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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Clean the kettlebell and press it strictly overhead to lockout.
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”.
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.
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 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:
Identify how many calories you want to eat each day.
Identify the ratio of macro-nutrients that you want to consume. The current recommendations in Australia are as follows:
Multiply the total daily calories by the identified percentages.
Divide the calorie amounts by the macro-nutrient calorie-per-gram number.
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.
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.
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 willbe 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.
First pick a compound exercise from the basic movement patterns.
Squat: front or back squat
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.
Don’t miss a repetition. Make every lift.
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.
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…
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’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:
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.
The Swing – for legs and conditioning that won’t give up.
The kettlebell swing is exactly what the name implies. A swing, or hinge movement. The athlete will swing the kettlebell from between the legs up to approximately chest level and back, for repetitions, using the hips to power the movement, similar to if the athlete was jumping.
As mentioned before, the swing is more of a hip hinge than anything else. Designed to maximise explosive hip strength and power.
When done properly, there is minimal compressive and shear stress on the lumbar spine because the spine is neither overly flexed, or extended during any point of the swing.
The arms are not used actively, meaning the shoulders are not forcefully elevating the kettlebell.
The kettlebell is being swung forward by a forceful hip drive and the kettlebell “floats” to approximately chest level.
The height of the kettlebell is actually irrelevant because the hip power is the focus and not the actual elevation of the kettlebell.
Here are a few points on how to teach the swing.
A natural athlete moves from the hips, never from the back or knees. A hips-first movement pattern is the safest for your back and knees. It’s also the most powerful.
Whilst standing up, place the edge of you hands into the creases at the top of your thighs. Press your hands into the creases and “hinge”, sticking your butt out while keeping the weight on your heels. This will teach the athlete to go down by folding at the hip joint rather than bending through the back. This is probably the most important part of teaching proper swing technique.
It’s the same on the way up. Hips first. Drive up with the glutes and hamstrings, not the quads and definitely not the back.
The box squat
The box squat is similar to sitting down on a chair. Powerlifters originally thought up the box squat to improve squatting depth, technique and power.
To start, revisit the hip-crease drill. Once you have mastered the movement pattern it’s time to progress.
Pick up a kettlebell by the handle and hold it in front of you. It’s likely that you will need it for balance, at least for the first few repetitions. Stand approximately a foot or so in front of a stable bench or box facing away from it. Lower the body by creasing at the hips and pushing the glutes backward.
Keep pushing the glutes back. The knees will bend naturally. Remember, hips first.
Don’t let the knees drift too far forward. If you don’t feel the hamstrings tighten when you lower, then you’re squatting wrong.
The knees should track the feet, with the feet pointing slightly outward.
Push the kettlebell forward to counterbalance, and remember to keep sitting back. Continue to sit back under control until your glutes touch the box. If done correctly, you should feel tightness across the top of the quads and a stretch along the hamstrings.
Now it’s time to stand up. Rock back slightly. Now rock forward and stand up. Do this by planting your feet into the ground. Shins upright.
The moment that you feel that your weight has loaded your feet, push your feet hard into the ground.
Tense the glutes, and drive the hips forward until you stand up. Full hip extension. Lock out the hips by cramping the glutes.
This might sound a little exhaustive, but attention to detail is what makes it safe, and effective. If you’re going to doing something, do it right.
The box squat is a basic skill often overlooked when teaching movement patterns, but once it has been mastered, you will find that many drills will build from this foundation and will become a lot easier to master.
Swing the kettlebell between your legs and then in front of you up to chest level for repetitions.
The swing standard:
Maintain the box-squat alignment during swings and when picking up or setting down the kettlebell:
Keep your head up;
Keep a straight – not to be confused with “upright” – back;
Sit back, rather than dip down.
Extend the hips and knees fully on the top: the body must form a straight line;
The kettlebell must form an extension of the straight and loose arm(s) on the top of the swing.
Protein is necessary for muscle repair and growth. It is an essential macronutrient that is required for optimal function.
For this reason, many people consume protein supplements in the form of shakes along with their workouts.
However, the optimal time to have a protein shake is an often debated topic.
