I love it when clients want to just move better. They’ve tried yoga, pilates, martial arts but found that they just didn’t meet their needs on a few levels. Some don’t like the dogma that comes with the strict ‘rules’ of the modality. Others don’t ‘feel’ the linear nature of just moving back and forth, up and down. These clients just want to move, to flow.
I am very thankful that I turned up to a thing called Animal Flow and few years ago. My certification weekend started with me wondering what will this give me? Will anyone ever want to do this stuff with me?
Because of the style of Animal Flow many people will struggle to see where it fits in. It kind of looks like yoga, but there’s much more movement, there’s multi-planar positions and moving around. It’s not typical calisthenics – where are the push ups, pull ups and pistol squats?
It’s not capoeira, gymnastics or parkour but Animal Flow draws inspiration from all of these other methods. That’s very much what Animal Flow creator aimed to create – a multi-planar, ground based movement fitness system.
Since leaving my certification weekend I have introduced Animal Flow to many people who came along either out of curiosity or because they sought something new to do with their body. And I love that. Dogma has no place in moving, or fitness.
There are no bad movements, except those that cause pain today
If you’re interested in exploring movement whether it’s with Animal Flow or other methods, why not get in touch to see we can get you started.
Exercising to achieve some kind of benefit, whether strength, ‘fitness’, metabolic changes, recovery, rehabilitation, sport training and so on; rely on some set principles. Specificity, overload, recovery, safety and specialised variety are some key considerations. Failure to apply those principles equates to poor or negligible outcomes.
However, ‘opportunity’ is my favourite principle not mentioned above and probably not in the standard list of requirements for training adaptations.
Opportunity appears consistently. That’s the wonderful thing about health, strength, fitness and skill – you don’t actually need to the contrived 45 to 60 minutes of gym time to achieve goals. It sure helps with some goals, but overall, it’s just a convenience.
If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.
Tom Peters, Businessman and Author
Life can be busy, disruptive, random. Always expect the unexpected.
For the unassuming, disruptions to the ideal daily schedule can result in sacrificing that 45 minute training session. However, keep in mind that the standard 45 to 60 minute gym session is only a convenience and contrived. The reality is that the body hasn’t and doesn’t need an organised block of time to adapt to specific, overloaded movements / exercises to progress.
Labourers of the past with chiseled physics haven’t frequented a gym after work to build their physiques. They accumulated the specific and reasonably overloaded physical movements to carve out strong, useful and fit bodies.
I will never forget my neighbour when I lived in Carryduff, a quiet little (former farming) town in Northern Ireland. Neil was a professional painter, heavy smoker and a mighty fine fisherman at the weekend. Neil never went to the gym and found it odd that I made a living making people ‘do stuff’ in a gym haha. Neil however had calf muscles that the most seasoned bodybuilder would have been proud of. He had round, athletic shoulders and vascular forearms.
Note again that he never exercised at a gym, but his life provided all the opportunities his body needed to adapt to the specific demands of his occupation. Climbing ladders, painting, holding heavy tins of Baltic Mist and Beige Chiffon gave Neil his calves, shoulders and arms. I can guarantee he never counted reps or maxed out his brush strokes. He did a bit, rested a bit… repeat for the day and most days of the year.
The human body thrives on frequent, reasonable physical stress.
FitStrong Strength & Wellness
In the StrongFirst methodology of training we talk about strength being a skill. Skill takes practice, frequent practice. The same applies to health and fitness. Sports research demonstrates time and time again that frequent exposure to movements increases the skill and adaptation to the stresses involved. Mix this with good quality sleep, and ‘wham’, you’ve got results.
So, you find yourself without 45 minutes to train. Not a problem. You can still progress by practicing whenever the opportunity arises.
Everyday Is Training Day… or at least an opportunity to add to your bank of training practice.
‘But how do I train every day Jamie, won’t I overtrain’?
Training is practice… ok? Training is not; let’s be clear, NOT training hard every day. Not maxing out or even working beyond 70 or 80% of your maximum. Training is the practice of the requisites of progressing. Punching the clock. Turning up and putting in reasonable and thoughtful efforts.
Many programs exist that work on this premise. The 40 Day program aka Easy Strength by Dan John / Pavel Tsatsouline is one such program. This program is a 5 day a week strength program where you turn up, do the work, in this case 10 reps for each of 5 different strength lifts.
There are great movement skill programs too, that ask for daily practice to develop the required skills.
