Saturday, 30 May 2009

Successful Urban, Paleo / Primal Outing Despite Physio Violence

Location: Birmingham City, UK

Date: June 30th
  1. Picked up some rocks (about 5kg) and threw them as far as I could like a shot putter (twice each side.)
  2. Jogged for a minute.
  3. Sprinted downhill for 30 seconds (75% effort.)
  4. Hopped onto a wall and off again a few times on the way to the bus shelter.
  5. Pull ups (2) on the bus shelter.
  6. Jogged across the road.
  7. 20 consecutive box jumps on a 2'6'' electricity box.
  8. Climbed hand-over-hand up '4 rungs' of a road sign whose construction uses parallel struts.
  9. Handstand against the wall, then slowly lowered my head to the ground.
  10. Sprinted for 10 seconds (75% effort.)
  11. Walked for 10 seconds.
  12. Sprinted for 10 seconds (75% effort.)
  13. 30 press ups as fast as I could.
  14. 2 Chin ups on a lamp post strut.
  15. Walked back to the apartment car park.
  16. 'Cleaned' a plastic box of gritting salt using the first part of this technique. It weighted about 25kg.
  17. Bunny hopped up the stairs (4 flights from car park) - 1, 2 or 3 steps at a time, randomly
Total time: 16 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: Probably wait 10 hours until dinner. Still running on this and this from last night!

Should I have done this workout? My legs were a little fatigued by the sprinting, jumps and hops, but otherwise I did not make any part of my body work too hard.

I am between BBS workouts, having completed week 2 on Wednesday. I plan to start reading the book today. Which means I am not clear on what I can and cannot do between workouts. A week is a long time for a fitness obsessive like me to wait.

What I know from interviews with Doug McGuff is that you can do stuff in between - I am just not clear how intense that can be, and how much individual muscles can be allowed to 'hurt'.

My knee was fine today, in spite of 'popping out' again earlier in the week thanks to an over-zealous physio at the initial consultation session. I was grateful for the opportunity to show him exactly what happens.

When I made it go 'back in' with that sickening kerchunk, he visibly winced.

"I'm sending you for a scan," was all he said.
... Read more

Thursday, 28 May 2009

'Body by Science' Workout Week 2

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 27th May

1 set of Raise-assisted handstand push ups (2 plates) - 5 reps (one more than last week)
1 set of Weighted chin ups - 5 reps @23.75kg (1.25kg more than last week)
...Skipped the Barbell Squats because my legs were still shot to pieces from this two days earlier
1 set of Dumbbell Bench Press - 7 @32kg (2 more reps than last week)
1 set of Basketball rollouts - 10 (different exercise from last week)
1 set of Romanian Deadlift - 5 reps @120kg (5kg more than last week)

Finisher: None

Total Time: 20 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: chicken leg and walnuts 2 hours later.

You could attribute the clear progress I made this week to two things. First, I did not do a 'starter' like last week. Second, when you first start a new routine you invariably seem to get some benefits as 'pathways' are established - even seasoned gym-goers benefit from this because you can't regularly do every possible exercise.

That said, I still feel good about this. I am looking forward to next week.

Oh - and my copy of BBS arrived today. ... Read more

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Shuttlinsloe Fell Race

Location: Shuttlinsloe, Cheshire, UK
Date: 25th May 2009

I ran this race last year and enjoyed it so much I decided to do it again this year. It also fits with my desire to inject variety into my training.

I used to do a lot of fell running. Fell runs can be every bit as gruelling, if not more so, than road races like marathons. For example, one of the last races I did before giving up long cardio was 14.5 miles with thousands of feet lost and gained during the race. It took 3 hours 15 minutes.

The picture shows us at the start of the Shuttlinsloe race on Monday - we must run to the top of the small mountain on the left, and back.

