Fitness Can Be Just Moving

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.

Every Day Is Training Day

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.

Jamie

Essential Strength Training for Cyclists

Here’s a training post I wrote for my friends at Queensland Kettlebell in East Brisbane last month:

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? 

‘Sigh’! 

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)

  1. Cycling Essentials:

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

  1. Life Essentials:

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

Bashier:

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: 

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.

Metabolic Training part 2

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.

So the Gyms are Open Again… what next?

How to Restock your Gym Gains

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.

First Time Standing - Daily Squee - Cute Animals - Cute Baby ...

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:

  1. A hip hinge – deadlift, pick up and carry, hip bridge
  2. A pushing movement
  3. A squat 
  4. A pulling movement  
  5. 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! 

Natural Strength and Fitness

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 challenge to 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.

The Deadlift, or Lifting & Carrying or Forward Jumps?
Bench Press, or Crawls or Vertical Presses?
Barbell Squats, or Step ups or Balancing Walking Split Squats?
Good ‘ol Rows, or Hangs or Traversing?
Planking, or loaded carries. Perhaps tripod balancing & vaults!
Burpees, or the Prone Get Up, or maybe crawls to a hang & foot pinch?

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.

Jamie

The Squat Get Up

Adaptability is sown from practicing specific variety and getting to the floor and back up safely, effectively and efficiently happens by no accident but by frequent practice.

I’ve spoken about the benefits before of being able to get up from the ground with strength, grace and perhaps some flare and the Squat Get Up has all of those aplenty as well as great mobility.

Like the Side Bent Sit Get Up, the Squat Get Up entails a back roll, to a deep squat position and then standing up.

Like this.

Unlike the other get ups I’ve covered so far, the squat get up does actually require a few more physical competencies before being able to perform it.

  1. Having a a happy spine is essential to roll back on the floor.
  2. Having good hip mobility to roll into the deep squat position is needed.
  3. Having adequately mobile ankles is essential too, to sit in that deep squat.

Thankfully, practicing each of the components of the Squat Get Up will nurture these qualities.

As usual, let’s get to the video demonstration.

It should be reasonably obvious what’s going on with this get up, but let me list the key points.

  1. Start from a tall sitting position, knees flexed. Holding shins is optional.
  2. Flex spine and roll back onto the upper back, keeping chin tucked in.
  3. Roll back to the tall sitting position.
  4. With momentum and reaching arms in front of you try to roll into a deep squat. The feet might be close but a little wider is fine too.
  5. Stand up and return in the reverse sequence.

Got any feedback or do you need any personal help with the get ups? I’d love to help. Get in touch below.

Forget Calories…We Move Better and Stronger

At FitStrong I help people get fitter, stronger and more mobile. Not just for the sake of it though, but to become better more useful versions of ourselves. 

We work on the skills that lead towards our goals building confidence, competence and physical autonomy without an emphasis on ‘busting a gut’ or ‘smashing out sessions’. I like to consider training as nourishing our bodies rather than punishing it. 

We don’t however use exercise to burn calories – what a waste of life that is. I do promote wholesome eating. Trust me when I tell you that any time you work on eating more vegetables, more proteins, more water and less processed foods; that great things happen. 

If you realise that you need to move better and stronger, why not book in for a chat about what you need and how I can help. 

Jamie

‘Just having some fun’

Eye Training!

Most of us happen to live in a very media focused life. Entertainment is served through a screen, we learn and educate via screens and work in front of a screen too. If you have a life mostly void of screen time, I commend you and I’m envious and I’m sure you probably don’t get eye strains much. Limiting range of focus and specialising in short range focus is just not what the eyes are made for. As I often talk about – when you take away a natural element of our being, other parts will suffer. Take away a function of the eyes and the eyes will struggle.

For those who do get eye strains and tired eyes from screen time, yes, time away from the screen should be scheduled but, you could and should take a couple of minutes a few times a week or per day and train your eyes. And you should of course get your eyes tested for general health every year too.

Eye training will not mitigate ageing vision, that’s just part of getting old, deal with it, but you can develop more resilient eyes with the following simple exercises I will share with you.

Be More Erful… the Path to Usefulness

Exercise as a tool to use for personal physical development is fantastic but, is it enough to make an impact on your usefulness in a wider sense?

Here’s my odd question for you; “Are you erful”?

What the hell is erful? Well, I do like to make up words to define ‘things’ which other words don’t quite purvey. In this case, it’s simple the conjoining of er and ful, the suffixes to many (positive) adjectives.

  • Stronger
  • Fitter
  • Faster
  • Powerful
  • Nicer
  • Helpful
  • Friendlier
  • Healthier
  • Playful
  • Useful

Only a few things are important in life. Money, car, mortgage on awesome home, latest iPhone, annual overseas holiday, designer shoes? Nope, I argue these are not vital or important in life if your intentions are wholesome, honest and healthy. No one really cares if you have these. As we get older our family and friends won’t care about what we have. They will be concerned with what we can do for ourselves and others. Can we move well, get dressed, feed and bathe ourselves and do we have good health and friends.

“What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful.” ~ the Dalai Lama

I love to make use of training, exercise and to practice the physical elements that make up a healthy physical recipe for me and my clients but I am really starting to contemplate how we can follow a better recipe for improved general usefulness. Maybe it’s the current situation where coronavirus is now part of our day-to-day vocabulary. Maybe it’s an increased awareness of the people around us. How are they? Are they struggling in any way? Are they wary of me? Am I contagious? Can I help in some small way? If you’re not sleeping so well right now, it’s possibly because your brain is ticking over these thoughts in your subconscious.

I want to be more useful in general to myself, my family, my community in the ‘now’ and in the future.

How do we do that? I am actually not too sure. What I do know is that it’s a practice that starts with turning up, starting something and learning on the fly with hint of preparation of course.

About a year ago I did start this process with the realisation that strength and mobility training to be just stronger and more mobile was less useful than I first thought in the absence of purpose and context. I wrote about this over a few posts but now I realise that the other stuff beyond the strict, formulaic physical actions must be included.

We need more play, more social interaction of the non-internet type, we need more friendly eye contact and ‘hello, how are you’, we need to offer our help to others more often. It would be great if we could develop more of this whilst continuing to be more physically healthy.

My mid 2020 calendar was filled originally with more social sessions in the great outdoors that included meeting up, doing some strength work, play, balance, climbing, cooking up a BBQ and having a laugh. Hopefully soon I can roll these out so I can dive deeper into being more erful!

Are you already erful or do you want to be more erful? Get in touch if you have a story to share or if you’d like to join us some time.