Category Archives: Exercise

Using goals and teamwork to train harder

Today I registered for my community’s 10k run, the Times Colonist 10k, which has been running for a few decades now.  I have never run a formal 10k before. There will be bibs. There will be tracking chips with space-age technology. There will be elbows, and masses of my fellow humans getting in my way. It’s going to be awesome, but also a little intimidating.

Why register for a 10k run? Why pay hard-earned dollars to go suffer for an hour with over ten thousand of my closest neighbours? Well, as I have said before, all the training we do needs to mean something. Simple fitness is a fine goal, but achievement is something different. Achievements and goals push you harder.

But that’s not the only reason this 10k is pushing me; several of my classmates at school have also committed to run this 10k, and because I somehow organized this is a team activity, that makes me team captain. Now instead of this run being about me, and thus entirely subject to my convenience, motivation and schedule, it’s about them. So, I’m running as much because I don’t want to let them down as I am for myself. Suddenly, it’s all about the team, not the bastard.

Teamwork ups the stakes, but also the rewards, too. After the race, we’ll head out for some breakfast. And that night, there’s talk of time out at the pub, celebrating our success. And somewhere along the way, there will be stories about it, as well.

The race is just the culmination of the process; before we get there, we’ll motivate each other to train, trade information, and we’ll end up in a better place together.

So will I slack off before the race? Maybe a bit, here and there. But I’ve committed. I’ve got skin in the game, financially and socially. I’ll run that 10k as fast as I can manage, and I’ll do it knowing that I’ve got a team at my back.

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A banner week around Chez Bastard

I had a great week this week. Among the highlights:

  • Did three sessions in the weight room
  • Deadlifted 176 lbs, a new PR
  • Benched 123 lbs, a new PR
  • Ran 3 8ks, despite foul weather, fatigue, and general grumpiness.

Altogether, a successful week for me. The strange thing is that when I first started running and going to the gym, I had to talk myself into getting there. I’d have this mental dialogue with myself and it went as follows:

“Brain?”
“Yes, body?”
“We took a vote down here, and we think this whole running thing and gym time is bullshit. We’d rather sit around eat cake.”
“Now listen, you guys aren’t in charge. I’m the brain. I’m in charge. I say we go out for a run.”
“Lefty says that’d be a bad idea.”
“Who’s lefty?”
“You know, lefty — the left leg.”
“Why would it be a bad idea?”
“Lefty says he’s a bit sore, and that maybe putting him up on a pillow would be nice. He also thinks we should have pie, not cake.”
“Lefty is fine. We’re all fine. Now quit bellyaching and get moving, you idiots are too lazy and nobody’s paying you to eat cake.”
“But — ”
“If we don’t work out, we’re going vegan. No pie, no cake, no bacon.
“…fine.”

Nowadays, things are different. Twice, I’ve gone through the mental conversation, and have really just been telling myself that maybe today is the day to slow down, and take a break, and maybe I don’t really need to go hit the gym or go for a run. Here’s the weird part: both times, while having this conversation, I was walking to the gym, or getting my running gear on. Both times, despite thinking it’d be not a horrible idea to not run, my body wouldn’t have it: the habit kicked in, and I still hit the gym, or went for the run.

It’s fun reaching the point where working out is easier than staying in. I don’t know if it’ll last, but for now, I love it.

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Keeping fitness interesting: milestones and new challenges

This was a week of progression and change for me, exercise-wise. Each one of these milestones is just a small step towards the larger goal of becoming the healthiest bastard around. But to reach that goal, I need to keep it interesting and vibrant; that’s where milestones and new exercises come on.

I hit my first milestone hit on Tuesday, where I managed an 8k run. I’m super proud of it because it’s another distance milestone for me, and a long way off from that 1km run I had to walk after, back in November. All these weeks of running, pushing through the tiredness, and just going, no matter how cranky it makes me feel are slowly paying off. Check out the run right here.

Also, yesterday, I started in on the second set of new weight exercises for weeks 5-8 of my workout plan. This was a good suite of exercises, dumbbell squats, decline pushups, lat pulldowns, bent-arm lateral raise and external rotation (tough, wow, even with light weight), and finally, the dreaded single-leg side plank, which I could barely achieve. Even with all the planking and side planking I’ve done already, this was barely doable.

Finally I managed 30 minutes of jogging on the treadmill in the Vibrams yesterday, as cooldown for the workout and as a big part of my ongoing efforts to train my feet towards minimalist running…though I intend to do it slowly. Very slowly.

Each of these changes are what makes the process of fitness fun, and not a boring punishment: I’m either hitting a goal I had my eye on before, like the running distance milestone, or the vibram times, or I’m trying to master a new skill, like single-leg side planks. By shifting my focus from trying to achieve specific actions, rather than just doing the same thing, over and over, I keep my brain engaged and keep the mind ready to keep going. It’s not a bad way to train, I have to say.

This will be a quiet weekend of exercise for me, as I’m heading out to a cabin in the woods for a stag party. I’m sure there’ll be hiking, and maybe some disc golf, but exercise-wise, it’s going to be a long two days until Monday. But I’m looking forward to Monday already.

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Healthy Bastard’s Road to Fitness Part 3: Tracking & Numbers

How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are? While this seems like a simple question, it’s amazing how many people start out on a fitness regimen without a clear idea of how they’re going to track their body changes. For most people, they are going to rely upon nothing more than the number they get when they stand on a scale: body-weight. Worst number for fitness tracking ever.

