Using the Ab Wheel for a stronger core

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The ‘ab wheel’ has long been a staple for anyone looking to increase functional core strength and conditioning around the torso.

When using the Ab Wheel to conduct ab rollouts effectively, it will engage the entire core, including the stabilizer muscles that contribute to maintaining balance, exercise performance and proper posture. It can be one of the best training tools for strengthening the core as a single unit.

The core is much more than the visible rectus abdominis muscle, or the infamous 6-pack. It includes many other muscles, such as the transverse abdominals, the muscles of the pelvic floor, and both the internal and external oblique muscles that move, support and stabilise the spine.

Another muscle that is involved in movement through the core is the multifidus, a deep back muscle that runs along the spine. It works together with the transverse abdominals in an anti-extension capacity to increase strength and stability in the spine, and as a result protecting against injury or strain during movement or normal posture. 

Having a strong core creates an excellent foundation for all activities. Just about every movement is powered by the core. These muscles work in concert to support the spine whenever we squat, hinge, press, push, pull, carry load or rotate.

The ab rollout is an excellent anti-extension exercise that will challenge and develop the entire core.

Progression

The most common mistake people make when conducting ab wheel rollouts is that they focus too much on rolling out as far as possible when first getting started. This can lead to hyper-extending the lower back and in turn, causing pain or injury.

What is important here is keeping the core and glute muscles engaged throughout the movement in order to prevent the back from hyperextending and keeping your eyes on the wheel at all times to maintain proper spinal alignment.

The kneeling ab rollout

How to:

  • Start with both knees on the floor (approx. hip width apart), squeeze the glutes, round out the upper back and tuck the tail bone in with the ab wheel just in front of the body.
  • Tighten the core with arms fully extended and slowly roll the wheel forward, keeping your view on the wheel until your body is parallel to the ground.

  • Keeping the core tight, without your back arching, roll yourself back by contracting the abdominals to the starting position and repeat.

How many:

  • Beginners: 5-8 repetitions

  • Advanced: 10-15 repetitions

My training at 39-ish

So another year has gone by and I’m another year older. A bit late, but here is the annual update on my training, nutrition and other key happenings in life. If you’re somewhat interested, links to my previous annual updates can be found here: 36-ish37-ish and 38-ish.

Context and Goals
39-year-old. 180cm. 77kg.

I want to be fit enough, fast enough and strong enough to get through the daily challenges of life. Basically just I want to live healthy and well into old age.

Year Forty. Go on…

Food
Where to start? Well, it’s a wholefood diet. Something along the lines of an ancestral or paleo type diet. This has been my basic template for the last nine or ten years now. It has evolved over the years and I generally rotate between lower and higher carbohydrate intake throughout the year depending on my physical and mental requirements. In general, my protein intake is fairly stable throughout the year and I would switch between a high carbohydrate or high fat diet depending on the season and how I looked, felt or performed (mentally and physically).

Most days I’ll eat 3 meals, with at least 5 hours between meals, to allow the digestive system to do its job to metabolise nutrients to properly fuel the body. Most recently, I have added a high protein snack towards the end of the day as part of my evening routine. This usually consists of some protein powder mixed into some Greek yoghurt or cottage cheese.

As a general rule, my macronutrient breakdown would average out to be in the ballpark of:

  • Protein: about 200g;
  • Fats and oils: about 115g;
  • Carbohydrates: about 130g (depending on activity level).
  • Total: about 2355 calories.

Since the middle of February, I have made a conscious effort to increase my weight and build some lean muscle tissue which has required an increase in caloric consumption. I have added more carbohydrate to most meals, especially on training and / or competition days to help facilitate lean muscle growth.

These days, my macronutrient break down has looked a little more like this:

  • Protein: about 240g;
  • Fats and oils: about 85g;
  • Carbohydrates: about 240g.
  • Total: about 2685 calories.

What does this look like on a plate? It starts with quality sources of protein, such as beef, lamb, pork, game meats like kangaroo and venison, or some fish. Then, a variety of leafy greens, root vegetables or rice and finally some healthy fats like, butter, ghee or olive oil. 

I also eat eggs almost daily, bone broths and fermented foods, like kimchi and yoghurt.

I drink a lot of mineral water and my coffee is almost always black.

Throughout the previous year with coronavirus related lockdowns within the community, my alcohol consumption went up, then down, then up again. Drinking the occasional glass of red wine with my partner throughout the winter, then experimenting with cocktails during the warmer months. Most recently, I have once again dialed back on the alcohol to zero, with the exception of special occasions like Anzac Day, or my birthday.

I normally train first thing in the morning, after a cup of black coffee with some collagen peptides. Since February, I have consumed a serve of WPC prior to my workout, in order increase protein synthesis, stimulate muscle growth and to help prevent the breakdown of lean muscle.

This has worked well for me for a while now and I have been able to maintain a healthy body composition, sustained physical performance and with fairly consistent energy levels throughout the day. In that time, I have increased my weight by nearly three kilograms. Looking in the mirror, I would say that the majority of the weight increase has been lean muscle. Not bad for year forty.

I’ll stress this again, this is what has worked for me.

Eating out. It’s now 2021 and eating out is a part of the modern social culture. 

Most of 2020 eating out was taken off the cards with practically all restaurants being closed. This meant that I was able to dial in my nutrition pretty well without the temptation of fancy, over-indulgent meals at nice restaurants. Whilst I did eat out on occasion, I was really lucky with the fact that my partner eats very similar to myself so it was pretty easy for us to cook and share meals together at home with ease for the majority of the year. It also gave us some additional quality time together which I thought was pretty amazing.

I also know a little bit about nutrition and how to cook which helped.