Many schedules can be drawn up to work with the ‘Every Day is Training Day’ principle.
One such schedule could look like this:
Monday – mobility routine
Tuesday – strength routine
Wednesday – mobility routine and walk
Thursday – strength routine
Friday – mobility routine
Weekend – hike, walk, play, have fun.
Yes, it could take other looks but this demonstrates a simple yet reasonable approach to practicing being healthy, strong and mobile every day.
If you are wondering how to build your daily training practice, why not get in touch to arrange an online, virtual solution.
In the 80s and even early 90s we were led to believe dietary fat was the enemy and that training with weights would make us too bulky. As a competitive cyclist this struck a deep chord. Who wants to lug extra weight around the countryside?
When an average days cycling was done, you’d raid the kitchen of every known carb, lean meats including liver (often boiled) and then clean the bike before resting.
The rules for rest went like this.
Don’t stand if you can sit and don’t sit if you can lie down.
The recipe of a cyclists life: Ride – Eat – Rest
There was also no known reason to get purposefully stronger with anything else but the bike. Specifically yes, riding the bike makes you better at bike riding, but if you value one percenters and optimisation, spending just a little time in the gym can be the missing magic potion.
I only discovered the benefits of strength training during a year out because of my knee injury. I was left with no option but to do circuit training routines with a pair of York dumbbells with exercises I took from Flex or Muscle & Fitness magazine; the only reference for resistance training I could find in the newspaper shop at the time.
Whilst not perfect, I had a strength routine of sorts to help keep up my strength and fitness and yikes, did I feel awesome when I got back to racing the year after, I even had these things called biceps and deltoids!
My haphazard routine has thankfully been vastly overhauled since then. The cyclists I currently train follow a very particular recipe consisting of essential ingredients for both the bike and life.
When programming for any sport, not just cycling, I believe it’s a duty of care to take into consideration life outside of the sport. I ask, ‘what will best serve the sport and not take away from other physical qualities, but add’? Essentially, I want the individual to be more resilient and better equipped for their cycling whilst also being more useful for life overall. This also addresses some of the issues cyclists exhibit off the bike from feet issues, lower back and shoulder complaints.
Cutting to the chase, here are my top movements for cyclists.
(Pictures for simple illustration only and not instructional purposes. Videos available upon request)
Hip Hinging – deadlifts, both bilateral and single leg deadlifts and kettlebell swings
Knee dominant movements – Squats, both bilateral and unilateral, like kickstand squats and step ups
Crawling forward, backwards and inverted and rocking rush ups with varied hand positions.
Balance Beam walks and balance drills
Deadbugs, Birddogs and Rows, both 2 arm and single arm
Single arm Carries (suitcase, goblet, overhead)
Get Ups. It takes a bit of coaching but proves a great tool to add to the toolbox.
Here’s a variation of the Turkish Get Up to consider
These two components are written into each training session, generally with the life essentials being built into the warm up and finishing sequences. The cycling essentials are placed after warm ups, when fresh.
The weekly placing of each hinge and squat variation are dependent on the cyclists bike sessions but generally, the heaviest lifts are best early in the week with the explosive work towards the end of the week.
Reps, sets and intensities are a bit beyond the scope of this piece but should be programmed so as not to compete with the cyclists racing / training calendar.
Generally though, developing the hinge strength should be a priority whilst maintaining stable, healthy knees with squat variations is important. No exercise should ever be taken to fatigue or muscle / form failure. Instead, I like to use an average of around 75% perceived effort.
Minimum Effective Dose!
If pushed for a ‘program minimum’ for cyclists, I’d really have to recommend the single leg deadlift, swings, walking kickstand squats on a balance beam (yes, seriously) and backward crawling. Just for the laugh though, a ‘minimum program minimum’ would probably take the form of swings and crawling!
It’s always hard to reduce one’s work into a short(ish) blog post. There are always lots of variables when writing an individual’s program.
If anyone would like to explore these movements further I am always happy to talk… or run a workshop to really dig in deeper!
Notes from two cyclists at FitStrong
A late comer to cycling, Bash took up cycling at 38 to shed a few kilos but ended up with the bike bug. Now 43 he competes in Mountain Bike endurance events around the world from Nepal to Italy. Since starting at FitStrong Bashier reports often how much more aggressive he feels on the bike, even at the top of a climb or after a sprint. His upper body strength now allows him to wrestle the bike over the trails rather than just surviving them. He loves that he never gets visits from the cramp fairy too.
