They think it’s all over…

The buildup has been going on for what feels an age, rivalries have flared, the pundits are torn but finally we are building up to actually finding out who will lift one of world football’s biggest prizes. No, not the World Cup but my office 5 a side league!

Going into the penultimate round my team (Go Wolverines!) needed a victory to guarantee the league title with a game to spare. Up against the second place team who were only three points behind we knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

I’ve played football for as long as I can remember and I really enjoy it, despite dalliance with other sports it always be my favourite.  Unfortunately for many reasons I can’t play XI a side at the moment so 5 a side is giving me a great substitute.

Aside from a good kickabout it’s great to spend some time outside socializing with friends in “play” mode and to make some new ones as well as getting the competitive juices flowing. I don’t know about you but I spend the majority of my time inside an artificially lit building, sat down and hunched over a laptop computer screen… So despite not fitting ideally with my overall aim of getting stronger (I struggle to eat enough calories as it is without burning more!) a little fresh air does me the world of good. 

I know that I also get a little mental win from breaking up my more rigid training with regular less prescribed forms of exercise. I think a little “play” time is great to keep yourself fresh, as well as active and healthy alongside a properly structured training regime. Therefore, while it may not always be Football I always look to include something; it could be another sport, maybe a hike or another strenuous outdoor activity, anything to keep me moving and to have fun, even if it is intuitively bad for my goals.

I would be interested to hear if you include sports and activities as part of your routine, and which ones, and how you think they help you, especially if they don’t fit completely with what you are trying to achieve.

So to the big question; how did the football go?

A soul crushing 4-3 defeat leaving us relying on another team to do us a favour or us turning over a monumental goal difference in the last game.  But hey that’s one of the best and worst things about sport, it doesn’t always finish the way that you want or expect.

They think it’s all over? Not quite yet. 

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In search of a good nights sleep

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Life has a way of getting in the way of our sleep. While I don’t have children to interrupt my night time rest, like most people throughout my life I have always had other distractions or better things to do and therefore an evolving relationship with sleep.

Whether it was 9 year old me excitingly trying to go to nod off on Christmas Eve dreaming of a new bike or staying up late for no reason reading or playing videogames through my early teenage years to spending most of the day recovering in bed at University after enjoying an “enthusiastic” evening out with a shandy or two the night before. ..

Margaret Thatcher may have famously only slept for a few hours a night but for the rest of us we’ll spend about 36% of our lives asleep, which would be over 32 years if we lived to 90!

So why am I researching sleep now? As I am now trying to lead a healthier life and one of the standard recommendations, along with drinking more water, is to get enough sleep I was interested how I could improve my sleep quality. Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep has been shown to increase stress levels and reduce performance, which I’m keen to avoid as it can do undo my good work elsewhere.

After some initial googling I stumbled across this wonderful TED talk by Russel Foster who is a Circadian Neuroscientist (no I don’t really know what that is either) where he speaks really clearly about not only the benefits of good sleep, but the side effects of when we don’t get enough.  If you haven’t heard of/watched TED talks I would really recommend having a look online, they are various length videos on an incredible range of topics and are a great way to waste a Sunday afternoon.

Anyway back to sleep and one stat that I thought was really interesting was that 50% of people that get less than 5 hours sleep a night are obese, which is a pretty damning statistic. Lack of sleep not only drives us to caffeine and other stimulants to get through our 10am budget meeting, but also increases poor judgment which increases the likelihood of us picking up a chocolate croissant to go with our bucket of coffee.

There is also probably a degree of causation/correlation to be discussed here as people who miss sleep are also probably less healthy in other aspects of their lives, but it is still an interesting link.

This behavioral element is before we look at the hormonal effects of lack of sleep specifically on Ghrelin known as the “Hunger Hormone” which will rise due to lack of sleep increasing your hunger levels and Leptin levels which will drop. Leptin levels affect how full you fell, so the net effect of these two changes is not good!