Additionally, my partner recently commenced contest preparation for her third bodybuilding / bikini competition, which has increased the requirement to keep her the nutrition in order. I have chosen to basically eat the same as her, using my macros in order to support my goals of building muscle. It makes meal time easier for us when we eat together or when preparing meals for the week. It’s also an easy way for me to support her through her preparation.

Supplements
Generally, I don’t take a lot of supplements. I try to get all of my nutrient requirements through diet alone, with the addition of some Cod Liver Oil during the winter months to boost vitamins A and D, which among other things, supports optimal immune system function.

For pre-workout, I’ll make a cup of black coffee with some collagen peptides.

Magnesium. This is probably one of the most important supplements for me. Magnesium is vitally important to over 300 biological functions in the body  from regulating protein synthesis to muscle function and supporting proper sleep patterns.  As the demands for physical training, stress or professional workloads increase, the requirement for magnesium increases.

Vitamin C. Is a water soluble vitamin that has been shown to improve antioxidant levels, improve overall immunity, improve iron absorption, lower blood pressure, reduce heart disease and dementia risk. Vitamin C is also critical for collagen synthesis. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It makes up the skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, and many other structures. Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis. That means the conversion of amino acids into functional collagen that the body can use.

That’s about it really.

Training
Strength and conditioning. During the last 12 months I’ve mainly focused on two training protocols. The first being mostly completing the bigger compound lifts first, then finish up with some accessory exercises and a finisher.

That means, deadlifts, power cleans, weighted pull-ups, horizontal and vertical presses. Followed by some accessory work like push-ups, dips, cable rows, split squats and ab rollouts.

I have generally split these movements into two separate training blocks, being push and pull, with the other being squat and press.

Sets and repetitions will vary each workout, but generally I’ll aim for about 25-30 repetitions in total for each movement. How many sets it takes reach that total will depend on how I’m feeling on the day. So days that could mean a standard 5 x 5 protocol and on others it could mean something like 2 x 15. 

My other strength and conditioning focus has been the kettlebell lifts. I really enjoy training with kettlebells and have found them to be an incredibly versatile training tool over the years.

Training with kettlebells can be more dynamic and can develop strength and conditioning when implemented in circuit style training. I’ve also found that I can get a higher volume of lifts during my kettlebell training phases, not to mention a good sweat.

Farmer’s carries and high volume kettlebell swings have featured consistently in my programming.

Really simple. But simple works.

I’m not setting strength records, but I’m doing pretty well for a guy who has just turned 40 years old. I’m athletic, have a decent strength to weight ratio, can run reasonably quick, generally in pretty good health and rarely injured. Pretty important for somebody entering “middle-age”. This allows me to be consistent. And consistency is the key to long term health and performance. I can be active across a variety of disciplines just about any day that I choose, which is more often than not.

Running. It’s been mostly interval work and some 5km efforts. The Army loves running. So occasionally, I’ll have to run longer distances out to about 8km. As general rule however, it’s just the shorter, more intense runs that I feel the most benefit from.

During the last twelve months I competed in one virtual race with the New York Road Runners (NYRR), where you track a run locally and upload it to a global leaderboard.

Virtual Races:

  • NYRR Virtual, 5k (21:50min)

As opposed to running, I have been walking a lot more. A great opportunity to listen to a podcast, catch up with a friend or spend some time out in nature.

Basketball. It’s back. I’m really enjoying being on the court. Both socially and competitively. It’s a sport I’ve played since I was 12 years old. The 2020 competitions were brought to an immediate closure in March. Really disappointing as we were playing well and winning.

Overall, I’m having a lot of fun playing sport again. I just love competing. Each night I’m matching up against players half my age so it’s a good feeling to be competitive and even beat most of my opponents on a nightly basis.

Right now my training consists of four days of strength and conditioning combined with one or sometimes two days of running (mostly easy / mid-level efforts and some sprint work). Each workout will last about 40 to 50 minutes. I play basketball two nights a week, on Tuesday and Thursday.

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A final point. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

Lifestyle and Travel
I’m living in Melbourne, Australia. It’s my fifth year back in my home state. It really is great being around family and friends for such an extended period of time. I feel like I am a part of the local community again, which is great. It does feel nice to be able to hold a decent conversation with your local barista or butcher a daily / weekly basis.

The importance of good social connections is often overlooked when it comes to optimising your health and how well you perform at all levels on a daily basis.

This year is my eighteenth year in the Army. A life time. For the most part it’s been an exciting career that has allowed me to develop as a human and contribute to the global society in a positive way. A career that has taken me to almost every corner of the world and I have had the opportunity to work with many great people from a variety of countries sharing the same values and goals as myself.

My girlfriend / partner. What can I say? She is nothing short of amazing. Highly driven, intelligent, independent, strong and beautiful. Running an office as an associate lawyer for a major personal injury law firm. She also lectures law subjects at the local university, instructs fitness classes and as discussed earlier, is in the middle of her third bodybuilding / bikini contest preparation. Most importantly, she makes me strive to be a better human every day.

We were fortunate enough to meet about a month prior to the initial lockdown early last year. In my estimation, just enough time to figure out that we were both decent humans with great potential, both as individuals and as a couple.

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Note. We still are both decent humans.

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She lives in Bendigo, Victoria. About a ninety minute drive outside of Melbourne. It’s only four turns from my door to hers. We were lucky enough to be able to travel between the two locations during the lockdown months, which did give us some sort of freedom or normality during a period of time that could just as easily have been incredibly lonely and mentally tough.

We were both lucky to have the opportunity to remain employed throughout the last twelve months and the transition to the work-from-home life made it even easier to spend time together between Bendigo and Melbourne. We are both back working at our respective office / barracks most days which means our time together has been reduced to mostly the weekends.

