Metabolic Training

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?

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

Build Stronger Feet and Balance

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… 

Ol Faithful

… 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 reading has 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.

Wooden board is optional, but it puts a sense of reality into the practice.
A little bit more tricky, but also fun.

Got any thoughts or experiences? Why not get in touch.

What is The Most Useful Piece of Strength Equipment?

Here’s an age old question I get asked frequently. ‘if you could only train with one piece of equipment what would it be?’

I can only really give my opinion based on what I most frequently use to practice being strong. I’m talking NOT about stronger in the deadlift, squat, press or something specific but rather what I do use to practice being purposefully strong throughout my being or body if you prefer. 

My answer? The Floor.

Yeah a wee bit elusive and maybe corny and odd for the less initiated who might proclaim, ‘like duh, you got to rest your dumbbells on the floor dude’! (People still say dude don’t they?) 

Apart from using the floor to rest dumbbells and equipment on, the floor plays host to opportunities for using your body to move, to balance, to jump, to push off from. 

Last weekend Animal Flow founder Mike Fitch hosted a video conferencing class for the hundreds of us instructors around the world. I joined in with another 600+ instructors where we participated in a 80 minute class! No equipment, just our bodies, the floor and a small handful of engaging movements we practiced before sticking them altogether in a smooth flow. 

As you hold a position with precision on the floor for 30 seconds you can’t help but be reminded of how much strength is required to be still, calm and attentive to form.

The ground as an environment can also throw variability that teases your limitations further. Have you ever tried crawling backwards up a slight gradient? Wow – ‘Holy Triceps Batman’ – it’s intense. 

Being able to get down to the ground and back to standing is a skill that requires practice and strength. You might not think of it now but when you’re 55+ years of age, getting off the floor can start be become a tiresome undertaking not without its risks too. Practice often mindfully getting down to the foot and back up. It could save your life some day. 

Balance is another subject you’ll probably ignore until you realise you suck at it. While it’s funny at times to watch someone lose their balance and hit the deck, it bloody hurts and not to mention it can easily keep you out of the gym for a while. Broken hips and collar bones are not so funny. Balance doesn’t need any fancy slack lines, in fact, at our gym we have a selection of wooden boards or even weights plates that we lay out to practice the many attributes of balance skill. Trust me, spend 1 minute trying to lose your balance and fighting it can really make the thighs burn – if that’s what you like. 

Other balance areas include walking split squats with or without a weight, one leg jumps from stepping stones aka weight plates and being able to pivot on those boards without falling into the ‘hot lava’ below. 

Have I mentioned push ups yet? You love of loathe the full push up, but believe me when I tell you there are dozens of variations all worthy of practice. 

 Legs, torsos, arms and life saving skills can all be practiced on the floor beneath you. Don’t leave it at rubber gym mats either. The outdoor nature spots offer even further variability with falling trees, rocks and such. 

Just in case you don’t believe me and need some experiential learning, I am hosting some outdoor training sessions in the coming weeks in our local parks. These will include:

  • An introduction to Animal Flow
  • Real World Strength and Fitness
  • Ground based locomotion

Interested? Drop me a message to learn more and to be placed on the reserve list.

The Side Bent Sit Get Up

What a mouthful, but it will do until someone comes up with a better name. It does however describe this get up nicely.

Part 4 of the Get Up series looks at the quirky Side Bent Sit Get Up. Whereas the last part looked at the very bilateral / straight up and down Prone Get Up, the Side Bent Sit Get Up builds in rotation, balance and coordination yet, still with a wonderful component of flow and relaxation. I guess that comes with practice though.

This roll differs from the Strength and Prone get up in that it commences with a roll into position to undertake the actual getting up. This adds some momentum and can therefor add this get up into the category of movements that prepare us for fall recovery. If you’re going to lose balance and fall backwards onto your butt, at least know how to get up with flare and style.

Here’s the video.

The best way to learn this style of get up is to practice. In the video I have built in steps to practice to best prepare for the full get up.

Got any feedback? Maybe you’d like me to appraise your Get Up? I’d love to help any way I can.

Get Up… and Down Stronger

In this third part of the Get Up series I’ll introduce a great method of getting to the floor and back up that does represent a very real-world method of, well, getting to the floor.

The Strength Get Up I showed you last time has purpose to get stronger whilst performing the get up with a hand weight of some sort or (as I suggested in the scenario) if you had a sore back or broken arm!

The Prone Get Up we’ll look at today is again, a great strength and mobility exercise by itself, but contextually also a super method of getting to the floor to say, look for that lost $50 under the sofa.

