Still getting older

Last month was my birthday month so I thought I’d do an update on a previous blog post on not letting your age interfere with your exercise. Another year into my 30’s and gone are the days when I could recklessly push through my limits day in and day out. Now, pushing past my limits during todays workout will result in injuries and soreness tomorrow. This is because your levels of the muscle building hormone, testosterone, and growth hormone, are at their peak between the ages of 19 and 30, which made recovery quicker and muscle soreness less debilitating. How I miss those days. I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time.

I’ve had to become more clever with the way I train so that I don’t lose days to injury, soreness, or exhaustion. Who would have guessed I’d take up yoga! Today, few of my workouts are as intense as they used to be, but by training correctly, my exercise routine is equally if not more effective than it has ever been. You’re better off training at 80% intensity 100% of the time, that 100% intensity 80% of the time.

Of course my priorities have changed too. Come your mid 30s the ability to run a 10k in under 40 minutes or bench press 100+ kg’s is less important than your ability to keep pace at the playground. With kids to chase after for the foreseeable future, keeping myself in above average physical condition now could be the best health investment I’ll ever make. There is so much evidence that if you keep physically active, you don’t experience some of the difficulties associated with ageing.

All is not yet lost. Just because its topical and breaking all movie records, I though I’d take a look at the ages of earths mightiest heroes, the Avengers. Their ages are listed below.  I’m younger than most, and well below the average. There is hope for me yet. Stay active, train safe, save the world.

Don Cheadle (War Machine) – 54

Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) – 54

Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) – 51

Dave Bautista (Drax) – 50

Paul Bettany (Vision) – 48

Benedict Wong (Wong) – 48

Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange) – 42

Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) – 41

Danai Gurira (Okoye) – 41

Zoe Saldana (Gamora) – 40

Anthony Mackie (Falcon) – 40

Chris Pratt (Starlord) – 39

Chris Evans (Captain America) – 38

Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier) – 36

Chris Hemsworth (Thor) – 35

Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) – 34

Pom Klementieff (Mantis) – 33

Karen Gillan (Nebula) – 31

Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch) – 30

Letitia Wright (Shuri) – 25

Tom Holland (Spider-man) – 23

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Book Review: What Doesn’t Kill Us

This book has been on my list for some time. I finally got round to reading “What Doesn’t Kill Us” by Scott Carney. Carney is a writer and journalist and by his own standards, was neither a fit nor unfit man, just “normal”. Carney accepted the trapping of his mid-thirties; stomach, not as flat as it had been, back pain, just one of those things. Then he saw a photo of a man called Wim Hof, 20 years his senior, sitting in the artic in nothing but his swimming togs.

Seeing this photo of Wim Hof sends Carney on a journey to learn the Wim Hofs methods of controlled breathing and cold exposure that seem to give practitioners of Hofs methods super human abilities. Hofs teachings and Scotts own journey of exploration leads him to comes up with the three pillars of physical fitness. Diet and exercise are pillars one and two, and this is something I’ve always focused on, and the third pillar is environmental stress, like exposure to cold and hot temperatures, something I’ve never considered. The book argues that this third pillar is needed if we’re to reach our full potential.

Humans are more capable and adaptable than you might think, and this book is full of examples. The body can adapt to environmental stress very quickly. In high altitude for example, you’ll produce more red blood cells, in hot temperatures, you’ll sweat less salt and produce less urine. Carney gives accounts of people using Hofs methods to manage the symptoms of Parkinsons and autoimmune problems, and even to speed up recovery after surgery. Carney does allow for some influence from the placebo effect, which is also powerful, but this only reinforces a key theme of this book, the power for the human body and mind.

Carney shows how the invention of technology often correlates with a general weakening of our species. GPS for example has reduced our ability to navigate the way our ancestors could. Carney gives the example of Tupaia, a Polynesian navigator in the 18th century who helped guide European explorers by his ability to read the waves of the sea to pinpoint himself. Is Tupaia a superhuman, or is this something that is innate in everyone and we’ve just lost touch.

To me the most amazing thing about Carneys journey and Hofs methods is how simple it appears to be. All that it takes is routinely practiced controlled breathing and exposure to the elements. Carney does warn that every person has their own limits, and if you cross that line it gives nature an opportunity to take a fatal toll. But in general, exercising the stress response through cold exposure allows a person to assert a measure of control when the environment gets challenging and helps reconfigure the cardiovascular system and combat autoimmune malfunctions.