Having the opportunity to spend time in Bendigo has been great. A regional city with the country town sense of community. There are some amazing restaurants to try and some fantastic cocktail bars that are worth checking out. Not to mention some good coffee and a decent gym by the name of McQuinn’s.

As usual, I also spent some time at the family holiday home on the Mornington Peninsula. Always a great option for a lazy weekend getaway and some valuable beach time. We also spent a few nights between Crown Towers Resort Melbourne and the Jackalope Hotel Resort on the Peninsula around the Christmas / New Year period.

We also travelled to Adelaide in early January for five days. Most of our time was spent visiting beaches and cafes along the coast during the day and some inner city cocktail bars in the evenings.

So, what’s next?
The next twelve months is going to be an exciting time. On a personal note, I am seriously considering the possibility of transitioning out of the full-time service with the Army in order to provide more stability at home. I’ll most definitely continue to contribute with the Army Reserve. I feel that it is time for me find a new challenge on a professional level.

I’m always looking at ways to continue my development both personally and professionally. Most recently I have taken a deeper look into the works of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson and furthering my knowledge of long term property investment to better prepare myself for the future.

Life can be whatever you want it to be, and there are some really exciting times are ahead.

Until then… Live well. Train hard. Enjoy life.

Fasting: hydration and exercise performance

hydration1Despite the commonly known importance of water in the body for optimal performance, many athletes and weekend warriors alike do not seriously consider the effects of hydration before, during and / or after athletic performance.

Water maintains blood volume, regulates body temperature and is involved in muscle contractions along with a variety of other processes within the body.

So… is it safe to exercise whilst fasting? Yes. To a point. Although it has been done previously, it’s generally not a smart thing to complete a marathon or multiple high intensity metabolic conditioning workouts in the middle of a fast. These activities can be highly taxing on on the body and if not fuelled correctly, injury or illness could be the result.

That being said, exercise is a great way to complete a fast as it can prime the body for the uptake of nutrients.

In fact, the body has been conditioned throughout our history to be able to produce both mental and physical feats under the fasting conditions.

Humans wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t the case. 

Some of the benefits of fasted exercise

  • May provide an energy boost post workout
  • May raise blood sugar levels whilst in a fasted state
  • Improved cognitive function which can help focus during exercise
  • Increased adrenaline levels whilst fasting can help to push through extra repetitions or efforts
  • Increase in production of human growth hormone
  • Increase in testosterone production
  • May help with stress and anxiety
  • May improve body composition

Hydration and exercise

Whenever you workout, in order to achieve optimal performance you need to be properly hydrated. It doesn’t matter if you’re training in a fasted or a fed state.

When in a fasted state, the body is not getting any hydration from foods so it is important to remember to hydrate before, during and after your workouts.

Now it takes a bit of time for the water in the cup to effectively be transported around the body and into your muscles. Proper Hydration needs to occur prior to the workout, but not immediately before. Aim for somewhere around 30 to 45 minutes prior to the planned starting time.

The hydration protocol for fasted activity

To achieve proper hydration prior to exercise consume one of the following fluids 30-45 minutes prior to working out:

  • A glass of water with a pinch of real salt (such as Celtic or Himalayan)
  • A glass of low sugar electrolyte drink
  • A cup of bone broth with salt (to taste)

These drinks contain electrolytes critical to health function and performance.

Consume another serve once in the post workout window.

Why you should be eating oysters

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Oysters are saltwater bivalve mollusks that live in marine habitats such as bays and oceans. Mostly known for their reported aphrodisiac qualities, these mollusks have a lot to offer in terms of health benefits.

They are an excellent source of protein, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals all critical to optimal human performance.

Why it’s a superfood?

  • Excellent source of protein, vitamin B12, zinc and selenium;
  • Good source of copper, iron and manganese;
  • Contains omega-3 fatty acids.

Nutritional powerhouse
Oysters offer an outstanding nutritional profile which is only really rivalled by organ meats.  Extremely high in a variety of important nutrients and low in total calories, oysters are an incredibly nutrient dense food source.

Natural Aphrodisiac
Are oysters an aphrodisiac? The question of whether or not raw oysters can cause sexual arousal has long been debated. Unfortunately, there is actually very little evidence to suggest this is the case.

That being said, why have oysters been so long associated as an aphrodisiac? Most likely because oysters are an excellent source of zinc, a mineral critical sexual health.

Oysters also contain varying levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the ‘arousal’ centre in the brain (including sexual arousal). This mechanism could potentially take effect  immediately, giving you a psychological edge and boost sexual arousal and performance.

Whilst the evidence may not support improved sexual health, it will provide many nutrients that will improve overall health and performance.

Making the most of oysters
Oysters can be eaten either raw or cooked. To note, there is a small concern for bacterial infection. Oysters occasionally contain a species of bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus, which can more dangerous than salmonella in susceptible people with compromised immune function.

If you have any concern, steaming or boiling are both popular methods which kill off any harmful bacteria and will not cause any loss of nutrition.

Kettlebell exercises you should be doing

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Why spend so much time in the gym isolating muscle groups when you can build dynamic total-body strength and conditioning with kettlebells?

The kettlbell has been around the fitness industry for many years. More recently, they have been gaining more popularity with CrossFit, F45 and a variety of other high intensity circuit type training programs.

When used correctly, kettlebells are extremely effective training tools for providing total-body strength and conditioning. The problem is that most people use kettlebells incorrectly. Like any other movement within the gym, proper coaching and execution is required to maximise the benefit.

The army often uses the term “be brilliant at the basics” and elite athletes are usually elite because they’re better at the fundamentals than everybody else. Mastering the fundamentals is critical to success. In training and in life.

The fundamentals of kettlebell training can be broken down into a handful of exercises. If you can master these movements you’ll be well on the way to developing a highly conditioned physique.