Bec started at FitStrong with a ‘broken body’ in her own words. On her first visit she presented with two sides of an A4 page listing every injury and surgery she had sustained from other sports and cycling. Bec competes all over Australia in Mountain Bike endurance races. After a short period of training Bec noted how much more connected she feels with her body on the bike. Her reflexes seem sharper, all the imbalances ironed out and her confidence is boosted too with much better upper body endurance.
Got any feedback or would you like to explore these ideas further? Get in touch below.
Last week I re-introduced metabolic training with MovNat Metabolic, their new online program. Here’s that post.
I’ve finished week 1 and was surprised at how the use of such various natural movements and equipments pushed me a bit. 30 seconds of effort always seems longer than 30 seconds of rest! Odd that, hey?!
I never got to the point of sharing my breakfast with the floor, but I definitely had to focus on maintaining my nasal breathing in the latter rounds when the efforts work on a continuous flow, or combo of the sessions movements. It felt a bit like a a last minute dash to get all the yard work done before dinner on a cold day.
It was cold mind you (which helps for this kind of training) but I followed up this particular session with a good 5km walk. It too felt great. The recovery benefits of a walk post training are lengthy and worthy of a good conversation at some stage soon. But a combination of gentle movement to untangle the fatigued muscles, pumping the blood around the body and the behind the scenes lymphatic system stimulation really aids in recovery. Much more so than plopping down in front of Netflix with a protein shake.
Todays movements include the side step up, vertical jumps up & down, push press, side swings on pull up bar and the tripod get up. A fine collection of contextual movements.
Did you know I provide online coaching? If this kind of training tickles your fancy, I would be more than happy to chat about working together.
With many high-street gyms reopening you can see and smell the enthusiasm and overindulgence. However, unlike restocking your kitchen supplies, you can’t bulk buy gym gains.
No amount of extraneous efforts or time in the gym will boost strength, fitness, muscle size but, it sure will leave you walking like a baby giraffe and smelling like a liniments factory.
What is the best approach to restarting your plan?
If you are totally restarting your regime after a 3 month break, taking your time with a minimal effective dose is going to help you stick to your reinvigorated habit. No point in busting yourself with 2 or 3 exercises for each movement type or body part. Just remind your body of what each movement is.
The key movements:
A hip hinge – deadlift, pick up and carry, hip bridge
A pushing movement
A pulling movement
An (1) abdominal bracing exercise
Just 5 simple, natural strength movements.
Effort wise, this is where most go wrong, very wrong. The kind of wrong that’ll keep you away from the gym again for a week at least.
Here’s a guide to direct you through your average 3 day week at the gym.
Day 1: work up to a 5-6 out of 10 effort. Yes that easy. Trust me.
Day 2: work up to a 6-7 out of 10 effort.
Day 3: work up to a 7 out of 10 effort.
From here on, work on this basis.
Day 1: 6/10 effort
Day 2: 8/10 effort
Day 3: 7/10 effort
This waving pattern of effort is proven very effective for gains in strength and fitness. An easier day, a harder day and a medium day. Following this pattern will allow for gains and maintaining gym frequency.
Now then, for all you home training folks returning to the gym, the same hip hinge, push, squat, pull, abs routine applies as does the effort, but per day, you can focus a bit more on one or two particular moves.
Day 1, turn up and practice the 5 big movements. Go home, eat, rest and recover.
Let’s say day 2 you work harder on the squat and rows. You can take a secondary movement that will support those two moves, like for example step ups and active hangs. After these you can simply maintain the other movements (hip hinge, push and abs).
Day 3 maybe focus more on the deadlift backed up with the broad jump or kettlebell swings. If you work harder on pressing, you could back this up with overhead throws or med ball slams. Maintain all other lifts (pull, squat and abs)
Hmmm, this doesn’t perhaps read so easily!
So here’s a deal. If you want to listen and learn and put this to the test, ask and I shall deliver a nice looking table with each day laid out. Easier on the eye and easy to follow.
I’ll leave it there, but trust me when I tell you to start back with a simple, sustainable plan. I’ve seen one guy this week who couldn’t even brush his hair because of the soreness in his arms and shoulders after a lengthy gym session. I couldn’t help but laugh – terrible me!
The 2020 I’ve lived so far has been far removed from the one I had planned. Business life, family life and exercise. Back in February I was on a plan to work on my pressing abilities focussing monthly on various forms of pressing. At the same time I had planned to continue to explore contextualising my traditional strength training with natural movement health, strength and fitness routines.