Some believe it’s best to drink a protein shake before a workout, whereas others argue that after a workout is ideal.
Myself personally, am a fan of the train fasted, compete fed philosophy.
How much protein do you require?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight.
The RDA is the estimated amount of a nutrient a person needs to avoid a deficiency. It doesn’t specify the amount needed to optimize body composition or health and performance.
Most research suggests that people who routinely strength train may need double the RDA, or 1.6 g/kg, to support muscle recovery and growth.
A protein shake is a good option between meals, either as a snack or around your workout. They typically contain 25–30 grams of protein per scoop.
The magical 30 minute window
Many people within the health and fitness industry believe that drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of completing physical activity will maximize their results in the gym.
Previously, it was been thought that consuming protein within this window gave the athlete the best opportunity to build new muscle mass. More recent research however, suggests that this window is much longer than 30 minutes and may not be limited to the post-workout window.
Today, it has become widely accepted that total protein consumed throughout the day is probably as important to building lean muscle than the actual timing.
Whilst I am a fan of training in a fasted state, I do use branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) on occasion and my morning coffee is usually combined with some collagen. Whilst technically it breaks the fast, the collagen provides a small amino acid boost pre-workout, fuelling the muscles and generally resulting in improved physical performance.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who just don’t respond well to training without eating or drinking something beforehand. If you fall into this category then a protein shake post-workout will still contribute to muscle repair and growth.
That being said, here are some of the benefits of taking some protein during the pre-workout window.
Increased protein synthesis
Pre-workout protein, specifically BCAAs, will help fuel the muscles during physical activity. BCAAs do not need to be processed by the liver, so after being consumed, they head directly to the blood stream to be used by the muscles.
Taking protein prior to your workout primes the pump, starting protein synthesis during, rather than after your training session.
A pre-workout serve of BCAAs increases amino acid delivery to the muscles during physical activity. Taken alone or as part of a complete protein, such as whey protein powders, BCAAs inhibit muscle breakdown. The result is an even higher level of net protein synthesis.
Carryover effect post-workout
There is also a carryover effect of nutrients taken pre-workout. Protein synthesis can stay elevated for as long as 3 hours after consumption.
What does this mean? Consuming protein pre-workout will elevate amino acids within the blood both during and after your workout is over. This elevation of blood amino acids will not only trigger protein synthesis but help prevent excessive post-workout muscle breakdown.
Taking BCAAs along with some coffee pre-workout can be extremely beneficial during periods of low carbohydrate consumption. Adding BCCAs pre-workout, when glycogen stores are low (they will be if you eating a low carbohydrate diet), will increase fatty acid oxidation (aka fat burning) during periods of intense physical activity.
The nutrients consumed around your workout are critical to building and maintaining your physique.
While protein shakes around workouts and between meals are helpful, make sure you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. Consuming protein from quality food sources should be your primary goal.
Additional supplementation using protein shakes can help you meet your goals.
While the post-workout shake has long been the go-to for many bodybuilders and athletes, consuming some protein in the pre-workout window may be even more beneficial, by supporting intra-workout muscle growth.
If you are generally healthy and getting a good amount of quality protein throughout the day, then a serve of BCAAs pre-workout will provide an adequate boost during your workout.
Basically, I want live well into old age, being able to contribute to society and avoid chronic disease (for as long as possible).
How do we do this?
As a start point, using the basic human evolutionary blueprint and applying it to the modern environment, I have found that for me, it has allowed me to look, feel and perform to a pretty good standard without too much compromise.
Simply put, try to keep my metabolism as healthy as possible (by eating whole foods), keep enough muscle mass and remain as mobile (by being active) as I can so that I can actually get around and do everything I want to do for as long as possible… and hopefully help a few people out along the way.
Once again, the caveat is that this is what has worked for me so far…
For those who don’t know me, I have been following Paleo type nutrition for nearly seven years now. For the most part it’s just eating whole foods as often as possible, and cutting out highly processed vegetable oils and sugars as much as practicable.