The book is a narrative of Carneys journey, its not a guide book in how to achieve these results, but thats a good thing. I wanted an entertaining read, not a guide book, and this book delivered. Where the reader goes from here it up to them.

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DDP Yoga – a review

I listened to one of my childhood heroes, pro-wrestler Jake “the snake” Roberts, on the Joe Rogan podcast and he had nothing but praise for the yoga teachings of another former pro-wrestler, Diamond Dallas Page (DDP). Its called DDPY (Diamond Dallas Page Yoga). I’ve never done yoga before but the testimonials for DDPY were crazy good so I downloaded the App and started on the Intermediate level. I don’t consider myself at intermediate level yoga at all ,but based on the description of the intermediate level it seemed the most appropriate.

The App is very good. It’s full of video workouts that you follow along with. The videos are fun too, DDP is not your average yoga teacher, and maybe thats his appeal. The App plans out the 13 week programme for you, and it was quick to call me out when I missed the first session, oops. Admittedly, after I did my first DDPY, it was hard to see how big an effect this could really have, the testimonials on the website are obviously chosen for mass marketing effect. All of the success stories seem to be extreme cases while I’m trying to go from fit, to fitter, so maybe I’m not going to experience such a drastic change as the man who started on crutches or the massively overweight people.

Three weeks into DDPY and I felt I was starting to get it, then week four came along with new workouts. The progression level at the beginning was set very well. Enough to be challenging, but not impossible. I do love how DDP always gives a few variations on moves and positions, constantly saying, “do what works for you, its your workout” – meaning he’s giving direction, but you can choose whatever suits you best, it gives you ownership of the workout and you don’t feel discouraged if you’re not at the same level as the people in the videos.  DDP is also mad for his heart monitors which he wants everyone to wear. I don’t wear a heart monitor but I can see the importance of it if you’re starting DDPY from an unfit place, safety is important, especially if you’re training alone and at home which the app enables.

Once I finished the 13 week Intermediate Programme I didn’t see the miraculous results that I was hoping for (wishful thinking). But I do feel good, better than I did before. Yoga feels like it’s laying a foundation layer that will sustain both itself and my other workouts, providing longevity more than anything else. I think DDPY will bring greater overall balance to my body and provide a link between the other, very different exercises that I do. I’ve moved into the Advanced Programme, which felt more like starting over than a transition from the Intermediate Programme. There are a lot of DDPY workouts in the week and its started to monopolise my training. Once I finish the 13 week Advanced Programme I’ll look into the custom ones and see if I can reduce DDPY in volume while still maintaining a high enough level to progress. It’s all about finding the balance.

And the reason I’ve not seen the miraculous results I was hoping for? Because DDPY is a long term play. Like anything else, there is no short cut to success. I’m still very much a beginner at yoga. I’m really enjoying DDPY and I’m in it for the long haul.

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This is the App interface. Your week nicely planned
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Nothing like some words of encouragement from DDP, Razor Ramon, and Jake the Snake
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Working the lower back
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Cobra
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Downdog
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Don’t know what this is called
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This is not even in DDPY, but I couldn’t do it before and I can now

 

Eating less meat

Eating meat, or any animal produce, is a topic that people get very passionate about. Articles like this one is the Guardian are pretty scary and I’d encourage a read. My two key takeaways from reading the article, one is that humans and livestock make up 96% of all mammals, thats a frightening thought. All the cool mammals at the zoo, they barely exist in the wild because they’ve had to make way for humans and our food. And two, people in the West need to cut meat consumption by 90% to try and stop the damaging environmental effects associated with the consumption and production of meat. Stop eating meat and switch to vegetables is the message.

On the other hand, I’ve heard arguments against the growing of crops which is where we get all our veg. Modern intensive agriculture uses a lot of pesticides and fertilisers that are also bad for the environment. Ploughing a field destroys the topsoil and you lose carbon capture because you’re not giving roots time to bed in before they’re pulled out. This logic suggests that in an ideal world we’d ditch the vegetable farming, re-wild our fields, and use them for pasture raised animals. Although I don’t see that solution supplying enough for 7 billion humans.

