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Category: Goals Setting

On Having No End Goal

On Having No End Goal

And the winner of the “first you have to drink four pints” pub darts competition is…
Photo by Miikka Luotio on Unsplash

We pin our hopes and wishes to the randomness of the world around us. Doing the best we can to reach our goal is a one thing. But a part of the success comes from crossing our fingers, hoping that a stray event doesn’t derail us from our grand plans.

And all along our happiness is on hold. Days, months and years go by as we wait for a better tomorrow. That day when we can finally move into our dream forever home, walk up to the shiny double door fridge and reach in to take a gulp from the carton of triumph that looks a lot like milk. And realise the damn thing is actually out of date.

We are guilty of the same with our health and fitness. Focusing on goals we have no full control of. Whether it’s to lose ten kilograms in two short months before summer. Or being able to outrun a reversing 2007 (red) Toyota Corolla by mid-February.

As much as we’d like to think we are the big wheel of our destiny, there’s only so much we can do. Sometimes success is just a matter of dumb luck. It’s the difference of being in the right, or wrong place, at the right, or wrong, time, with the right, or wrong people, while holding the right, or wrong, brand of deodorant. Reaching a specific end goal requires a lot of things to go our way.

Hoping that the earth will align to our benefit is delusional.

It’s a modus operandi for unhappiness. Focusing single-mindedly on the end goal could mean we end up going through our entire life without ever being content.

When focusing on the end goal, we have the tendency to follow actions and habits that have a short shelf life. Strict diets, excessive training, working all-nighters, taking truck driver showers.

These are actions that have a best before date with little to zero carry over to the not-so-perfect real world. Times when we are muddling through life and the earth seems to spin backwards just to mess with our being.

Even in sports focusing on the end goal is risky. The athlete is putting her focus on to something that she has no full control of. Again, a lot in the world has to go her way.

Yes, some people run through walls with the end goal in sight. Like, I don’t know, Michael Jordan. But the chances of you or me (definitely not me) being like Michael Jordan? Slim. And so, the alternative becomes much more appealing.

We can focus on what we can control.

We can align our actions, not with the end goal, but with who we want to be, today. By focusing on the moment we’re in right now. Whether it’s to lose fat, get stronger, or to win the local pub darts competition. To play the best game we can. Choosing the habits we can control and adjusting them as necessary.

Doing so allows us to build habits we can maintain forever. Something that the narrow focus on the end goal doesn’t. We are more likely to feel fulfilled and content when we have (almost) full control of our actions.

We can’t control what we can’t control. But we can do the best we can with the control we have. We can start by asking, what are the daily habits of the person I want to become?

Then, all we have to do is to keep our promise. To follow through with what we said we would do.

The Struggle of Training for External Validation

The Struggle of Training for External Validation

Leftiautus Midlefingerus. A rare plant.

The firm desperately wanted Jeff* to stay. They were offering more money. A lot more. As in, buy yourself a Rolls Royce made of diamond dust more. There was a promise of elevated status and responsibility. Another rung on the ladder, a feather in his cap, the coveted high-waist big boy pants.

In short, promises of things to come that would’ve been enough to convince the Kardashians to stop getting plastic surgeries. If only in return Jeff would stay and make more money for the stakeholders.

Now, you have to know a few things about Jeff to put all this in perspective. He was beyond successful. He was a partner in a global firm and highly respected among his peers. Thought-leader and a sought after visionary.

But the company’s measure of success did no longer match his internal narrative. He didn’t need the external validation to give him a permission to be who he was or wanted to become.

He didn’t care for diamond dust cars or rungs on the ladder. What he did care about was making a positive difference. And his employer couldn’t offer him that.

Unlike Jeff, we often choose our fitness goals based on what achieving them signals to others.

It’s not uncommon for us to chase things in life because others see them valuable. We want a certain look or master the splits. We talk about how hard we trained, how high we climbed, how many visible abs we have in the shadows of the change room.

Instead of aiming for what would make us intrinsically content and happy, we chase what we think would make other people look at us and go “wow”. We chase fitness goals because we think it will elevate our status within our social circles.

Striving and sacrificing for these goals to win an official competition is a one thing. Doing them to challenge ourselves privately is another. But, to impress others, who might not even give a shit? An empty endeavour.

We lose. Even if we reach the goal.

If we cannot get to the goal, we’ll feel dishearten that we don’t have what it takes. That we are not motivated enough. As we sink into despair, we forget to realise that the goal we thought we wanted wasn’t ours in the first place.

And if we win? We might feel a moment of joy. Shortly followed by emptiness. Maybe even a blow of guilt because we sacrificed so much for something that we didn’t even want. Something that didn’t make us feel content.

