Sunday, 20 August 2017

Floor sitting – Change your environment (slowly)

We’ve all heard the line ‘sitting is the new smoking’ and all the hyperbole that goes with it. I’m not here to talk about how good or bad sitting is because Netflix is amazing and I’m not going to watch it standing, or in a squat position. I’m also not about to get rid of my couches and go furniture free (As Katy Bowman does). So the best option as I see it is floor sitting.

Sitting on the floor is something natural to humans; Stone Age people weren’t building chairs. The issue is that modern life and all its sitting has left us unable to sit comfortable on the floor for any length of time. It was one of the hardest things about camping on the North-South track, to find somewhere to sit comfortably to relax and eat. So we have to ease into it in a productive manner.

No a lot of seats around

My floor at home is rather hard lino over wood, so it’s extremely uncomfortable to sit on without padding. My first thought was to go out and buy some big cushions to sit on when I realised I already had a bunch, on my couch. So pull one off the couch, throw it on the floor and sit down.

No need to buy an extra cushion

Now I wanted to sit in a productive way, working on mobility in good positions, so I didn’t want any leaning on my hands, against a wall, or in internal rotation. So my main sitting position is cross legged. The first goal was to collect 15 total minutes per night. To start with this was 5 minutes until my legs got pins and needles, then stand up, move around, take a break on the couch, then collect another 5 minutes. After a few weeks of this every other night or every couple of nights per week I was able to go a full 15 minutes without a break. The next step was the same, but collecting several 15 minute blocks (2-3 per night).

Just collect time in that position

I’m currently at the point where I do 15 minutes cross legged, then 15 minutes of various stretching positions, then another 15 minutes cross legged. The point is I didn’t throw away my couch; I made simple changes to my daily life, which required no extra time. I was already sitting, I didn’t add a mobility practice, my sitting is becoming my mobility practice.

Some mobility work while watching tv.

Try it out for yourself: Take a cushion off your couch put in on the floor and sit cross legged until it gets too uncomfortable to stay there (not painful, if it’s painful you have other things to work on first). Repeat daily until sitting on the floor becomes a normal part of your routine.You can shape your environment.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Focus on the process

This is something that I’m not great at and have to keep reminding myself. If you focus on the process, not only will the particular end point you’re chasing come, but many others will as well. I have two related examples of this, one I’ve been good and one I haven’t.

I’ve only ever trained muscle ups once (for a few weeks), to no great success. I could get up, with an ugly kip and struggle past the transition, but I could never get much better. So I stopped training it, and focused my attention on basic pulling strength, mostly through gymnastic bodies. So when Omar Isuf posted a video on the muscle up something clicked with me, and I was finally able to do a decent muscle up on a bar. However I still couldn’t do a clean ring muscle up. I continued training ring row and pull ups on the Gymnastic bodies program, and recently re tested my ring muscle up. I got it very smoothly with what I would call ‘minimal kip’ (really I just pull up fast and use that momentum to help the transition). By focusing on the process towards the ring row, I was able to get a ring muscle up ‘for free’. Focus on the process and great things happen.

A one arm chin up is a feat of strength I have wanted to achieve for years now. I have trained for it on and off for years, however after starting gymnastic bodies, that has been my main training focus. More recently I have been focusing on one arm hangs in various positions. After taking a few weeks off this training focus I came back to it and tried some one arm negatives. This lead me to the realization that I was training much too close to my one rep max. This meant I wasn’t able to put in enough reps (or time under tension) to get a maximal training benefit. It was ego training, with a high risk of injury. Like training only heavy singles for squats or dips, it just wasn’t a good idea. So I have re-focused my energy. I will train the one arm town hang for grip and shoulder strength, and I will focus on the gymnastic bodies course. These are the areas where I can get a lot of reps in, and get solid training. If I follow this process I will get the one arm chin up, or I will get close enough that targeted training is then a viable option. 

Holding the top of a one arm chin (fairly tough).