It seems like you’re destroying the environment either way. My personal take from my own limited reading is that humans are meat eaters. But we’ve evolved to eat what we’ve hunted, which is substantially less meat than whats in most Western diets. I would typically have meat in two out of my three meals a day, and on the weekend if I have a fry, there could be meat in all three of my meals. The availability of meat today is at odds with the amount we’ve evolved to consume. I couldn’t shake the thought that all this meat was wrong for the human diet.

I set myself a challenge to eat less meat by just being aware of it. I don’t know if this will stop global warming at all, and as I said, I do think humans are meat eaters, but we’re not meant to eat so much of it. I tracked my results across 30 days. Over the 30 days, I had 9 meat free days. I could cheat and say it was 10 days as on one of the days my meat intake consisted of chicken soup which seemed light on the chicken. In any case, thats just over a week a month that is meat free. Make what you will of these results but I was proud. I was also surprised that it was easy, imagine if I’d make a real effort. I noticed no change in my training or energy levels. I won’t be going full on vegan or full on carnivore, but I will be reducing the amount of meat I eat because its just not needed and it can’t be good for you.

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This was a great Secret Santa gift from a colleague – easy meals
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Yummy
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Also Yummy

 

Waking up refreshed

The place where I work invited a sleep expert into the office for a lunch and learn session. One of the things I learnt was that a great nights sleep can be ruined by waking up the wrong way. If your alarm clock catches you during the wrong part of your sleep cycle you can wake up feeling exhausted, even though you’ve had a good nights sleep.

To combat this I got a Lumie alarm clock, which some of my colleagues recommended. The concept is simple, you wake up with light, instead of noise. You set your alarm for the time you want to wake up, in my case 6am, and from 5.30am to 6am the clock gets progressively brighter, like the rising of the sun, and wakes you up more gradually and naturally using light instead of noise.

The clock does have a normal alarm function too and the Lumie website says that most people turn this on at first but later turn it off when they find the light is working just fine. I decided I’d jump right in and use only the light function, no alarm, resting assured that if the light failed to wake me then my wifes phone alarm surely would.

On my first day of use, a Monday, the Lumie woke me up exactly on time. I can’t believe it worked from day one. Its incredible how the human body so instinctively wakes to the rising of the “sun”. Waking up with the Lumie was far less jarring than my normal phone alarm and I did not wake up tired. I didn’t necessarily wake up motivated for Monday but at least I woke up refreshed. The Lumie is bright though. It was meant to be for me but its hard to see how anyone else in the room could avoid it.

Day 2 was the same, I woke up at 5.58am

Day 3 I got a terrible nights sleep due to a migraine but still woke with the light at 6am.

Day 4 and 5, success again.

For the weekend I re-set the wake-up time from 6am to 7am. My son woke me up on each of these days at about 6.30am so Lumie was beaten to the punch.

To sum up, I’m amazed this worked right from the get go, amazed that years and years of alarm clock usage couldn’t un-do the human body’s instinctive reaction to rise with the sun, and I’ll be sticking with this mode of walking up forever.

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It also functions as my desk light

Travelling makes me sick

The body is finely balanced, and grows accustomed to routine. Most of us have routined and predictable lives. In my case, I exercise a certain amount, I eat certain foods, go to bed and wake up a certain times, in short, a fairly predictable routine. And the body grows accustomed to this. A sudden change, and the whole chemical balance is thrown off and the result, you get sick.

A holiday is a sudden change. Suddenly you can be in a different time zone, eating different foods, and because it is a holiday, you stop exercising. A shock like this weakens the immune system. I’m notorious for getting sick when I travel too far. I travelled to Las Vegas recently. I was determined to not get sick. I planned on eating well, using the hotel gym, and even more conveniently, using some fitness apps on my phone that don’t even require me to leave the hotel room. The plan was to deviate as little as possible from my “normal”.

Sadly, I did get sick. By the time my head hit the pillow in my hotel room, 24 and half hours after I’d woken up, I had a sore throat, headcold, and coldsore. It seems my body is more delicately balanced than most. I had packed plenty of medication knowing this to be the case.

