I went to my usual gym yesterday and it was around 5 times busier than normal. Early January is predictably a busy time of the year for gyms. Something that is equally predictable, albeit more depressing, is that the vast majority of people who attack their New Year exercise regime with vigour for a week or two, won’t be continuing beyond their training beyond the end of January. I think there are a few key reasons for this:
- People tend to thrash around on cardio machines until they’re pools of sweat but don’t see much in terms of results
- A lot of guys will hit the weights hard and at best have very bad muscle soreness and at worse give themselves an injury
- Thirdly I think most people either ignore their diet or at least get it wildly wrong and if weight loss is the goal what you eat should be the first thing to look at. I don’t think restricting calories dramatically for a few weeks in the New Year and then going back to the crap you were eating before is a particularly healthy or beneficial way of going about things
I’ll look at the diet side of things more in future posts as there is a lot to cover there but for now I’m going to give an overview of the exercise I do. I’m not an elite athlete or Men’s Health cover model but I’m 6 foot 2 inches tall and a relatively lean 87 kgs (sorry for mixing metric and imperial measurements!) and keep active. My natural build as a teenager was always very skinny and the exercise mentioned here has seen me put on as reasonable amount of muscle and improve my mobility. I had started to put on a bit of fat a few years ago which I’ve subsequently lost – I put this mainly down to improving my diet but exercise is an important part of my healthy lifestyle and I think everyone could benefit from the exercises listed here. I also haven’t been ill for over 3 years (not even a cold) and whilst I think most of this is also down to diet, exercise plays a part.
High Intensity Interval Training (HiiT) has been fairly popular for a while now and has been something I’ve done regularly for around 3 years. There are various forms of it and a quick Google will find countless articles, workouts and YouTube videos with some useful tips. I basically don’t do any steady state cardio at all anymore and do HiiT instead – I used to run a lot but started to get minor injuries – mainly very tight Achilles tendons that were painful everyday I woke up (foam roll and stretch your calf muscles and stop running if this is you), occasional knee pain and occasional lower back pain. My HiiT workouts typically follow one of two categories and both involve an interval timer on my smart phone (I use IntervalTimer in the App Store).
My very short interval workout is a Tabata session – this is 8 rounds of 20 seconds of very high intensity with 10 second breaks between. This means your workout is done in 4 minutes! For the exercise I think the resistance bikes are a good option as you can get your big muscle groups screaming very quickly – nb normal exercise bikes tend not to work as well as you can’t vary the resistance as quickly. Alternatives could be a rowing machine on full resistance, battle ropes, jump squats even sprints if you are outside and don’t have access to a gym (ideally sprint up a hill to add resistance). The key here is to pick an exercise that will get your heart rate up and have you out of breath in the 20 second interval so intensity is the key. I either do this when I have very little time free in a day or tack it onto the end of a workout. The science of this is beyond the scope of the blog but there are lots of resources on line about this but I find Ben Greenfield to be a reliable source on diet and fitness and he has a guide to Interval Training, including the Tabata Method.
My longer interval workout can last around 20 minutes so still fairly short and sharp compared to most people on the cardio machines. Here I will typically do 10 different exercises in a circuit, each for 20 seconds, with a 10 second interval between then. I will complete 3 circuits of the 10 exercises with a 2 minutes rest between each circuit. Exercises include stand press up, jump squats, kettlebell swings, mountain climbers etc…. I have a ‘no equipment version’ that I can do in a hotel room or anywhere I have no gym but a bit of privacy! You can experiment with different interval lengths and rest times and if this is new to you break yourself in gently. I used to do 30 second intervals but reduced it to 20 seconds as I found I was pacing myself a bit on the exercises – remember intensity is the key so don’t make the intervals or workouts too long if intensity is suffering.
Gymnastic Strength Training and Mobility
Gymnastic Strength Training (GST) is something that is relatively new to me and is another thing I was put onto by Tim Ferriss. He had a person called Christopher Sommer (Coach Sommer) on his Podcast and Coach Sommer is a very experienced Olympic gymnastic coach who has developed a program for normal mortals to benefit from gymnastic strength training. I started a Foundation course from their website (https://www.gymnasticbodies.com/) around 3 months ago. I’ve noticed some improvements in certain areas like mobility and posture – some of the benefits take a long time to develop as it isn’t just muscle strength but building stronger connective tissue and greater range of motion in key areas like shoulders and hips. This won’t make you a professional gymnast but if, like me, you spend a lot of your day sitting at a computer and not moving as much as you’d like I’d suggest some training like this. If GST isn’t for you I think some similar benefits could be gained from yoga and Pilates but I think GST provides some unique moves and strength / mobility in important areas not necessarily covered as well in other exercises. There is a cost to the Gymnastic Bodies courses but you can find some free initial info around the web – here are a few places:
- A YouTube Video with some introductory moves
- Tim Ferriss’s Podcast On Gymnastic Strength Training With Christopher Sommer
- There is an iPhone App called Power Monkey Fitness that has some similar moves and content – this isn’t anything to do with Christopher Sommer and isn’t as structured as his courses on Gymnastic Bodies but I believe there is some good free content there
- Instagram – search for GymnasticBodies, GST, GymnasticStrengthTraining and you’ll find lots of inspiration and short videos
A lot of people start GST but get frustrated with the slow progress – a quote from Gymnastic Bodies nicely summed this up:
IT’S A SLOW PROCESS, BUT QUITTING WON’T SPEED IT UP
The mobility element of my training is largely now covered by the GST I do. However as I have gotten older (I’m now 36) I’ve increased the amount of mobility work I do as part of my work out and feel this is a really important factor in keeping injury free. A relatively well known mobility guru is a guy called Kelly Starrett and his book ‘Becoming A Supply Leopard’ is well worth checking out. If you’d rather find some free information on Kelly he has loads of YouTube videos so check those out.
One point regarding mobility – this is not the same as flexibility. Being flexible without strength in the extremes of your range of motion can be dangerous and make you prone to injury. Mobility ensures a broad range of motion and strength in the associated muscles and connective tissue to minimise injury risk.