It’s now June and the more serious pressing program has been de-emphasised to reduce overall stress. Stress is a terrible burden that weighs down many ambitions. Not wanting to add physical stress onto emotional and mental stress, I reduced the more serious, heavy training to work on an easy strength program I was giving to gym clients. I must write about that one as it was full of surprises. Made me think again about ‘how hard is hard enough’ in strength training.
Heading into July now I feel more ready to tackle something. I’ve been following the more relaxed strength program and now favour something more metabolic. Something to make me work on my breathing; fitness if you will, maybe with a hint of hypertrophy and strength endurance.
If you spend time delving into the various metabolic programs you will find some commonalities. Namely how work to rest ratios are timed.
Time and time again you’ll find 30:30:30 routines. In fact, long time coach, Dan John has recently reinvigorated his 30 minutes of 30 secs work and 30 secs of rest routine with 5 movements. I’ve used similar in the past and miraculously in the past week, MovNat released their metabolic program. And yes, it too has elements of 30:30. Fancying something different and in the grain of my recent training, I have dived straight into the MovNat metabolic 8 week program. It allows for various equipment to be utilised. My kettlebells will not be gathering dust over the next 8 weeks!
I will document my progress over the next 8 weeks and all going well, I’ll have something presentable for my clients and MovNat head quarters too.
As a quick glimpse of todays routine, here’s a wee video for you.
It’s a simple looking routine. Each movement represents everyday activities. Lifting ‘stuff’, crawling both hand foot and inverted, getting up from the ground and the sprawl is a very common method of getting up from the floor. I’m not going to give the whole MovNat program away, just snippets here and there.
You might not have ambitions to be heavy hitter gym goer, world record deadlifter. You may and probably want to be a better operating version of yourself though. And this is where I believe natural movement style programs rules.
Fun, practical and relative.
And to be clear, this is not a follow along video with instructions. It’s a demonstration. Got it?
Let’s kick this off by stating that all movement is good, so long as it doesn’t hurt. No, pain is not weakness leaving the body. It’s a signal to stop doing what you’re doing. The fitness world is a packed arena full of good movement from yoga, pilates, barbells, kettlebells, calisthenics, walking, running etc etc. It’s all good. Moving is good. Feeling good is good.
But here’s a question, is what you are doing now going to serve you when you are both out of your exercise modality and when you will be old(er)?
It’s great to be flexible, but are you strong? It’s awesome to be strong, but can you get to the floor and play with the kids or grandkids?
It’s mighty fine to have an exercise habit but are you useful?
This is something I’ve been acknowledging for a while now after the realisation that some people are great in the gym but, well, kind of suck at life usefulness. A bold and cheeky statement, but a truism all the same. It is oh so very important to go to the gym, develop strength, mobility and to go for a good walk or run, but I believe we are missing the boat somewhat by not using our exercise time for a higher purpose. Life.
Life is not just going to the gym (#gymislife) as many will propose. Life is living well, with great function until the day we die. Doing the housework without getting out of breath. Tidying up the garden without putting your back out. Playing with the kids without limitations. Having the confidence to go for a good bush walk, climbing over boulders and jumping over creeks. And as we age, still being able to do all of this as well as dress ourselves and climb the stairs with an armful of groceries.
Note, I made no reference to doomsday preparation or the zombie apocalypse. I’m talking about real-world, purposeful exercise.
Believe me when I say I love kettlebell swings and presses. Like as much as Thor loves Beer, I love Kettlebell training. But while the kettlebell swing does develop strong, snappy hips, it’s not the best preparation for jumping over things. It’ll help a lot, but will not develop the ankles and feet for take off and landing as well as propulsing the body through space. The kettlebell press teaches great pressing mechanics but not necessarily the pressing ability to push over the top of a wall, branch or throwing a heavy object. Pressing a weight will help, but it’s not complete.
Yes, strength training with weights from kettlebells to barbells is fantastic but maybe they lack some reality or context to the real world.
Here’s a fun challengeto contextualise your training
If you train 3 times a week for example, how about taking one of the sessions and adding context. By that I mean converting each exercise or movement on your list and making them real world applications of that movement. This session wouldn’t mean a max out type session, but the execution of purpose behind each movement.
To demonstrate, here are some ideas.
There are no reasons ‘not’ to practice traditional strength movements. They are great at develop specific strengths. What I would love to see more of is the practice of using these traditional lifts with a flare of real-world applications.
