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Category: Life-Long Fitness

How To Do More Exercise

How To Do More Exercise

Finding opportunities for movement instead of a specific time for exercise.

It was Roy’s, Elroy’s and Leroy’s turn to carry their brother Brian home from the pub.
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Maybe all we need is a shift in thinking. To move away from prescribed exercise and toward random vigorous movement. Instead of asking “how to do more exercise”, we can seek opportunities for physical activity and movement in our day-to-day life.

Exercise, physical activity and movement are all the same thing

We could call it ‘fat loss’’ or ‘looking sexy and desirable so my ex-boyfriend/girlfriend would feel bad about leaving me six years ago and now I finally get my revenge haha you can’t have this anymore I am awesome’.

Regardless of what we say our goal is, the aim of exercise is to elevate heart rate and challenge the muscles, joints and all the rest to achieve and maintain a resilient and healthy body. 

If our only goals are health and longevity, then it doesn’t matter what we do to achieve those things. We can start looking past of what we can do in a gym. Or with a specific piece of equipment. Whether the activity fits the mold of traditional exercise is irrelevant. All that matters is that we hit The World Health Organizations’ recommended weekly physical activity targets.

https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240015128

The only reason the modern idea of exercise even exists is to combat the downsides of the modern sedentary lifestyle. Today, whenever someone doesn’t take part in any form of exercise, they’re the odd one out. But we only have to go back 40 (if that?) years and the one doing exercise would have been the oddball.

Let’s agree that the reason for exercise is to replace the physical activity we no longer do in our daily lives. This opens up the possibilities beyond formal exercise routines.

Adding more physical activity and movement into our day

One way to look at it is to increase the physical challenges in our comfortable suburban popcorn-like existence. To seek opportunities for needless every day “hardship”. Activities that we don’t need to do to survive. But we do it because it’s good for us. If not always fun.

I understand I am not making this sound appealing to anyone right now. But this is the stuff that makes us feel great after we’ve done it. Both physically and mentally:

  • Parking the car unnecessarily far from the store and heaving the groceries back into the car without a trolly and oh my god get out of the way!
  • Walking to the shops to get soap. Then carrying two bags of kitty litter home even though we already have four bags.
  • Speed walking or even sprinting up hills when doing a casual stroll with the family.
  • Using the stairs and taking multiple steps at once if you have the legs for it.
  • Buying 100kg of soil for the garden and not letting anyone else carry a single bag.

But it can also be fun: 

  • Throwing a kid up and down at the beach (kid swings, if you will. Only use your own children).
  • Carrying kids on the shoulders.
  • Hanging from the bars at the playground – can you tell I’ve got young kids?

Opportunities like these are everywhere. Movement and “exercise” that doesn’t involve counting reps or timing rest periods or tracking the weights. Activities done while living.

We just have to learn to see them. And then take action without worrying what others might think of us.

Hey Brian, could you go back to the shops and get an onion for the soup please?

It might not feel like it makes a difference, but it does

Just like a 20 minute daily walk, having these little daily movement snacks really makes a difference. I could do the math, but this is about not counting anything. Besides, after last week’s walking blog, I am positive that everyone is sick of physical activity related math.

Seeking to increase our physical activity in everyday moments moves (har har) us away from thinking exercise as this one dimensional thing that we have to do in a certain environment, with specific music, while being inundated with the hairy strangers’ body odours and only if we have 45 minutes to spare and our nipple flashing tight top on.

Breaking these mental chains of what we consider “exercise” brings back the freedom, fun and excitement into movement. While also removing the ego and competition from the equation.

So, we don’t need to exercise? Ever?

Well… If your goals are general health and longevity and if you can get your weekly activity levels to those aforementioned WHO levels, no, I don’t think you don’t need to participate in traditional exercise. Things change if your reason for exercise has a specific end goal beyond longevity and health.

Such as training for a sport, rehab, significantly increasing muscle mass, changing body composition beyond just getting slim, and the like. In which case, the entire term changes from exercise to training.

But I know most of you enjoy training, as do I. So we might as well keep doing what we enjoy doing. While adding some movement hardship on top.