Below is a list of exercises that form the fundamentals of kettlebell training:

The Goblet Squat
The squat is one of the 5 basic movement patterns and has many variations. The goblet squat isn’t just a lower body exercise… it’s a full-body conditioning exercise that promotes optimal mobility.

Check out this article for a more detailed description of the goblet squat.

The Swing
The kettlebell swing, in which you project the kettlebell to shoulder-height only, is an insanely effective exercise when executed with proper form. Hip power, hip hinging, and breathing techniques make it incredibly powerful.

It’s a two-for-one exercise, meaning you’re able to combine strength training and cardiovascular conditioning into one efficient movement.

Check out this article for a more detailed description of the kettlebell swing.

The Get-up
The get-up is a slow, deliberate movement that’s been around for centuries. The get-up will help you with functional tasks as well as higher-level exercises. It teaches you to move fluidly, and when you add the external load (such as a kettlebell) it requires strength, mobility, coordination and is a skilled movement.

Check out this article for a more detailed description of the get-up.

The Clean
Similar to the kettlebell swing, the clean is another explosive exercise for total-body strength and conditioning. The main difference from the swing is that the kettlebell finishes in the rack position as opposed to being projected horizontally away from your body.

As defined by Pavel Tsatsouline, an accurate description of the kettlebell clean is:

  • Pick up the kettlebell, swing it back between your legs as if for a swing, and bring it to the rack in one swift movement.
  • Then drop the kettlebell back between your legs and repeat the drill for repetitions.

This movement can take some time to learn, but once you have it mastered it can be used high-powered kettlebell strength and conditioning complexes.

The Press
If you have mastered the earlier exercises, you should have demonstrated appropriate shoulder mobility and stability required to press.

The kettlebell press is another exceptional movement to learn. The press is not just a shoulder exercise, as you are required to recruit muscle activation from the entire body for maximum pressing power and strength.

If you work on your overhead presses hard enough, you will hardly need to do anything else for your upper body and midsection.

The condition:

  • Clean the kettlebell and press it strictly overhead to lockout.

The standard:

  • Pause for a moment, in the rack position to ensure that you are not using any momentum generated by the clean, for the press.
  • Press with the knees softly locked and with minimal back / side bend.
  • Keep the whole body tight, specifically the midsection, glutes and quads.
  • Keep the pressing shoulder down.
  • Lock out the elbow completely and pause at the top.

There are two ways to press overhead for repetitions. The first being to clean the kettlebell before each press. This is known as the “clean-and-press”. The second method is cleaning the kettlebell once, then pressing it multiple times from the rack position. This is known as the “military press”.

How to count macro-nutrients

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The term macro-nutrients (macros) originates from the Greek word makros, meaning large. Macros are the nutrients you require daily in large amounts.

Macro-nutrients provide the body with energy (calories) and provide the building blocks of cellular growth, immune function, and overall repair. They are:

  • Fat. 9 calories / gram;
  • Protein. 4 calories / gram;
  • Carbohydrate. 4 calories / gram.

Your body also requires micronutrients in smaller amounts, such as vitamins and minerals.

Fats
Of all the macro-nutrients, fats (and oils) provide the most energy (calories) per gram. Important for critical functions such as nutrient absorption (especially the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K), hormone production, temperature regulation and providing an alternative energy source (in fact, cardiac muscle cells derive up to 90% of their energy requirement from fatty acids).

Dietary fats are either saturated or unsaturated.

Saturated fats come mostly from animal sources. At the chemical level they are tightly packed and have no double bonds, hence the term saturated. These fats are generally solid at room temperature and tend to be shelf-stable for a longer period of time.

Unsaturated fats include those that are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Chemically, these fatty acids are loosely packed and have either a single (mono) or multiple (poly) double bonds. The important Omega-3 fatty acids belong in this group. Unsaturated fats are generally in liquid form even when refrigerated and have a shorter shelf life.

The recommended daily intake is between 20-35% of the total caloric intake, although many people find optimal function and performance at higher levels.

Good sources of healthy fat include fish, meats, avocado, nuts, butter, olive and coconut oils.

Proteins
Proteins are important for the body to be able to build and repair cells and tissue structures, produce enzymes and hormones as well as regulate your immune system. Protein requirements will vary depending on individual body weight and fitness levels.

Typical recommendations for protein intake is between 15-25% of the total caloric intake.

Good sources of protein include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, lentils and diary products.

Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates provide the body with fuel. They are broken down into sugars by the body and either provide immediate energy or are stored in the liver and muscles for later use in the form of glycogen.

Carbohydrates can either be complex or simple.

Simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides and disaccharides) are made up of either one or two sugar units and can be broken down fairly quickly in the body. Simply put, blood sugar levels typically rise quickly, then drop just as quick after the consumption of simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides and oligosaccharides) are made up of long strings of sugar units that take longer to break down for use in the body. Due to these longer strings of sugars, complex carbohydrates take longer to be broken down and as such, generally have a lesser impact on blood glucose levels.

In addition to providing fuel to the body, complex carbohydrates, particularly fiber, can help the body to maintain healthy digestive function and a reduction in LDL cholesterol levels.

Although high, typical recommendations for carbohydrate intake is between 45-65% of the total caloric intake.

Good sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, tubers and grains.

How to actually count macro-nutrients
Use the following steps to effectively count macro-nutrients:

  1. Identify how many calories you want to eat each day.
  2. Identify the ratio of macro-nutrients that you want to consume. The current recommendations in Australia are as follows:
    • Fat: 20-35%
    • Protein: 15-25%
    • Carbohydrate: 45-65%
  3. Multiply the total daily calories by the identified percentages.
  4. Divide the calorie amounts by the macro-nutrient calorie-per-gram number.

