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

 

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

 

Class Review: F45

I recently did a class at F45. If memory serves, I think I first read about F45 in Men’s Health magazine and they mentioned Hugh Jackman is a client. If it’s good enough for the Wolverine, it’s good enough for me.

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The 45 in “F45” is how long the class lasts, 45 minutes. It’s a circuit training class and they do lots of variations to keep it fresh. I thought it was very enjoyable, in a torturous sort of way. The circuit itself had 12 different exercises and I was in another room getting changed while they were explaining them but no need to fear, they have screens at each station showing you what you’re meant to be doing and two instructors walking around helping and motivating.

There was a weird “let’s do this, we’re all in it together” vibe that I can’t quiet explain but created a nice team atmosphere. Facilities wise, the whole place looks new, and to be fair, it is. Fresh paint, new equipment, just a high standard in general, I hope it stays that way. There is no changing room which most people seemed to know already because they arrived and left in their gym gear. There is a unisex shower and bathroom area, relax, each shower and cubicle has its own door, and that is where I got changed. Personally, I do like proper changing rooms.

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How was the class? Well, as I was sitting and putting my shoes back on after the class, I had complete jelly legs. F45 is an exhausting workout and I worked up a proper sweat. It’s also accessible, you’re very much in control over how far you push yourself. If I were to add anything it would be a cool down session after the workout. There is no rushing people out the door at the end of the class so you could do your own cool down if you wanted. I enjoyed F45 and I will be back. I think classes like this are going to be very popular and will challenge traditional gyms for memberships. I don’t envision F45 having any trouble bringing in the patrons. Great to see F45 in Dublin. The variety of fitness options in this city continues to grow. I wish them luck. See you again soon enough.

Play time

Watching my son engage with the world I see that he’s only interested in play time. Play serves many functions, its a bonding tool, its a way to learn how your body moves, and it floods your body with feel good endorphins.

For a young mammal everything is play time, and everything in your environment is there to be engaged with. Curiosity is constant. I wonder when we lose this curiosity, and when we start to view our environment as something that can only be used in a certain number of ways, I can’t remember the last time I stood rather than sat on a chair? I suspect school has something to do with it. Perhaps schooling has changed since my day but I seem to remember sitting a lot, does school kill our natural desire to engage with our environment?

I don’t expect anyone to be able to maintain child like curiosity into adulthood, but when is the last time you played? I decided to go to the gym with no plan, I just wandered around and did whatever came to mind, it was fun, and I took a few videos in the process.

Break out of your normal routine, use your environment, go play.

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Street architecture – I must climb it!
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All mammals love play, climbing on mammy is always a favourite

 

 

Handstands

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.

Improved Balance

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.

Abs

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.

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Handstand work on the beach

 

When life gets in the way

In the last 22 days I’ve exercised 7 times. Thats not a lot. It doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting in front of the television the whole time. I’ve been working in the garden and been outside a fair bit, so I’ve been up and active, but there has been a distinct lack of planned exercise due to work, work trips, other trips, miscellaneous tasks around the house, etc. And there might have been some TV time thrown in there too. Essentially, life has gotten in the way. This is always going to happen from time to time.

I do love to exercise, thats no secret, but I find that during these periods when life gets busy, that the less I exercise, the less motivated I am to get back to exercising. I can get consumed by routine, and when I lose that routine, I get frustrated. Paleoanthropologist Joseph Lieberman has speculated that people today aren’t motivated to exercise because hunter-gatherers, from whom we descend, needed a lot of rest. To do nothing when you didn’t have to was adaptive once and necessary to survive, but it’s maladaptive now. Activity and inactivity are complementary traits, skilfully balanced by the hunter-gatherer, but mismanaged today.

You may not always be motivated to exercise, and that is okay, but thats when your discipline comes to into play. During those times when life gets busy, fit in what you can even if its not a lot, and when your schedule clears again, get planning and let your discipline carry you when your motivation won’t.

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“Life” getting in the way of exercise, not always a bad thing
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Back at the gym – no better time than today

Spin Class review

Spinning is not exactly a new thing but it is something that is new to me. I’ve been to a grand total of 3 spinning classes, and for the foreseeable future spinning will be part of my training regime when I can fit it in (not always easy).

After finishing my first spinning class it was hard to say exactly where I felt it most, the legs for sure, and my shoulders too but I think thats from poor form when I’m standing up on the bike. If there is one piece of consistent feedback I get from almost any fitness class I go to its, “relax your shoulders”. So while I can’t feel what Spinning is targeting specifically, I do finish the class dripping in sweat. Spinning is a great cardio session, and for that reason alone, I’ll keep it up. Its hard to get a good sweat going with the strength work I do on the Olympic Rings or the Parallettes. Those types of workouts are exhausting, but not sweaty. Spinning is a great way to get your sweat on as its an intense, cardio heavy session. Other people I know who have been spinning for a long time tell me they notice the biggest change in their waistlines, and based on a quick glance around at the other people in the class, spinning does look like a good way to stay slim.

My class of choice is Spinzone. Spinzone is a dedicated spinning studio. Spinzone has about 60 bikes, is dimly lit, with lots of neon lights and thumping music, more like a rave than a fitness studio. The audio system the instructors use could do with an upgrade as sometimes its hard to hear what they are saying. Spinzone is a pay-as-you-go service, 6 Euro per class. I like the cheap pay as you go option that Spinzone offers. Most exercise specific gyms like spinning or boxing or barre make the per class price prohibitively expensive to encourage monthly memberships over pay-as-you-go classes. Monthly memberships are good for the gyms, but not good for someone like me who likes to try lots of different classes.

Another thing I like about spinning is that you can make it as hard or easy as you like. You adjust the bikes difficultly yourself, but under the instruction of the person leading the class, “Go to 70% resistance…10% resistance..”, and so on. What exactly 70% resistance is in entirely up to you, which mean anyone of any fitness level can join any class. Its a flat out workout thats easy on the joints and leaves you feeling good about yourself, you can’t ask for much more than that.

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