Guideline for leanness, health, longevity, and let’s be honest here, looks

Here’s how I would structure a perfect week of training and physical activity for health, longevity and looks. Keeping in mind that this is the perfect scenario, which almost never happens.

  • Two or three 30-45 minute full body strength training sessions at the 8-12 rep range using full ranges of motion and following a gradually progressive plan. Like this or this.
  • One or two short, high-intensity cardio workouts.
  • 45-60 minutes of daily moderate cardio at a conversational level. Anything goes. The more enjoyable you find it, the better.

Then I would look for any opportunity (such as those listed earlier) to increase the moderate activity throughout the week.

Also, it would be three strength workouts or two high-intensity cardio sessions. I wouldn’t max out on both columns in the same week. Because recovery and life. Perhaps three strength sessions and one high-intensity cardio suits best for most of us.

Now one could add yoga and the rest of the things in that category for flexibility. But it’s surprising how flexible we can get by just following smart training principles.

But yoga for mindfulness and stress release? Yep, I’m down(ward dog) for that.

Summary

Physical activity, movement and exercise are all the same thing. We think of exercise as this thing that we need to do in a certain environment (gym), with specific programs and equipment.

This thinking limits us from finding opportunities for movement in everyday situations.

A better alternative is to look for opportunities for vigorous physical activity and movement in our daily life. As ways to increase the physical challenges in our comfortable suburban popcorn-like existence.

To seek opportunities for needless every day “hardship”. For the lack of a better term. And then combining this with some more structured training sessions.

Having more specific goals beyond health and longevity means that we move away from random exercise and toward training. Something that’s done for narrow goals. Be it significant muscle building, rehab or sports performance.

As for overall health and longevity, anything goes as long as we reach the WHO’s targets for weekly physical activity.

The Declining Standard Of Fitness

The Declining Standard Of Fitness

“”Kauhun”” company on skis.
Photo by SA-Kuva

This is a rant.

165 days. Five and a half months. That’s the minimum military service a Finnish male has to complete after his eighteenth birthday.

The time spent in the service is almost a third less than what it was in the 1950s. Back then, the fine youth of the nation had to gear up for at least eight months. Although the length of the service has changed, one tradition never fades.

Whenever the current group of young men (and women who’ve volunteered) enter the service, you hear the previous generations loath how “It’s not what it used to be. Dammit”.1 I echo this. The current service probably isn’t as tough as what it was when I did it. And let’s be honest, when I did it in 2003 it wasn’t that tough.

Yes, it felt tough at the time and I hated most of it. And yes, our last camp, called “guerrilla battle”, because each team spent a week wandering in the middle of fucking nowhere avoiding being captured, was cold. As in Artic-Circle-in-December-even-reindeers-are-struggling cold.

But as little as I enjoyed it, it wasn’t physically that tough. I definitely wasn’t fitter than an average recruit when I did my service. I might’ve even been below average. Yes, I did occasional weight training. But that was the extent of my fitness or sport endeavours as a 19-year-old youngster.

I also know that the military service in 2003 wasn’t nowhere as tough as it was in the early 90s. And in the early 90s it probably wasn’t nowhere as demanding as what it was when my dad’s generation did it in the 1970s. One only has to imagine the tension of the Cold War. Combined with the ever looming anger of the power hungry leader dicks of the Soviet Union.

And obviously I won’t even discuss any of the above in the same paragraph when comparing what my grandfather’s generation must’ve gone through before and during World War II. Back when the most of dickish of them all, Father Josif, came knocking.

Each passing decade since the World War II, the physical demands of the Finnish military service have gradually gotten easier.

Some aspects of the easing of standards make sense. We do not fight the modern wars the same way as we once did. I don’t think we need to expect the same physical demands from most of our youth during a wartime than was the norm in the 1940s. But I won’t dwell into the triviality of the modern warfare here and now.

The fitness possessed by an average rookie who enters the service is not what it used to be. The Finnish army admits they’ve had to lower the standards because physical demands of the service have to be within a reach of the current youth. However long that reach might be.