The great thing about this race is that in one, short, 20-25 minute effort, it combines all the variety of a proper fell race. This variation makes it feel more like a Primal/Paleo activity than a flat race: there are times when you have to walk, wade or wait for others at stiles - so it has intervals of varying effort. Here are the various stages:
  1. Downhill sprint into the forested gully.
  2. Wade through the river.
  3. Hike up a steep bank covered with bluebells.
  4. Run along a track to the base of the steep part near the farm (centre of picture)
  5. Run/hike up the front of the mountain.
  6. Check in at the top.
  7. Run left along the ridge.
  8. Career down the side, trying not to tumble.
  9. Career back down through the bluebells, almost certainly tumbling.
  10. River again, then the sting in the tail - back up the hill with legs like rubber.
This year I did not train for the race. The last time I ran up a hill was in April and prior to that I cannot remember. My time was slower than last year, but I was also conscious of spending longer waiting for people at stiles; possibly long enough to account for the difference. So my guess is that I was not really any less fit. This is interesting given the profile of my fitness regime has shifted significantly towards intervals and away from longer duration training. This certainly chimes with the opening remarks of Clarence Bass in this post.
... Read more

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Who Needs a Gym When you have a Wife?

With tongue slightly in cheek, I have added some new exercises to my toolbox. Wife Bent Over Rows, Wife Chest Press and Wife Squats and Wife Deadlift. The videos are below.

Yesterday morning I was gripped with the desire to do some exercise, no doubt something to do with the sack load of calories I had consumed the night before.

If you read my last post you will know I have committed to a one-a-week strength program with only one other session that's intense but essentially not about strength. In other words, it still allows my muscles to continue their recovery from the strength day. So since I was not allowed to do a session, I lay there thinking about exercise instead.

I have recently convinced Mrs M to do her own once or twice-weekly exercise session - simple circuits that involve basic bodyweight exercises like press ups, squats, jumping jacks and crunches. She also uses a chair to do rudimentary deadlifts. This Paleo diet has her losing weight hand over fist and I have explained that unless she also adopts more Paleo activity patterns she'll end up with ancestral fat content but modern muscle content - not an outcome she relishes.

As I mentally did handstand push ups against the wall and tried to think of an easier equivalent for Mrs M to do, it suddenly hit me - a novel solution to the hotel-room workout problem: use your partner.

I'm not saying I am the first person to come up with this idea - but I bet most of the time this kind of thing is done in exercise classes in schools or gyms rather. I wonder how many people have used it to solve the problem of an absence of weight lifting equipment and a wife who'd rather spend an extra 15 minutes in bed.

So here are some videos. Clearly Mrs M is not getting a particularly intense workout here, but in most cases she is having to maintain rigidity (isometric muscle contraction) and use a variety of muscles.

... Read more

Thursday, 21 May 2009

'Body by Science' Workout and Rowing Tabata Finisher

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University

Quick Starter

Swing-Assisted, Uneven Muscle Up - 1
Frog stand - 30 seconds, arms straight

Main Event
1 set of Raise-assisted handstand push ups (2 plates) - 4 good reps then 1 failure
1 set of Weighted chin ups - 5 reps @22.5kg
1 set of Barbell Squats - 5 reps
1 set of Dumbbell Bench Press - 5 @32kg
1 set of Hanging Leg Raise - 10 reps
1 set of Romanian Deadlift - 5 reps @115kg

Finisher: Tabata Intervals - Rowing Machine @90% effort (eyeballs remaining mostly in their sockets)

Total Time: 25 minutes

Post-Workout Nutrition: this, 30 minutes later

I have to know. I have to know whether the Body by Science approach can work for me. I have been flirting with the idea by taking two or more rest days between strength workouts, but that is not the same as what BBS recommends.

Broadly, it recommends that your strength training consist solely of a single, all-body session, once a week, in which you do a single set of each exercise. The exercises (about 5 of them) should be compound exercises that hit the major muscle groups. The idea is that in fact we need a week to fully recover and maximise the potential for gains.

You can add other sports and activities into the mix - just not training that is aimed at strength or growth gains.