The Example
Our case athlete is following a 2,000 calorie diet using 25% fats, 25% protein and 50% carbohydrates.

Fat (9 calories / gram)

  • 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of fat per day
  • total amount of fat per day = 500/9 = 56 grams

Protein (4 calories / gram)

  • 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of protein per day
  • total amount of protein per day = 500/4 = 125 grams

Carbohydrates (4 calories / gram)

  • 50% of 2,000 calories = 1,000 calories of carbohydrates per day
  • total amount of carbohydrates per day = 1,000/4 = 250 grams

From these simple equations we can determine how many grams for each macro-nutrient our case athlete should be eating per day. With the above example to achieve the goal of 2,000 calories our case athlete would need to eat 56 grams of fat, 125 grams of protein and 250 grams of carbohydrates.

Let us look at one more case athlete. Still following an 2,000 calorie diet, but following a fairly standard ketogenic nutrition plan using 65% fats, 25% protein and 10% carbohydrates.

Fat (9 calories / gram)

  • 65% of 2,000 calories = 1300 calories of fat per day
  • total amount of fat per day = 1300/9 = 144 grams

Protein (4 calories / gram)

  • 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of protein per day
  • total amount of protein per day = 500/4 = 125 grams

Carbohydrates (4 calories / gram)

  • 10% of 2,000 calories = 200 calories of carbohydrates per day
  • total amount of carbohydrates per day = 200/4 = 50 grams

For ketogenic case athlete to achieve the same goal of 2,000 calories they would need to eat 144 grams of fat, 125 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbohydrates.

Two different case athletes with different macro-nutrient breakdowns and achieving the same total caloric intake.

Final thoughts
Each macro-nutrient has important role in the body, essential to optimal health and performance. Understanding how to count these macros can produce a variety of health benefits, including the improvement in the overall quality of diet, smarter food choices and portion control, which when combined with a healthy exercise program can assist in reaching specific goals including improved body composition, lean muscle growth and / or effective weight loss.

When I track my calories I have found the CRONOMETER application to be a great tool for not only tracking macros, but have found that it also tracks more vitamins and minerals than any other application on the market.

Simple Strength Revisited

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If you want to get stronger… lift weights.

Not the easiest of things to do with all gyms currently closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the government enforced lockdowns. They will however, reopen. Hopefully as early as next month.

When that happens I’m sure there will be many aspiring athletes and everyday gym goers who will  be itching to get back into the strongman’s room eager to lift as much weight as possible in an attempt to catch up on the workouts missed during the lockdown.

To avoid immediate overtraining or injury, some smart programming will be required. For most people it will have been two or more months since their last heavy workout. A loss in strength and conditioning is to be expected. That is ok.

Here is a strength routine that I picked up from strength coach Dan John and have used on occasion with success after periods of time away from the gym. It’s not too taxing on the body and can be completed several days per week.

It’s simple… but sometimes simple works.

The Protocol
First pick a compound exercise from the basic movement patterns.

  • Squat: front or back squat
  • Hinge: deadlift
  • Push: bench or overhead press
  • Pull: pull-up or power clean

Then find out how much weight you can move for 5 repetitions. For most people, it’s about 80% of your 1RM.

Use the following lifting scheme: 1 – 2 – 3. That’s 6 repetitions. Pretty simple. Complete a single repetition, rest shortly, complete a double, rest, then complete a triple. Rest as long as required between lifts. The aim is to complete every lift without failure.

Complete this method three times. It should look like this: 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Now you have completed 18 repetitions at your 5RM for each working set! Well done.

The Rules:

  1. Don’t miss a repetition. Make every lift.
  2. Don’t chase fatigue.

The weight should feel easy enough to move quickly. Increase the resistance over time from workout to workout. The best part about this lifting method is that you don’t even have to change your program to add these, you can just add a set here and there to your current program.

I usually pick movement pattern and conduct an exercise as my main lift for the day, then follow up with some accessory work to round out the session.

My training at 38-ish

So another year has gone by and I’m another year older. Here is a current update on my training, nutrition and other key happenings in life. If you’re interested, links to my previous annual updates can be found here: 36-ish and 37-ish.

Context and Goals
38-year-old. 180cm. 74kg.

I want to be fit enough, fast enough and strong enough to get through the daily challenges of life. With continued learning and adaptation, living healthy and well into old age.

Oh, and add a little more lean muscle too.

Once again, the caveat is that this is what has worked for me so far…

Food
What do I eat? You could call it some sort of ancestral or paleo type diet, but it’s basically a whole foods diet. It’s evolved over the years and I have reintroduced certain foods into the daily rotation like butter, cheese and the occasional slice of sourdough bread at breakfast.

For the most part, I just try to reduce or eliminate highly processed fast foods, crappy vegetable oils and added sugars as much as practicable.

On most days I’ll eat 2 meals with a snack, with at least 5 or 6 hours between meals, which allows the digestive system to have adequate time to do its job and metabolise nutrients to properly fuel the body.

As a general rule, my macronutrient breakdown would average out to be in the ballpark of:

  • 40-50% fats and oils;
  • 30% protein;
  • 20% carbohydrate.

More recently, I have been trying to add more carbohydrate into my diet to help facilitate lean muscle growth.

It’s definitely not keto which has become quite popular these days, but it’s still a fairly low carbohydrate diet and I would definitely be cycling in and out of ketosis on a weekly basis. I’ve done some occasional ketone testing and usually score between 0.5 to 0.8 mmol/L, which is considered nutritional ketosis. If you’re within this range you’re generally thought to be metabolically healthy, meaning that you’re able to switch between glucose (sugar) and ketones (a byproduct from the breakdown of fatty acids) as an energy source efficiently.