And that’s why the definition of being fit enough to go through a military service is different to what it was twenty or fifty years ago. Let alone what it was eighty years ago when one needed a level of physical robustness to get through life.

Today, when an average unfit rookie enters the service, he or she can look around and think of himself or herself as rather fit since most of his cohorts are in the same shape. Oddly, it might be those who enter the service with a high level of fitness that are the outliers.

Sideshow Box
Women enter the service voluntarily. And it takes a certain character to do so. I assume that most, if not all the women entering the service are much fitter than an average male.

Frightening as it is, the people entering the mandatory military service provide us with a deep cut into our society’s state of health and fitness. Or at least the future of it. Whether it’s Finland or Australia, it’s clear that our physical fitness is declining.

And it makes me sad and upset. Really upset. As in, “I’m going to Sha Booms!”2– upset.

Where we live shapes our fitness standards

Let’s look at the data in Sydney. For those who live in the inner city suburb of Mosman (I don’t) the standard of being fit is very different to those who live in the Western Sydney3 (that’s me, ish).

In Mosman, the outlier might be the unfit individual. In the West, the outlier might be the very fit-looking person. All we need to do is spend a day observing people in both locations.

So unless we have the means to live in a fit and affluent suburb, being fit means we have to fight against cultural norms. If we see a lot of morbidly obese and extremely unfit people around us it’s easy to think we’re acing health by being “a little unfit”. Even if it means a looming metabolic illness in the horizon.

And because it’s always hard to go against the norm, both locations provide a feedback loop that keeps reinforcing the habits of the population. Great for those living in Mosman. Not so for those in the greater Western Sydney.

It’s possible to bypass this fitness-straightjacket.

Whatever our suburb, we can improve our odds of being fit by surrounding ourselves with people who share our values of health and fitness. It’s possible to create our own pockets of Mosman (health-wise, because, well, if you’ve been to Mosman you’d know) regardless of where we live.

This could be about spending more time with active friends and finding a local community of like-minded people. Or by joining “I Order a Salad at McDonald’s!” – Facebook group. Although, with the current online algorithms that group is probably a breeding ground for the future Anti-Vaxxers and “Finland Does Not Exist” – conspiracy theorists.

It’s not just the people around us that we look for feedback.

As our society is getting less fit the surrounding infrastructure has to adjust to it. More travelators at the airport (except those with illness or movement problems, who would not want to walk every meter after a long-haul flight?). Convenient parking close to services. Drive-through everything. Elevators instead of stairs.

Our world is reinforcing the decline of our fitness by giving us the permission, or at least tempting us, to be less fit. We seek comfort. We don’t have to try, so why would we? We are heading into the direction, if we’re not already there, where we don’t have to be physically active to live.

We are at a point where to get any form of physical activity we have to make a conscious decision to exercise. Whereas a physical activity can be a by-product of doing a wide-ranging tasks or learning skills, we exercise with a narrow purpose of increasing our fitness.

It takes an effort to exercise. And despite all the science on the benefits of doing it, most people don’t. Because it’s too hard, boring and time-consuming.

We’ve becoming a society where at a sight of physically demanding task we spin on our heels and let the people mover take us into the opposite direction. And it’s only going to get worse.


1 Or, in Finnish, “Ennen piti vetaa sukset jalassa telaketjutonta panssarivaunua umpihangessa ainaki kaks kilometria. Ylamäkeen. Perkele.”

2Don’t mess with Kenny’s jetski

3Health Tracker reveals Sydney suburbs with highest rates of obese and overweight children, inactive adults

Why We Should Appreciate Our Bodies As They Are

Why We Should Appreciate Our Bodies As They Are

Oh, don’t mind me. Just sitting here, desperately looking out for the next best thing.
Photo by Dmitry Bayer on Unsplash

I will bet my left knee cap that as you’re reading this, there is something about your body that you’d like to change. That you don’t feel completely satisfied with how something in your body looks (belly fat), feels (spongy) or moves (tight, or constipated).

We often think of this lack of satisfaction as a good thing. It provides the motivation to switch into our training gear. That little voice that urges us to make healthier decisions during meal times. The soft whisper that tells us to eat more fibre.

