Functionality and Movement

The July/August issue of Mens Health magazine is the Body Issue, which confused me because I thought that every issue was a body issue. Issue theme aside, it was a welcome surprise to see that when choosing which men to feature in the “body issue” they opted for ability and functionality, instead of aesthetics. Rather than cover model bodies and hollywood stars, Men’s Health have put together a list of Olympic rowers, strong men, cyclists, runners and ballerinos.  To be fair, all the men featured look good aesthetically, but all in their own way, and all very different from one another.

The men, and their training habits, featured in the current issue Mens Health seems to be part of a larger trend in mens fitness, away from free weights and bulk for the sake of bulk, and towards functionality, ability and movement. This trend has been quietly gaining momentum for years. While Conor McGregor has helped bring bodyweight and movement training more into the spotlight, fellow UFC competitor Nate Diaz commented;

“Everybody nowadays is like there is this new movement setup that Conor is bringing to the table but that was already around. That’s what inspired us to begin with…….all that movement stuff they’re trying to preach, we already got.”

A few years ago I went to my first movement based exercise seminar. At the seminar my free-weight built muscles were exposed as largely useless. It turns out my free-weight build muscles were only good for lifting more free-weights. I quit the gym and replaced it with running, Rushfit, boxing, barre, olympic rings, crawling, parallettes and more. I do still own a set of 7.5kg dumbbells, but I incorporate them into full body movements. I drop elements of my training and bring in new pieces all the time, which keeps it interesting. In the Summer months, like now, I can train outside in the sun and fresh air. Below is a video of me doing some free movement, its far from perfect and I have a long way to go, but I feel fitter and even though Im getting older, I’m becoming MORE mobile, long may that continue!



Indoor Exercise three: Parallettes

Arnold Schwarzenegger once asked and answered the question:

Q: Whats the hardest workout in the world?

A: Someone else’s

The body grows used to the same exercises over time. Getting used to an exercise is a good thing, it shows progress and that your work capacity has increased, but it also means that the same exercises are now less effective. “Less effective” doesn’t mean you should stop certain exercises, as your old routine is still useful for maintenance, even if the gains in fitness are less.

February hasn’t brought a change in the weather and with that in mind I went looking for a new exercise I could do indoors. I found the parallettes. The parallettes are an excellent all round upper body workout, and there is a huge variety of exercises you can do with this simple piece of equipment. I bought mine from Gravity Fitness.

While I’d like to show a video of me being awesome on the parallettes, I thought it would be more fun to show my first attempt as using them. Like Arnold said, someones else’s workout is the hardest workout there is. I tried dips (went well), press-ups (successful), the L-Sit (also good), planche negative press (fail), handstand press up (disaster, I got stuck), and even though I failed at the handstand press, I tried a L-Sit sit through into a handstand (I came crashing to the ground). On the plus side, I really felt the stain and had to exert maximum effort with movements by body just isn’t used to. Looking forward to lots of fun and progress with the parallettes over the coming months.


Indoor exercise one: Triangle Headstand

Irish winters make it very hard to keep exercising. Its dark in the morning on the way to work, and dark in the evening on the way home. Constant darkness makes me feel tired, even when its relatively early. Because I train outside, its hard to get the motivation to go out and train, the wind and rain don’t help. Even if you train in a gym, it can be hard to motivate yourself to pack a gym bag and head out the door.

I’ve started moving some of my outdoor exercises, indoors. One such exercise is the triangle headstand. I saw this a few months ago in Men’s Health magazine, I figured that because I can comfortably walk around on my hands, the triangle headstand would be easy, I was surprised by how hard it is. Its a test of your core stabilisers, because you can’t rely on arm strength to hold you up. Instead this works your back stabilisers, abs, and neck muscles. As per the video below, kneel on the floor with your fingers interlocked and forearms in a triangle. Place you head between your arms and walk your feet to your chest, then slowly extend your legs over your torso, tensing your core, and hold. The triangle Headstand can take a while to get right, mine is far from perfect, as you can see from the video below. My legs are not straight enough, and as you can see, I fall a lot. Don’t worry about falling, as you can see, you just roll forward. If you’re not good at something, it means you have to work on it. I’m going to continue working on the triangle headstand until I can get perfectly straight. I can feel the benefits to my core already.


Fun with TRX

This summer I tried TRX for the first time. I have heard criticism of TRX, not for the training specifically, but because its nothing new. The Olympic Rings have been around for a long time and because they are not patented, they are cheap. Or, you can put a yellow strap on the Rings, modify the handle, give it a cool name, and just like that you can triple the price and you’ve got yourself a business.

On the other hand, anything that brings training and exercise to the masses is a good thing.