The danger is that once we reach one goal, we don’t stop there. If we base our current goals on what we think we should be, we are chasing a constantly moving goal post.

We are looking at other people and what they have and can do. And so we continuously develop these shallow desires that drive our lives. Because we think it’ll eventually make us happier, more successful, more respected.

But at what point do we stop and ask if we are enough? What happens if we move away from achieving certain things based on what we think others think of us?

Being able to achieve our goals privately is the ultimate divider.

“If no one would ever know, would I be content at crushing the goals I set?” Our answers to that question shines a light on who is in charge. Is it us? Or is it our friends, coworkers, bosses or a specific cult we might belong to?

The reward from being able to achieve our goals regardless of the external forces that try to pull us. Without likes, claps or shares.

And that’s why Jeff quit his job.

*He’s real. But not Jeff.

Who Is Setting Your Goals?

Who Is Setting Your Goals?

Not all goals need to be easily measurable.
Photo by Andrea Sonda on Unsplash

Slim and toned models trying to entice you to join our gyms. Topless, fit looking guys on their paddle boards to sell our services. Lose fat, oil up the abs, look chiselled, bounce ice cubes off the butt.*

Not appealing? Fair. Not everyone’s motivated by specific, easy-to-measure, look-like-a-cover-model-who-sleeps-with-a-barbell aesthetic goals. Focusing only on fat loss and muscle building and striving for the glistening fitspo isn’t everyone’s jam.

But you keep coming back to the aesthetic goals. Only because you think you should. And so you keep living through the repeated sting of failure.

The industry has made you feel you lacked motivation. The willpower to follow rules. The hardheaded determination to push through. Like you don’t fit in. And this might have been going on for years.

You’ve resorted to thinking the fault must be yours.

Because why wouldn’t you be into looking like that person? Everyone else (even that 73 year old grandma) seems to froth over it. Training in their tight Gym Shark pants and crop tops.

So the result for you is always the same. You cancel your gym membership, wish well to your trainer, and swear to never return. This shit just isn’t for you.

Then the next year, just when the first wave of summer heat kicks in, the tension of being left behind grows too strong. You return. You try again. Maybe even make some progress. Until the sad trombone blows another exit tune.

What if the goals that the industry wants you to have are wrong?

Maybe you keep feeling like a fistful of failure because deep down you’re not motivated by a purely aesthetic-driven training. It might give you a short-term push, but there isn’t momentum to keep you rolling. You can’t find enough meaning behind it. It’s time to look elsewhere.

The good news is that you can focus on any goal you want. Turn the attention inwards. Start showing up for other reasons than superficial, industry dictated goals.

Show up for whatever gives your training meaning and purpose. Especially if you feel that awkward tension of going against the grain. Learn to ignore the noise of what the others think you should do.

Focus on being present, moving and doing something for yourself and your longevity. Internalise goals that are harder to measure. Pay attention to how you feel after you’ve exercised. How clear your mind feels and how much more energy you have for the rest of the day.

Embrace your goal, regardless of what it is. Even when it’s hard to measure.

And then, two more tangible concepts that might help.

One. Stop grinding yourself to the ground in each training session. Instead of making the workout a punishment to expel your past, show up to do just enough. Leave feeling better than you did coming in.

The barrier to show up for another workout is lower when you know you won’t feel like a bag of ground meat afterwards.

Two. Find people who support your approach. Those who welcome you as you are and want to be. Show up with, and for, a small group of people who share your values and your interests.

A group who would miss you if you weren’t there. Share stories. Discuss things that matter. Support and encourage each other to keep going. And move while at it.

Build a stronger connection. With yourself and with the people who help you show up. And then, help them show up as much as they help you.

If that resonated, here is the good news.

I’ve got two openings for Zoom small-group personal training.

Your program, based on your body (and goals, duh). Sessions run Monday, Wednesday and Friday 7.45am AEST. (Your time?)

And because it’s Zoom, you can join from anywhere with a decent internet connection.

$480 / month for two sessions a week.
$720 / month for three weekly sessions.

Here’s how to find out more. We’d love for you to join.

*I wanted to write “and to Instagram the shit out of your butt”, but it didn’t sound quite right… Or, it sounded too right?

Aviation Fuel for Motivation

Aviation Fuel for Motivation

Ummm, where’s the nearest petrol station? I need to pee.
Photo by Kristjan Kotar on Unsplash

During times of uncertainty many struggle with direction in training. Redirecting our focus on to a majestic goal can be like throwing aviation fuel to a nearly extinguished training fire.