So if these collective negative feelings about who we are now are driving us to be better for tomorrow, shouldn’t we embrace them with a shriek?

Then, once we reach our goals, we can finally feel content about ourselves.

But, alas, this is not the case. Let’s have my friend Emma prove it. She looks amazing. It’s clear that she cares for her body. Without looking like she has redirected her mailing address to the gym and diligently counts each gram of fibre in her diet.

Naturally my conversations with Emma often turn to training, fitness and health. And time and time again I come away from these conversations baffled by how unhappy she is about her appearance. Be it too much arm fat, back fat or ankle fat. Never satisfied with her present-self, there is always something she wants and needs to work on next.

That’s because Emma is a human. Which makes her notoriously incompetent at predicting what will make her happy and content.

Most of us are no different to Emma. We base the images of our future goals on how we would feel if we’d achieve those things today. We ignore the fact that who we are now is not the same as who we will be.

In Stumbling on Happiness Daniel Gilbert uses the example of a heterosexual teenage boy to illustrate this. Asking him to imagine how he would feel if a bikini wearing Budweiser babe (“if she’d be a president she’d be called Baberaham Lincoln”) would show up at his door in a desperate need for a massage.

Thrilled. That’s how he’d feel. But what if this same guy imagines how he’d feel if a bikini babe (still Baberaham Lincoln) would show up at his door in 50 years’ time?

Again, thrilled. He thinks he would feel as thrilled as he would today. But while blinded by these present thrills, he ignores that in 50 years he’ll be in his mid-, to late-sixties and will have a different level of hormones, life experience and whatnot running through him. All of which would alter his future experience.

The point? We are terrible at predicting what will make us content and happy. Yet we keep setting these lofty goals and expecting to feel euphoria once we reach them.

And even if our predictions of our future happiness are accurate, our insatiability keeps us from feeling content for the long-term.

This phenomenon has a catchy name: hedonic adaptation. We feel unfulfilled with what we achieve because we get easily bored with what we already have. The things we worked hard to get lose their appeal and we will take them for granted. And so we come up with new goals and targets. And on and on we go without ever feeling fully content in the present.

Although we typically associate hedonic adaptation with tangible things like new iPhones and fancy leather pants, it is prevalent in our careers, relationships, and yes, in our self-image.

Unless we “cure” our insatiability, we can never jump off the demonic rat wheel of desiring what we don’t have. There will always be the next thing that becomes the burning focus of our whimsical appetite.

The alternative is to find contentment in how we look, feel, and move as we are today.

Instead of using a negative verbal lashing to push ourselves forward, we can learn to appreciate what we already have. A one way to do this is by practicing an ancient stoic technique called negative visualisation. The thick-bearded Roman stoics were the masters at finding tranquillity in the present.

They regularly contemplated how their life would be if they’d lose the things they valued. Whether it was visualising losing the annual pass to their favourite bathhouse, not having enough food on the table, or worse, being exiled to a remote island.

And it’ll work just as well in our fast-paced modern world. We can visualise losing our physical resiliency, our career, family or our favorite coffee mug.

Negative visualisation works, even if we think there really isn’t a way things could get any worse.

If you’re unhappy with that ankle fat you could think how sad you would feel if you’d break your ankle and couldn’t walk at all. Imaging your life navigating the word as an ankless being.

If you are already dealing with a broken ankle and can’t walk, you can visualise how much it would suck if your leg would be cast up to the groin. Got that going for you already? You can visualise how life would be if you’d break your dominant arm.

This might sound extreme, but the Roman stoics believed that regardless of how bad the situation might seem, it could always be worse. Meaning that there is always something to be grateful for.

How much happier would we be if we’d set aside few minutes each day for negative visualisation?

Maybe it’s when we’re commuting or before pausing for lunch. When we’re going for a walk or getting ready for sleep. For only few minutes a day.

This doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to reach your goals. But it might make us question which goals are worth pursuing.


If this sparked your interest in stoicism, I highly recommend reading William B. Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy Although the writing could use some heavy-handed editing, the content itself is brilliant. It’s a great introduction to stoicism. Besides, the writing could be a lot worse.