While this theoretical information is informative I am much more concerned with what I could actually do to improve my sleep. Taking Russel Foster’s suggestions and with a further bit of googling for practical suggestions, leading me to Mark’s Daily Apple, I decided to try and turn my room into a nighttime haven of peace and darkness and to improve my unhelpful bedtime routine.

So to start with I focused on removing the glow from the on/off lights on my electrical devices, my window and creeping under my door to remove the passing resemblance to Times Square. As anyone who knows me will confirm my ideas to fix things are usually exhausted once I’ve hit it with a hammer, so luckily it didn’t require anything too extensive.

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Some tape has solved the lights issue with the main offender being the A/C unit (which is a requirement in Bangalore anyway as it isn’t dropping below 23’ at the moment) especially as keeping a cool environment is also one of the key recommendations.

Using my foam roller, this is incidentally my new favourite piece of equipment, as a makeshift draft excluder also blocked the light coming in from our shared landing nicely.

The final problem is my curtains which not only let the light through but in yet another victory for Indian efficiency are not long enough either. As I am in rented accommodation I’ve asked the landlady to fix this so let’s see how that goes! As a temporary solution I have used cardboard to block the gap at the bottom.

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Now I’ve sorted my room it’s on to my night time routine. As mentioned earlier I as many others do have a tendency to stay up late for no reason flicking through the weird and the wonderful online or watching the last half hour of Avatar on TV for the fifth time.  As I am currently working slightly unusual hours in support of our UK business I am able to wake up without an alarm, which feels much more natural, so I can get away with staying up later however I am going to look to improve my approach before bed.

Partly this is so I can improve my sleep, but also to make the most of my extended mornings. We all wish we had more time but I think sometimes it is a myth that we don’t have enough, actually it is just a case of us needing to prioritise better.  When I think about it I would rather go to sleep earlier and get up and do something I really want to in the morning, like spend time on a new hobby or getting back to learning French which I’ve wanted to do for ages, than stay up and watch another sneezing panda video at 2am.

Therefore I’m going to can the TV before bed (with the possible exception of live sports) and also cut out checking the internet for at least half an hour before bed. I am still going to use my Kindle partly as this will allow me to read before sleep but also as I’m pretty happy with it as opposed to buying physical books. I’m going to stick to fiction rather than non-fiction to allow my brain to power down rather than generating new ideas.

My foam roller will also be used in it’d primary purpose prior to sleep to help reduce tension and improve recovery as part of set a routine that I will try to follow every night. Combined with no more caffeine after 4pm this should help me drift off easier.

These changes should allow me to get better quality sleep at night and help me to make good choices for the rest of the day, helping me to stick to my training and nutrition plans as I work to towards my goals.As well as benefiting muscle and CNS recovery, which I haven’t even really touched on here.

I am a big believer in focusing on hitting the big wins in whatever you do in life and I think the Pareto 80/20 principle holds broadly true in most situations. From a health and wellbeing point of view training and nutrition are going to be the main drivers of your success; however sleep is also incredibly important and can undo a lot of good work elsewhere.  I think it is also a question of building good habits across all elements of your life.

I guess my takeaway is that while it is not always going to be possible for me or anyone else to get a perfect nights sleep every time by setting yourself up to succeed  you have a fighting chance and the benefits will certainly be worth the initial effort. I’ve made my changes and I’ll let you know how I get on with my new routine, I’d love to hear any of your thoughts or techniques on getting that all important good night’s sleep.

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It started so well..

This Sunday 18 May rather than enjoying a lie in I was up at 4.30am getting ready to take my place on the start line with 11,000 other people in the TCS Bangalore Open 10K race which started at a sleep depriving 6.20 am.

It was a beautiful morning and while I’ve done quite a few half marathons and other shorter runs over the years for whatever reason I have never done a 10k before so I was excited as I enjoyed the drive in through the crowds. I was all kitted out and I’d had my high energy breakfast and was ready to go.