Choose a challenging end goal

This should feel slightly unreachable, but not utopistic. Think climbing the Everest base camp vs jogging across Sahara without stopping for a pee. A goal that spikes you with nervous energy. Something that excites you about what’s possible when you really try.

Think about something you’ve always wanted to do.

It could be exploring one of the great treks of Australia, hiking Machu Picchu, two week’s of trekking in New Zealand, or doing the Forrest Gump across the US (with water).

Involve someone else in the end goal

We are more likely to stick with a training goal when the alternative is letting another person down. Make a promise that you will want to keep. Even better, make a promise that will be emotionally painful to break.

If your friend is fitter than you make a pact that you will join them on this once in a life time adventure. If your fitness levels are on par train for it together. Keep each other accountable.

Sign up and pay for the end goal (if possible)

This can be tricky in the lord’s year of 2020. We don’t know what the future holds for travel and expeditions. But there are still things you can do.

Invest in hiking gear. Buy a tent. Get that expensive beanie from Patagonia. Whatever. Pay good money for something that you’d hate to see go to waste.

Set milestones by working backwards from the end goal.

If you’ve got 12 months to prepare, what needs to happen every month, or every two months for you to reach your goal? Lay them out and share with your accountability partner.

Set action orientated weekly goals.

Milestones are immovable. They don’t come to us, we need to get to them. What are the actions, habits and rituals you need to put in place to hit these milestones?

This could be strength training on specific days. Short rucking during the week and longer walks on the weekends.

Drill deeper on your weaknesses and start working your way up.

How To Decide Your Next Training Goal Part III: Measuring Fitness and Filling The Gaps

How To Decide Your Next Training Goal Part III: Measuring Fitness and Filling The Gaps

Plenty of gaps in here.
Photo by Jan Genge on Unsplash

This is the third and final part of the series. If you haven’t read Parts I and II yet, I recommend you give them a geez before diving into this one. It makes this Part III far easier to get into.

You wouldn’t watch The Godfather Part III before watching the first two, right? Not that I am comparing this to The Godfather. It’s just the first that comes to mind when thinking of a trilogy of any sort.

Part I: Intro, overall health markers, movement, body composition
Part II: Strength and conditioning standards
Part III: Measuring fitness and filling the gaps

So this last part is less about how to determine your next goal and more about taking a step closer to that goal.

Fitness – the capacity to do shit

Fitness doesn’t mean cardio, bodybuilding or any of that. At least not today in the bubble that is this blog. Fitness means do you have the capacity and the goods to absorb and adapt to the stress required by your next step?

You’ve looked at the standards from Part I and Part II and perhaps seen some gaps in either your overall health, body composition, movement, strength, conditioning, or a combination of some of them. But gaps for what? What is it that you are specifically training for? 

It could be a sport related goal, but it doesn’t have to be.
As you’ll see in the first case study, a client in his mid-60s wants to be more fluid and graceful stepping in and out of his car. That’s the stress he needs to absorb and adopt.

The second case study is a lady who wants a better butt to elevate her Kardashian game. For her the immediate goal of absorbing and adopting stress means that she can handle the best exercises that deliver those results. 

Finally, in the last case study the client’s goal is a more typical athletic endeavour. For her it’s about being able to return to competitive outrigging and dragon boating and to paddle pain free after a shoulder surgery. 

Let’s look at these case studies. It can help you to narrow down your training program and get the results you need to keep progressing towards your goal.

Case Study One: hip mobility to get in and out of the car

A client in his mid 60s has started to notice how getting in and out of a car has become difficult, even uncomfortable as of late. He is already seeing an osteopath for the hip and wants to emphasise this goal during his personal training sessions too.

The curve ball of a thing is that although he has 45 minutes of training booked twice a week, he’s always around 15 minutes late. We need to be able to do the best we can in 30 minutes, without completely ignoring other aspects of his health.

I am telling you this to show that you don’t always need long bouts of training to move the needle forward. A good sessions done is better than perfect that never gets even started.

Here’s a sample of how I divide the session based on his goals.

0-15 minutes – movement prep / hip mobility x 1 round

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing to encourage posterior pelvic tilt
  2. Hip, shoulder, scapula rotations on all fours
  3. Rockback to heels
  4. Hip Pails/Rails in modified pigeon stretch
  5. Hip rotations
  6. Rockback to heels
  7. Glute hip bridges
  8. Carry

15-25 minutes – power / strength circuit x 2-3 rounds

  1. Lateral step (crossover, cross behind) to slam x 5 ea
  2. Reverse step to high knee (trying to crossover to bring knee and elbow to touch) x 5 ea
  3. Single leg squat to box with an isometric hold with the first rep x 8-12 ea
  4. TRX Row x 8-12
  5. Lateral crawl x 5 ea

25-30 minutes – conditioning x 5 rounds

  1. Rope full body waves – emphasising hinging x 20s work : 40s rest

Depending on the day we might go 20 minutes of warm up / hip mobility followed by 5 minutes of power / strength and 5 minutes of conditioning. It’s not perfect, but you do what you can in the time you’ve got.