There. Negative visualisation coming right at you.

Being Physically Resilient Makes Life Better

Being Physically Resilient Makes Life Better

Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

Now here’s a word I love in every possible way. And probably more than any sensible person should love a specific set of alphabets aligned in a meaningful way. Despite the risk of sounding like a hardcore weirdo, here goes.

I love the way it looks on a piece of paper (or on the screen), the way it resonates in my ears, the way it feels in my mouth when I say it out loud. Or even better, when I whisper it on to a microphone while looking at myself in the mirror. 

Ah, the way people look at me when I say it. The way I look at people when they look at me when I say it… Ok, it wasn’t that weird.

Resiliency. Say it with me. Resiliency. Now go stand in front of the mirror and say it again. “Resiliency…” Let it linger. I was right, right?

But most of all, I love what it means:

The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

I love it in both the mental and physical contexts. But for now, let’s stick with what it means to be physically resilient.

Resiliency to injuries

You’re running through the woods, taking deep breaths of fresh air, filling your nostril cavities, odorant receptors and lungs with the smell of the misty rain. A bird! As thoughts of admiration for those vibrant colours of the feathered creature form in your mind, you take a miss step into an old wombat burrow. Thumb! You face plant with force and twist your ankle in the process. 

“Scheissen!”, you scream out loud and expect to see a throbbing ankle stare back at you. Your mind plays through the near future misery. You’re convinced that these silent misty morning runs are going to be on hold for a while. At least an ankle strain, if not something worse.

But, alas. After five minutes, the ankle feels normal. You put a bit of weight on it. Feels fine. So you put a bit more weight on it.. Still fine. Marching in place, running in place, vigorous cossack cavalry dance in place. All of it feels fine. And indeed, your ankle is fine. 

You sweep up the broken pieces of your ego and return to the trail with a sense of having just dodged a proverbial bullet shot out of an old wombat burrow and aimed at your ankle.

Resiliency. That strength training you’ve done has paid off.

Strength training doesn’t mean that you’ll never get injured.

Because sometimes you might. But it’s likely that the strength training you’ve put in allows you to escape with less damage to the injured area. 

With a buffer of physical resiliency from training the body can absorb more of the impact. Bend more without breaking and protect the joint for further injury.

Resiliency to complete unplanned tasks in life

Now, this is not the greatest feat of strength anyone’s ever mastered. But it serves as a good example. And makes me look like a decent bloke. Which is really the reason for this website to exist in the first place. So here goes.

The other day I ducked out to the shops with our son.

After parking, I carried him on one arm as we made our way through the car park and towards the shops. Just before walking through the sliding doors I saw an old geezer with a cane. He had a trolly filled with cases of soft drinks and was he clearly struggling to push the damn thing forward.

There was no way he was able to push the trolley down the ramp and to his car. Let alone being able to lift the cases into his car. How he got the cases in the trolley still remains a mystery to me.

I could see his eyes were searching for a connection. To raise the attention of any helpful individual. As he was being ignored by the able, but bad mannered and ruined youth who just walked past him, I offered to help. 

So I took the geezer’s trolley to his car and loaded the cases in the boot for him. Despite him being adamant that shouldn’t or couldn’t do it while carrying a child. Which I guess tells something about how physically intimidating I am.

In the end, it made the old guy’s life just a bit easier. And despite my persistent and repeated decline of reward, he shoved a five dollar note in my son’s pocket as we turned to walk away. Which I guess tells something about the homeless look I have. 

Either way, he wanted me to buy candy for the kid. Which we didn’t do. I bought a beer for myself instead. Sacrifices us parents do to protect our kid’s teeth from cavities.

One has to wonder about that old geezer…

What if he would’ve been strength training his whole life? Maybe he wouldn’t need my help. Maybe he wouldn’t need a cane. After all, he wasn’t that old. Just in a sad state of physical health.

Or maybe… he had been strength training his whole life. Maybe he once was strong and resilient. And maybe everything changed in a car accident years ago. An accident that left him physically incapable. Who knows?

