place to train

When I gave up free-weights I also cancelled my gym membership and moved all my training to the home. I thought this would mean that baby would cause minimum disruption. That was not the case. If I’m at home I’m either with baby or catching up on house chores. I’ve joined a gym near my office to fit in training before work or during lunch. Find somewhere to train thats within walking distance of work, or your home, you can’t waste time commuting.

Have a flexible workout schedule

Bad weather or a traffic incident and the morning bus will crawl into town at a snails pace, add to that a busy day in the office and a fussy baby when you get home and suddenly the pre-work workout you had planned has drifted from 8am to 1pm to 9pm. You’ve got to go along with this and seize your training opportunities whatever the time.

Lazy Workouts

Late nights and broken sleep can mean the you only get a few hours sleep and the next days workout will suffer as a result. Its okay to just go through the motions sometimes, not every workout has to be 100%.

Be prepared to miss some days

I used to say, “don’t let one bad day become two bad days”, now its “don’t let two bad days days become three”. Some workout days will be missed and you won’t catch up, just make sure to get back to it asap.

Equipment-less training

Bodyweight training is a major advantage with a new born. Operating a flexible schedule won’t be as easy if you need big pieces of equipment like bench presses and squat racks that are only at the gym. Having some equipment-less (or close to it) exercises like wall-walks or parallettes will be beneficial for that 11pm session.

Its all great

Baby changes so quickly that if you hit on a routine that works one week, it can easily become obsolete the next. These challenges are real and baby will get in the way of your training goals. Baby will have a negative impact on your training, but rest assured its absolutely, completely, without a doubt worth it. Being a Dad is the best.

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Hello, I’m Batman

Parallettes Pt.2

The parallettes have stayed a consistent part of my weekly workout since I first bought and reviewed them. At the time I was looking for ways to bring my training into the home and Mens Health magazine conveniently published an article about the parallettes with some basic exercises you could perform on them. My initial routine consisted of those Mens Health recommended exercises: dips, press-ups, the L-Sit, planche negative press, and handstand press up.

I was enjoying the parallettes but quickly decided I needed more guidance and knowledge than what was contained in that one article I had read. I signed up to GMB’s Parallettes One programme. Parallettes One is a 12-week course divided up into four phases of training that gradually builds up your skills. The ideal candidate for a programme like Parallettes One is someone who is willing to drop what they are doing and focus purely on the programme. I’m not the ideal candidate as I tried to shoehorn the programme into my existing routine and as result, I didn’t give it the attention it maybe deserved.

Having said that, I highly recommend both the parallettes and the GMB programme which provided some much needed structure and guidance to learning, and getting comfortable on the parallettes. Its been great for building upper body strength and control while also introducing new movements.  They are a fast and effective workout and don’t require much space, you can even watch TV while you do it. Below is a video of me doing the GMB Parallettes One routine in full – I’m still a long way from doing it with ease, but practice makes perfect.

My training journey so far…

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Been part of my library since 2005

January is a good time to reflect on my training, and the journey its taken over the years. My initial entrance into the world of exercise was in the free weights section of the gym when I was about 16 years old. I enjoyed lifting weights. I was in the gym 3 to 4 times a week. It helped that I found a kindred spirit that trained with me, we learned together and motivated each other. The Arnold Schwarzenegger Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding was our guide. I got big, but never huge, and in hindsight, I had bigger pecs than a 5ft 9″ human needs, I overdeveloped some areas and underdeveloped others. For years weight lifting was all I did.

I trained in BJJ/MMA for a few years in various places. With John Kavanagh and Chris Bowe in Dublin, and Cesar Lima in London. For a long time this was the only cardio I did and I enjoyed it a lot. But its an expensive and time consuming hobby and required too much of a commitment at the expense of other types of training.

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A bit of MMA / BJJ (2008)

In 2012 I started running. Initially it was because, as a Disney fan, I wanted to run the Walt Disney World half-marathon. It was the novelty of a race through Disneyland that started me running, but I enjoyed the training so much I’ve been running ever since. I followed the Jeff Galloway training programme then, and I’m still using Jeff’s running schedule today.

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Me and runDisney spokesman and US Olympian Jeff Galloway (2012)

It was running coaches Rene Borg and Jason Keogh who introduced me to the concept of barefoot / minimalist running specifically, and bodyweight and natural movement training in general. I now only wear minimalist shoes, for running and otherwise.

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Rene of Champions Everywhere working on my running posture (2013)

Following on from the minimalist running, I explored and educated myself in the world of bodyweight training and natural movement. After training with movement expert Ido Portal  I no longer saw the need for free-weight training at all. I replaced dumbbells and bench presses with Olympic Rings, Parallettes, pull-up bars, calisthenics, boxing classes, barre classes and exited the gym in favour of my home, studios, and the outdoors.

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Me and movement expert Ido Portal (2014)

It’s funny to look back over my training journey. At the beginning I trained exclusively in the gym, lifting weights. Today I don’t lift weights at all or have a gym membership. Its important to keep learning, to not get trapped in a particular training dogma. Stay curious, keep learning, and be willing to drop old routines and embrace new ones.

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Feeling good with my general level of fitness (2016)

 

 

 

Training at the Barre pt.2

Nine months ago I wrote a blog post about my first experience doing a Barre Class. I came across the concept of Barre training in an article in Men’s Health magazine. Since that time there seems to be more and more Barre classes popping up in gyms and pilates studios across the country. I’m not surprised by the rising popularity of Barre as I’ve found the Barre workouts to be very beneficial and I’ve continued to attend classes as part of my workout routine.

I benefit from the functional movement, strength work, and stretching that Barre class incorporates. Its a core and stabiliser muscle workout like no other. One of the great things about Barre workouts is you can constantly make it harder for yourself. If you can hold yourself in a plie position with ease, why not try and hold that position an inch lower, and suddenly you’ll feel the burn again. You can constantly turn up or down the intensity to suit your level.

I like to switch up the classes I attend, so I’m only at Barre once every two weeks but I’ve seen great improvements in my Barre abilities, and overflow improvements into other exercises I do. I find it so beneficial I’d be tempted to take a break from some of the other exercises I do and take a month of pure Barre to see the effects.

Its still mostly women that attend this class, and I suppose thats to be expected. But there are so many benefits for men with a class like this. If you’re a man and you want a solid core strength workout, and your ego doesn’t mind being out-trained by women half your size, you should definitely add this to your agenda.

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Barre Training

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