Chemical Lessons

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My body reminded me of something important today. Due to unusual circumstances I ended up drinking two cups of coffee (double stovetop Moka Pot and a large mug of French Press) this morning. Today is a busy day – I’m traveling on business, and will be in the air for much of the day. I was trying to get as much done between 0700 and 0900. Within 20 minutes of the second cup I was in a near panic – dealing with things that are routine for me in the course of my work. What the hell was going on?

Sitting at my (home) work desk, I tried my three minute mindfulness meditation. It did centre me mentally, but I could feel the panic in my limbs – a scary sense of detachment very similar to being severely drugged – when your body does not feel the way your mind expects it to. I managed to get out of the house and to my cab with that lingering sense of dread. I did more breath meditating in the taxi – then it struck me. Caffeine. The jumbo overdose of caffeine.

Sitting here in the boarding lounge, it all came together. I recalled a period of three months last year when I went off all stimulants. This had been an intensely painful time for me, as I was dealing with a devastating life event. Life at that time was just work, exercise, yoga, and meditation. No sugar, no alcohol, and no coffee. The daily meditation kept me centred and functional – important when a desperate sadness is hanging over your entire life like a dark cloud. The sugar free diet kept my energy levels constant throughout the day – nice when you’re living a high-stress consulting industry lifestyle. The yoga and exercise gave me killer fucking abs.

So now I think back – perhaps that is a good way to be. Minus the chemical stimulants, perhaps I’ll be more focused and thus able to vanquish the distractions that mock my plans to study and write. There is the social impact of not drinking alcohol and coffee – but as with that time, people get used to it rapidly.

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Simplicity

Since December 2014, I’ve been working on two fitness goals – first, to drop the flab that I’ve put on since mid-2013, and second, to strengthen my left shoulder after a round of physiotherapy. I’ve had a lot of tools at my disposal – because of my background in the martial arts, I’m a strong believer in bodyweight exercises; I also have kettlebells that I’ve used to shed some serious weight in the past. Additionally, I’ve always supplemented any weight-loss effort with High Intensity Interval Training, usually in the form of sprints.

Since February though, I’ve faced trouble with my left foot, which made me drop sprint training. To compensate, I built a weekly programme of alternating bodyweight and kettlebell training. This went on for a while, but the lack of gains in strength and endurance sent me back to the drawing board. After all, to come home on Friday evening with sore shoulders and no energy is not what I expected from my exercise regimen.

Two weeks ago, I stopped the Kettlebells. My exercise regimen now comprises only bodyweight workouts, with alternating days of upper-body and lower-body work. For weight loss, I relied on a high-protein / low carb diet that has served me very well in the past.

The change has been amazing. With a good 48 hours between workouts, my body now has time to recover, and I’m able to push the performance envelope, with data to prove it. I’m also losing fat. The best thing of course, is the improvement in temperament, which makes me look forward to each day’s workout.

There is a lesson in this – simplicity.

My goals were simple. I had enough (too much?) information. I wanted to try everything to get the maximum effect; however, what I did was to just wear myself out. It’s scary to think that I brought myself so close to another injury that would have taken me out of action for 3-4 months.

This is what my current workout looks like:

Upper body: Push-ups; Pull-ups; seated dips; Scapular pull-ups. I do two failure sets of these exercises in this order, with a timed one-minute rest between sets.

Lower Body: Deep Squats (butt to heels); forward lunges; single-leg Romanian deadlifts; side lunges; calf raises. I do two sets of these exercises in this order, with a timed one-minute rest between sets.

Further reading

Mark Lauren’s You Are Your Own Gym is a fantastic resource for bodyweight exercises. This is a well-illustrated book suitable even for beginners. A related app available for iOS and Android helps users build workouts and follow a 40-day plan.

Mark Lauren’s You Are Your Own Gym (Flipkart): http://fkrt.it/Ggn4MBNN

Mark Lauren’s You Are Your Own Gym (Amazon) http://amzn.to/1CycgJ2

Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy by Bret Contreras is for athletes who want to get more into the dynamics of each exercise. This is a great resource for instructors and trainers.

Bret Contreras: Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy (Flipkart): http://fkrt.it/GA~kXYNN

Bret Contreras: Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy (Amazon): http://amzn.to/1BR8ZK5

Desperate Measures

Every now and then, I see posts in the social media, where people wishing to “get in shape” go on a “program”, “cleanse” or “detox” for anywhere between three and 30 days. In India, this has hit a whole new level of insanity, where brides to be embark on an extremely aggressive programme that includes weight loss and skin lightening in the weeks leading up to their wedding. It is perhaps thanks to a culture of instant gratification where people expect tremendous results in an unrealistic amount of time. The fad diets aside, these unrealistic expectations coupled with a supersize helping of slothfulness have spawned a multi-billion dollar industry of pills, potions, and machines that are supposed to give you that body of your dreams.