So today I selected my own set of exercises which I think broadly fit the bill; and as you can see, I did only a single set of each.

I should state up front that I have not read the book yet. I have just read the great coverage on Conditioning Research (here and here) as well as a brief low-down from Natural Messiah, offline. But that's enough to understand what's being recommended. I just don't necessarily know why at this point.

My plan is this: average 2 workouts per week.

Workout 1: a randomly selected activity that is demanding without causing too much muscular fatigue. Swimming, climbing, light circuits or gymnastics. I may even start doing some amateur parkour / urban circuit training since the light mornings are now upon us in the UK.

Workout 2: today's routine.

The question is, will I get stronger and if so, how quickly? Also - will I feel better? Will I have more energy on non-workout days?

One possible confounding factor - I have just started supplementing with 3000 ui of vitamin D3 (see here for why.) Apparently this can affect athletic performance.

I should mention that I have an article in the pipeline that will expand more on the question of how to structure the week's exercise. I am trying to reconcile the BBS philosophy with the Primal/Paleo philosophy, and also incorporate some great posts by other bloggers on the subject.

What am I trying to achieve with my workouts? Do I want to get stronger, or do I want to emulate ancestral patterns? Is variety more important than progression, and is the latter merely something that has been drilled into us by modern life rather than any genuine imperative? More thoughts to come.
... Read more

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Swimming Sprints and Underwater Challenges

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre Swimming Pool, Aston University

Front crawl - 1 length sprint
(30 seconds rest)
Front crawl - 1 length sprint
(longer rest)
Underwater lengths - 1 - up for air midway
(longer rest)
Front crawl - 1 length sprint
(30 seconds rest)
Front crawl - 1 length sprint
(longer rest)
Underwater lengths - 1
(longer rest)
Front crawl - 1 length sprint
(30 seconds rest)
Front crawl - 1 length sprint

Where the rest time was just 'longer', it was pretty much random - just until I felt ready for more. In fact the whole workout was a bit more random than the list suggests - that's just my best summary.

Total time: 15 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: this, 40 minutes later

I stopped doing as much swimming a few months back, and have now remembered how great a tool it is to have in the workout toolbox. The problems I have found in the past with swimming are:

In the pool:
- Hordes of squawking, armband-clad kids
- So much chlorination you worry you'll go in a brunette and come out a blond
- Leaking goggles
- Too many 'length plodders' and not enough room to 'do your thing'
- Greater amount of 'messing around' required to execute a session

In the wild
- it can be too cold (as I found out here!) and hard to find long enough stretches of swimmable water to support structured workouts
- it's usually not close by.

Yet this morning at 7am in the pool that shares a building with my gym, I was able to share a large lane with two other people and still more or less 'do my thing.' My goggles leaked only a little and I was pleasantly surprised at the levels of chlorination. And no kids - no big surprise since this is a University pool.

The great thing about swimming is that you can do front crawl sprints that are every bit as intense as running sprints - but without the heavy emphasis on the legs; and of course it is also low impact.

When I know my body needs a rest from heavy resistance work, but still want to do something that makes me work, swimming can be a great way to achieve that. I guess it's because you are able to use multiple major muscles simultaneously at low resistance but high speed. Sure, you can do that on a cross trainer, but I've never seen anyone truly 'sprint' on one of those.

The underwater lengths are also a unique challenge. In the past I have progressed from doing one length underwater to two, using progressively shorter intervals between single lengths to improve my lung capacity. Initially the sense of panic and involuntary lung spasms are not pleasant - but you get used to these. In fact as you can see from above, in a single session you can get used to them! I lost it on the first attempt but got back in the groove on the second.