I rarely count calories and eat when I’m hungry. On occasion, I’ll track using a smartphone application to get a ballpark estimate of how balanced my food intake is. Generally, I’d say my macronutrient breakdown would be roughly:
Is that keto? Technically, no. It would be pretty close and there would definitely be times through out the year that I would naturally cycle into ketosis.
I normally train in a fasted state, or after a cup of black coffee with some MCT oil and collagen.
My basic plate is a piece of animal protein with a bunch of vegetables and/or salad topped off with some butter or olive oil and sea salt. I eat plenty of eggs and I enjoy full-fat cheeses and dark chocolate (85% min). Mineral water, black coffee and red wine, specifically pinot noir are my drinks of choice.
Mostly I’m eating two meals per day, usually after I have trained. Most of my calories would usually be consumed in the final meal of the day. Mostly because I have more time available in the evening to prepare larger meals.
Another reason would be that I’m more likely to be sharing a meal after work with friends or family and sometimes it’s just easier. Being flexible and understanding the process is key here. There’s nothing worse than being “that guy or girl” who doesn’t eat at a group meal because it’s five minutes into a proposed fasting window.
Finally, when you’re a person who is generally a eating low-carbohydrate diet, getting all of your carbohydrates in the evening can replenish glycogen stores (energy stored in the muscles), and the elevated insulin response helps produce more tryptophan, which allows the process of converting serotonin into melatonin, leading to a more restful sleep.
On occasion, I will eat a third meal, typically if I’m doing a bit more physically at work, if I’m planning an evening workout or if I’m hungry. Super simple.
Intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding. There is a difference. As mentioned earlier, I mostly eat two meals per day. One meal post workout and one at the end of the day. This is called time-restricted feeding. All foods are consumed within a window of time, for example between 12pm and 8pm.
Intermittent fasting is exactly that. Intermittent, meaning occasional. I am metabolically flexible, meaning that I am well adapted to using fats or ketones as an energy source, allowing me to go longer periods of time without feeling hungry or craving food. 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 once every 8 to 10 weeks.
Most weeks I eat out with my team mates on a Friday morning at a local cafe, and with friends one night which would usually lead me to the local Vietnamese Pho restaurant.
I generally don’t take a lot of supplements on a daily basis. I really try to get everything through whole food nutrition. My pre-workout is usually just a cup of black coffee and I randomly use a whey protein powder post workout. Outside of that, it’s only occasional cycles of fish oil, cod liver oil and magnesium.
Magnesium. This is probably one of the most important supplements for me. Mostly taken post workout 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 workloads, and your requirement increases.
During the winter months I spend a bit more time indoors and get a little less sun exposure, so I add about a 10ml of Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil every other day. The Cod Liver Oil is a good source of DHA along with Vitamins A and D, which have a variety of health related benefits.
Strength and conditioning. The last 12 months I’ve focused on compound movements for general strength and conditioning such as deadlifts, power cleans and overhead presses. The break down of sets has varied, with a focus of no more than 10-15 working repetitions per movement.
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 constantly see improvements throughout the year.
More recently, I have broken down my workouts into the following workout template:
Vertical press/pull, hinge and loaded carry;
Horizontal press/pull, hinge and loaded carry.
Really simple. But I’m finding that keeping it simple is working well for me. I can also finish most workouts in about 30 or 40 minutes.
I’m not setting any world records with my weight training but I’m fairly strong and athletic for a nearly 40 year old, 75kg guy. I’m rarely injured and generally have the energy to perform every day. Oh, I can also run reasonably quick.
Running. It’s been mostly interval work and 5km racing. Occasionally, I’ll run a longer distance out to about 8km, but the days of longer endurance distance running are in the past. For me, its too taxing on the body, and just takes up too much of my time. My preference lately has been to run 50m to 400m intervals and every now and then I just get out and run around for 20 or 30 minutes.
I’ve enjoyed running some of the major running events throughout the year. Firstly, it’s nice to have short term training goals, but I believe that it can give you a pretty good snapshot of how you compare physically (at least when it comes to running) across society in general.