Coming back to the fad diets and detoxes, a large number of these are “very low calorie diets” that will cause a serious calorie deficit, and consequently some weight loss. However, the first few kilos lost are usually “water weight” which will return within days of resuming old diet habits. Frustration aside, there are potentially dangerous side effects. Sustained low calorie intake can destroy muscle tissue and weaken vital organs. Fad diets that focus on a single food or food group can leave the body deprived of essential nutrients and trigger other illnesses. Even if there is some weight loss, it is unsustainable in the long run.

In my journey from 108 Kgs to a peak-fitness weight of 74 Kgs, I learnt 3 key lessons that ALL the information on weight loss breaks down to.

Firstly, no matter what TV infomercials, pumped up fitness trainers, or that overweight diet expert in your office tell you, weight loss is a function of calories consumed vs calories expended. If you burn more than you eat, you lose weight and if you eat more than you burn, you gain weight.

Secondly, good health has a little to do with calories and everything to do with nutrition. Your diet must include a complex range of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to ensure optimum health.

Thirdly, exercise is critical to preserve (if not build) strength, mobility, and endurance.

Getting healthy is not a weekend project or a month-long plan. It is an aggressive reprogramming of your mind and body and includes critical changes to every aspect of your life. If you make the changes and follow what works consistently, you will succeed – else, you will be stuck in the vicious cycle of crash diets and magical supplements.

A Fitness Lesson From The Red Queen

In Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Alice complains to the Red Queen about remaining in the same spot despite running for quite some time.

“Now, here, you see,” the Red Queen Retorts, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

How like fitness.

For the past month or so, I’ve been following an upper body training programme to recondition my shoulders and arms after about six months of disuse in the aftermath of the latest episode of my pinched nerve acting up.

I’ve been doing two sets each of push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and hanging scapular retractions. In case I encounter muscle failure before hitting my target, I cut intensity – moving from push-ups to kneeling push-ups and from pull-ups to negative pull-ups for instance. For the few days I seemed to have plateaued – though somewhat smug about the numbers that I hit.

Today, however, I decided to push harder, and raised my targets by 25 per cent, counting my reps backwards. Interestingly, I hit my enhanced targets on push-ups without any issues, and exceeded my previous counts on all the other exercises. This means that for the past one week, I wasn’t really growing – silly, silly me!

Sometimes, in the absence of an instructor or pace-setter we tend to be too easy on ourselves. This temptation is particularly strong when one works out solo in the privacy of a home. Fitness is like the Land Beyond the Looking Glass – you must run twice as fast just to stay in the same place!

So, here’s the change in strategy – my new targets are a minimum of 25 per cent beyond my highest good-form reps, with targets revised every 10 workouts.

Let’s see how this works. Watch this space!

It Doesn’t End In Class

Okay, so you’ve signed up for Krav Maga, and you’re regular with your weekend classes. You train, you appear for tests, you get your levels, and you’ve bought the T-Shirt. What next?

A martial art is not just an activity that you complete by showing up – it’s a lifestyle. The aim of this lifestyle is not just to survive, but to win. As a martial artist, you’re learning to use your body as a weapon. Your weapon’s performance is based on two things – how well you maintain it, and how well you know it.

Fuel Up

A strenuous activity like Krav Maga requires rest and nutrition for your body to recover. Without this, you will become more injury-prone. As soon as your session concludes, make it a point to drink one liter of water – this will purge your muscles of metabolic waste, and lower the intensity of cramping and muscle soreness. Within an hour or so, have a meal that is high in protein – this will provide your body with the necessary components to repair muscles, and will also cut cravings for sugary foods.

 

Keep Active

On other days, make it a point to set aside a minimum of 30 minutes for some exercise. Even if you do it in three 10-minute tranches on a busy day, it’s all right. Do push-ups, squats and pull-ups. These three exercises are enough to bring about a serious gain in strength in just a few months. An Android app called ‘Just Six Weeks’ can help you follow a progressive programme to improve.

Get Rest

When you’re in training, you need to get sufficient sleep to give your mind time to recharge, and your body the time to heal. Aim for seven hours a night. Avoid caffeine four hours before bed-time, and avoid staring at a screen for an hour before. Eat dinner in soft light from candles or an incandescent light bulb, rather than a harsh source like a tube-light – this will soothe your senses towards sleep.