I have read somewhere that there may be some Growth Hormone release from holding ones breath under these conditions. Either way, you certainly leave the pool feeling as though you have pushed yourself sideways in a new direction and added some worthwhile rounding to your conditioning.
... Read more


Swim Workouts: from workout diary
Wild Swimming
I should do more of this. There are a few lake swims under my swim workouts, but not enough. You can't beat wild swimming. The exhilaration of cold, clean water is no match for the tepid, chlorinated experience of most pools.
Front Crawl
For me this is the only stroke I can truly work hard on. It may be because it was the stroke I was mainly taught as a child. In any case, it is possible to genuinely sprint with this exercise, and do so in a low-impact way that is not too heavy on any one muscle. Great for active rest between days of heavy resistance work. Here is a video of the technique.

Update 15/10/09: I recently tried keeping my arms much straighter as I bring them overhead and plunge them into the water. It feels like I am reaching forward more as though driving towards my goal, and as though somehow my arms are operating like a windmill. It appears to create a more powerful pull and also stops my triceps aching afterwards.

Underwater Lengths
This was the best video I could find to illustrate what I do - please ignore the slightly creepy voiceover and try not to laugh at the phrase 'this could be fatal to your health.' I suspect that since the word fatal means you die, it would have been reasonable to omit 'to your health' from that statement

I have found that taking several deep breaths before starting one or more underwater lengths can make a big difference to how far you can go. I tend hyperventilate just before I go under, taking progressively shorter and quicker breaths. Why? I guess because that's what I have seen them do on films.

Question is, does it get you any fitter doing this, or would it be equally beneficial to make non-hyperventilated lengths your baseline and save yourself the trouble...?

... Read more

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Body By Science Big 5 Workout

Seated Row
Chest Press
Overhead Press
Leg Press

Big 5 Workouts: from workout diary

The Body by Science approach is also documented on its website and youtube channel.

Broadly, it recommends that your strength training consist solely of a single, all-body session, once a week, in which you do a single set of each exercise. The exercises (about 5 of them) should be compound exercises that hit the major muscle groups.

It is also important that you take each exercise to absolute failure over a 1-2 minute period, measuring progress according to increasing the TUL (Time Under Load) for a given weight.

There is also some good insight from a couple of interviews with Doug McGuff, co-author, on Conditioning Research (here and here.)

Here are the exercises being performed by the man himself:
Leg Press
Seated Row
Chest Press
Overhead Press

Seated Row
Chest Press
Overhead Press
Leg Press
... Read more

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Compressed Volume Back Routine + Tabata Squat/Swing Finisher

Quick Starter:
Swing-Assisted, Uneven Muscle Up - 1 success.

Main Event:
Compress Volume, Back Focus

- 5 Romanian Deadlift @100kg
- 5 Bodyweight for pull ups
- 6 Basketball rollouts for abs

5 rounds total

Finisher: Mixed Tabata Intervals: Partial Squats and Dumbbell Swings - @18kg for the swings @25kg plates for the squats

Total time: 25 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: this, 30 minutes later

I know I say this a lot, but this really hurt. It was a lot to do in 25 minutes and I failed to follow my own advice on the deadlifts, selecting a weight which I would normally need to work hard to do 5x5 with when resting between sets. So with basketball rollouts and pull ups in between and scarcely any rest, it was tough. This morning my back knows it has been made to work.

I discovered in this workout how much the basketball rollouts work the upper back on the initial pull. Re-watching the video, that now seems obvious! The pull-ups combined with these certainly gave my lats something to think about.

On Monday I will throw in a swimming session, I think; and maybe only a single, all-body session no earlier than next Wednesday. The combination of this week's Wednesday and Friday heavy weights has taken it's toll and I recognise the need to allow recovery.
... Read more

Compressed Volume, Back Focus

Same rationale as for the Compressed Volume Upper Body Focus except focusing on different exercises. In this case:

Deadlift (I tend to do Romanian)
Pull Ups - can be weighted
Ab Exercise - a taxing, low-rep one like ab rollouts

For these exercises I prefer to go with lower reps - usually 5 - and go for 5 rounds. No official rest - you just cycle through the exercises and rounds taking only the rest you need to move between stations and stay alive ;-)

The same caveats apply as for the Compressed Volume Upper Body Focus. You can get a lot of work done in a short space of time, but it hurts and it's important to select weights that are not overambitious. You don't want to have to change weights mid round or fail.

