Friday, 27 May 2011

No days off

All the materials need for mobility WOD's
I want to turn my body into an amazing human machine, I want it to be as strong, flexible and enduring as it possibly can, I want to get better every day, AND I want to remain that way for as long as possible. I don’t want to be strong for my 20’s only to break down and burn out in my 30’s.

So what should my exercise plan be? It could be 2 on 1 off, 3 on 1 off, whenever I feel like it, any of these will work. But I want to make gains EVERYDAY, is that asking too much? Many would say "yes, that I’ll do more harm than good." But this is not so if I’m smart about it and understand what my body can do. I’m not saying exercise all out every day, or even exercise at all every day. But be doing something to better your body every day.

I doubt our pre agriculture ancestors got many days off. They didn’t work 2 on 1 off or 3 one 1 off. Almost every day they would either be hunting and/or gathering (hunt while gathering, gather while hunting) or they would be working on tools, weapons, shelter, collecting fire wood, dancing for rituals, or even just walking to see friends to socialize or playing (not cards or computer games, physical play). On occasion, when there was plenty of food and little work to be done, they might spend the day resting, sleep in, have a nap and lie around, sit and chat. They may have done this the day after intense activity such as a long walk, long hunting trip, then dragging the kill home. This gave them needed rest to repair and build muscles.

So if I want to follow this, I don’t have to do a full exercise every day. Personally I like to try to do two days per week with a third High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) session if I get time (not sprints that’s another day). But what about the in between days? I want to be doing something then too.

So how do I work on my body every day? I try to mix it up as much as possible. Mondays I get home after dark and it’s been a long day so I don’t have time to exercise, instead I chose to do several mobility WOD’s. I’m going in order (on the mWOD website) which is great because if I do three I can often get 2 upper and one lower body, or vice versa. So I can improve my body without straining, or exercising, or requiring additional rest to recover. I also really want to work on my grip strength because I enjoy rock-climbing, and grip strength helps in so many different areas. So on Fridays when I’m pushed for time I can put in 5-10 minutes of grip strength. I get a nice burn in my forearms, and I can get large increases in grip strength which doesn’t slow me down noticeably the next day.

Another option is to work around the muscles that are still sore from your previous session. If your legs are still sore from squats the day before (and/or running up stairs all day) you can still do some upper body work. For me this is dips or pull ups since those are my weakest areas. Or if the upper body is sore, add some more squats, I try to add in extra pistol squats where I can since I haven’t quite got the balance right. Be smart about this, don’t work out on muscles which are not fully recovered, you will do more harm than good. But if you can manage it, do something. If you are still sore all over a rest and recovery day is probably a good idea.

Rest days cannot simply be a day when you haven’t worked out. If you’re on the go all day long, get home late, maybe after dark and all you do is eat, watch some TV and go to bed this is not a rest day. You haven’t actually taken time to rest and your body has not had time to repair and recover.

So what is a good rest day? It is time taken to put your feet up and relax, read a good book, drink a glass of red wine maybe, hang out on a lazy boy or get can early night to bed. Give your muscles time off (and plenty of protein) so you can come back even stronger tomorrow. Rest days should not just be a day off from exercising, they should be a conscious decision to recover your body. If you can (and you should) do an mWOD or two on your rest days, or grab a lacrosse ball or foam roller and put some work into get some sliding surfaces going. It’s not exercise but it will better your body. Rest AND recover.

One thing I try to do is to rest and recover for the same amount of time I exercise (I always fall short but it is worth trying). So if I do a half hour of training, I want to add maybe 15 minutes of mobility and 15 minutes of rest. If I do an hour of hard out training, I’d like to get an additional hour of sleep (I often don’t but any extra is great).

Work your body so that you can increase its abilities every day, even resting after exercise will help achieve this if it is done right.

May 2011

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

How to make a medicine ball (Attempt 1)

Making a homemade medicine ball.

Note - I have since made a second medicine ball and took more progress pictures while making it.

I’ve wanted a medicine ball for awhile now, mostly for backyard training, and for weighted hikes (I love weighted hikes), but the commercial ones I’ve seen for sale are around the NZ$100 mark for only 5-10Kg. So I looked into making my own and found lots of articles showing how to make one at home with a basketball. So I went out a bought myself a basketball (size 9 for NZ$8), and used the sand I had left over from making my Bulgarian training bags. The sand cost only NZ$6 for a 25kg bag. So the main materials needed are super cheap.