The movement could be simplified as a squat down to a push up but it would be boring of me to leave it at that. I could also describe it as a refined healthy variation of a Burpee… but I don’t like Burpees haha.

Here’s a move by move description if the video isn’t sufficient:

  1. Stand upright on the balls of your feet.
  2. Slowly pull yourself down into ‘your’ deep knee bend. Everyone has their own limit to this range of motion and position.
  3. With your arms outstretched, reach for the floor.
  4. Perform a simple reverse push up to lie on the floor.
  5. Chill for a moment.
  6. Pull hands back to the side of the chest and push off the ground with your stomach braced too.
  7. You might need a second push to assist returning to the deep knee bend position. Keep it safe.
  8. From the deep knee bend, brace once more to stand up.

Progressing:

  • Try to slow the whole movement down. It’s not a race to see how many reps you can do in a minute but rather a practice to see how efficient you can perform the move with control.
  • You could lean back a little on the deep knee bend. This will add to the thigh workload considerably.
  • Aim to perform the push from the floor in one go.

Notes: The drop from the deep knee bend to the floor (and reverse) can be performed one knee at a time if that is where your ability is. I do perform it that way myself at times to understand the whole movement more fully. Meet your body where it is. That’s always a great rule.

Got any feedback or questions? Just pop them on the feedback form below.

How to Get Up!

Recently I wrote about how important it is to practice the skills of getting to the ground and up again and shared a video with demonstrations of some variations. Here’s a link to that post. 

As much as I would like to provide a tutorial for the Turkish Get Up right now, that would be hasty. Assuming you drive a car, you didn’t have your first experience driving hard and fast around country roads in a race car. You spent time getting familiar with the controls and skills, maybe manoeuvring and navigating an empty car park.

The Get Up like other strength movements requires the same. Get familiar with what’s what.

In this part, let me just introduce the positions and transitions of the strength get up, minus any added weights. I like to teach the get up these days with a scenario, like you’ve got a broken arm and need to get carefully off the floor.

Check out this quick ‘follow-along’ video.

 

Let me just list the steps of the get up, from the ground up.

  1. Lie on floor with left leg bent, roughly at 90 degrees. Keep this leg out to the side a little.
  2. Place the left arm across the chest.
  3. The straight leg and arm are roughly 45 degrees to the side (from your midline)
  4. Brace your torso.
  5. Push the left foot and the right elbow into the ground to lift the left butt cheek from the floor and continue to roll onto the right forearm.
  6. Brace the torso and push onto the right hand – keep your shoulder packed (pulled into the socket)
  7. Pressing the right hand and left foot into the floor, you can now pull the right leg under you. The right knee replaces the right butt cheek. In this position you should have the right foot, right knee and right hand in alignment.
  8. Pull up into a tall torso position.
  9. At this point rotate the right leg (through the hip) so both feet are facing the same direction. You can alternatively rotate yourself clockwise to position your left leg / foot in the same direction as the right.
  10. Press both feet into the ground to lunge up and stand.
  11. Return to the floor in the reverse and same manner.

That’s 11 points with lots of words! The video does a fine job at demonstrating too.

If and only IF this movement sequence comes naturally to you, maybe try holding a medicine ball or sandbag as in the video below.

 

Next time I’ll run through a different style of get up that offers heaps of benefits to the legs.

In the mean time, keep strong and move every day.

Got any feedback or questions? Drop me a message below.

Are you ‘Real-World’ Fit?

Does your exercise support real-world demands?

Much of the time people exercise to accomplish an outcome or even just for the sake of it, to burn energy, calories or time!

Whilst just working out is fine, wouldn’t it be awesome if our exercise endeavours actually prepared us for the physical needs of an active life?

Having bigger muscles might seem like an ideal, but really, when you’re getting old, no one will care how much you benched, how big your guns were or how many insta-likes you had. What really matters is how well you will function.

Can you balance, carry heavy ‘stuff’, climb, step up, crawl, run and jump? Can you get to the ground and back up effortlessly?

Strength training with machines, bars and dumbbells and kettlebells are great tools to build general strength, but they don’t always carry over to the real world apart from building general resiliency. The human skills to move and age with strength, power, purpose and fitness is something that takes a different form in the gym – if indeed a gym is even needed.

At FitStrong we practice all the usual strength exercises from squatting, deadlifting, pushes and pulls etc but we back these up with heaps of practice of natural movement, real world strength and fitness skills that will support you during the weekend gardening spree, house renovations, that big weekend hike and much more over the coming years.

If you’d like to chat about this and how it fits your lifestyle – let’s catch up.

I can design you and your family a routine I can take you through, or follow at home with any variety of things you may have lying around. Traditional gym equipment is not a requirement!

