Mens Health Magazine

You know Mens Health Magazine, its the one with the shirtless man on the cover with rock hard abs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an issue without a shirtless man on the front and in some ways the content of the magazine has to struggle to overcome its own cover. A new issue is published every month. I don’t buy it every month but I probably do buy it 4 or 5 times a year.

Over the decade or so that I’ve been reading Mens Health it has changed in many ways. There was a time when no issue could be published without an article about women. How to pick up women, how to satisfy women, and the articles would come with an accompanying picture of a beautiful woman, usually in her underwear. It was always a cringe moment on public transport. There you were on the bus, reading recipes for a high protein diet, only to turn the page to what could be a picture from Playboy, and quickly try to turn the page again to the next article lest you look like the early commute pervert. These type of articles disappeared long ago.

Yes the man on the cover probably helps sell issues as a body type men aspire to, but the contents of the magazine are wide ranging. There are articles on travel, the latest tech gadgets, healthy diets, recipes, interviews, gym reviews, fashion, and lots more besides.

Three specific things worth mentioning.

Number one. Over the last number of years Mens Health magazine has taken a big step towards focusing on mens mental health. I would go as far to say that they are one of the leading advocates of mens mental health and do a lot to raise awareness of mens mental health issues. The last issue I read had a full feature on the effects of covid-19 on mental health and covered issues like the effects of social isolation, the effects of having had covid, and the effects of the shutting down of mental health resources as a non-essential service.

Number two. The workouts they give you in the magazine. My workout routine is fairly well established at this point and I’ll usually glance at the in-magazine workouts and if I don’t see how they can be incorporated into what I already do, I skip over them. But in the current times, with covid having shut down gyms and classes, the workouts offered in Mens Health are a welcome break from my usual routine. It prevents my routine from becoming stale and boring by throwing in a wildcard workout from Mens Health every once in a while.

Number three. The magazine has a newfound focus on building a body for life, not just one that is swole. So its less about looking the part, more about sustaining long-term health, but there is an overlap between both of these.

I don’t love the magazine enough to subscribe to it or buy every new issue, but its a good read and worth picking up once in a while to keep yourself aware of current trends in mens mental and physical health. Take care of yourself.

The Cover the the content has to overcome
A new workout to try

Positively Unstoppable Challenge Update

Short blog post this time. I’m doing a six month Positively Unstoppable Challenge with the goals to run a half marathon, and to do the side splits. Part of the challenge is not just to think it, but ink it. The founder of the challenge, DDP, attributes some of his own success to writing down his goals (ink it). Something about the process of writing it down holds you accountable, and makes you more likely to succeed. I’m using this blog to “ink it.”

The half marathon prep is coming along nicely. Two 30 minute runs during the week and a gradually increasing distance run at the weekend. I’m up to 8miles now.

My other goal, to do the side splits, is also progressing in the right direction. As a starting point I tried to do the splits and made a chalk outline of where the edge of my foot was, which you can see below. That serves as a base to measure against. I’ve had to adjust the way I measure because my feet seem to turn outwards the lower I get so for my update I just drew a chalk outline around my foot and measured from the middle of my foot instead of the outside. I was 40cm away from the edge of the mat, I’m now 31cm away from the edge of the mat.

What goals have you set for yourself. Have you inked it, are you measuring it, are you holding yourself accountable?

Positively Unstoppable Challenge

I’ve decided to enter the DDPY Positively Unstoppable Challenge. Its a six month challenge to achieve a self selected fitness and wellness goal. And a chance to win prizes, who doesn’t love a prize.

For me the Positively Unstoppable Challenge is helping to provide focus, and enthusiasm. Towards the second half of 2020 I lost a bit of my passion for exercising. I’m disciplined enough that I still exercised, but I hit a bit of a funk where I was going through the motions and wasn’t committing everything I could. I reduced my workouts from 6 days a week to 5 days a week, and used the excuse of age/time/covid/whatever to tell myself this was a good idea. I found myself looking for the shorter and/or easier workouts on days when I’d had a “long day”. Then Christmas hit and I stopped training altogether as I do like to take a break over Christmas. And my Christmas eating habits were not good, and the bad eating habits lasted longer than they should have. I entered a mode of, “I’ll just eat all the crap, and then it won’t be in the house anymore, problem solved!”

As stories go, its not really that sad, throughout all of the above (Christmas excluded) I still exercised 5 days a week and ate well so I was in good shape throughout. January 1st rolled around and Ireland went into Level 5 lockdown, gyms and fitness studios closed, travel restricted to within 5km of your house. A depressing start to 2021 to say the least, which made it hard to be enthused about returning to exercise after Christmas.

The Positively Unstoppable Challenge is something to get enthusiastic about. I’ve set myself 2 goals. The first goal is to run a half marathon. The last half marathon I ran was in 2016, after which my first child was born and running didn’t continue to the same extent. I did sign up for a half-marathon in 2018 but my training was a disaster so I pulled out. I’m determined to get race fit and run a half-marathon in 2021. I’ve signed up for a virtual race on April 18th and so far 5miles is the furthest I’ve gone in my training.

Longest run so far of 2021

The second goal is to be able to do the side splits. For no other reason than I think they look cool. Flexibility, when pursued correctly, is good for you but I don’t know the in’s and out’s of the benefits of the side splits, thats one for Google. My yoga mat is 216cm long and with my left foot at one end, my right foot is 40cm away from the other, a long way to go to the splits.

That white chalk line is where my foot is now trying to do the splits. The goal is to get to the DDP logo

At the end of the six months I’ll probably look the exact same because my goals are cardiovascular endurance and flexibility, both of which or internal changes. If the monotony of life under covid is sapping you of energy and enthusiasm, I’d suggest finding something like the Positively Unstoppable Challenge to help get you going again. I certainly feel I need something specific to train for, having spend all of 2020 training for its own sake. I’ll post regular updates to this blog to hold myself accountable. Whats your 2021 goal?

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

 

 

 

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

 

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