Strength Standards

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How strong are you? What actually should you be aiming for when it comes to strength markers in the basic human movement skills of the hip hinge, loaded carries, squatting, pulling and pressing?

Here are some strength standards as identified by strength coach Dan John.

For MEN (18-55 years):

Push

  • Expected: 100% bodyweight bench-press
  • Game-changer: 100% bodyweight bench-press x 15 reps

Pull

  • Expected: 5 x pull-ups
  • Game-changer: 15 x pull-ups

Hinge

  • Expected: 100% to 150% bodyweight deadlift
  • Game-changer: 200% bodyweight deadlift

Squat

  • Expected: 100% bodyweight squat
  • Game-changer: 100% bodyweight squat x 15 reps

Loaded Carry

  • Expected: farmer’s walk with 100% bodyweight (half each hand)
  • Game-changer: farmer’s walk with 100% bodyweight each hand

Turkish Getup:

One x left and right, completed with a half-filled cup of water.

For WOMEN (18-55 years):

Push

  • Expected: 50% bodyweight bench press 
  • Game-changer: 100% bodyweight bench-press

Pull

  • Expected: 1 x pull-up
  • Game-changer: 3 x pull-ups

Hinge

  • Expected: 100% bodyweight deadlift 
  • Game-changer: 150% bodyweight deadlift x 5 reps

Squat

  • Expected: 50% bodyweight squat x 5 reps
  • Game-changer: 100% bodyweight squat x 5 reps

Loaded Carry

  • Expected: 33% bodyweight each hand
  • Game-changer: 66% bodyweight each hand

Turkish Getup:

One x left and right, completed with a half-filled cup of water.

How do you measure up?

My training at year forty

Another year has passed. Year forty. Here is the annual update on my training, nutrition and other major life events. A bit late this year. I have been quite busy both at work and at home with a bit of travel over the last several months.

Links to my previous annual updates can be found here: 36-ish37-ish38-ish and 39-ish.

Context and Goals
40-year-old. 180cm. 80kg.

No change really. I want to be fit enough, fast enough and strong enough to get through the everyday challenges of my life. In the last twelve months I have had more of a focus on adding more lean muscle.

Year Forty. Go on…

Food
It’s still mostly a wholefood diet. As a baseline template, it’s something along the lines of a paleo type diet with a few smart modifications. Basically, my plate will almost always have a good source of animal protein with some root vegetables and / or leafy greens. This has been the basic template for about the last decade. It continues to evolve and I generally rotate between lower and higher carbohydrate intake throughout the year depending on my physical and cognitive goals and requirements.

In the last twelve months my main effort has been to build some lean muscle. To do this I have had to increase my total caloric intake in order to help facilitate the growth. This has led to more of a traditional bodybuilder diet plan, with an emphasis on high amounts of protein and carbohydrate being consumed at every meal. Simply put, more calories in equals more potential for weight gain, specifically lean muscle tissue.

Most days I’ll eat four meals, with three or four hours between meals, to produce multiple spikes in protein synthesis and nutrient transport into the muscles in order to support new muscle growth.

Currently, my macronutrient breakdown would average out to be roughly:

  • Protein: about 200g;
  • Fats and oils: about 120g;
  • Carbohydrates: about 250g (depending on activity level).
  • Total: about 2850 calories.

Since last years update I have increased my daily caloric intake by another 200-300 calories and have added an additional three kilograms since the middle of the year.

As a rule, I don’t drink often. However, I’d say that on average I would enjoy a drink with my partner or some friends once or twice per fortnight. There are always exceptions to this rule, being special occasions, such as Anzac Day, or a significant event or birthday. It’s 2022 and I think it’s still important to be able to enjoy a drink socially on occasion, especially if it is contributing to a positive social interaction. The main takeaway here is that for the overwhelming majority of the year I am not drinking the night away.

When I do drink, it will very likely be a glass of Pinot Noir or if I’m chasing something a little more serious, I’ll look to a classic cocktail such as an Americano or a Gin Martini.