Even though restrictions are slowly being lifted, I am happy to meat virtually with video conferencing, in the park or of course, at my outdoor covered training area.

movnat_certified_shirt_low-res1

Get Up!

As a coach, I’ve met plenty of people over the years who either had resistance to getting down to the floor, had previously had a fall and was reluctant to revisit the floor in any capacity or who quite frankly didn’t see any purpose to get to the floor for exercise or other.

There are many reasons to practice and train getting to the floor and back up again. Let’s make a short list.

  1. Improve your every day life and for its eventualities
  2. Prepare you with skills needed for when you have to get to the ground or a fall to the ground
  3. Improve your bodies mobility
  4. Improve your body awareness and coordination
  5. Improve your bodies resilience through increased strength and conditioning
  6. Decrease any fear of the floor
  7. Open opportunities to explore other movements and purposes of getting up and down

 

I’m not going to teach get ups in this post, but I will soon – I promise.

Here’s a glimpse of just 8 styles of ‘get ups’.

 

Got any questions or feedback? Get in touch below.

Why StrongFirst?

I get questions often from clients and friends related to why I spend so much time and money attending certifications and why always the expensive ones!

I am not wealthy. Comfortable, yes. My wife and I do ‘invest’ from time to time in the lotto haha but with no success. So, I don’t choose to invest because I can but because I want to.

What I want in particular from my investment in my own education is value (not cheap), quality, no nonsense education and skills.  Just as important, I want to invest and learn subject matters that I consider important to share with my students and clients. Matters that match my personal and business ethos.

***NOT A RANT***  In the fitness industry it is really quite easy to attend any number of certifications and in most cases, in areas that require no depth of experience and even demonstration of time-spent skills, practice, patience and immersion. In other words, you bulk up continued education credits so you can keep your insurance by attending courses you’re not that invested in and walk away with a certification to teach others. You don’t have to be that good at the ‘new thing’ to teach it! I don’t believe our students and clients deserve this level of standards from a professional. Don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderful people in the fitness industry that I look up to, but most attendees to courses rarely shine. It’s no wonder that most personal trainers last only up two years before packing it in.

I was drawn to the Hardstyle methods of kettlebell training by Pavel Tsatsouline back in 2009. The methods he wrote, demonstrated and talked about were so detailed, precise and based on both scientific research and personal experiences teaching many, many people to become stronger, more mobile and able individuals. His Russian accent sure made his allure all the more compelling.

Unfortunately I didn’t have an option at that time to travel to the USA to attend a certification and instead (sigh!) opted for one of those fitness industry courses that both left me intrigued and wanting more. ‘More’ happened two years later when we moved to Australia from the UK and I got the opportunity to attend Pavels RKC (pre StrongFirst). The preparation for attending was vast. It was made very clear that 60-65% of attendees fail to pass certification due to poor preparation. You didn’t just turn up and leave three days later with a certification paper. You earned to title of SFG through proficient demonstration, teaching, professionalism over the long weekend and the extensive preparation leading up to the event. It was expected that you had spent time with the kettlebell in action, became skilled and strong enough to get through the certification weekend without the distraction of pain and suffering. The certification weekend was an exercise in testing, learning the hows, whys, principles and sharpening our skills further.

This is why I love StrongFirst or more clearly, Pavels ethos and principles. Training with kettlebells is not about just getting sweaty and forging strength with pure grit and effort. There is the execution of great technique, skill and programming methods to develop lasting strength and conditioning as well as the ability to drawn upon many tools in a teaching toolkit to help the masses. Indeed, the many cues, tips and tricks learned over that three day weekend stays with me every day when teaching.

The level of expertise within StrongFirst with its master trainers, team leaders and collective of instructors makes StrongFirst one strong business and school of strength.

Below, Joe Rogan had the immense privilege of interviewing Pavel. Getting time with Pavel outside of workshops and seminars is rare, so this video is well worth the time to watch. Keep a note pad and pen handy though. There are many learning points to grab hold of.

 

Other than StrongFirst

Apart from StrongFirst, I invest in my education with other great training organisations that similarly teach principle based methods.

If you have read this far, I would encourage you to look into Original Strength and their wonderful movement restoration system.

If you move well and have retained your youthful skills and agility, I would encourage you to look into MovNat and their real world natural movement system. If you want to move with the autonomy, physical competence or become a strongly functioning human in real world of contextual settings and programs, MovNat has a lot to offer. It may just be the way forward in general population health and strength.

Got any experience with StrongFirst, Original Strength or MovNat you’d like to share? Want to learn more about how to incorporate these wonderful systems into your training? Get in touch below.

Jamie