My Disney Book

A book that I’ve been working on for some time has recently been published. This blog post is for the most part, a shameless plug of that book, but I will try to shoehorn this post into the general health and fitness theme of my blog.

The book in question is “The Story of Disneyland Paris”, and rather than dwell too much on what the book is obviously about, you can just click here to find it on Amazon.

I set myself the goal of writing a book, a goal that I imagine is on many a bucket list. In my head I envisioned myself being the next J.K Rowling or George R.R Martin and creating entire fictional universes. The problem is, I don’t read a lot of fiction, and I had no ideas. Then a simple thought, “write the book I’d like to read” – and thats where the history and continuing story of Disneyland Paris came from, it’s the book I’ve always wanted to read, since I first went looking for it in 2010 to help with my M.Sc thesis.

It took a year and half for me to write this book. I worked on it nearly every day. I did miss a few days, maybe Christmas Day, or if I was at a wedding, but for the most part, I worked on this project every single day, for a year and a half. Consistency is key. I didn’t necessarily work for hours everyday, sometimes it was as little as 15mins of either reading, writing, editing or researching, but the point was it was done, progressing word by word, not chapter by chapter.

Writing the book also proved an enjoyable past time, I wouldn’t describe it as work. “Working” on this book reminded me of this quote from James Michener:

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure…..He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both”

I wouldn’t describe myself as a “master in the art of living”. People can usually tell if I’m working or playing, but its an admirable goal and to some extent writing the book fit the quote. “Are you working this evening?” my wife would ask when I opened my laptop in the evenings, “er, yes, no, I’m not sure, sort of.”

I did a small bit of research into publishing at the beginning but I ditched that pretty quickly, as getting published sounded impossible. I wanted to write the book so I’d write it, even if it was just for my own amusement for an audience of one. And during the process, I read a few books from a small independent publisher called Theme Park Press who I thought might be interested in what I’d written. They were interested and they published it, but they were never the goal, just a happy by-product of the process itself.

Now, to take what I’ve learned from the book writing experience and shoehorn it into my health and fitness blog, here are the key learnings:

Consistency

  • If you want to lose weight, add muscle, increase flexibility, write a book, whatever, it can only be achieved by consistency, there is no quick fix.
  • Commitment to your goal. If you get on a streak, like 10-20 days of consistent work, that creates a desire to keep the streak going, until eventually, it becomes habit.
  • Think about the things you’ve not been able to do and ask yourself if you’ve really tried. For example, I’ve always said I’m not flexible, but have I worked on flexibility every day for a year and half, nope. So theres your answer.

Concentrate on the journey, not the goal

Enjoy the process, the rewards will come by themselves.

Have a pastime

Pastimes are good for mental health. Exercise is my pastime. For a time so was the book. Pastimes that require a high level of concentration (so not TV) have therapeutic effects because they limit anxious self-reflection. Consciously living in the moment reduces stress.

You’ll not see me and my book on any bestsellers list, the book is not likely to appear in any bookstore (just Amazon), its a quick read and if you do read it, it will be clear this is my first rodeo, but its a major tick off my bucket list and has me wondering about what else I might be able to achieve if I give it enough attention. Now, get working on your own bucket list, and enjoy!

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The unboxing
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I’m at the height of coolness, a proper millennial working on my masterpiece in Starbucks
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And there she is

 

 

Gym Review: Flyefit Portobello

Unfortunately, because of forced redevelopment, the gym I train at has been closed down. Raw Gym, where I had been training, had three things that made it ideal for me. 1) Close to where I work 2) Open space to practise movement and 3) Olympic Rings. I’ve joined another gym, Flyefit Portobello, so thought I’d write another gym review. 
 
First the good. Flyefit Portobello is centrally located, thats a plus. Also, its cheap. My membership fee for Flyefit is slightly less than what I was paying Raw, and not only am I member of Flyefit Portobello, but I’m a member of all the Flyefit gyms, of which there are 14. And they are 24hr gyms at that. The gym is clean, the locker rooms a decent size, and the lockers functional (you’d be surprised how many gyms have broken lockers). Flyefit Portobello also has the most impressive collection of squat racks I’ve ever seen in a gym, about 10 in a row. 
And now the bad. There are open spaces but anytime I’ve been at the gym there has been classes running so there is not a lot free open space to do movement drills. For those who like classes, happy days. There are also no Olympic Rings. The cheap membership fee also brings in the masses so the gym can get very packed at times. And lastly, this gym has a confusing and messy layout because the building its in was not originally built to be a gym. 
  
Overall, its a good gym for the price you pay. While it is lacking for my specific requirements, its the best alternative now that Raw Gym is gone. 
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Nice old Dublin building
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The confusion!?!
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Is that a fireplace? Something tells me this was not meant to be a gym
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And another fireplace
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Good free weight area

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

 

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