Case Study Two: Butthurt

A lady with a goal to get her Kardashian to pop. A more advanced client with a few years+ training history.

0-5 minutes – movement prep x 1 round

  1. Breathing to center the busy mind
  2. Hip, shoulder, scap rotations
  3. Downward dog to step to rotation
  4. Glute side bridge
  5. Squat to stand
  6. Carry

5-40 minutes – strength x 3 rounds

A1 Lateral lunge to pulse x 5 ea
A2 Hip thrust march x8 ea

B1 Trapbar Romanian deadlift x 6-8 1.5 reps
B2 Vertical cable row x 6-8 1.5 reps

C1 Pike push up x 5
C2 Step down heels touch x6-8 1.5 reps

40-45 minutes – conditioning x 5 rounds

  1. Skillmill 30s work : 30s rest

Case Study Three: Return to competitive paddling

Bilateral shoulder surgery. Now at the stage of building more power and strength to return to competitive paddling.

0-10 minutes – movement prep x 1 round

  1. Breathing
  2. Hip, shoulder, scap rotations
  3. Big 3 shoulder activation
  4. Side plank
  5. Glute side bridge
  6. Cable shoulder external rotation (standing 9090)
  7. Carry

10-45 minutes – power / strength x 3 rounds

A1 Get up to hand x 4 ea
A2 Split stance chop slam x 5 ea

B1 Trapbar deadlift x 8-10
B2 Landmine single arm press x 8-10 ea
B3 Single arm seated row x 8-10 ea

C1 Elevated push ups x as many as possible with perfect form
C2 TRX row x 15


Done on her own on a different day.


When you have a goal in mind, it’s easier to specify the training program to get there. Find the gaps in your current health, body composition, movement, strength and conditioning as they relate to your end goal. Then fill those gaps appropriately. 

And if your current goal is a more elusive, say “to stay healthy and don’t get fat”, that’s fine too. Just make sure you are not not letting any of the aforementioned aspects of health and fitness to deteriorate too far from the baseline.

Thanks for reading the full series. You’ve been great. I thought I’d never get this out in time.

How To Decide Your Next Training Goal, Part II: Are Your Strength and Conditioning Up To Standard?

How To Decide Your Next Training Goal, Part II: Are Your Strength and Conditioning Up To Standard?

Gloomy stair runs, anyone?
Photo by thr3 eyes on Unsplash

This is Part II of a series of three. Not unlike The Godfather. I mean, The Godfather Part II is where it’s at.

If you haven’t read Part I yet, I recommend you do so before diving into this. It’ll make Part II make more sense. If that makes sense.
Part I: Overall health markers, movement, body composition
Part II: Are Your Strength and Conditioning Up To Standard?
Part III: Measuring Fitness and Filling The Gaps

Let’s continue the adventures into the standards. By compering yourself to the standards you can gain clarity on what to work on, narrowing down the goals to set for yourself. Today, strength and conditioning standards.

Strength Standards

Search the internet or ask ten trainers for their standards on strength and you’ll get eleven different answers. Surprisingly to none, trainers tend to be biased on pushing the importance of strength. Getting people strong is our livelihood after all. 

But, how much strength is enough? It depends, as always, on your goals. Winning the heavyweight class in powerlifting requires an insane amount of raw strength. But as great as raw strength in powerlifting might be, it is too narrow approach for sports that require more than just moving heavy weights up and down. There is a point of diminishing returns for, let’s say, snowboarding, running, swimming or team sports.

I can’t give you a specific strength standards for every sport, but I can give you my standards

There are certain strength skills that have more carryover than others. The ones that provide the base for the other qualities, such as health, freedom and specific sports skills to thrive on. Beyond specific athletic endeavors where money, status and immortality are at stake, there is absolutely no point gaining strength at the expense of your health and freedom of movement. 

Bodyweight exercises hit the sweet spot for measuring general health and wellbeing

I am far from a calisthenic purists who thinks all the world’s problems can be solved with a quality set of pull ups. No matter how much I want a diplomatic solution to all of the world’s problems, I doubt that it’ll happen by getting Trump to rep out on pull ups. Unless he gets a heart attack while doing it, survives, and comes back as a more decent person. But, I digress.