Regardless, I know I will do whatever it takes so I have the resiliency to carry my own groceries when I’m his age.

So yeah, being physically resilient makes life better.

It makes us more resilient to injuries. And when injuries do happen, the physical resiliency allows us to recover quicker.

It’s about helping the old geezer get high on soft drinks.

Giving your friend a helping hand to move the couch (and a fridge and “would you mind moving that piano and the full fish tank too”).

Or running to catch a bus and not feel like you’re sucking all the coronavirus oxygen out of the vehicle once you sit down.

Having physical resiliency makes life better.

Walk Away To Come Back Stronger Another Day

Walk Away To Come Back Stronger Another Day

Strength, power and cardiovascular fitness forms the foundation for longevity. And these qualities have to be constantly nurtured to stop them from crumbling. They need the integrity that comes from frequent practice.

Yet there is a point of diminishing returns. A point of too much. Be it chasing some random ego-driven numbers with weights, running ourselves to the ground on the trails, or pushing that one extra set or rep when it clearly doesn’t matter.

Should I stay or should I go?
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Strength, power and cardiovascular fitness forms the foundation for longevity. And these qualities have to be constantly nurtured to stop them from crumbling. They need the integrity that comes from frequent practice.

Yet there is a point of diminishing returns. A point of too much. Be it chasing some random ego-driven numbers with weights, running ourselves to the ground on the trails, or pushing that one extra set or rep when it clearly doesn’t matter.

As I am closing in on a full decade of working with clients, and twenty years of training myself, this is one of the guidelines I try to drill into people’s heads (including my own) the most:

It’s okay.
You’ve done enough.
Walk away.
Come back another day.

Not only is it a solid advice, it also rhymes. Which in itself is a great thing in any sentence. And means that because of the poetic beauty in it, it shouldn’t be argued with.

Listen to the sweet whispers of your body.

This can be tricky, and sometimes we abuse it to get away from doing the good quality work. It’s a skill to differentiate between mentally not feeling it and feeling off physically. A skill that usually gets better as the training age increases.

What often acts as a good guide, unless you’re feeling like an absolute dirt, is just starting the workout. Just by completing the movement prep and the first set of training can bring a newly found glory to the body and mind. That’s a sign to keep going.

The opposite is true too. If after the movement prep the body and mind still feel like they’ve been a pinata for a bunch enthusiastic kids high on birthday cake while practising their latest karate moves, it might be better to walk away. Literally, a walk instead might be a good idea.

Only quality reps matter.

It’s often that “one more set” that will leave us feeling like a bag of runny donkey poo for days, even weeks. Injuries, muscle strains and general shadiness usually happen in the vicinity of trying to do a few more.

Quality reps deliver results and leave you feeling semi-fresh. Piling shitty reps on top for the sake of quantity usually does nothing good, but leave you tired. And being tired is not a measuring stick for the success of a training session.

Compare previous results before “I’ll do one more”.

Checking what you’ve done in the past can act as a guide to whether you should do more. If you’re feeling great and one more means just a bit better than in the previous workouts, go at it. Be great. A savage, if you must. Whatever adjective that gets you going will do, really.

If you’ve already done a bit better than before it might be better to walk away. You’ve done enough. Insert the rest of the rhyme here and whistle away.

And if you’re constantly feeling like you’ve been run through a meat grinder it’s time to investigate what’s up.

If you’re like most of us it’s unlikely that you’re training too much. But it could be that you’re training too much for what your body can handle with whatever else is going on in your life. And it often comes back to the basics of not enough sleep and food, of too much stress.

Let’s do just enough to keep getting better.

The Restorative Power of Nature

The Restorative Power of Nature

Maybe my most lamest new-age title so far. I couldn’t resist. Great view though.
Photo by John Silliman on Unsplash

Worry not, I am not turning into a naturopathic charlatan recommending people to snort a combination of celery powder and dragon tears thought a cinnamon stick to cure a nasty case of donkey breath.

But we can agree (as does science) that getting outside does something wonderful to us. Like with all the living things, being a human is better with a daily dose of outdoors.