 

Treat your Injuries

Injuries wage a war of attrition on the martial artist. Each untreated injury will leave you with lower mobility, lower strength, and increased vulnerability. Spurn the temptation to return to full-intensity training when you’re ‘somewhat okay’. All muscle, tendon, joint, and ligament injuries require a rehabilitation routine that extends to beyond the time that the discomfort ends. A return to strenuous activity before this healing is complete will likely result in further injury, and extended or permanent disability.

Keep Learning!

Your growth as a martial artist must span beyond the confines of a single discipline. Do you know a Jujitsu practitioner? Train with him in locks and ground fighting. Know a Thai boxer? Ask about the conditioning they do that lets them kick with their shins. Know a ballerina? Ask her about training for her insane power-to-weight ratio and flexibility. Spend some time each week reading about new trends in fitness and injury rehabilitation as well.

This article was first published on Krav Maga Hyderabad’s blog;

You could read more about the IKMF’s Hyderabad’s chapter at http://kravmagahyderabad.wordpress.com/

The SixPack Project

After I successfully cut my waist from around 42.5 inches to 35 inches, I wondered if it would make sense to take this a bit further and push it all the way to having a well-defined torso – commonly known as a six-pack.

In the past year, I’ve dropped a fair bit of weight and a pretty serious amount of body fat, and I think that with a little more self-control, I’ll be able to drop the rest too. So here are the mission parameters:

Objective: Six Pack Abs

Deadline: 4 Calendar Months, July 25, 2012

Key Performance Indicators: Visual Data (obviously), body fat percentage <10%.

Metrics: Daily body fat readings and 5-day moving average.

How am I going to accomplish this?

1) Diet:

I have realised that diet is going to be 90% of this. I will be cutting all empty calories like fast food, desserts, alcohol, etc, until I come down to the body-fat levels required for this to happen. I will be sticking to mainly natural and unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables for calories and nutrients. My protein requirements will come from eggs, fish, and cheese. I have found plain yoghurt to be a very healthy way to feel full without consuming too many calories. I’ll be sticking with my favourite – Nestle A+ available here in India.

2) Exercise:

Not being a fan of the health-club culture, I am going to be using a combination of Kettlebells and bodyweight exercises to get a workout. This gives me the ability to mix and match components of workouts. The only equipment I have is a canvas punching bag, 8Kg and 16Kg kettlebells, and a pull-up rack.

My most important tool here is my Gymboss interval timer. I use it to time intervals on my kettlebell workouts and also the ’rounds’ for my boxing workout.

I’ll soon be sharing my data logs in another post on here.

My diet is loosely based on ‘Turbocharged’ by Dian and Tom Greisel http://turbocharged.us.com/

Gymboss interval timers are an awesome workout tool, and can be bought online from http://www.gymboss.com/. Shipping is very fast, even to a country like India. I have bought several of these without any issues. Because of the loud alarm, they’re great help in the kitchen, and often remind me of something that I’ve left on the fire!

The Eat-Exercise Cycle

In my 7-year struggle with my weight, I have used all kinds of methods to try to drop the flab – running, weight training, interval training, HIIT, and kettlebells. The only method that gave me sustainable results was a combination of diet and exercise.

For example, a 30 minute interval running session burns about 300 calories. One snickers bar though, has about 270 calories. So do a number of fitness enthusiasts live in a diet/exercise cycle where they consume, and then have to exercise to get rid of the excess calories? And if their activity ceases, would they gain weight rapidly? I think so – in fact, that’s my story! Plagued with a chronic spinal ailment, I’d find my weight shoot up every time I had to stop exercising because my back was acting up.

So really, a low-calorie diet like Turbocharged may be the best way to maintain optimal weight when one has a sedentary lifestyle, n’est-ce pas?

I think so. Vigourous exercise has other costs to the body – mainly in wear and tear. Now exercise is important for optimal health and function, I would never dispute that, but how much is too much? Lots of people who I know have been training for many years have a number of injuries. Body builders generally have mucked up shoulders and backs, marathon runners have their knee and heel problems, and sportsmen usually have a list of complaints typical to their sport.

For people stuck in this diet/exercise cycle, it might make sense to actually break out of it by cutting back on calorie intake. Remember, fitness is not just about weight or medical indicators, it is also about ability and being injury free.

So break out of that Eat-Exercise cycle. It’ll do you good!