As for my training. Where possible, I prefer to train first thing in the morning, after a cup of black coffee and a serve of WPC prior to my workout. This combination contributes to an increase in protein synthesis, stimulating 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. Since my last update I have increased my weight by an additional three to four kilograms. Looking in the mirror, I would say that the majority of the weight increase has been lean muscle. Not bad for a bloke in year forty.

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

Eating out is back on the menu, restaurants are open again and it’s basically back to pre-pandemic life which is a good thing.

Throughout the year, in my estimation, I would have eaten a three or four meals out each fortnight. Mostly with my partner. We try to schedule a nice meal or “date night” out on a Friday evening where we try to explore some nice venues and occasionally, we’ll exploit some old favorites. Steakhouses, Greek (for meat platters) or Asian-fusion restaurants are our usual choices.

Supplements
Generally, I don’t take a lot of supplements. I try to get as much 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 whilst providing vital omega-3 fatty acids.

For pre-workout, I’ll make a cup of black coffee with some collagen peptides. On occasion, I do supplement with a pre-workout supplement. I try to select my pre-workout based on three main ingredients:

  • caffeine;
  • creatine monohydrate;
  • citrulline malate.

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, professional workload and other stressors 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 even 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 the conversion of amino acids into functional collagen that the body can use.

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 sessions, being push and pull and 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 to reach that total will depend on how I’m feeling on the day. Some 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 true 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.

I have found simple programming structures have worked better for me as opposed to trying to create super complicated workouts that can sometimes miss the mark.

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 in my estimation, one of the major keys 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.

I do take rest days as required depending on how I feeling both mentally and physically, maybe one day out of every 7 to 10 days is dedicated to rest and recovery.

Running. It’s been mostly interval work and some 3 to 5 km efforts. As general rule however, it’s the shorter, more intense runs that I feel the most benefit from.

During the last twelve months I have significantly reduced my weekly running load due to changes to my personal performance goals. I am planning to reintroduce a more structured run program into my training schedule in the near future.

As opposed to running, I have been walking a lot more. A great opportunity to listen to a podcast and just slow down for a while and spend some time out in nature.

Basketball. Still competing. It’s a sport I’ve played since I was 12 years old. Most weeks I get to play on two nights. The first being at a pretty high level or “A grade” and the second being more of a social level around the “B/C grade” mark. Both teams are competitive and I always enjoy being on the court. I’ve been given the opportunity to compete with the Victorian Army Basketball team again which is always and exciting and challenging competition.

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

Currently, my training consists of three or four days of strength and conditioning combined with one session 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.

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

Lifestyle and Travel
I’m still living in Melbourne, Australia. It really is great being around family and friends for such an extended period of time. It does feel great to be part of a local community.

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 nineteenth year in the Army. A life time in one profession. It’s still an exciting career that has allowed me to develop both professionally and as a human, along with many opportunities to contribute to the global society in a positive way. A career that has taken me to almost every corner of the world. Whilst I am not currently attached to a fighting element in my current role, I am in a position to positively mentor and develop junior soldiers as they enter their trade training continuum. A very rewarding experience considering the operational experience I gained throughout my career.

My girlfriend / partner. What can I say? She is nothing short of amazing. Highly driven, intelligent, independent, successful, strong and beautiful. She’s an associate lawyer and on the side she lectures law for a major university, instructs fitness classes on occasion and is currently contemplating on whether or not to conduct another bodybuilding / bikini fitness contest preparation in the future. Most importantly, she makes me strive to be a better human every day.

Note. Did I say she is my favorite human.

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We officially moved in together late December. She relocated from the Bendigo office in Regional Victoria and took up a new role with a new practice group within the firm. Merging two lives into a single property will always have its challenges, such as losing some private space isn’t to get away from each other as often as previously and when you both have established homes not all of your belongings make it to the merged household. Not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, an excellent opportunity to start fresh and write the next chapter… together. I’d say it’s a net win.