What does this actually look like on a plate? Well… quality sources of protein first, such as pasture raised beef, chicken, pork or some sustainably sourced fish. Then, a variety of leafy greens and root vegetables, and finally some good fats like avocado, butter, ghee, coconut or olive oil. Add some cheese like Gouda or Provolone to close out the meal and you’re done.

I eat plenty of eggs, bone broths and fermented foods, like kimchi and yoghurt. I drink a lot of mineral water and my coffee is almost always black. A glass of red wine, specifically a pinot noir or a classic gin martini is always welcome to round out the weekend.

I normally train in a fasted state, or after a cup of black coffee with some MCT oil. During periods of more intense training, I’ll have a serve of WPC prior to my workout, in order to help prevent the breakdown of lean muscle.

Contrary to what a lot of people think is best practice for weight management, most of my calories are usually consumed in the final meal of the day. I find that eating meals higher in carbohydrates at the end of the day allows me to replenish depleted glycogen stores, and preparing my body to train early the following day. I also have more time available in the evening to get creative and prepare larger meals.

This has worked well for me for the last 12-18 months, I’ve been able to maintain my weight and body composition easily and have had fairly consistent energy levels throughout the day.

I’ll stress this again, this has worked well for me.

Adding some additional weight to this argument is that I’m human, and I’m more likely to be sharing a meal in the evening after work with friends or family. This was the case until recently. The global COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent societal lockdowns have greatly restricted what individuals or groups of people are able to do in public. But more on that later…

Intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding. There is a difference. As mentioned earlier, I generally eat two main meals per day. One meal post workout and one at the end of the day. I would argue that this is called time-restricted feeding, with all meals being consumed within a predetermined window of time, for example between 12pm and 8pm on a regular basis.

Intermittent fasting is exactly that. Intermittent, meaning occasional. Humans have evolved over time to thrive through seasonal periods of both excess and limited food availabilities. This is why the body can switch and use both ketones and glucose as an effective energy source.

How do I fast? Depending on the day, lets say a typical day where I do a strength workout, I might only have a 10-12 hour overnight fast while on other days I can stretch it out to 16-18 hours with ease. Occasionally on a low tempo day, I would dabble in a longer fast of up to 24-32 hours. This wasn’t very regular, Maybe only 3 or 4 times over the last 12 months.

Eating out. It’s 2020 and eating out is a part of modern life. Well it was until recently. The global COVID-19 outbreak has placed the community on lockdown which has greatly restricted people from eating out. In fact, eating out is dead, for now. A lot of restaurants have had to resort to takeout or delivery options just to continue daily operations. Many places have closed indefinitely. Hopefully in the near future some restaurants will be able to reopen, even if it means limiting the amount of customers dining at any given time.

Lucky I know a little bit about nutrition and how to cook.

Supplements
I don’t take a lot of supplements on a daily basis. I try to get all of my nutrient requirements through diet alone, with the addition of some Cod Liver Oil during the winter months to boost vitamins A and D, which among things, support optimal immune system function.

As mentioned earlier, my pre-workout is typically a cup of black coffee with some MCT oil, and I’ll occasionally use a whey protein powder pre or post workout.

Magnesium. This is probably one of the most important supplements for me. Mostly taken post workout in the warmer months or in the evenings prior to sleep. Magnesium is vitally important to over 300 biological functions in the body and these days it’s not that easy to get enough from diet alone. Add in some intense training or some elevated stress or workloads, and your requirement increases.

Additionally, over the last 12 months I have added Olive Leaf Extract during the standard cold and flu season to help strengthen the immune system.

Training
Strength and conditioning. During the last 12 months I’ve focused on two training protocols. The first being mostly completing the bigger compound lifts first, then finish up with some accessory exercises and a finisher.

That means, deadlifts, power cleans, weighted pull-ups, horizontal and vertical presses. Followed by some accessory work like push-ups, dips, cable rows, split squats and ab rollouts.

Sets and repetitions will vary from workout to workout, but generally I’ll aim for about 12-20 repetitions in total for each movement. How many sets it takes reach that total will depend on how I’m feeling on the day.

My other strength and conditioning focus has been the kettlebell lifts. These can be more dynamic and can develop strength and conditioning when implemented in circuit style training. I’ve found that I can get a higher volume in lifts during my kettlebell training phases, not to mention a good sweat.

Heavy Turkish getups (up to 50kg), farmers carries and high volume kettlebell swings have also featured consistently in my programming.

These three exercises are so good for you that you could almost base your entire strength and conditioning program around them and you’re likely to see consistent progression throughout the year.

Really simple. But simple works. I can also finish most workouts in about 30 or 40 minutes.

I’m not breaking any strength records, but I’m tracking pretty good for a guy who is nearly 40 years old. I’m athletic, generally in good health and rarely injured, meaning that I have the ability to be consistent. This allows me to be active just about any day that I choose, which is most.

Running. It’s been mostly interval work and 5km racing. Occasionally, I’ll run longer distances out to about 8km. For the most part however, it’s just the shorter, more intense runs that I feel the most benefit from.

In the last twelve months I have competed in the following events:

  • Mothers Day Classic, 4k (18:22min) (11th in category)
  • Run Melbourne, 5.2k (22:40min) (18th in category)
  • Melbourne Marathon, 5k (21:23min) (3rd in category)
  • Portsea Twilight, 4k (DNS)

I suffered severe muscular spasms in my back several days prior to the Portsea Twilight 4k which forced me not to start the event. It was a bit of a setback, and it took several weeks to recover and resume training at lighter loads which caused me to miss some of the summer circuit before the COVID-19 restrictions suspended all races.

I also competed in five virtual races with the New York Road Runners (NYRR), where you track a run locally and upload it to a global leaderboard.