HB's Running data

The reason your weight is a bad number to track is because it fluctuates according a lot of variables; your fat stores, your muscle content, how much water you retain (which is, in turn, affected by factors like salt in your diet), hormone levels, and so on. People end up freaking out and losing hope because after three weeks of steady downward numbers on the scale, they’re faced with a three to five pound uptick. They instantly feel like all their work has been wiped out, and start to wonder why they’re wasting their time. Of course, they’re not wasting their time at all. The uptick was progress, but they didn’t recognize it. So what’s the solution? That’s pretty easy, measure your fitness, not your fatness.

When I started losing weight a few months ago, I wanted to have something concrete beyond the scale to work with. I knew that, in the past, relying solely upon the scale to track your fitness just doesn’t work. Losing weight can be bad, because you can be losing muscle, not fat. Similarly, gaining weight can be good, because you can gain muscle at the expense of fat. ‘ve heard more than a few people say that what they find frustrating about running is that they decide to be a runner. So they go out, they run a few times a week, but the instant they miss a day, they feel like a failure. The problem is not that they “failed,” per se, it’s that they didn’t do three things: benchmark themselves, set goals, and measure progress. So how do you do that, exactly? And what other things can you track that will give you a real idea of what your body is actually doing?

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What is your training for?

Training needs a goal. That’s pretty clear when following a program, or pushing through those days when your motivation just isn’t quite up to par. But its easy to get burnt-out over time; when you spend your days constantly thinking about your diet, mentally planning your next few weeks of training, and the scheduling that’s required to make it all work…well, let’s just say that burn-out sometimes feels like the smart choice.

Yet lots of us stick to it, through thick and thin. People who are new to exercise and fitness often get fixated on the process, because there’s so much to learn. So how do you keep the motivation up, day after day? One way is by taking advantage of your training to do new things, or things that you love to do and just improve by virtue of training.

Take me, for example: I run, and I hit the gym. That’s my thing. It can be a lot. However, I also live on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. And what is readily available anywhere in BC? Mountain biking. It’s a great sport, it’s hugely rewarding, it’s an incredible workout, and it showcases the bang-for-buck you get for time spent at the gym and worrying about the diet. But most of all, it’s just fun.  This is one way I stay motivated. Check out this video on mountain biking, and you’ll see why I find mountain biking to be both a motivator and a reward for time spent in the gym:

 

 

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Use dynamic stretching, not static stretching, to warm up: study

A new study just came out that performed a meta-analysis of  pre-exercise static stretching by analyzing data gathered in 104 other studies on muscle performance. The conclusion is fairly surprising:

The pooled estimate of the acute effects of SS on strength, power, and explosive performance, expressed in standardized units as well as in percentages, were -0.10 [95% confidence interval (CI): -0.15 to -0.04], -0.04 (95% CI: -0.16 to 0.08), and -0.03 (95% CI: -0.07 to 0.01), or -5.4% (95% CI: -6.6% to -4.2%), -1.9% (95% CI: -4.0% to 0.2%), and -2.0% (95% CI: -2.8% to -1.3%). These effects were not related to subject’s age, gender, or fitness level; however, they were more pronounced in isometric vs dynamic tests, and were related to the total duration of stretch, with the smallest negative acute effects being observed with stretch duration of ≤45 s. We conclude that the usage of SS as the sole activity during warm-up routine should generally be avoided.

What they’re saying here is that static stretching as your only warm-up is going to inhibit muscle performance. However, that does not mean that dynamic stretching — faster stretches that move your muscles in a more natural way — is as bad. Dynamic stretches should probably be what you go for.

Granted, the degree of impairment on muscle performance isn’t huge, just -5.4% on strength, -1.9% on power, and -2.0% on power. But still, if dynamic stretching has less of an effect, it might be more worthwhile to use that, instead. Save your static stretching for yoga class, or maybe post-workout flexibility exercises.

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The Progression Principle

I came across this video while reading a great post over at StrengthRunning.com, but I wanted to highlight it here because it’s not just applicable to running. In fact, it’s applicable to weight training, weight loss, diet, or any sort of situation where you are developing a new habit or skill. Check it out.

In the video, Jason describes using a long-term, staggered approach to training. This approach assumes that there will be plateaus in achievement, but more importantly, also assumes rest periods where negative progress occurs. In the context of this approach these plateaus and negative progress periods are actually desirable, because they allow the body to rest and heal. This is important, because it allows the body to adapt.

Most people plan for a perfectly linear progression when they’re trying to do something — move straight from A to B, without deviation — because that seems like the shortest route to get there. The problem is that that strategy allows for no mistakes; it requires perfection. And nobody is perfect. Training or developing a skill using the progression principle, on the other hand, might take longer, but it’s more resilient; it takes rest and recovery into account, and allows the average person to continue even when the inevitable breaks in routine, or the other demands of life, intrude.

For example, I’ve been off training all week due to a non-fitness related medical issue. Rather than stress about it, however, I’m viewing this as an opportunity; a good chance for my body to recover and rest, and get ready for another 5 weeks of hard weight training.

The progression principle, as outlined above, is a useful way to think about breaks, whether they’re by choice or not. Planning your training (or weight-loss, or diet changes) with the progression principle in mind gets you out of the “never-fail” mindset, and can keep your motivation and progress up. Worth thinking about.

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Healthy Bastard’s Road to Fitness Part 2: Exercise

I’ve been having a discussion with a friend of mine  who is a new father and was an avid runner until he became a father. However, life being what it is, he has found he has little time for running anymore, and is slowly getting out of shape. So he’s planning on getting back into shape, but doesn’t have a lot of time to do it.

We’ve been talking a lot about it over e-mail, and he’s been recently interested on what I have been doing with myself lately. So what -have- I been doing with myself lately? In a nutshell, I’ve been exercising since about Nov. 14th. But what does that look like, given that i was totally sedentary at the time?

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