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.
I’ve been working on handstands for a while. I usually do one handstand session a week. My progress has been slow, but fun. Aside from looking cool and being a very graceful demonstration of strength, there are other benefits from working on handstands.
Upper Body Strength
Staying up-side-down requires shoulder, arm, and upper back strength. Actually, pretty much every muscle in the upper body is put to work in a handstand, making it one of the most beneficial upper body exercises. Your upper body will gain size and strength from handstand work.
Holding your body upside down requires constant small adjustments of all your body parts, from your fingers right up to your feet. This increases the strength of your core and stabilisation muscles and will have a positive effect on your general balance.
Those stabilisation muscles include your abs, and who doesn’t want good abs. Sit ups and crunches are not the only way to get that 6 pack. Your abs will do a substantial amount of work holding your body straight in an up-side-down position.
People are afraid of handstands if they don’t have a background in gymnastics, mostly because they are afraid of falling on their head. I have no gymnastics background and I was very afraid of falling on my head, or kicking up too hard and falling flat on my back. Thats why you start with a wall for support, and other than that wall, there is no equipment needed for handstand training. I have fallen, but never badly. The body has a funny way of catching itself to prevent a nasty fall. I found that this one handed wall drill is a good drill to build shoulder strength and helps to improve handstands. Find a wall and get going.
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable”
Wise and interesting words from Socrates. If I were to update it for the 21st century I’d replace the word “man” with “one / person” and I’d add that no government has the right to let its citizens be amateurs in the matter of physical training.
I do believe Governments should help their citizens stay fit and healthy. There are many so called “mismatch diseases” that are a direct result of our sedentary lifestyles, things like obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. These serious disorders share several characteristics: They’re chronic, noninfectious, aggravated by aging and strongly influenced by affluence and culture. Modern medicine has come up with treatments for them, but prevention, by combating the sedentary lifestyles that lead to these problems, could work just as well.
If people had access to free or subsidised gyms now, then they are less likely to suffer from mismatch diseases in the future. This could be a way to reduce future Health Care costs, or at least, free up space and resources for those people that need treatment. While in San Francisco I came across an outdoor, free gym, that has everything you need to stay fit and healthy, all in one place, with instructions on the wall. I’d love to see spaces like this all over the country.
There are of course many potential problems. Assuming Health Care has a fixed budget, subsidising gym memberships means diverting spending from the old and sick to the young and healthy for a payoff that won’t be seen for 20 or 30 years, what politician would back that? Can the government force you to exercise? And how do you monitor what type of training people are doing, I don’t what what my taxes subsidising a bobybuilder who, despite training a lot, is still on a collision course for mismatch diseases.
Exercise can be expensive and time consuming, while the responsibility ultimately rests on the individual, its would be nice if governments stepped in to make it that be easier. Really what I want is a free gym 🙂
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are firmly in the cold, dark, and rainy winter months. Lacking the conditions to train outside means its time to bring the training inside again. Previously I blogged about indoor exercises such as headstands, wall walks, and parallettes. Today I’m looking at the Chin Up Bar. Youtube is full of home chin up bar fails and I think that puts people off, but having used a chin up bar for over a year, and not having a single youtube worthy fail, I deem this piece of equipment to be perfectly safe.
My chin up bar routine consists of:
3 sets of close grip chin ups (10 reps per set)
3 sets of shoulder shrugs (8 reps per set)
3 sets of wide grip chin ups (10 reps per set)
3 sets of incline press ups (12 reps per set)
Close grip chin ups are the best exercise you can do to build bicep strength. Shoulder shrugs work your trapezius muscles and teaches you to manipulate your scapula in a compression/depression manner. Wide grip chin ups develop the upper and outer regions of your lats and shoulders, as well as spreading the scapula. Push ups work your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Its amazing what you can do with one piece of equipment and a door frame.
With the chin up bar, its important to not let your ego get in the way of progress. When I say 10 reps, I mean as close to 10 as you can get. Don’t cheat the movement, all the way up, and ALL the way down, thats 1 rep. Don’t be surprised if 1 rep is all you can do. This routine takes no more than 30 minutes, theres no commute, you can watch TV while you do it, and its a decent, all over upper body workout. No excuses for not having this at home.