Even if you’re not as fragile as I apparently am, lots of people get sick on holidays, or around Christmas because of the break in your routine. Your body adapts to your routine, change it, and the shock can make you sick. This applies to micro as well as macro changes. For no reason in particular, I’ve always combined cheat day with rest day, until recently I heard bodybuilder Dennis James question why anyone would do this, its a shock to the system. Cheat day and rest day should not be the same day to minimise the shock.

The lesson, any changes to your routine should be small and gradual.

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Airplanes – recycled air for 12hrs
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Airport Yoga Room – more of this please

 

Isometric Training

So often training is about repetitions. Pick up a weight, do some repetitions. Jumping jacks for 60 seconds, as many repetitions as you can manage. Reps, reps, reps. But you can train without repetitions. Its called isometric training, its a great strength builder, and it adds a bit of variety to your usual training regime. Its really very simple, all you do is hold yourself in position.

When maintaining a static hold, your muscles accumulate “time under tension.” You can feel your muscles working, and draining of energy. I also like the mental focus, it creates a muscle to mind connection as you struggle to keep yourself in place. Also, because you’re not moving, you’re not putting movement pressure through your joints. With repetitions, you can sometimes cheat the movement by letting the momentum carry you through, you’ll have no such help with a static hold.

Isometric training, a good to addition to any workout routine. Below are a few examples.

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L-Sit
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Double Arm Lever
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Hollow body hold
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Air Freeze

 

Carbs

I’ve known a few people to cut out carbs as way to get healthier. Although I’d be skeptical if the goal is to get healthier or to look better. Carb molecules encourage your body to store water, so by eliminating them, you’re essentially wringing your body like a sponge. So the pounds will fall off pretty quickly on a no-carb diet. Quick and easy weight loss success on a no carb diet is just dehydrating yourself and its just water weight you’ve lost.

On a slightly longer term view, a low carb intake means less muscle mass. Without the glucose found in carbs to burn off, your famished body turns to precious amino acids instead, causing you muscles to catabolise. And with this quick reduction in lean mass, your metabolism starts to stall, burning fewer calories, making real weight loss harder still.

And its not just your body, its your brain too. Your brain uses up over half of your bodies glucose stores. A few days into a low-carb diet and you’ll struggle understand all the subplots in the latest Fantastic Beasts movie.

Its true not all carbs are created equal. Refined carbs have been associated with obesity. I recently heard a phrase I like and it went something like this, “don’t ask if its good for me, ask when its good for me.” If you’re a professional athlete, you can handle a lot of carbs. If you spend most of your time watching Netflix, you should limit your intake.  Foods don’t exist in a vacuum, you have to look at your carbs in the context of everything else you eat and do. Its all about balance, and some days that means a pasta.

Eat to fuel your body for performance, not to look good.

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Pasta and broccoli – thats lunch sorted for a few days

Race Review : KBC 10k Halloween Night Run

I haven’t taken part in an organised run since I did the Virgin Media Night Run in April 2017. I still run regularly, but running in events has been the big casualty of becoming a Dad, its just hard to find the time to stick to a full training plan in order to be able to safely take part in running events.

I was informed of the KBC Halloween Night Run with lots of advance notice, so I had time to create and stick to a full training plan. It felt good to make running the priority in my training schedule again. I felt that getting race fit again elevated all my training. I felt generally healthier, or as John Tarrent refers to it, “the magnificent feeling of well being”.

As for the race itself, it was well organised. Sign up was done easily online and race numbers were available for collection the day before the race and on race day. There was also a well managed and supervised bag drop.

The Halloween theme made for a fun race. Not everyone opted to dress up but there was a few people in costumes. I went for a running friendly Thor costume. Fair play to the person in the inflatable t-rex costume. It was an interesting course, around a GAA pitch and out onto the beach in Sandymount. I don’t think I’ve ever run in a beach race before. The full moon added to the atmosphere. There was one bottleneck at the switchback where runners had to pass single file, this was annoying as you had to stop running and walk through, and it would be the first thing I’d try to change if the organisers run this event and course again.

The course was 5km long, and those doing the 10k ran a second lap. There was a huge drop out rate after the first lap which made for a lonely second lap, I’m glad I was running with a group.

Overall, my criteria for a successful race, whether running alone or in a group: have fun, run as fast as you can, but as slow as you need to, and finish the race with enough left in the gas tank to be able to run another mile. This was a successful race and definitely worth running.

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Race completed
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Superhero landing
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Nice medal

 

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