90 Degree hang, quite hard on the biceps
One arm towel hang, a good option for my strength level

It is worth mentioning that my main focus is the gymnastics bodies program, this means I don’t have any ‘spare’ training volume to use on things like archer pull ups etc. which would definitely help in training for a one arm chin up. I’m not saying you can’t focus on the one arm chin up on its own; you just need to know where your main focus is because you can’t always split your attention.

So pick a focus, and stick to the process. Great things will happen along the way.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Movement Vs Exercise

This isn't exercise, its movement. 
In the book Move your DNA, Katy Bowman makes the distinction between movement and exercise. The distinction is that an activity done for exercise is most often solely for the benefit of exercise, while movement may be the same movements, but done for a purpose other than its own sake. So for instance walking around the block to get your step count up for the day is exercise, it is an end unto itself. Walking down to the shop for milk is movement, sure you got your steps in, but that wasn’t the goal.

Often when I have gone for a short hike the point has been for exercise. Maybe I have added some weight to make it a ‘work out’ or maybe I am specifically training for an even longer hike. More recently I have been enjoying hiking for movement’s sake (and not just as an ad hock justification). I’ve been going out Saturday or Sunday morning for a moderate hike (2 hours or so) at a reasonable pace, but not fast, pace isn’t the point, I’m just moving comfortably. I’m going out as an opportunity to stretch my legs after a week in the office, to explore new places, get some sun, some time with my thoughts, and some time with the thoughts of others (podcasts).

Getting some sun.
I’ve been enjoying this time to just wander, and the benefits are more than just the movement alone. This makes it movement, not exercise. An even simpler example is my Saturday morning routine of getting up late and walking down to the local café for a coffee. I get to stretch my legs, wake up slowly and have a relaxing start to my weekend. The few thousand steps I clock up along the way aren’t even considered a bonus, they just are. The main point of the movement is got get my coffee, not the walk.

The point here is that we can move more if we change our view point. It’s not about exercising more; most don’t have the time or the energy for that. The point is look at what we do and add more movement. I could sit on the couch to listen to a podcast, or drive to get my coffee, but I can do so much more by adding some movement to the mix. It’s as simple and choosing to walk.

Now for the how. While the ideal might be to get out in nature, bare foot, getting a bunch of sun for a few hours its' often hard to find the time for this. Often I hear the suggestion to park far way, but I don’t really like this practice. Mainly I’m busy and tell myself I don’t have the time, plus I hate shopping so I want to get in and out as fast as I can. Instead I just look for the easiest park, not the closest. So often the easiest park is further from the door, but I get parked quicker, win-win. Another dead easy option is to take the stairs, instead of an escalator. It generally takes the same amount of time, and there’s less people parked around you another win-win. Another easy one for me is to walk to the furthest cafe from my desk at work (there are three places near me where I can get my 10am coffee). I get out of my chair for a 5 minute walk each way, but the point isn’t the walking the point is to get my coffee. There is also walking to pick up shopping, visit friends and family etc, but the smallest actions are the easiest, they take no extra time, only a change in mindset.

Do it for the views.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Book Review: The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant

Right off the bat I’m going to say this is my favourite ‘paleo’ book. I can say this since it’s the only one I’ve been able to re-read and enjoy as much a second time. The book points out a lot of interesting nuances I’ve never thought of, or heard about, and not just on strictly ‘paleo’ topics either. The writing style is somewhat informal and funny while getting across the right amount of science. If I was to describe the book, I wouldn’t call it a paleo diet book. I would say it’s a book about how previous humans (and animals) once lived, and all the ways we screw it up.

The book is set up in three parts. Part one being an explanation of where we come from, and where we are now. But not just hunter gatherers vs modern humans; the book explores our animal origins, hunter gatherers, agriculturists, the industrial age, and modern bio hackers. This sets the back drop of not necessarily how we should live, but some boundaries of what we can survive and what we can’t. As well as weather we are surviving, or thriving.

The second half starts to put this into action by taking a look at some of the classic topics of most ‘paleo’ authors, with reference to the timeline set out by the first section of the book. It looks at food, fasting, sleep, movement and thermoregulation. There is a little science, but not too much, lots of self-experimentation as well as comparisons of other culture and time periods. The third section explores both hunting and vegetarianism with a look to the past and future.

