Saturday, 26 July 2014

My Journey to fitness

For a long time I have been meaning to write this article, but just never got around to it.  Lately I’ve been thinking about it more often, so here goes:

I grew up as a chubby kid, never fat, just chubby.  I was even a chubby baby, my Mum told me as a baby everyone said I looked like the Michelin man. I think it was about 2010 (age 22) when I decided I wanted to get fitter, although at the time I had no idea what I meant by that. I think I weighed about 80-82kg and I felt like I was reasonable strong (I have always worked on and off in an aluminium window factory so I was always lifting heavy windows).

Skinny runner
As is fairly typical with these things I first started getting fitter by running. When I first tried I think I only ran about 500 meters then walked the next kilometre home. Around the same time I began doing press ups, and using my brothers set of dumbbells at night. I wasn’t sure what I was doing with them; I would just do movements I had seen before (curls, tricep extensions etc.). I think I built up to running approximately 5km.  I have no clue on the strength gains, if any.

I think it was late in 2010 or early 2011 I was linked to Marks Daily Apple, and from there the world of fitness exploded for me. I started doing the body weight program Mark had on his site at the time and made really good progress on that. I quickly built up from push ups to one arm push ups, started doing one leg squats (though not breaking parallel), close grip pull ups, handstand push ups, sprints etc. By also following much of the eating guidelines I dropped down to 70kg.  I was lean and muscular but fairly skinny.

In mid 2011 I started recording my workouts so I could follow the progress and to motivate myself to never take a day off. At this time I was trying to up my volume in an attempt to put on some weight, and maybe get up to 75kg, but my workouts were all over the place.  I would do one set of Australian pull ups, then a set of pull ups then a set of chin up.  I kind of had a plan.  It just wasn’t a very good one.

Getting better
I had recently started using kettlebells (16kg, then 24kg) and found My Mad Methods, a website on unconventional fitness including kettlebells and sandbags. I jumped in and tried 3 or 4 of their 4 week programs. These were a lot of fun and I probably got stronger doing them, but since I didn’t really have a good bench mark to test I have no idea how much these helped. During this time I would often get home quite late but I always pushed to get my workout in. That might mean getting home off the train at 6:30 and doing 30 minutes before dinner and homework (No days off). Or I would break up my sets and do them in the ad breaks, push ups, bridges and abs lend themselves well  to this.

It was at this point (late 2011, early 2012) that I was starting to formulate my ideas on training and develop a better plan for myself. I had read Convict Conditioning (“CC”), and had bought Mathew Palfrey’s sandbag e-book.  Each week would include a body weight strength workout, a sandbag strength workout, a sandbag conditioning workout, some running and sprinting. This worked out really well for me.  I worked my way through many of the CC progressions, got stronger with the sandbag, and got much better at running.

In 2013 I went back to university and decided this was my year to focus on strength workouts since I could make these short and monitor my progress to make sure I was getting better. I focused on basic movements, continuing some of the CC progressions.

Through 2013 I got much stronger in weighted pull ups, going from around 5x5r with 16kg up to 5x5r with 32kg. I also moved from overhead pressing 24kg 5x5r up to the same reps with 32kg.

Significantly I was able to see how well my strength transfers over to barbells which I had previously never used.  At that point, having bench pressed maybe 50 reps total in my life, I was able to bench 100kg (at 80kg body weight).  While not amazing it’s pretty good for minimal training. I was also able to work up to squatting 150kg quite quickly (also not amazing, but respectable).

Now it’s mid way through 2014 and I’ve been doing the Gymnastic Bodies Foundation course for nearly 6 months. I feel I have been making really good progress on this and I am really enjoying having a huge mountain of progressions to climb.

My plan moving forward is to finish the Foundations course and to have started Rings 1 course before I’m 30 (currently 26). I would also like to get into some more powerlifting to get some reasonable numbers without going too far down that rabbit hole.

Through this whole process I have learnt a lot about training and have formulated my own views on how one could (should) approach their training. I’ll lay these ideas out in my next post.  