Virtual Races:

  • NYRR Global Running Day Virtual, 1.6k (6:55min)
  • NYRR World Championship Virtual, 5k (22:36min)
  • NYRR TCS NYC Marathon Virtual, 5k (22:31min)
  • NYRR Resolution Run Virtual, 5k (22:34min)
  • NYRR Virtual, 5k (21:44min)

Basketball. Last year I started playing basketball again. Both socially and competitively. It’s a sport I’ve played since I was 12 years old. The only time away from the sport was from 2006-2013, when my military career took priority and I was unable to commit to the sport due to the amount of time I was away from home.

I was fortunate enough to play for Victoria in 2019 Defence Force National Basketball Championship. It was extremely competitive level of basketball and a lot of fun. It had been a while since I had played at such a high level of sport.

With other quality offensive players on the team, I didn’t shoot or score in the volume that I am normally required to do when I’m on the court, but it was great to play a lot of effective minutes and contribute to the team, especially in some of the closer contests.

The Men’s title was won by New South Wales and the women’s title went to Queensland.

Overall, I’m having a lot of fun playing sport again. I just love competing. Each night I’m matching up against players half my age so it’s a good feeling to be competitive and even beat most of my opponents on a nightly basis.

Right now my training consists of three days of strength and conditioning combined with two or three days of running (mostly easy/mid level efforts and some sprint work). Each workout will last about 30 minutes.

On the days I haven’t run, I usually go for an evening walk around the river for about an hour. I’ve found it a great way to stay mobile, relax and keep up-to-date on listening to some informative podcasts.

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March 2020. The final week before gyms were forced to close due to COVID-19.

COVID-19. With the government imposed community lockdowns in an attempt to “flatten the curve” during the global COVID-19 outbreak, I’ve had to make fairly significant changes to how I train. Firstly, the gyms are closed until further notice.

Personally, I feel that this has been a great opportunity to explore other areas of fitness. I’m fortunate enough to have spent the last 17 years in the military and have a solid understanding of “real” functional fitness. With gyms closed people have had to get creative with their workouts.

I have started to incorporate more circuit type workouts into my programming where I’ll run for 10 to 15 minutes, then conduct a series of bodyweight movements like push-ups, pull-ups, air-squats and mountain climbers then run the return leg.

Alternatively, I have a few training aids at home including some kettlebells, a sandbag, a sledgehammer, a deadball and an ab wheel that I can incorporate into home workouts.

Probably not too bad a set up for general fitness and conditioning training. Most strength based workouts are combining a variation of an overhead press with some pull-ups and goblet squats, then finishing with either high volume sledgehammering or swings.

Add in the occasional sprint workout, hike or loaded lift and carry and you’re set.

A final point. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

Lifestyle
I’m living in Melbourne, Australia. It’s my fourth year at home and I’m loving it. Being around family and friends definitely makes life more enjoyable. The importance of good social connections is often overlooked when it comes to optimising ones health and how they perform on a daily basis.

I love a cup of coffee and can be always found at cafe on the weekend post workout catching up with friends. I also don’t mind entertaining friends with the occasional get together at my apartment. The annual Hot Cider and Christmas Cocktail nights were a lot of fun and both had good turn outs.

A key point to note here is having flexibility. No-one is perfect and it’s fine to make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from these experiences. Everyone is human, and we all have to live in the present day. I make mistakes, just like everybody else. I always try to seek constructive criticism so I can make a better, more informed decision the next time a particular event crosses my path.

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Ben Lomond Track, Queenstown. At about 1450m elevation, on the way to roughly 1700m.

Travel. Last June I was fortunate enough to travel to the southern island of New Zealand for two weeks. It was my first time visiting. I spent time in Christchurch, Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo, Wanaka, Queenstown and Dunedin. During that time I was able to conduct multiple hikes saw some amazing country. I was also able to catch up with a good friend towards the end of my trip in Dunedin.

As usual, I also spent some time at the family holiday home on Mornington Peninsula. Always a great option for a lazy weekend getaway and some valuable beach time.

My studies. In December 2019, I completed a Diploma level qualification in Nutrition. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, my graduation ceremony was postponed indefinitely. I have since received my qualification in the mail.

The global COVID-19 outbreak. As I mentioned earlier, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced the government to lockdown the community in an attempt to slow the infection rate to reduce the burden on the medical system. It’s a global problem. Almost everybody has been effected in one way or another.

I’m lucky enough to still be employed and have some sort of normal daily structure. Defence provides a critical role within many areas for the nation from national security to logistical and medical support. Many industries however, are not as fortunate and many people have been out of work for several months now.

The lockdown has changed the modern way of life as we know it. No travel. International travel has stopped. Gyms, social sports, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, bars are all closed… and the list goes on.

Forced social distancing means less face-to-face human interaction and more online interactions through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Zoom.

The thing here is that humans are innately social creatures. Telling people to stay away and isolate from each other during an incredible stressful time is kind of counter intuitive. People generally want to help each other and offer support where they can to benefit those in need, but in this case, the message has been to stay home and isolate. I haven’t seen the statistics, but it’s safe to say there will be an increase in mental health conditions relating to extended social isolation.

Some really good lifestyle tips that I’ve picked up from other people much smarter than me on keeping both mentally and physically healthy that can be applied during the lockdown and other periods of isolation:

  • create daily structure with regards to time management;
  • get daily sun exposure;
  • daily physical activity;
  • eat nutrient dense foods;
  • read more;
  • build a consistent sleeping pattern;
  • keep up social connectivity, face-to-face or via video conferencing.

Who knows what the next 12 months will bring? Hopefully, the world has found a way to better manage the whole COVID-19 situation and we’re all out and about again returning to somewhat of a normal life. One thing is for sure, society will be different in 12 months time.

Until then… Live well. Train hard. Enjoy life.