Reading this book for a second time is what has got me into thinking about my environment/life style design. Questions of what environment did humans once live in, what parts of that environment were important and why. What variables did the environment have, were they important, do we have them now, and if not how do I add them back in. Thinking about these kinds of questions was an eye opener for me.

This is possibly the book I would suggest to someone who either has read a ‘paleo diet’ book and not been interested, or to someone who is sceptical of the whole ‘paleo movement’. Not because this book has some amazing science that will convince them, but because this book has such a way of laying out the basics. This book isn’t about diet, or convincing people to change their lives. More than anything it lays out how humans have done things so wrong, and ways we can start doing them right again. This book is also a great example of how the paleo movement is not a historical re-enactment, it’s about fining a frame work with which to make informed decisions.

Also worth noting the book references the bible and biblical culture (mostly the Jews) in several chapters. It’s a really interesting topic which I haven’t seen explored elsewhere. Particularly the cultural and biblical rules with reference to the environment in when they arose in, and the problems they may have been attempting to solve. This alone make the book an interesting read.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Escape the Zoo?

Making my escape? Not likely.
Escape the Zoo; it’s something I had as a signature on a forum many years ago. I doubt I came up with it, but I cannot remember where I heard it. It comes out of the idea that we’re living in a zoo, of our own making, but a zoo none the less. We live in a strange, sterile environment, made of artificial materials, eating industrial foods we’ve never seen before, like zoo animals. We built our own cage.

The younger me heard this analogy and thought instantly of escape, I can walk around outside bare foot, go out into nature and. . . And what? Be free? How short sighted, I wasn’t free, I was looking out a window. Again I’m not sure if this is my own thinking, or someone else and I forgot where I first saw it, but my view point has since changed (Thinking some more and this can’t be my own thinking, I’m just not that switched on). We’re never getting out. For better or worse, we are stuck in a zoo. We’re not escaping, where would we go? The wild? What wild? We don’t have the space, let alone the skills to turn back and be wild. And even if we could, would we? Joe Rogan and Dr. Christopher Ryan argued this point, and I’m with Joe, the internet is awesome.

So we’re stuck in a zoo, which we built. It sucks, but there is hope. We built this place and we can make it better. Our environment is within our control. We just need to know how to change it, and have the motivation to change it. We need to eat better, check, we can do this. Trainers and handlers don’t feed us, we do. We don’t move enough, check, we can do this, start working out, in whatever way you can and take it from there. This also gets into the idea that this whole Paleo diet thing is not a historical re-enactment, but a logical framework with which to make some decisions.

We haven't escaped the zoo, but we have gone on a field trip outside its walls.

As a starting point for food, the basic Paleo/Primal diet is great, east mostly vegetables and meat, some fruits, nuts and seeds, avoid industrial foods (grains and vegetable oils). Pretty simple starting point, and you can go as deep as you like with this stuff but simple gets you a long way. Next would be movement. I really like Mark Sission’s suggestion of a lot of low level movement (walking), lift some heavy things and sprint a little. Variations on this work really well to regain a basic level of fitness. Again you can get way out into the weeds searching for optimal fitness, or high performance but these are topics for another day.

From there things get a little trickier and maybe the benefits get smaller (or more difficult to see). Sleep is a big factor, then digging deeper into diet and exercise. Community is a huge piece to address also.

This is all just the start. It’s about environment design. We are the designers, and the subjects. We won’t create perfect, but it is within our power to create better. I’m going to try and use this post as a jumping of point to explore areas of environment (lifestyle design) one small section at a time, so stay tuned for more.

This post has been largely influenced but so many people (mostly via podcasts). So if you want more check out Katy Bowman, Kelly Starrett, Daniel Vitalis, Rafe Kelly, Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, Erwan Le Corre. Do a google search and start listening to any podcast with them on it, especially if it’s between two of them.

This might be a good example of using what the zoo has given us.