Having the control of your body ticks multiple boxes all at once while acting as a measuring stick for your overall health. Controlling your body weight in space forces you to keep your body fat and weight in check. It’s easier to bang out 10 pull ups weighing in at 85kg compared to 125kg. That’s just physics 101.

Keeping the body weight in check also means that you are required to focus on things beyond pushing external weight for mindless hypertrophy chasing excessive muscle gains. As we established in Part, I there is a line where more muscle doesn’t serve a purpose beyond a bloated ego. 

And so, we finally arrive at the strength standards for health

Push ups – full range, one second pause in the top and bottom positions

Women 10 repetitions
Men 20 repetitions

Push ups are a simple test for upper body pushing strength, core strength and for creating and maintaining full body tension. Really, push up is just a moving plank. All the things challenged in a push up transfer to other activities in life, whether it’s maintaining tension on a bike or a surfboard, or creating stiffness in the trunk while throwing a punch in a street fight. 

Note, I discourage street fights. Unless it’s Tekken*.

Pull ups – full range, one second pause in the top and bottom positions

Women 2 repetitions
Men 8 repetitions

Pull ups demonstrate upper body pulling strength while being able to maintain a full body stiffness and control. Again, pull up is a plank with an added vertical pulling challenge. 

To even get into the starting position of a pull up requires 180 degrees of shoulder mobility. Something that a lot of people lose throughout the course of life due to poor posture and lifestyle habits. Another box ticked.

The get up

Both women and men 1 repetition per side with a cup of water.

Here’s an old write up devoted to the get up.

Then the guidelines as to what I believe a strong recreational athlete** should be able to do in the gym (on top of push ups, pull ups and get ups)

Kettlebell swing
Women 24kg x 10
Men 32kg x 10

Strength and power rolled up into a one heavy iron ball. Trains the rear side of the body like nothing else. If I could only do one exercise for the rest of my life, it would be the kettlebell swing. Yes, it’s that efficient.

Single leg deadlift
Women 28kg x 10 per leg
Men 32kg x 10 per leg

Beyond the obvious strength benefits without heavy load on the low back, SLDL is a great stability exercise for the hips.

Rear foot elevated split squat
Women 28kg x 10 per leg
Men 32kg x 10 per leg

Why single leg and not a two-legged barbell squat? Less load on the low back while getting the bonus of working single leg stability. Sure, the rear leg does a bit of work, but whatever.

½ kneel 1-arm landmine press
Women 20kg (aka just the bar) x 10 per arm
Men 30kg (including the bar) x 10 per arm

As much as I’d like the kettlebell overhead press to be my go-to upper body strength exercise for clients, landmine is a shoulder friendlier option.

Farmer Walk
Women 24kg per arm x 50 meters
Men 32kg per arm x 50 meters

If I could have a second exercise to do for the rest of my life, it would be the farmer walk. When you go heavy, it feels as if there’s not a single muscle in your body that doesn’t work to a some degree. 

Side note on grip strength as a measuring tool

Grip strength has been proven to be a reliable predictor of at least four super important things: a cardiovascular event in people with type 2 diabetes; the length of hospital stay in older patients admitted for rehab; a cause-specific mortality in middle-aged and elderly. Further, a study in 2017 found that grip strength is closely correlated with all causes of mortality. [1] And that’s sort of a big deal.

Training grip strength in isolation isn’t the solution though. Rather, grip strength is a signifier of overall health, vitality and strength. And which people have a strong grip strength? People who are active and participate in strength training. These folks (us?) tend to favor healthier lifestyle choices as well. 

You can use the grip to test your daily readiness for training at the beginning of the session. Simply pick up a 6-12kg kettlebell in a bottom up position and notice whether it feels easier, harder or the same as usual. The easier it feels the better your readiness is for the session. As with most things, you need to establish a baseline of “normal” first.

When you look at the strength standards above, are you inching closer to them, or do they seem like a far out of reach? 

If reading this made you realise your strength levels needs some work, that’s your goal for now. And guess what, here’s a great program to start with. But if you’ve got enough strength and some to spare, you should look at where you stand with your conditioning.


Conditioning Standards

“If your goal is to maximize your lifespan and stay healthy, you shouldn’t use the same conditioning strategies as a fighter preparing to step in the cage.” -Joel Jamieson

Resting heart rate, heart rate recovery, and heart rate variability are all important tools for checking your level of conditioning.

Resting heart rate (RHH)

As is often the case with general health guidelines the range for “normal” is as wide as Elvis’ pants in the 70s. Wide.

60-100 beats per minute is considered healthy, but for most people mid-to-high 50s is desirable. If you’re participating in a sport with decent conditioning demands (not darts), you should be probably sitting somewhere in the low-to-mid 50s.