Staying focused on the drops of rain hitting our face as we navigate through a national park. The calming effects of silence during a bush walk and feeling reinvigorated as we plunge into the cold water while canyoning.

Feeling invigorated as the pulse ramps up during a hilly trek. The intoxicating sense of fresh air rushing through our lungs when sprinting the last five hundred meters.

The sense of stress subsiding as we break for a meal and stare into the distant stillness. Taking in the peaceful view from far above the tree tops.

That’s why we keep showing up. That’s why we train. For the promise of being able to soak in the nature with all our senses.

The Tax On Chasing High Performance

The Tax On Chasing High Performance

The greatest athletes at the peak of their careers are not necessarily healthier than an average punter. In fact, they might even be worse off because of the toll their sport is taking on the body. Leaning too heavily on performance will have a negative effect on health. And there’s a tax the high level athlete will eventually have to pay for their success.

Similarly, the most aesthetics pleasing body is not always the healthiest. A six pack is not the pinnacle of health. It too often comes with a tax on health.

The tax might not be due tomorrow. But there’s no escaping the reality that one day this price for success needs to be paid back. It’s the price for sacrificing health and longevity for a relatively short term goal.

One-dimensional goal: winning. Two-dimensional outcome: success with the tax on health. Great, if that’s the goal. High level athletes are ok with the sacrifice. Winning is worth the tax. That’s how sports work. That’s how you make it to the top.

In high paid athletes the tax isn’t necessarily a problem. Inconvenient? Sure. But apart from collision injuries to the head, they will have the money to pay most of the tax later in life.

But what about those of us who are not highly paid athletes? We can’t think like the athletes do. We can’t sacrifice overall wellbeing to win the ultra competitive local wrestling competition every year. It’s probably not worth the sacrifice. We can’t afford to pay the tax.

And even if we can, it’s worth asking, is this performance goal worth the price? There’s no right or wrong. But I know where I stand*.

Focus on being a healthy, well functioning human first. Have a bendable, but unbreakable foundation. Add performance (whatever this means to you) as much as you can without reducing function and health.

Let someone else win the wrestling.


*in the stands. Having a beer.

After taxes.
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash
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

Bloodwork

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.

Onwards!

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.

Onwards!

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.

Onwards!

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.

Onwards!

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?


References:

[1] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/body-mass-index-bmi-and-waist-circumference
[2] Healthy percentage body fat ranges: an approach for developing guidelines based on body mass index

Spandex Not Compulsory – What is it about?

Spandex Not Compulsory – What is it about?

In case you’re wondering, yes, I am the one on the right.

 

Here’s the lowdown on Spandex Not Compulsory. (If you are new here, here’s a quick recap: book in progress, out soon).

Who is it for? Who is it NOT for? Should you buy it? Does it come with elf stickers? 


First, let me tell you who it is not for. It is not for those who adore spandex, fake-tan, counting calories and have the time to train more than Arnold did in the 70’s.

Now that that’s out of the way, who is it for then? Do people who don’t adore spandex even read books? Well…

It is a book for the busy grownups who struggle with time and motivation. For those who want to get more out of life by becoming stronger, fitter and more confident. But refuse to devote their life to restrictive fitness rules.

To see results you need an approach that fits your life. Yes, locking yourself in the basement, away from life’s temptations works. Or, you could learn the flexible principles that allow you to ace work and enjoy life.

In the book you’ll discover:

–     How to find motivation and stop relying on willpower

–     How to find more time for exercise

–     How training and healthy eating can work with an ever-changing schedule

–     Results-driven habits that allow you to enjoy life

–     A 12-week training program for a strong and resilient body

–     Access to the online bonus section

–     Free unisex spandex bodysuit*

–     And so much more

*Ok, spandex bodysuit is definitely not included.

Excited? If not, I hope I at least got a tiny thrill happening somewhere deep inside of you. The book will be on sale at Amazon the first week it’s out, both on Kindle and Paperback. And yes, still aiming for 14th of May, currently getting the typesetting and interior formatting done.

If you’ve got any questions, please email me. Even if it’s about the elf stickers.