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Going back a few months to April when I signed up I was trawling the internet and looking to get involved in more events in Bangalore and to make the most of my short time living here (9 months with work). The race seemed perfect so I decided to sign up.

Now I should say while I do love India in so many ways there are still several things that I still struggle with even after a few months and a couple that reared their head here; the maddening level of bureaucracy involved in the simplest of tasks and the suffocating yet inefficient organisation and security at public events.

To take each in turn – to even sign up online in the first place I had to fill in pages of forms with name, nationality, address, date of birth, emergency contact details, address again and then set up an account and provide a scanned copy of an identification document and a recent picture.  I’ve signed up in the UK with just my name and address before…

Next, to be able to provide a predicted time I had to input a load more details and provide a timing certificate or confirmation. As I didn’t have this to hand due to form fatigue I foolishly skipped this step (more on this later). Once I had received confirmation of my payment and several other e-mails confirming I had a place (woo!) another e-mail popped up in my inbox saying that if I wanted to purchase an event  t-shirt, which I did, I could do so through another 3rd party site, which involved another round of form filling and excessive amount of e-mails.

Finally, I then had to go the Banaglore Expo to collect my bib and timing chip, this turned out to be nothing more than an attempt to sell the competitors trainers, running gear and medical insurance. Even so I managed to dodge all the salesmen and got to the right booth where I was allowed to provide all my details all over again, show my passport and, finally, pick up my number and so I was ready.

In my previous post I’ve talked about how I’m trying to avoid flitting between different events and goals and the modifications to training that that requires and this 10k certainly fits into that category, however as I had already paid and I figured I could run it without too much specialist training I had decided to still go for it. I therefore didn’t add a great deal more miles to the current limited running within my program and relied on my base fitness and my regular 5 a side football games to get me through.

Because of this and because I suspected that it wouldn’t be the quickest race conditions (25’+ heat!) I’d decided not to worry about splits or even wear my watch and to just run and enjoy it. This  decision was confirmed when I ended up watching then end of the admittedly exciting Arsenal- Hull FA cup final that meant I didn’t go to sleep until gone midnight (4 ½ hours ahead here!).

So it came round to the morning of the race and I arrived in good time ready to drop my baggage off and find my category. I located the drop point and negotiated the myriad of queues that had developed, seemingly at random, and received a cardboard token to collect my bag later, which caused a temporary problem as I and no pockets which I felt I ingeniously solved by keeping it in my shoe, and went to find my gate.

This where my problems developed as previously mentioned  I hadn’t entered a time so I was in the “F” category which was the last group for the slowest runners and those who didn’t have times to submit, or like me hadn’t bothered. The reason that this was a problem was that this group seemed to dwarf all of the others combined significantly and everyone was shoved in one large section together.

This is where the fun really started as having gone through another security check I found myself in our “pen” which was a wet and packed steeply terraced section of the stadium (The lower stand on the left in the below picture). With more people arriving every second there was no chance to find space to do a proper warm up, even on the spot, as I was more concerned with not being pushed down the stairs by the new arrivals. So as I awkwardly went through a few halfhearted actions I glanced around at my fellow competitors.

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I’m trying not to be too negative here but the way people were dressed was not encouraging for a quick pace. The choices of outfit were often inappropriate to the point of being dangerous. While many people were running barefoot, something which I wouldn’t be brave enough to do and was actually quite envious of and would like to try it at some point, the more worrying choices were people wearing jeans and dress shoes in what were quite difficult and wet conditions.

With team and corporate shirts much in evidence we waited and helped with the obligatory ten second count down and the race had begun! When the first two categories who were already on the track had almost made it across the line the marshals began running round opening the gates to the other sections including ours and we all poured out onto the track to make our way round to the start at a quick walk/slow jog.

Unfortunately this continued as we sedately passed the start line, waved to Carl Lewis (Legend) and the TV cameras and continued up the first 200m before the course began to widen and we could finally break into a run.