I did a TRX session with Kevin Cogley, the former Irish International Sprinter, who has been teaching TRX for over 2 years now. There was nothing we did with the TRX straps that I can’t do with the Olympic Rings, so the strap itself, I can do without. The real value here was the introduction to new movement types and training techniques that I never would have thought of.

I was impressed by TRX, so if TRX is your thing, I’d stick with it. The session I did left me exhausted, and I felt it particularly in my core muscles. I won’t be joining a TRX class as a regular, but I might do a class every now and then to break my routine. And key for me, I’ve taken away some great exercises that I will incorporate into my training on the Rings. Try new things and keep learning.

Post TRX Workout
Post TRX Workout

Training Outside

With the nice summer weather the gym can be a depressing place. Why am I training inside, with this artificial recycled air on this glorious summer day? This is how I used to feel in summer when I had a gym membership. I haven’t been a member of a gym in a while, I train a lot outside these days. A first I missed the gym, but now I love being outside.

Getting out into nature and the fresh air helps promote feelings of wellbeing, I can’t explain why, but the outside has that effect on me. I especially like a hit of Vitamin D. The sun is great source of Vitamin D, which is essential for healthy skin. It doesn’t have to be sunny either, the sun is always up there, even in winter.

Training outdoors is good for mental stimulation too. The gym is pretty static, it doesn’t change much. Doing bicep curls staring at the same wall is so boring, running on a treadmill, equally so. In the outside world, you’ll see more. The constantly changing scenery excites and stimulates your brain.

Now is the perfect time to try training outside because the weather is so great, but it doesn’t have to stop once Autumn and Winter come. Get used to being out in the rain, sun, day and night. You’ll get used to it, you’ll feel more alive.

Training Outside
Training Outside

Exercise Opportunist

It seems like the main point of adult life is to get from one chair to another. We get up in the morning and sit at the breakfast table, we leave the house early to catch the less crowded bus so that we get a seat and don’t have to stand for our commute, or alternatively, we sit in the car and drive. When we get to work, we sit in the same chair from 9 to 5, sit on the bus journey home, eat dinner in front of the TV in the comfy chair before going to bed.

Much of our environment is designed to shuttle us from one place to another, from one chair to another, without any opportunity to play or move beyond the immediate goal of getting from place A to place B. Our cities are designed to discourage us from interacting with them. Studs are added to handrails and ledges to stop skateboarders from grinding and extra armrests are added to public benches to stop people lying down. These are all anti-play, anti-homeless measures, but they are also anti-human, area-denial measures that are unnatural to us. Most other species can engage much more freely with their environments, unless in a zoo.

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We’ve confined exercise to hour long sessions in gyms because our environment is no longer suited to our needs to move, play, and exercise, and its been designed that way. Whatever the reason behind this design, its not good for your health. Become an exercise opportunist. Ask for a standup desk in work to encourage standing and movement, sit or lie on the floor while watching TV instead of a chair, and use the environment around you in any way you can. For example, use a bike stand for leg raises to work your abs, or use tram handles for hanging to increase shoulder strength. There is a free gym all around you if you look for it. Try to interact move with your environment. Play in your city.

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Leg Raises

This is a great exercise for the lower abs. Leg raises can be done hanging from a bar, hanging from the rings, supporting yourself on a vertical bench, or, as in my video, supporting yourself on the rings.

The idea is to keep your legs as straight as you can and lift them up in front of you as far as possible, hold, and then lower them back toward the floor. When in the lowered position, your feet should be hovering above the ground but not touching the ground.

Keep your movement slow and controlled. The effort of hanging or supporting your body is not really part of the exercise, and moving too fast will cause your body to swing which we don’t want, since the focus here is on the lower abs.

Doing this exercise with bent knees will enable you do to more reps, with a longer range of motion. The bent knee version is good if you can’t to full leg raises, or if you’re exhausted from full leg raises but still want to keep going.

Knee and Ankle Stabilisation

Leg stabilisation is important for almost every upright human movement, be it gymnastics, martial arts, running, dance, etc. Knee and ankle stabilisation is important not just for sports, but also for general day to day activities like walking and standing. Two exercises I use to build stabilisation in my knees and ankles are the side scale and the weighted row.

For the side scale, stand with feet together either on the floor or a raised surface. Raise one leg out to the side as far as possible and hold for 10 to 15 seconds, and then repeat on the other leg.

Side Scale
Side Scale

For the weighted row, learn forward while allowing your leg to raise behind you. The rear leg should stay in line with the torso. From here, preform a row, bringing your elbow back around your spine and using your other arm as a counter balance. The added weight puts extra pressure on your stabilisation muscles.

Weighted Row
Weighted Row

These exercises are best performed barefoot. Most conventional runners have high sides that act as ankle stabilisers, this will prevent you from building up your own stabilisation muscles.

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