We are both much closer to our places of work with both my partner and myself being about 15 minutes away from our places of work. Much better than battling the Western Ring Road that could have taken anywhere from 25 to 60 minutes on any given day! We’re also fairly close to the city and only an hour away from the family holiday home on the Mornington Peninsula.

Holidays. The last twelve months we didn’t travel interstate, but we did make it to the family holiday home on the Mornington Peninsula. As usual, we spent a few nights at Crown Towers Resort Melbourne around the Christmas / New Year period. We also had the opportunity to stay at a friends holiday home in Fairhaven, along the Great Ocean Road over the Labour Day long weekend.

So, what’s next?
The next twelve months is going to be an exciting time. On a personal note, I have just started studies in Certificates 3 & 4 in Fitness. I was qualified as a personal trainer prior to enlisting into the Army all the way back in 2003, however those qualifications are no longer current so it’s time to go back to school and become certified again. I feel these studies will compliment the Diploma in Nutrition that I completed recently. Recertification will provide me with another opportunity to provide a good service back into the community.

Life can be whatever you want it to be, and I am certain that there are going to be some new and exciting challenges in the future. Most definitely looking forward to the challenges of the next twelve months!

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

The planes of human motion

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What are the planes of human motion and why should we care?

If you’re a student of physical therapy, chiropractic or other medical profession, you’ll get this in school if you haven’t already. If you’re planning to certify in personal training or as a strength and conditioning coach will need to know it. Whilst for the most part, many o us don’t really need to know too much about the planes of human motion, it is something that any athlete or gym goer will come across from time to time throughout their health and performance journey.

Here is the simple version of the planes of human motion.

In its simplest form:

  • Sagittal. Forward and backward movement;
  • Frontal. Side to side movement;
  • Transverse. Rotational movement.

When picturing how this looks, just imagine slicing through the human body like this:

  • First through the centre, dividing the body from the left to the right to make up the sagittal plane;
  • Next through the body from the left side to the right, separating the front and back halves to create the frontal plane;
  • Finally cutting straight through the hips to divide the top of the body from the bottom, the transverse plane.

Not too hard right? It starts to get a little more complicated when you start to look at which motions move along each of the planes.

How to visualise the planes of human motion

Sagittal plane motion would include forward and backward motions, like sit-ups, back extensions or biceps curls. The sagittal plane cuts through the center of the body, so the motion is front to back or back to front, including straight forward running.

Squats involve flexion (forward motion) and extension (backward on the way up), so would fit into the sagittal plane.

Frontal plane motion would include leaning from left to right as in sidebends and lateral raises, or perhaps you might picture jumping jacks for a good image of movement along the frontal plane.

Transverse plane motion is the hardest to picture because the plane is horizontal as it divides the top from the bottom, so it can be hard to get your head around it being a rotating action. The main thing to remember is the rotation.

A good example of a transverse plane exercise would be medicine ball or cable wood chops, where the ball or cable moves across the body while a transverse activity would be swinging a golf club.

So, why is it important to know about or understand this?

It’s important to know that the planes  exist and to make sure our training programs include exercises along each of them. The most common gym exercises are on the sagittal plane, moving forward or back such as in horizontal or vertical pressing, pushups, crunches or even squats and lunges.

When creating exercise programs for clients, team mates or even just for yourself be sure to add some frontal plane and transverse plane exercises to bring up your built-in injury prevention.

Training in all three planes of motion is what’s going to help ensure good balance in your muscular body. Consistently training only within a single plane will basically do the opposite.

Human Movement Terminology

Now let’s take a look at a few other common movement terms used in anatomy and physical training. I’ll try to keep it brief and simple to give a base understanding and provide yourself with a bit of a cheatsheet in the event you decide to read an advance training article to further your knowledge or are recovering from an injury and need to understand what your surgeon or physiotherapist is telling you.

Prone vs supine
Prone is lying face down. Supine is lying face up.

Superior vs inferior
Superior means closer to the head. Inferior means closer to the feet.