For a sizeable majority of the participants however this was maintained for all of about 300m before they returned to walking. While the pessimist in me wonders whether people should be do a 10k if they are walking before the 1km banner I have to think anything that gets people moving has to be a positive, especially with India facing the same obesity problems we do in the UK.

What does annoy me though is when people do this without thinking of anyone else. Abruptly coming to a stop with no warning makes it quite likely I’m going to run into the back of you, especially as the route was crowded and even more so if you decide the best moment to come to a virtual stop is on a tight hairpin bend or immediately after picking up a drink, and this could actually result in accidents and injuries.

The course organisers also could have improved the flow of runners with a bit of last minute improvements. We had torrential rain the night before and several areas of the route were still covered in water from a light smattering up to a few inches. While I appreciate there is not a lot they could do about Bangalore’s drainage issues a couple of marshals with brooms could have improved the situation dramatically. Every time we reached standing water a bottleneck developed as the runners attempted to avoid getting wet, creating a number of backlogs and an absolute stop at one point. In general everyone took this in good spirits and the mood was happily upbeat with great support from the surprisingly large number of hardy souls who had come out in support early on a Sunday morning.

While the water situation was annoying what was more concerning was when we had to stop to allow an ambulance past! While emergencies obviously happen and have to take priority, this didn’t really convey the level of planning that I would have hoped for!

As much as it annoys me to say by the 6km marker I had almost given up getting a time anywhere near what I had hoped (pre-race target in the 50-53 minute range) and I think I slacked off a bit, which was partly why I ended up with a final time of 58 minutes.

Not wearing my watch was another huge mistake as I got into a rhythm that in hindsight was far too slow, but without my watch I had no way to gauge as I am terrible at maintaining the right pace. I then managed to compound this problem even further because I hadn’t checked the route map properly prior to the race, so I was under the impression that we finished in the stadium where we started, as there were large countdown signs from “400m to go” down to 100m. Turns out these were for one of the other events running that day so as I turned a corner I had the finish line 10m in front of me and I didn’t have a chance to use my reserves in a final sprint.

So on me is making sure that I read the route properly and make sure that I always wear my watch! I also need to get better at just focusing on doing as well as I can regardless of the circumstances.

To avoid this turning into a full on rant, something I was trying to avoid, I’m going to try and focus on the positives:

  • Completed my first 10k so it was a personal best and gives me a time to beat.
  • The atmosphere was great and everyone was having loads of fun.
  • Got out early on a Sunday morning and had a good run.
  • Including all the events that ran 20,000 people were up early on a Sunday getting involved in exercise which is pretty awesome.
  • Got to run in a new city and in another athletics stadium which was cool.
  • Have a medal and a new running top which you can never have enough off!

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So overall, despite this post turning into a bit of a moan I actually really did enjoy it and as I said it was great to be up and running at that time in the morning and the atmosphere was brilliant. It’s a shame but with a bit more planning on the timing categories, (perhaps sub dividing F on predicted times?) and the route it could have been even better.

To be honest it has meant that I really want to run another 10k to see what I could do without the challenges and me sabotaging myself, but in order to stick to my new goals I’m going to leave signing up to one on hold for now and leave it as a potential future target.

So it’s back to the gym this week for me.

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The “Quick Fix”

smtcstl

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I am going to start by saying in no way do I discourage doing workouts at home or workouts on your own without a trained professional.  I will also say that I am most likely going to offend some people who read this blog as well and I’m OK with that.  There has been a very popular trend going on in the fitness industry for years, the “Quick Fix” type programs.  We have seen workouts that claim to completely “transform” your body within weeks, days, hours, minutes, etc.  Why do we always try to find shortcuts for everything?  The biggest issue with “quick fix” programs is you are trying to change something within mere weeks that you have been neglecting for years most likely.  Do you think that you can completely change all the damage you have done from poor diet, lack of exercise, and possibly pure laziness within a few…