Heart rate variability (HRV)

Heart rate variability measures the time between each heart beat. It can get all annoyingly technical so let’s just say that a high HRV is a great measure of your overall performance and efficiency of cardiovascular fitness. It means that the body can quickly change between different activities and demands.

High HRV may also mark how well your body handles different stressors of life. Too much training, poor sleep, lack of rest, and chronic inflammation can all lower your results. HRV goes down as you age, but as is with resistance training and muscle, bone and strength loss, you can control how fast this decline happens.

There’s not a clear “healthy” or “unhealthy” numbers for HRV as it varies depending on the person.*** To establish what’s good for you, establish a baseline from repeatable conditions. Shift your thinking from “higher is better” to a “normal is better”.

Measuring heart rate variability

You can use a variety of gadgets to measure HRV. Apple Watch, Joel Jamieson’s Morpheus and Finland’s own Polar are just a few of the options out there. I’ve personally tried HRV4Training app in the past and found it ok to use with a Samsung phone. Although the flash/camera based reader was sometimes out of tune, causing me periodically lose my shit.

To establish a baseline, take your measurement first thing in the morning when external stressors are low and you’re still in a rested state. For accuracy, try to keep the conditions as repeatable as possible. You should have a solid baseline of readings after four to seven days.

Keep tracking HRV for six months to a year to see any trends. If your readings are consistently normal, it affirms the goodness your current training and rest schedule. And I guess lifestyle habits in general.

I’ll go as far as saying that if you are consistently getting a high reading (and low on planned recovery days) you can probably stop measuring HRV until some factor significantly changes. Either in your training, rest or life and where you need to reevaluate your recovery.

Improving heart rate variability

If you’re getting frequent low readings (based on your baseline) there’s plenty you can do. Since Aerobic fitness improves HRV, I recommend you favor low-to-moderate intensity (about 60-80% of your max heart rate, or simply a pace where you can hold up a conversation) over doing multiple high intensity sessions each week.

Other things that will help you to improve your HRV score: manage stress, get enough sleep, don’t drink too much alcohol, stay hydrated, don’t get into a heated conflict with your wife or husband… As you’re starting to see, focusing on improving just one aspect of health should have a carry over to a host of other aspects too.

60 second heart rate recovery (HRR)

Heart rate recovery tells you how quickly you recover (surprise!) from a bout of exercise. The quicker you return towards your resting heart rate, the fitter you are.

You can measure HRR two ways: check your heart rate immediately after a high intensity effort (e.g. 30 second sprint) and again 60 seconds later. Or, check the heart rate after single all-out effort (e.g. long-distance run, cycle etc) and again 60 seconds later.

If you want to measure HRR specific to your sport, time the efforts and rests according to the demands of your sport.

Your heart rate should fall at least 20 beats within the first 60 seconds after intense exercise[2]. A drop of at least 30 beats within the first minute signals a strong conditioning. Anything less than 12 beats is considered abnormal so it might be worth checking in with your doctor.

How to improve your heart rate recovery?

Similar to reducing resting heart rate, heart rate recovery can be improved by improving aerobic conditioning (seeing a trend here?). You can do intervals at a medium pace, say 20s seconds on and 40 seconds off. The reps really depend on how conditioned you are. As a beginner 3-4 reps are usually enough. For more advanced 10 reps is a good number to aim for.

As with heart rate variability I also recommend long steady state aerobic work at 60-80% of your max heart rate. As an absolute minimum, aim for at least 20 minutes per day on average. Fast pace walking or rucking, cycling or kayaking are killer options for the enthusiastic individual.

As mentioned earlier, for more sport specific conditioning look at the demands of your sport and try to mimic those conditions in your training.

Onwards to the grande finale, Part III: Measuring Fitness and Filling The Gaps

I’ve never seen a single Rambo, but isn’t the third one meant to be ok? And unlike most people, I think the third Godfather was decent. So yeah. Something to look forward to, perhaps.