Medial vs lateral
Medial refers to nearer to the center. Lateral refers to farther from the center.

Posterior vs anterior
Posterior is toward the rear. Anterior is toward the front.

Distal vs proximal
Distal means farther from the torso. Proximal means closer to the torso.

Extension vs flexion
Extension straightens a joint. Flexion bends the joint.

Supination vs pronation
Supination and pronation are used to describe action at the feet or forearm. In the feet, supination refers to an outward rolling action, while pronation refers to an inward rolling action.

With the forearm, supination refers to turning the palm up and pronation refers to turning the palm down.

Medial vs lateral rotation
Medial rotation turns toward the center of the body as in internal rotation. Lateral rotation turns away from the body externally.

Elevation vs depression
Elevation means upward; depression means downward. These terms are most often used to describe faulty scapula position, being either too high or too low.

Adduction vs abduction
Adduction brings the limb in toward the body. Abduction moves it away.

Dorsiflexion vs plantar flexion
Dorsiflexion at the ankle is to bring the toes toward the shin. Plantar flexion points the toes away.

Joint mobility vs flexibility
Joint mobility encompasses the ability of the joint to move through its full range of motion. Flexibility is about muscles, not joints, and is about lengthening the muscle to its optimal length.

Stability vs mobility
Stability is the muscle, tendon and ligament action needed to hold a joint in position.

Mobility requires the correct muscle action on one side of a joint and the necessary muscular flexibility on the other to produce full movement through a joint’s range of motion.

Activation vs dormant
Activation means an action to trigger a muscle that’s not firing well. Dormant refers to an inactive muscle group, at varying levels from fully inactive to fully engaged.

Tendons vs ligaments vs fascia vs myofascia
Tendons connect muscles to bones. Ligaments connect bone to bone. Fascia is connective tissue that covers soft tissue from head to toe, superficial to deep. Myofascia is fascia covering muscle.

Bilateral vs unilateral
Bilateral refers to both sides of the body working together. Unilateral is one side alone.

Concentric vs eccentric
Concentric shortens the muscle; eccentric lengthens.

For example, during the conduct of biceps curls the concentric action brings the wrist toward the shoulder whilst the eccentric action returns the weight to the start point with the arm extended.

Isometric vs isotonic
Isometric changes the muscle tension without changing the length. Isotonic changes the muscle tension while changing the length.

Origin vs insertion
Origin of a muscle is the stationary attachment site of muscle to bone. Insertion is the mobile attachment end site.

Primer mover vs synergist vs antagonist
Prime mover is the main muscle that carries out an action. Synergist assists the prime mover while the antagonist performs the opposite action.

Hopefully, that was simple enough to understand and a fairly comprehensive cheatsheet.

Pre-workout supplementation: when to take it and does it have the right stuff

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Pre-workouts have become on par with protein powders as a training staple for many athletes in recent years. With good reason. They’re effective, tasty and easy to use. Easy to the point that the name itself tell you when you should consume it.

When exactly should you take your pre-workout? Sounds too simple to screw up? Right? Well… you would be surprised.

Pre-workout Timing

Many people often start taking their pre-workout as they are walking into the gym. The problem is that the majority of active ingredients within a pre-workout take anywhere from 30-60 minutes to reach peak levels within the body. So if you consume your pre-workout as you enter the gym it may not be until you’re into the second or even third exercise before the you can take advantage of the benefits.

The major stimulant is usually caffeine, which has a half life of approx. 3-6 hours depending on the individual. That being said, the optimal timing to take a pre-workout supplement is somewhere in the 30-60 minutes window prior to your workout.

Pre-workout Ingredients

These days there is a huge range of pre-workout supplements on the market. Many of them provide an excellent choice. However, there are also many on the market that are below standard. These are usually full of many ingredients that you have likely never heard of before. A long list of ingredients usually means fillers or sweeteners or very small quantities of important ingredients that a single dose won’t provide any real benefit anyway.