Yes, your muscles get to rest when you are doing a different exercise, but something like deadlift really hits the whole body and suddenly those pull ups become very hard in round number 5! I also discovered recently that basketball rollouts do in fact work your lats.
... Read more

Mixed Tabata Intervals: Dumbell Swings and Partial Squat

Dumbbell Swings Left Hand - 20 seconds
Rest - 10 seconds
Dumbbell Swings Right Hand - 20 seconds
Rest - 10 seconds
Barbell Plate Partial Squats - 20 seconds
Rest - 10 seconds

x 2 then

Dumbbell Swings Left Hand - 20 seconds
Rest - 10 seconds
Dumbbell Swings Right Hand - 20 seconds
Rest - 10 seconds

...making 8 in total - the normal number of tabata intervals.

Do the exercise at the maximum speed you can whilst retaining good form. Pick weights that allow you to avoid failure in the final sets. This is about conditioning and fitness.

The good thing about these exercises is that it's hard to achieve 'failure' on them anyway. In the case of the squats, because you can only get 25kg plates anyway and in the case of the swings, because it's more of an athletic movement.

I find this an excellent finisher if I want to emphasise the back and legs but perhaps avoid too much knee flexion.
... Read more

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Chest, Shoulders, Chin-Ups & Novel Squat Finisher

Quick Starter:
Swing-Assisted, Uneven Muscle Up - 2 failures (when will I get this right?!)

Main Event:
2 Raise-assisted handstand push ups - 3 x 20kg plates under head
10 Shoulder Press (seated with dumbbells) - @18kg
1 Raise-assisted handstand push up - 3 x 20kg plates under head
10 Shoulder Press (seated with dumbbells) - @18kg
1 Raise-assisted handstand push up - 3 x 20kg plates under head
10 Shoulder Press (seated with dumbbells) - @18kg

5 x 5 Dumbbell Bench Press 4 sets@30kg, 1 set@28kg
5 x 5 Weighted Chin Ups 4 sets@15kg, 1 set@12.5kg

Finisher: 300 Single-round upper body finisher

Bonus Finisher: Barbell Plate Partial Squats - 60 @20kg plates.

Total time: 30 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: none - fasted until dinner.

The tendon/ligament that popped across my kneecap a few times earlier in the year did it’s thing again last night, much to my irritation. It happened as I was retrieving something from under the table – not exactly a warrior’s injury.

So that’s why today’s workout was both savage and leg-shy. Savage because I wanted to vent my frustration at the injury – but also because I like to feel as though my workouts emulate the kind of urgency a hunter would have felt when called upon to fight, flee or hunt for his life. If you can’t use your legs, this is quite hard.

So I hit a bunch of upper body exercises, mainly 5 x 5 style (which of course my training partner approved of) then came up with an upper body only version of the '300' workout to finish.

This finisher was like the '300' workout because you are required to complete all reps of each exercise in one go rather than circuit style, sometimes necessitating a rest mid-exercise, although there is no 'official' rest time.

By the end I certainly had muscle fatigue and was out of breath – but I did not have that slightly violated feeling that you can only get with lower body involvement.

Given that the knee is okay unless bent too far, I spontaneously added 60 reps of barbell plate partial squats – essentially partial squats whilst holding barbell weights. I haven’t seen that done before, so I took a video.

This exercise only works with Olympic plates with in-line handles - but it seemed like a good way to limit the knee bend without guessing as you must with dumbbells; and the centre of gravity felt somehow better, too. I would recommend this as a finisher – you can probably do them faster to add intensity. I will probably try the 25kg plates next time and go for 50 fast reps.
... Read more

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

5-Minute High Intensity Top-Up

Location: My Apartment Block

30 press ups (slow and controlled)
2 pistols on each leg
3 dumbbell squats @45kg per dumbbell
3 Romanian deadlift (with dumbbells) @45kg per dumbbell
12 sandbag shoulder presses @28kg
20 under-table inverted rows

Total time: 5 minutes; 10-15 seconds between exercises.