So my build ended up being a two and a half hour ordeal, but you can all learn from my mistakes and could probably do it in 30min - 1 hour max.
Here’s the how to:

The basketball I got was flat packed so I blew it up and let it sit for an hour or so.
- Mistake one, if you buy a flat pack ball leave it blown up overnight or for a week or something to work out the folds, otherwise it makes it hard to get a nice round ball.

I then drilled a hole through the valve to fit my funnel.
- This was the strongest part of the ball so it made sense, but next time I might save the valve so the ball can be pumped up so it’s super round and hard, if that’s what you want.

So I put my funnel in and loaded it up with sand, and nothing happened
- My sand was not as dry as I had hoped, so I ended up forcing wet sand through the funnel with a stick for 2 hours, not fun. Use dry fine sand. It might cost more, or be harder to find, but well worth the hassle

I packed mine super tight, since I wanted a perfect round ball, as heavy as I could get it. Final weight was just over 10.5kg, or 23lb.
- Next time I might consider a larger ball, less packed. This ball is super hard, but I'd like another one with a bit of give in the sand, it will be kinder to my shoulder that way.

I finished it by packing in some cotton balls, then a small piece of folded paper to keep the sand off the sugru patch. I used sugru because I think it is amazingly useful, and I had some around, but you could use a tire/ball patch or epoxy, or even just layers of duct tape. Finally I finished it with some duct tape. Note – Sugru is awesome stuff, it’s like a silicone epoxy prefect for all kinds of mods, hacks and repairs.

Finally all done and I'm really happy with it, I'd say it’s perfect for lifting and throwing, but not slams. For slams it would need to be wrapped up in something to protect the ball, and the ground.
After taking it for a short hike (1 hour and 15 minutes) I’m happy to say it worked very well. I carried it on each shoulder, over head and out in front. It was somewhat difficult swapping it between positions, which is what I wanted, to get lots of different muscles working in different ways. I would say this weight activated more muscles than when I walk with my Bulgarian bag since I have to carry the ball with my hands and move it around as opposed to resting in on my shoulders the whole way.

May 2011

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Be strong to be useful (the Natural Method)

Balance and lifting. Not perfect form, but not bad.
Pictures are from Mt. Sladdin in Clevedon, it has a cool little natural method style course and a one hour walk, up to 250m and back.

Georges Hébert (who developed the natural method) described the bodies of the indigenous African people as “splendid, flexible, nimble, skilful, enduring, resistant and yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature.” Their bodies were honed by the daily interaction with their environment. This strength allows them to provide and protect themselves and their families. It served often little purpose for competitions or showing off (though if they did compete it was generally only for fun, or to hone their skills. See primal blue print law 6). They, like our (and their) pre agriculture ancestors required no training, they had no gyms, nor did they set aside time to go for a run.

Given their strength, flexibility and endurance, they would be ready for anything life might throw at them. They could sprint from an angry rhino and climb a tree to escape, they could fight off an attacker, and protect their family, if a friend twisted an ankle they could carry him (or her) home.

The average western 21st century person however probably couldn’t jog to their letterbox, let alone sprint from an angry animal. A flight of stairs might be hard to climb, no chance they could climb a tree. If a friend was injured they probably couldn’t drag them to safety, let alone carry them. Their strength is gone (if they ever had any), so in a dangerous or life threatening situation they cannot be useful, and would likely perish.

I don’t want to be like that, I want to be strong and useful. I can want this for selfish reasons, to be able to protect and help myself in dangerous situations, I can also want this for altruistic reasons, so that I can protect and help others, be it my partner, family, friends or strangers in a dangerous situation. It need not even be a dangerous situation; it could be changing a tyre, moving furniture or gardening.

There are ten fundamental groups to a natural method training: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, equilibrium (balancing), throwing, lifting, defending and swimming. A person proficient in these actions (and more that I may add) would be considered strong, and could make themselves useful in a given situation.

Walking (A bit of a hill climb really)
Walking ('move at a slow pace' law 2) is a key component to any human life, yet we do so little of it when we have cars, trains and escalators to do our walking for us. Everyone should be able to walk easily and quickly to their neighbour’s house, or to a friend’s or to somewhere to gain help. To be able to walk 10k’s would be a great baseline. Better yet try walk 50k’s per day to safety.

Running and sprinting (sprinting is law 4) are also key human movements, to run 5-10k’s to get help, to sprint from danger or chase after someone (a handbag thief for instance). Tabata sprints and similar interval training once a week is great for both sprinting and longer distance runs.

