HiiT, Gymnastic Strength Training and Mobility

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:

  1. People tend to thrash around on cardio machines until they’re pools of sweat but don’t see much in terms of results
  2. A lot of guys will hit the weights hard and at best have very bad muscle soreness and at worse give themselves an injury
  3. 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.

HiiT

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:

  1. A YouTube Video with some introductory moves
  2. Tim Ferriss’s Podcast On Gymnastic Strength Training With Christopher Sommer
  3. 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
  4. 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

Mobility

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goals For the Year / Tools of Titans

I’m not one for New Years resolutions but have in the past set goals and tried to introduce new positive habits. Therefore I’ve set various goals and habits for the year and will look into others in future posts. The goal covered later in the post is to do with my business and the habit I’m looking to introduce is maintaining this blog!

I read a lot of non-fiction / popular science type books and many have referred to regular writing as being beneficial in many ways. One way is simply to improve one’s writing. Beyond that if you have any sort of online presence such as a blog, a company website or have to correspond with people by email then being able to communicate in writing in an effective way is hugely beneficial. My business goal for the year is covered below but will involve creating significantly more website content and blog posted than I currently do so I want to be in the habit of writing on a daily basis. The aim with regards to the blog is to update it once or twice per week and beyond that daily journaling will help me to create content and ideas. The journaling idea and the change I’m looking to make are both inspired by Tim Ferriss and therefore I’ve included in this post is a brief review of his latest book that I recently read.

I was away in Costa Rica over Christmas and spent most of my time surfing, relaxing in the sun and reading – one of the books I read was Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans. I’ve been reading Timtoolsoftitans‘s books for several years, ever since the 4 hour work week, and have also listened to his podcasts for a few years.

Prior to reading Tim’s books I’d dipped in and out of certain ‘self-help’ type books and I hadn’t found them that interesting or practical. With the 4 hour work week I found genuinely useful ideas and practises that have slowly crept into my day to day activities. Through Tim and other writers (they’ll get mentions in future posts) I have looked to improve areas of my life that are important to me such as my health and my work life. Willpower is rarely sustainable so making something a daily habit, like brushing my teeth, gives me a much better chance of maintaining it long term. So with blogging and journaling the aim is to commit 10 – 30 minutes first thing every morning (or at least 5 days a week). My working day doesn’t properly kick off until 9am and I’m fortunate to work from home so I have plenty of time to fit this in before my phone starts ringing and emails start rolling in.

Tim Ferriss does keep very good company and Tools of Titans is a collection of ideas from his podcasts with various high functioning guests. I read the Kindle version and like to bookmark various pages for future reference. It is the kind of book you will dip in and out of regularly but not necessarily read cover to cover. That said, I did read it cover to cover to make sure I didn’t miss anything – I found some of Tim’s most interesting contributors those I’d never heard of before so just going to chapters with the familiar names may not have been as rewarding for me. If you were to listen to all of Tim’s podcasts and condense them into the most useful highlights you’d have something similar to this book but if you don’t have the time or inclination to do that I would recommend checking this book out and making notes and / or bookmarking things that peak your interest. If you’re not familiar with Tim’s work I would recommend starting with either the 4 Hour Work Week or the 4 Hour Body depending on whether your interests lie in Lifestyle Design and Productivity or Heath and Fitness. His other book – the 4 Hour Chef – I found less interesting but it might be worth checking out if you can’t cook but want to learn some basics. I also find his podcast interesting and a habit I introduced last year was going for walks whilst listening to Podcasts – Tim’s along with various others – have been hugely interesting and useful.

So on to one of my goals for the year – the aim is to make my main income fully remote. This blog is not part of that directly so if you find my writing clumsy, boring or irrelevant that is fine – this is more a tool to get my thoughts down and make myself accountable on my goals. I am going to recommend certain books and products through this blog but my main income comes from a completely unrelated business. That business is a property finance consultancy where I work with property developers to help them fund construction projects and property acquisitions. I can do a lot of work remotely, and most of my work is done from home, but currently need to attend meetings fairly frequently and this is something I’m looking to change. I have been doing this for over 10 years and have worked for myself for around 8 years. I enjoy my work, find it interesting and like working for myself but I would like to spend more time overseas and pursuing other interest so if I can remove myself from areas of my work or change the way I monetise my business that would allow my to leave my current base (London, England) for longer periods of time. As part of that I need to also address the accommodation situation – I currently rent an apartment in Central London with my girlfriend. This is fairly expensive and that is fine while we’re here but if we were to be overseas for an extended period then renting here and somewhere else doesn’t make sense.

I’ll pick up on this and some other goals in future posts. They include health, fitness, creating better habits for myself and business related goals. I’ll be including very brief reviews of books, podcasts, supplements and other resources I’ve found useful along the way.