* I wanted to say Street Fighter. But that would’ve been too obvious.
**Recreational athlete is anyone who participates in a sport, however seriously, but isn’t making a living out of it. Although often the case, being a recreational athlete doesn’t have to involve competition. It can be about participating, taking in the nature and being confident in one’s abilities to fully enjoy the sport.
***Although certain HRV trackers can give you baseline based on other users. [3]

[1] Low Normalized Grip Strength is a Biomarker for Cardiometabolic Disease and Physical Disabilities Among U.S. and Chinese Adults
[2] Heart Rate and Health
[3] Heart rate & heart rate variability population values

Other resources:
Brett Jones at FMS – Get a Grip! Why Your Hand Strength Matters
Kevin Carr at Movement As Medicine – Is Your Grip Strength More Important Than Your Blood Pressure
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) as a tool for diagnostic and monitoring performance in sport and physical activities
The 8 Biggest Mistakes Made When Measuring Heart Rate Variability
Heart rate variability: A new way to track well-being – Harvard Health Blog
The truth about conditioning (and the missing link): Why being strong, fast, and fit is ONLY a piece of the performance puzzle
Heart Rate Variability: a (deep) primer

How To Decide Your Next Training Goal, Part I: Overall Health Markers, Movement, Body Composition

How To Decide Your Next Training Goal, Part I: Overall Health Markers, Movement, Body Composition

Feeling nostalgic? Ditch the Google Maps.
Photo by Cherise Evertz on Unsplash

This is Part I of a series of three. (Not unlike The Godfather).
Part I: Overall health markers, movement, body composition
Part II: Are Your Strength And Conditioning Up To Standard?
Part III: Measuring Fitness and Filling The Gaps

To get clarity on what to focus on next in your training requires a thorough inspection of where you currently are. Let’s face it, most of us like to do things that we’re good at while ignoring the stuff that we suck doing. People who build muscle easily like to get bigger while ignoring movement. Those with flexibility for days often neglect strength. Some love cardio, but spit at lifting. And so on.  

But allowing our weaknesses to stay weak stops us from thriving. Be it in a sport or life in general. I say, enough. Let’s have a geez and systematically cover each aspect of health, strength and fitness to see where you currently stand and what you should work on. 

Overall health markers


Blood count, cholesterol, inflammation, mineral and vitamin levels, and whatever else your doctor is in the mood for, matters. Training, performing and trying to be an all around healthy, well-functioning person with bad bloodwork is like driving the highway with a handbrake on. Difficult, slow and annoying.

Book an appointment with your doctor. He or she will be the best person to tell you what to look out for and what, if anything, needs fixing. 

If your bloodwork is not quite what they should be this brings us to your first goal: improve your blood work. Whether it’s exercise, meds, diet or perhaps drinking less Jagermeister on your next Caribbean holiday, sort it out.


Blood pressure

120/80 is ideal. As you know, you can get this checked everywhere these days. At the doctors, gym, or the convenience of your own home. 

If you’re constantly getting a high reading, talk to your doctor. Maybe it’s any of the things we went through with bloodwork. Or maybe it’s more on the mental side. Meditation, mindfulness and general stress management strategies could help too. Or maybe it’s your genetics. Regardless, worth figuring out.


Moving like a human should

Not getting joints in the optimal positions to adapt to stress means that you are not getting the best out of your training. You’re leaving results on the table, not building strength as efficiently as possible, maybe even risking an injury by forcing a joint to handle a load in a position it cannot get into without compromising something along the way. 

You know, the folks who overhead press without proper shoulder range of motion and end up doing the good old low back arch so deep it’s more like a standing bench press. Makes my eyes bleed drops of sorrow.

What sort of ranges of motion you need in each joint depends on what you are training for and what you need in your sport. Being able to lift your arms overhead is not really that big of a deal for a runner. But it becomes an issue for a swimmer. Still, it’s nice to be able to scratch your forehead, regardless of your sport of choice.

There are two fundamental movements that everyone should be able to do, regardless of the training goals. This tells us that the body has at least the absolute basics covered. 

The absolute minimum movement standards everyone should be able to do

There can be a host of reasons (individual joint restrictions etc) beyond the scope of this article, as to why you can’t touch your toes or do a squat. And if you have a big gut that stops you from performing these movements, your time is probably better spent on losing weight instead of movement skills. That might be all you need. If which case, feel free to skip the Body Composition section below. 

But these following drills work for the majority who lack the stability for toe touch or squat. Yes, it can be a stability problem even if “my hamstrings are too tight”.

Toe touch progression. Do five reps toes elevated, followed by five heels elevated. Run hands down your thighs and shins and exhale forcefully as if blowing out the candles on your cake when you turned 11, on the way down. Bend knees however much you need to to reach the toes. Aim to reduce the knee bend with each rep.
Supported squat. Hold on to support to lower yourself to a squat. Keep reducing the grip on the support with each rep, eventually letting go at the bottom altogether. Each rep should feel challenging but manageable.

Every healthy human should be able to squat and touch their toes. Once you have the toe touch keep retesting it every once in a while to make sure you still have it. Checking squat is not that big of a deal if you do squatting (bodyweight, goblet, barbell…) with a good form in your program.