A greater use of our time spent in the gym would be in helping others. Be that assisting the elderly, disabled, volunteering to help maintain our green spaces putting your hand up when people ask for help on social media. We’ve almost gotten to a stage when meeting new people is fearful. Eye contact is dwindling or shielded behind our smart devices.
As the Irish poet William Butler Yeats put it, ‘There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met’.
Train to be strong, useful to yourself, your family and community.
I would love to hear from you if you already train / exercise / workout this way. Likewise, if you’d be interested in learning more and how to apply this concept to your own training, just get in touch.
I really am a terrible person but I just can’t help myself laughing out loud, a literal lol when I watch one of those videos with people slipping, falling, crashing their bike on a straight road and of course cats slipping off the kitchen counter.
It is an innate human thing to do – laugh at someone else’s expense. This very natural response is called Schadenfreude. ‘Schadenfreude is when we laugh at someone else’s misfortune. Schadenfreude comes from the two German words, Schaden and Freude, harm and joy’. Psychology Today It’s our built in response to avoid fear or pain. Simple hey!?
Personally I’d rather not fuel someone else’s avoidance of feel fear or anxiety by not tripping, falling, slipping, to the best of my abilities anyway.
Another failing of mine are my feet. My big size 46 feet. I used to torture them by squeezing them into tight, rigid cycling shoes. I wore these specialised shoes for 20-25 hours+ a week for a few years when I raced full-time in the 90s’. The firmness of the shoe helps not waste energy pushing into the pedals but can and does result in pathetically weak feet and ankles if no other training is carried out.
Apart from neurological conditions, weak feet and ankles are leading causes of trips, falls and knee pains.
While my feet are better now than right after I hung up my bike and stiff shoes (because of knee problems), they have suffered anyway. I tend to train in the gym barefoot or in socks which has helped me immensely. No more orthotics for me. However, I noticed for ages how my bush walks took their toll on my feet and ankles despite wearing expensive barefoot style shoes. Cramps, aches and occasional plantar fascia inflammation all made walking less enjoyable. Until…
Until I discovered balance training.
In 2016 we had some renovation work done on our house. One length of hardwood removed nearly ended up in the builders skip. This piece of 5m, 8cm x 20cm chunk of hardware made me immediately think ‘balance exercises’ in the gym. I was mostly thinking of adding this for my senior gym members as part of fall-prevention training.
Sadly I didn’t action this right away. Thinking people would label me as mad as a fish I wasn’t brave enough to unleash the beam. Until…
… Until I finally attended the level 1 Certification with MovNat in January 2020. The curriculum includes many aspects of natural human movement. The preparation manual included many movements to practice including balance. I didn’t really think much about the effort of walking along a length of timber until I realised how inefficient I was. Not wanting to flunk my cert because I couldn’t balance walk, I put in much practice. Pretty much daily I spent a minute here and there walking forward, backwards, shuffling sideways, duck-walking along the timber and other really quite fun moves. This was between November 2019 and January 2020 and during this time I was still doing my weekly off-road walks that I’ve always done. Very rough paths, loose stones and rocks and bits of trees etc.
I can honestly say my body had an epiphany earlier in the year. Were I normally have to focus on where I’m placing my feet to avoid an ouchy, it’s as if my feet just all-of-sudden intuitively knew where to go. These past 6 months of ongoing off-road walking have been fantastic. More relaxed, faster when I need to be and so much more efficient with fewer trips or stumbles if any at all. Best of all, my feet and ankles simply do not give me any negative feedback afterwards. No tight ankles. No big toe pain. No plantar fascia pains. My feet have learned how to be feet again it seems.
Doing more readinghas supported my thoughts that balance training effectively fine tunes the feet and ankles and their reflexive strength and endurance.
I do still daily walks on my cheap ol homemade balance beam that was saved from the builder and I have all my clients routinely walking and working on some 2x4s from Bunnings. At $5 each these have been great investments. A lot cheaper than recovering from a painful fall or trip. I’m not saying a trip or fall will never happen, cause hey, ‘life happens’, but luck favours the prepared.
If you spend your day in hard soled shoes and complain of sore feet and ankles, I really do recommend you call over to your local hardware store and pick up a length of 2×4… or check out the builders skip in your suburbs.
Here are a couple of videos of simple balance drills, starting with one not needing any equipment at all, just the floor beneath you.
And if you can get hold of a 2×4 or similar, here are some great exercises to practice.