Fasted cardio workouts

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For the most part, there are two types of active people. Those who enjoy an early morning workout, and those who don’t.

If you’re a person who trains first thing then you’ve probably spoken to somebody about fasted cardio or strength workouts. Basically, the conduct of physical activity and elevating your heart rate without eating anything in the last 8-16 hours. Hence the term fasted training.

Whilst most people who train very early may be already be doing this, many people will eat something before a workout, mainly because humans are creatures of habit and have been conditioned to believe that breakfast (or breaking the fast) is to be consumed first thing in the morning.

Intermittent fasting does take a little getting used to, whilst the adaptations are taking place to condition the body not to expect food at regular intervals.

Defining a fasted state
A true fasted state will generally begin in the vicinity of 8-10 hours without the consumption of any calories. However, the body can actually be in a fasted state as early as 5 or 6 hours after a meal.

The idea is that exercising in a fasted state forces the body to tap into its own energy reserves (stored body fat and muscle glycogen), as opposed to energy that has just been consumed, usually in the form of carbohydrates.

Fasted training
Now before you go and run off to the next sunrise there are a few things to consider prior to trialing fasted workouts.

Whilst fasted training is safe and actually a natural process, it will take time for the body to adjust to the idea that it will be conducting physical activity without any fuel. So start off by keeping the intensity relatively low so that the body doesn’t jump straight into an anaerobic state where is it chasing glucose for a quick energy source.

By the keeping a lower intensity, you will be allowing the body the appropriate time to access stored body fat and convert it into the energy it requires. Over time the body will become more efficient at these conversions, allowing you to workout at higher intensities, more quickly and for longer durations.

A point to note. The conduct of fasted workouts not only converts stored body fat and uses it as energy but can also break down stored proteins in the form of lean muscle. For most people exercising, this is not an ideal scenario.

This can be mitigated by drinking some branched chain amino acids (BCAA), before or during the workout. For most people, a serve of approx. 10g pre-workout should be enough to preserve lean muscle mass. Whilst technically not fully fasted, the total calories consumed in 10g serve of BCAA is approx. 50g, which would have a negligible effect on breaking a fasted state.

Bottom line
Fasted training is not for everybody. It does take time for the body to adjust, depending on how dependant you are on consuming sugars. This discomfort usually will pass in time, but if fasting in general isn’t for you, there is no need to keep it up.

Remember, the human body has evolved over millions of years in an environment where it has been forced to exert itself physically and mentally in times of both food scarcity and surplus. This is a totally natural process.

Once the body re-learns to operate and exert itself without any food, it will get better at performing when it does have fuel in the tank.

Why it’s important to have rest days?

screenshotWe’re always told to stay active and get regular exercise. But whether you’re training for a competition or feeling extra motivated, more isn’t always better.

Those who know me personally would have heard me say “less is more” when it comes to optimal health and performance. Yes, it’s important to be active, but how many hours do you really need?

With the energy mismatch created my modern diets excessively high in carbohydrate and overly processed foods its easy to understand why many people think they have to exercise upwards of 15 to 20 hours per week to lose or maintain a healthy weight.

Having days of low activity or rest allows the body to recover and repair, both physically and mentally. It’s a critical part of progress, regardless of your fitness level or sport. Failing to rest appropriately can result in overtraining or burnout which basically is the opposite of what you want to achieve.

Here are some of the benefits of taking rest days:

Recovery
Contrary to popular belief, a rest day isn’t about being lazy on the couch. But it can be, in part. It’s during this time that the beneficial effects of exercise take place. When you’re resting, you’re allowing the body to make physiological adaptions.

Your muscles store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. During physical activity, your body breaks down glycogen into glucose to fuel your workout.

Rest gives your body time to replenish these energy stores before your next workout or competitive event.

Prevents muscular fatigue
Rest is necessary for avoiding exercise-induced fatigue. As mentioned before, exercise depletes your muscles’ glycogen stores. If these stores aren’t replaced, you’ll experience muscle fatigue and soreness.

Your muscles need glycogen to function, even when you’re not working out. By getting adequate rest, you’ll prevent fatigue by letting your glycogen stores to be replenished.

Reduced risk of injury
Regular rest is essential for staying safe during exercise. When your body is overworked, you’ll be more likely to fall out of form, drop a weight, take a wrong step or make a poor decision.

Overtraining also exposes your muscles to repetitive stress and strain over time. This increases the risk of overuse injuries, forcing you to take more rest days than planned. This ultimately leads to lost training time and in turn a potential failure in progression.

Improved physical performance
When you don’t get enough rest, it can be hard to do your normal routine, let alone challenge yourself.

Even if you push yourself, overtraining decreases your performance. You may experience reduced strength and endurance, slower reaction times, and poor agility.

If this is not addressed over time, this reduced output may become the new performance standard as the athlete may think they have hit a training plateau and begin to seek an additional challenge to continue progression, when actually a slight reduction in training load may be all that is required.

Rest has the opposite effect. It can increase energy levels and prevent overall fatigue, which prepares the body for more consistent and successful workouts, which can produce optimal mental and physical performance outcomes.

Improved sleep quality
While regular exercise can improve your sleep, taking rest days is also helpful.

Physical activity increases energy-boosting hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Constant exercise, however, overproduces these hormones. You’ll have a hard time getting quality sleep, which only adds to fatigue and exhaustion and resulting in reduced mental and physical performance.

Rest can help you get better sleep by letting your hormones return to within a normal, balanced state.

The take away
Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned athlete, regular rest and recovery is crucial to maintain optimal health and performance.

The best way to make the most out of your rest days is to conduct low impact activities, such as bodyweight movement pattern training, biking, walking or yoga. These activities will help you stay active while letting your body recover and recharge.