Post-workout nutrition: none - I was fasting until dinner yesterday, which was 4 hours after this workout.

Okay, I said I would rest for a week - I lied. I just got antsy and figured a quick high intensity, random bunch of exercises might make me feel better, which it did. Did I warm up? No. Should I have done? Yes. But I did, at least, select an exercise to start which was low resistance and low impact, so by the time I got into the riskier stuff there was plenty of blood flow around the body. ... Read more

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Bodyweight, Traditional and Tabata Combo

Quick Starter:
Swing-Assisted, Uneven Muscle Up - 1 success!
Raise-assisted handstand push ups - 1 rep with 2 x 20kg plates under head.
Tuck Front Lever - 30 seconds, back as straight as I could get it.
Frog stand - 30 seconds, arms pretty straight.

Main Event:
Dumbell Bench Press 5 x 5 @30kg (help on last set)
Weighted Chin Ups 5 x 5 @15kg (12.5 kg on last)
Basketball Rollouts (3 x 7)

Finisher: Mixed Tabata Intervals - using dumbbells, 2 rounds. Some light stretching.

Total time: 40 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: this, an hour later

This is a bit more than I normally do in a session and at the outer limits of the time I like to spend training. My training partner has returned from his travels and, as ever, wanted to do a more traditional workout. So it was back to the 5x5 routine with 45 seconds rest between sets. I do enjoy this, so was happy to oblige.

But I could not resist throwing in some bodyweight stuff while he warmed up and - to punish him for his absence - I insisted we do a deuce of tabata mixed circuits, which is pretty tough after any workout. He omitted the burpees and star jumps due to a sore knee and was still pretty zonked by the end.

I am now going to rest for a week. Yes, I said a week. Let's see how that works out.
... Read more

Monday, 4 May 2009

Transitioning to a Paleo Diet - Guest Post on 'Straight to the Bar'

Details and a link to the article are posted over on Pay Now Liver Later... ... Read more

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Compressed Volume Lower Body Circuit with Urban Finisher

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University and the streets of Birmingham, UK

5 Pistols each side
5 Pull Ups
5 Romanian Deadlift* (110kg first set, then 100kg for rest)
5 Hanging Leg Raise

I did this circuit 5 times.

Finisher: 15-minute Fartlek on the way home, impromptu 'kill-carry' (see Natural Messiah's list of Paleo exercises) and 10 rock cleans.

Total time: 35 minutes

Post-workout meal: none - fasting until dinner.

After the savagery of the compressed volume upper body workout on Wednesday, I took three days off. I really wanted to workout yesterday, but I am continuing to explore the less is more approach. Whereas in recent weeks I was doing three sessions per week but keeping down the number of sets, I am now playing with the idea of cramming lots of sets into a shorter time but taking longer to recover - so this was only my second workout in 7 days.

I should now take at least two days rest because that workout was tough. There was 30 seconds at most between sets and I completed the 5 rounds in 15 minutes. By the last set I was willing it to be over.

The finisher was great. I did a couple of 10 second sprints on the first half of the route home (the places you can see in this post). When not sprinting I did a kind of flat-footed scuttle - not running but not walking. I guess I was trying to emulate how a hunter would track an animal. I also threw in a sustained 2-minute slog, which hurt and which I terminated when my post-pistol legs started to complain.

Finally, 500 yards from home, I found a large piece of paving stone which I picked up and carried on my shoulders the rest of the way. A dead animal? Before hurling it into an alley, I pressed it above my head 10 times. I regretted the final hurl, as it broke into several pieces and can no longer be used on future outings!

* I have realised that I do not do stiff-legged deadlift. I do Romanian Deadlift. I have ammended the deadlift page to reflect the distinction better.
... Read more