The Christmas Workout

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!

Christmas Tree Squats – with my own cheer section

The Batman effect

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.

Supplements

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.

Training with kids

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:

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My dumbbells, your dumbbells

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Yoga beside Daddy

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Yoga on top of Daddy

 

 

Was the gym any good in the first place?

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.

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Not a treadmill in sight

 

 

 

Training when the gym is closed

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:

Blog post revisited: Rushfit

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:

DDP Yoga – a review

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:

Parallettes Pt.2

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.

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The complete home gym

A tale of two races

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.

Benefits of Running

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.

The benefits of running include:

  • Stronger heart
  • improved circulatory system
  • improved immune system
  • better muscular – skeleton system
  • improved digestion

Lace up and get out there.

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New Vivos ready for 2020

 

 

Blog post revisited: Rushfit

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.

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Georges Saint Pierre

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DVDs still going strong after 7 years

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A bit of Rushfit in the sunshine

 

Gym Review: Flyefit Dundrum

After the closure of Raw Gym I joined Flyefit. The main Flyefit that I use is near my office in Portobello, and I wrote a review of it that you can read here.

Because Flyefit gyms seem to be popping up everywhere, I chose a membership option that made me a member of all Flyefits. I was in the area so I did a workout in Flyefit Dundrum.

First the good. Like the Flyefit in Portobello, the Flyefit in Dundrum is not a purpose built gym, its a building that has been taken over and turned into a gym, but this time it is has worked out really well and the layout is far more understandable. The gym is big, clean, and has a wide range of equipment and open spaces. The locker room is a decent size too.

And now the bad. Sadly, this gym, like the majority of gyms, has no Olympic Rings. Thats really all I can fault it for. I showed up at an off peak time and while this gym is large, I can imagine it getting full quickly given its location, but I don’t actually know how busy it does get. Also, when passing by, this gym looks like it has a carpark, but don’t be fooled, the carpark out front is blocked off at all times.

Overall, this is a good gym. Not as good as the now closed Raw, but better than Flyefit Portobello. Aside from the few bits of special kit that I like, its hard not to see this gym being pretty perfect for the masses.

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Not a carpark

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Studio Room

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Open Spaces

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Weight Room

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