More recently some higher level progressions.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Roof section of climbing wall

This last section of my climbing wall has taken over a year to finish but it’s finally done. I had one strip of 400mm x 2400mm plywood left over after building the massive hang board, campus board, and peg board. This strip of ply was always intended to be used as a roof climbing section for grip training, and as a possible section to traverse (along the hang board and on to the roof section).

This section was fairly straight forward to build; it runs parallel to the side wall of the garage and perpendicular to the hang board. I placed it in such a way so one can climb along the hang board then transfer to the roof section, or transfer between the roof section and the peg board. I allowed a 500mm gap between the peg board and the roof section to fit my head and shoulders, and approximately the same distance between the roof section and hang board. The ply was drilled in a similar fashion to the hang board (click the link to read more about the screws and t-nuts) the only difference is the holds are drilled 80mm from the sides of the roof section (not 100mm). This spacing places the holds further from the centre holds, spreading them out across the board. I mention this only because when I am looking to start a project I like to find other peoples measurements to help inform my own project. 

I used two lengths of 2x4 (45mmx90mm to be exact) to fasten the ply to the rafters. The 2x4 was cut to 2400mm, the same length as the plywood. These were spaced out so they would not be in the way of the t-nuts on the plywood which would block the rock holds. These were screwed to three rafters, 2 screws per rafter. I used large gauge 90mm long screws and feel very safe with these fixings. These screws were also counted sunk, so the ply would sit flush with the 2x4’s and not hit the screw heads. I used a 24mm drill bit for this. As a side note I found the 2x4’s to replicate monkey bars quite well, so there is an idea if you are low on money and material.

Spacing for t-nuts, and example of counter sinking
More pictures of spacing and counter sinking
Once the 2x4 was fixed in place the plywood was screwed in using the same spacing’s and fixings as the hang board (Link for more information).

Finished product and example of spacing away from the peg board

I’m very happy with the finished product, I spaced the 2x4s so that the ply would over hang, allowing me to traverse the roof section similar to monkey bars. I am also considering options for pinch training off the roof section for which I may just hold the exposed rafters while spotting myself with the roof section of ply. This opens up quite a few more grip training options for me. Once I buy some more rock holds I’ll add some more pictures. 

Using the 2x4's like monkey bars

Hanging from the ply and the rock holds

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Pinch training tool

I was taking a quick look over the clearance table at my local hardware store when I saw these simple spring clamps, much like giant clothes pegs. They were only $4 each and I was sure I could set them up as a tool for training pinch strength. I bought two thinking I could set up one then ass it got too easy I could change the set up to use both. Later I thought I might as well buy two more so I could have one set up, a double set up and one spare (for single finger + thumb training); however I was only able to find one more.

I have seen something similar to what I have set up in one of Ross Eminent’s videos, however his tool uses leverage on a weight, while mine used the resistance on a spring. The tool that Ross has set up is probably better as the weight stays the same throughout the movement, while the resistance increases on mine as the tool is closed. However this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I feel like the strength curve is higher as the thumb is closer to the hand; that is to say you are stronger in that position. I could be wrong. Also I don’t have any dumbbells or plates to set something up like Ross has.

The set up is very simple; I used a board made of sandwiched aluminium sheet over plastic. I found the off cuts at work otherwise I would have used some thin plywood. These were drilled, screwed and bolted onto the clamps; I had to cut down some of the bolts to make them fit. If I was to re build these I would use larger bolts and lock nuts, however my set up works just fine.

My plan is to train these in a similar fashion to training CoC gripers. I can use the single clamp as a warm up for sets of 5. I can then either do negatives on the double, until I’m able to close it and/or use single and double fingers on the single. I find the single and double finger work very difficult, I think the hands are wired to work as a unit and are therefore stronger than the sum of its parts. To give an indication of strength of these two tools, I feel like the single is slightly easier than the CoC trainer and the double is just harder than the CoC number 2. I’m hoping that these tools can assist in my training for a rafter pull up (or at least a rafter hang).

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Personal Experiments

Doing small personal experiments of n=1 is probably nothing new to any of my readers, so I won’t expound on the subject. I will say that changing and testing different parts of your life (health, fitness, diet, sleep etc) and taking a look at what happens (if anything) can be really helpful in learning more about yourself, and is often simply a lot of fun. You can get as in-depth and detailed as you like with recording and monitoring data, or you can go as simple as “how do I feel today?”