Body composition

Before running head first into the prickly forest of body composition: I don’t care how you look. What you’re about to read is based on what science tells us about health. Not on what the People Magazine tells us about looks. Bodies come in all shapes and forms and different body compositions are more suitable for different sports and activities. 

Health on the other hand is relatively universal. The good old Body Mass Index (BMI) works well for the sedentary, or obese, but I am not fond of it for the rest. It can skew the results for healthy, active population since it doesn’t differentiate between lean muscle and fat.

Using a simple waist measurement is more accurate. Carrying excess fat around your waist is a bigger health risk compared to the fat sitting on your hips and thighs. 

Here are the waist circumference thresholds, taken roughly at the belly button, that indicate an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease [1]:
– For women the risk is increased at 80 cm or more, and greatly increased at 88 cm or more.
– For men the risk is increased at 94 cm or more and greatly increased at 102 cm or more.

Can you be too lean?

Sure can, ese. Being super lean and having a six pack is not necessarily the healthiest way to exist in this cruel world. I know it wasn’t the case for me back in the day. The social isolation aspects aside, being too lean might lead to amenorrhea, low libido, brittle bones and disordered eating. Being super lean has more or less nothing to do with being healthy.

The healthy body fat [2]
– For women anywhere between 22%-33% is healthy for most.
– For men anywhere between 11%-22% is healthy for most.

Let’s talk about muscle

Having enough lean muscle mass, and consequently strength, means that you’ll probably perform better in your sport, and in the day-to-day activities in general

We lose muscle mass as we age so to keep functioning well in our old age it’s wise to build and a bit of a buffer of lean muscle. Muscle is metabolically active and improves how the body deals with the nutrients you throw at it. People with higher muscle mass tend to have better insulin sensitivity for one.

Resistance training will not only help you to maintain your muscle mass, but it also fights off age-related bone degeneration. Peak bone mass is reached in ones late teens and early twenties and after that it’s all downhill. The steepness of the downhill can be greatly reduced by lifting weights. 

So what is the optimal amount of lean muscle mass?

Unlike body fat, muscle mass doesn’t have an ideal, set in stone chart for optimal and ideal amounts. Instead, focus on keeping your body fat in the healthy range and averaging two to three moderate to heavy resistance training sessions per week. 

Check Part II next week for the specifics to aim for. Or, if you work on a farm you can probably ignore the weights and just lift bales of hay.

What about too much muscle mass?

Yes, there is a point of too much. Having an excess of muscle mass might not be too good for your when looking through the lense of longevity. The heart has to keep pumping blood through a massive frame which can cause it to strain. Never a great thing for being alive. Then we can also make a case that excess muscle mass elsewhere in the body also means excess muscle in the heart itself. Again, probably not great for living.

I go on a limb saying that most people don’t have enough muscle on them. Too much muscle is only an issue for bodybuilders on gear who look nothing like humans. You know, the ones who make you think of Godzilla having sex with an earthmoving truck.


Let’s recap

To decide what you should train for next requires a non-judgemental look at where you currently are. If any of the ones we just went through are off, well, you have your next training and health goal set.

Bloodwork: blood count, cholesterol, mineral and vitamin levels, and whatever else your doctor is in the mood for. Something not quite right? Sort it out.

Blood pressure: 120/80 is ideal. Maybe it’s what was wrong with the bloodwork. Or maybe it’s more mental. Mindfulness practice and improving your relationship with stress and life might help.

Movement: really depends on your sport of choice as well what you’d like to be able to do in day-to-day life. As a bare minimum for any healthy adult, you should be able to touch your toes and squat down comfortably.

Body composition: waist circumference can indicate an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. For women the risk is increased at 80 cm or more and greatly increased at 88 cm or more. For men the risk is increased at 94 cm or more and greatly increased at 102 cm or more.

You can also be too lean. The healthy body fat for women anywhere 22%-33% is healthy for most. For men anywhere between 11%-22% is all gee. 

Muscle is metabolically active and improves how the body deals with the nutrients you throw at it. People with higher muscle mass tend to have better insulin sensitivity too. But too much muscle can put a strain on the heart. Although this is usually only an issue for those who are on gear and look like Godzilla had sex with an earthmoving truck.

Onwards to Part II: Are Your Strength And Conditioning Up To Standard?


[2] Healthy percentage body fat ranges: an approach for developing guidelines based on body mass index

In Training – Why You Do What You Do?

In Training – Why You Do What You Do?

In Training - Why You Do What You Do-

Fitness world works in few different ways but the two most prominent are that either we get too caught up in trends and always look for the next thing to do to keep us excited. Or that we always stick to the same things “because that’s what we’ve always done.”  Please let me elaborate:

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