Jumping is not to be forgotten in human movement, be it a vertical jump to grab a ledge or tree branch, or distance jump such as a river, or gap which must be passed. Parkour is in my opinion the best example of human movement involving jumping (and balancing). It can be useful in chasing or fleeing, and involves important skills everyone should strive for. Parkour also includes quadrupedal movements, and climbing. As a side note, climbing is excellent for generating high levels of upper body strength, as well as the back strength necessary for heavier lifts.

A bit lifting, a bit climbing, all round good work out.
Balancing when coupled with lifting is simply gymnastics, one of the pillars of crossfit and a favourite exercise of mine (This would be 'lift heavy things' law 3). The strength and control over one’s body necessary for many movements is extraordinary.  Performing a pistol squat, one armed push up, handstand push-up, muscle up (and more) requires not just a high level of strength in any one or two selected muscles, but in a huge array of musculature throughout the body. It not just about big biceps and abs, it’s about a movement which prepares the body for what life has to offer. If you can perform a muscle up you can pull yourself to safety, if you can perform a pistol squat on either leg you can probably carry someone of equal weight for a short distance, if you can perform a one arm push-up on either arm, you can probably bench press your own weight. Add in throwing (throw rocks or medicine balls or yourself in plyometric push-ups, pull-ups etc.) and you have yourself an all round strength routine with real world cross-overs.

One part of the natural method which is not touched on by the majority of primal/paleo followers (except for fighters specifically) is defence. This part of the natural method trains people to protect themselves and others from a would be attacker. Modern hunter-gatherers are often skilled in warfare, and many have their own unique forms of combat preformed for both fun, and preparation for real conflicts. I see no reason why our pre-agriculture ancestors would not also be skilled fighters. For a modern example of this skill see the amazing strength to weight ratios and multiple fighting skills of MMA fighters. This is one part of primal life I have not yet taken on, but endeavour to in the future.

It is debateable how much swimming our pre agriculture ancestors did, and I would say they had less need for it than we now do. But the fact remains that swimming should be considered a necessary skill in modern times. Be it so save our own lives or lives of others, we should all aim to be proficient swimmers. A distance of 100-200 meters seems reasonable (though I intend to go for a 1k ocean swim). To be honest I can’t yet swim 100 meters, so this is something that requires serious attention.

So there are the ten main areas of the natural method, and how I see them to fit with primal life. To distill it down to the most basic of elements it is about movement. We should all be able to move ourselves (and sometimes others as well) through their environment as safely, efficiently and quickly as possible. In future I may dedicate articles to each of them, including examples of how I (and you) can train for them.

May 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

What is ‘back to primal’?

So what it ‘back to primal’?

To me it means trying to get back to my primal roots and live life like my pre-agriculture ancestors. These hunter-gatherers had strong, flexible and enduring bodies; they roamed the landscape freely in search for food, water and shelter. Some days they could easily find enough food to last the next three days, and sometimes they would not find food for three days, yet they did this with ease. Their life has been described as the “original affluence” they had plenty of meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds to eat, and often spent less than half the time we do working. They spent their spare time playing, resting, and socialising. When they did work it was hard; lifting and carrying awkward objects, throwing rocks and spears, moving their own bodies through the landscape, sprinting from danger. It is this daily use of their bodies which made them ready for anything. This is this that I strive to emulate in my daily life, that is what back to primal is all about. For a guide to primal life see this link.

I want my body to be strong, flexible and enduring; I want to be able to fast for three days if necessary (and still remain functioning), I want to play, socialise and enjoy life more. I don’t want to become a blob on the couch, covered in crumbs, whose only socialisation is with a pixelated character.

Back to primal will not just be about my journey, and the way in which I try to live my life. I intend to fill this blog with interesting primal resources which everyone can use in their own back to primal adventure. This isn’t a diet, exercise program, or destination, it’s a journey, a road to travel. So if you not enjoying it don’t just struggle on, find a new path - one that suits you. There is more than one way to skin a rabbit, cook it, and eat it.

My own road to primal life has been slow and gradual, I give up more grains as I go, my workouts become less structured, and involve new elements as I find them and I tackle new areas of primal life such as fasting (I never thought it would be so easy).

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to find what they like, what works for them and run with it, search other blogs and use what fits you, discard was does not. And finally add something uniquely your own. Learn something new every day, add new, useful things to your life and subtract away those which are not useful. Grow every day, change your goals and opinions and new information comes to light, reinforce beliefs with additional evidence.

Enjoy your journey back to primal life.

May 2011