Note: I’m not going to reference anything I say here. Most of it is very basic and straight forward.  I also just don’t feel like spending the time to look up the primary research (or at least reviews); I’ve done enough if that in the past.

The easiest thing you can do

Over three years worth of workouts
The simplest thing you can start to do if you haven’t already is record some simple data. I really enjoyed the 4 hour body, if you want to get in and start self experimenting this book is an excellent resource to start with. For me the most important piece of information I got out of that book was to keep a workout log. Originally I started the log to keep me motivated to do something every day, I hated to write nothing in for a day. But I quickly found the log to be excellent for keeping track of my progress, and to push me to beat last week’s reps. I was also able to see some very basic patterns faster by focusing on writing things down. For example I noticed that my pull ups sucked the day after parkour because I was often doing a lot of climb ups at parkour training.

So the simplest thing to do is to buy/find a cheap school book, open a word document or however you see fit, start recording some basic information you are interested in. I only record my workouts as that’s all I’m really focused on but you could record weight, mood, sleep, diet whatever you mean to focus on. “What gets measured gets managed”

An extra 1000 calories per day

I got fed up with people going on about high fat diets and saturated fats, so I decided to do a really simple self experiment to show high fat, and saturated fat were not the big issue everyone was making it out to be. I decided to add an additional 1000 calories to my diet for a month, and see what happened. I chose to drink a can of coconut cream for morning tea each day in addition to my average diet of the previous few months. I did this in order to stack the deck in my favour as much as I could. After sleeping the 8 (ish) hours the body is burning primarily stored fat, my normal breakfast is bacon so I can continue burning fat, so by adding my extra calories as fat after this I will hopefully continue to burn these new calories. In addition the shorter fats in coconut oil convert easily to ketones which and be passed out in urine if not used. In addition I hoped that my background metabolic rate would increase with added calories (see ‘good calories bad calories’).

For four weeks I drank a smoothie of coconut cream with mixed berries (for flavour). By the end of the experiment it was getting difficult to drink, but I did it. I weighed myself before and after the experiment and had lost 0.3kg by the end (negligible). It would have been great to get blood tests and body fat scans but this simple experiment was good enough for me. My conclusion was that the additional calories did not cause me to put on weight, so I decide to start drinking a protein shake most days to get in some extra calories to help recover.


It’s fairly common knowledge that creatine is a cheap, safe supplement which can help increase strength within the rep range of 3-5 (ish – this is why I’m not referencing). I had read some good articles suggesting that one can take a loading dose for up to 6 weeks safely before cycling off. There seemed to be many papers to back this up so I decided to give it a go (Note: Here is a link to one of the articles I was reading, I suggest reading all three parts). The calculation I used suggested 25 grams daily for someone my weight (most loading doses used in research are 20-25 grams). So I decide to run this experiment for four weeks and see what happened.

First off, it’s not fun to take that much creatine in water, it’s like sand and baking soda mixed together. So I started taking it with fruit juice (which is good as carbs seem to help the uptake of creatine), this was a little bit easier. Towards the end of the second week it was getting more and more difficult to stomach the creatine. I was left with an upset stomach for up to an hour afterward so I cut the experiment short after two weeks. In that time my weight had not increased, nor had any of my lifts (beyond what I had projected). My conclusion was that I am a non responder to creatine, although I should look into taking a much smaller dose (5 grams) daily for basic health.

Other experiments

Those are the two main experiments I have done which had a clear goal and time frame but I have a few ideas for different things to test. I would like to do much more floor sitting and work on my squat (Ido Portals 30/30 challenge maybe) but after a long day a chair is always so inviting so I’m working on that. I have been thinking about putting some solid work into building my calves to see what happens. And I really need to work much harder on my mobility.

I hope that this has given you a simple introduction to self experimentation, and maybe given you some ideas of where you could start yourself. For more in-depth explanations and examples take a look at ‘The four hour body’ by Tim Ferriss.