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

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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!

Data Data Data!

I fumbled with my belt for a few seconds before noticing that the buckle had slid about an inch and a half beyond the last hole. WTF? This didn’t seem right. My weight hadn’t changed in several weeks. I turned to the mirror and realised that slim fit jeans that I had bought just a few months ago had become loose at the waist and thighs.

Wow.

With my weight static at 86 Kg for several weeks, I had begun to lose hope in my exercise regimen Waking up at 3.45 AM to work out with kettlebells before going to work at 6 AM didn’t seem to be paying off. This, however, was a surprise. I tried on several pairs of jeans and trousers, and they all told the same tale. I had lost atleast two inches off my waist.

I stripped down to my boxers and stood in front of the mirror – my shoulders looked bigger and arms firmer; my torso definitely looked more defined.

That was it, my workout was working! While I was getting results, the weight scale was misleading. I needed more data!

After that, I started tracking my progress in waist reduction. I got a tape measure and tracked my waist from 42.5 inches in March 2011 to 35.0 in Feb 2012. Over this period, my weight dropped a meagre 6 Kg. When my waist got stuck at 37 inches, I started tracking body-fat percentage, and saw a drop from 27% to 24%, and is now 22% at 35 inches.

I think lots of people who diet and exercise are easily disillusioned because they fail to see progress. To this, I just say data, data data!

If you are embarking on a fitness regimen, take ‘before’ pictures. get a tape measure and take waist and hip measurements to track inch loss. Here are some pointers on measuring.

1) Take all measurements at the same time of the day/week.

I take all my measurements on Friday morning, because it is farthest from any excesses that I may have committed over the weekend.

2) Use the same scale:

Use the same weight scale/tape measure always. Weight scales may have a significant error, and ones in public places may be even more so. Using the same scale will ensure that you can track your progress relative to it.

3) Body Fat Monitors:

If you’re using an electronic Body Fat Monitor, make sure you’re well hydrated before taking your reading. Tim Ferriss, in his book ‘The Four Hour Body’ (http://fourhourbody.com/) lays out a protocol that has worked very well for me so far – I drink a large amount of water, and take my reading soon after I urinate.

4) Review Your Data:

Review your data frequently, and make notes. Keep track of vacations, binges, diet changes, illness, or anything that changes over time. Sometimes, in reviewing this data, you will find patterns that you least expect!