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“Can I have a spot please mate?” A Brief Guide on How to Spot Correctly

22nd MEU Marines dominate Bataan weight-lifting competition

I was in the gym training the other day and saw two training partners lifting together. They were sharing a bench and were getting in what seemed like quite a good chest session. The only thing was one of them displayed a much better spotting technique than the other, which meant one person would be getting more out of their chest session than the other. This got me thinking…

But before I get started, for those that are unfamiliar with the terms “Spot”, “Spotting”, or “Spotter”. It is gym terminology for when you assist somebody in the moving of weights if they feel uncomfortable moving them independently. A good example of this is if Person A is laying down bench pressing and Person B is standing at the barbell end of the bench assisting person A (some “person B’s” often feel the need to shout loudly and obscenely while motivating their spotee so everybody…

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The power of accountability

A few months ago I moved to India as part of an international placement with work. As soon as I arrived in Bangalore I started training in our little complex gym using the same approach I always had, sure that this time I was going to stick with it and have more success.

While I made some progress initially it was when I decided to get serious and join my local gym with a couple of my friends that I started to accelerate. Partly because I started to research more about what I needed to be doing but also significantly because of the increased motivation and competition training with others brought.

There are some great articles laying out the benefits of training with a partner, from motivation to expertise.  Mehdi at Stronglifts has some great reasoning (Here). He uses Arnold Schrazenenger as a great example, who for all his dalliances with steroids and women is one of the most successful bodybuilders of all time and always liked to train with Franco Columbu to keep him razor sharp. While obviously plugging his own website one of the aspects that I think is most relevant Mehdi touches on is the use of his online community. While I haven’t used it and can’t vouch for it what I do like about it is the way that you can have “gym partners” that you don’t actually train with to encourage and guide you.

One of the best ways to achieve any goal is to make yourself accountable. If there is an outcome that is dependent on you doing what you have set out to you will be much more likely to achieve it, especially if you need to succeed to move on or if someone else is relying on you. Think back to some of your proudest moments graduation or sporting achievements. There is often an external reason driving you alongside the internal ones. Whether it is the desire to get the job of your dreams or not let your teammates or coach down.

By sharing your goals and dreams with others either online, at work or at home you are involving them in your success or failure,  even if they are not next to shouting  for one more rep as Arnie does famously with Ed Corney in Pumping Iron. (Worth a watch even if you are not the biggest bodybuilding fan, even if only for the 70s hair and clothes – Here).Image

When we set ourselves goals they can range from alcohol fueled good intentions on the 31st December through to hard and fast ambitions that we spend a great deal of time and effort striving to achieve. The difference between putting on your trainers and going for a run on a wet September morning or staying in bed can be tiny and every little push can help.

Therefore, while ideally we will find people who want to walk on the same fitness path by training in the same way as us and at the same time, and I would certainly recommend making the most of it if you do, this is unlikely to be the case. So why not try and get that extra 1% by involving your friends, family and co-workers in on what you are trying to do and allow them to make you hold yourself accountable. Commit to SMART goals write them down and share them.

I don’t always train with the friends I signed up to the gym with, or even always go on the same day, but by having them there gives me the motivation you to stick with it when I feel like slacking the gym off and going and buying ice cream.

With that in mind as I aim to get stronger and improve my body composition I am committing myself to writing this blog and detailing how I get on.

My starting statistics as of 13 May.

Height:

180cm

Weight

80.5Kg

Chest:

103cm

Waist:

85cm

Naval:

91cm

Upper Arm:

Right 35cm Left: 34cm

So what about my goals?

As part of my long term goal of getting stronger and achieving the 1.5x Bodyweight Bench Press, 2x Squat and 2.5x Deadlift I want to get to 75% of that by the end of September.

That would mean based on my current weight (Current 5RM in brackets).

Bench Press – 90.5Kg (75kg)

Squat – 121kg (95Kg)

Deadlift – 151Kg (115Kg)

Let the training commence!

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