A product with basic ingredients will almost always work best. However you pick your pre-workout, whether is it by brand, flavour, price, you should make sure it contains the following ingredients:

  • Caffeine. For increased energy, endurance and focus to fight fatigue for one more round. For more on caffeine and how it can improve athletic performance, check here.
  • Citrulline Malate. For transporting oxygen and other important nutrients to your muscles and is an important precursor to nitric oxide production. This helps enlarge the blood vessels and improving blood flow (the pump in your muscles). Improved blood flow also means better muscle contractions, lower heart rate and improved breathe rate during intense physical activity.
  • Creatine Monohydrate. For increased muscle mass, overall strength gains and enhanced recovery. Make sure your pre-workout contains the monohydrate form as other variations are inferior. For more on creatine, check here.
  • Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). These amino acids include leucine, isoleucine and valine and are critically important for muscle growth.

Alternatively, you could make your own pre-workout by adding these ingredients to a juice or pre-workout protein shake.

In summary

A pre-workout supplement may be very beneficial addition to your training regime. When used correctly, they can assist in a variety of ways such as increased energy, endurance, focus and an increased ability to to transport vital nutrients to the muscles during intense physical activity to help you achieve your training goals.

Supplementing with creatine monohydrate

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What is it?
Creatine is a combination of three different amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. That is it.

It is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise.

Dietary sources of creatine include red meat and fish, however large amounts are required to be consumed to obtain sufficient amounts required for increased performance. Dietary supplementation is inexpensive and effective at increasing the amount of creatine within the body.

Studies have shown that supplementing with creatine has been very popular among athletes and bodybuilders to gain muscle, enhance strength and improve overall exercise performance for many years.

When you supplement with creatine it increases the body’s stores of creatine phosphate, which is able to donate its phosphate group to Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) to produce Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP).

ATP is often called the body’s energy currency. The more ATP that is available, the better the body can perform during all sorts of physical activity, with the most benefit being seen with short, fast and explosive movements.

There are many forms of creatine available on the market however the best form to supplement with is creatine monohydrate.

Who needs it?
Everybody can benefit from creatine supplementation, however these specific groups of people would benefit the most:

  • Bodybuilders and strength athletes;
  • People over 40 years of age;
  • Anybody trying to improve their physical and cognitive performance or recovery.

Benefits of taking creatine
Here are some of the ways that creatine supplementation can boost physical performance and assist in overall health:

  • Increases muscle strength and size;
  • Enhanced recovery;
  • Improved sprinting / high intensity physical performance;
  • Improved glucose tolerance;
  • Enhanced brain function;
  • May reduce sarcopenia (age related muscle loss).

How much should be supplemented?
Common dosing strategies usually include a loading phase of approx. 5 to 7 days where you supplement with 5g, 4 to 5 times per day.

Following the loading phase you would transition into the maintenance phase of 5g, 1 to 2 times per day.

It is not necessary to cycle on and off of creatine supplementation, however doing so could increases results or break a training plateau.

When to supplement?
An often debated topic, but it appears that taking creatine post-workout has the most benefits.

Some studies have shown that supplementing with creatine post workout at a meal time could be beneficial in increasing the uptake of creatine due to the increase in insulin secretion and transporting nutrients into the cells.

How this works:

  • The body absorbs nutrients better after physical activity;
  • Insulin helps drive more creatine into muscle cells;
  • The first meal post-workout should contain some carbohydrates to help spike your insulin in order to facilitate nutrient absorption into the muscles;
  • Creatine supplementation will help refuel your body’s creatine phosphate stores.

On non-training days, supplementation timing isn’t as important as the purpose of supplementing on a non-training days is to keep creatine levels elevated within the muscles.

Final Thoughts
Creatine is one of the cheapest, most studied, ethical, effective and safest nutritional supplements on the market. It has a variety of uses including increased muscle mass and physical fitness, and can also improve brain health.

Creatine Monohydrate is the best form of creatine to supplement with.

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”.