In the last twelve months I have competed in the following events:
Mothers Day Classic, 4k (17:43min)
Run Melbourne, 5.2k (23:09min)
YMCA Fathers Day Run, 5k (23:37min)
Melbourne Marathon, 5k (24:14min)
Portsea Twilight, 4k (17:43min)
Sole Motive Sunset Series Zoo Run, 5k (22:47min)
Sole Motive Sunset Series The Tan, 4k (17:20min)
Run for the Kids, 5.2k (23:48min)
I also competed in two virtual races with the New York Road Runners (NYRR), where you track a run locally and upload it to a global leaderboard.
NYRR Valentines Day Virtual, 5k (23:02min)
NYRR NYC Half Virtual, 5k (22:25min)
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 lasts about 30 or 40 minutes. This gives me a total of about three to four hours of dedicated training per week which allows me to have more free time to enjoy some of the other things in life, such as coffee and hanging out with friends and family.
Living in Melbourne, Australia. This is home. Most likely for another 2 years. Being around family and friends definitely makes life a little easier. The importance of good social connections is often overlooked when it comes to optimising ones health and performance.
A key point to note here is flexibility. No-one is perfect and you’re aloud to make mistakes. Everyone is human, and we all have to live in the present day. I love a cup of coffee and can be always found at cafe on the weekend post workout catching up with friends. I have my nights out which will almost always end up at a local wine bar.
Sleep. This is really important if you want to be at your best. I’ve tried really hard to get as close to 8 hours a night of solid sleep. Having a cool and dark place to sleep is a good start, combined with a fairly standard daily wake time (ie: fairly close to sunrise) will set you up for success. There is whole post here to flesh out this topic alone.
Sleep quality will impact your energy levels, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, body composition, overall immunity, heart disease risk. The list goes on… It’s the closest thing to the mythical “magic bullet” for health and performance.
This year will be my 16th as a soldier. Almost a lifetime. Whilst I don’t do too much soldiering these days due to my current role and position, I think it’s still important to keep those skills refined.
While it isn’t soldiering, I do like hiking and camping. Being outdoors is a pretty good escape. I try to get out every now and then for an overnight hike with friends, just to take some time out from the plethora of electronic devices and social media platforms that seem to take up so much of our lives today.
I was lucky enough to get away in January for a 3 week vacation to New York City. This was my fifth visit and it never ceases to amaze. I did a bit of sight seeing, revisiting some favourites, saw a show on Broadway, got to an NBA game and got to see my team win. Had the opportunity to meet new people and catch up with some old friends. I also drank a fair bit of coffee during the day and hot apple cider in the evenings.
Later this month I’m heading to the South Island of New Zealand for 10 days. I’ve never been and it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for sometime. I’m hoping to get a glimpse of the Southern Lights and maybe a bit of alpine hiking.
My parents have a holiday house on the Mornington Peninsula which I try to get away to every couple of months for a weekend. I’ve been going there my whole life and there is just something about coastal communities that is just relaxing.
My studies. This year I will complete a Diploma level qualification as part of a Bachelor of Nutrition. Doing this via correspondence which has it’s own unique set of challenges but overall I am enjoying it.
I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring, but I’m going to keep on tinkering and fine-tune ways to optimise health and performance as I move forward into the future.
Having a cup of coffee first thing in the morning or to push through the mid-afternoon slump is a pretty standard thing for most people. Caffeine is a stimulant. It will give you a bit of buzz.
It makes sense that using caffeine to supercharge athletic performance.
What is Caffeine
Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in leaves, nuts and seeds of numerous plants. Its widespread social acceptance means that many athletes consume caffeine regularly over the day in varying amounts from coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and, increasingly, from pre-workout supplements or caffeinated sports products.
Caffeine-containing beverages typically contain between 30-120mg of caffeine but this varies widely between products and brands.
Caffeine is becoming increasingly popular in sport to help improve performance and various caffeinated supplements and sports products are now being marketed to and consumed exclusively by athletes.
Caffeine and performance
The main performance benefits of caffeine appear to come from its influence on the central nervous system and resulting reduced perception of effort (exercise feels easier) and/or reduced perception of fatigue.
Some other ways that caffeine can help improve mental and physical performance are as follows:
Caffeine can increase the body’s ability to burn fat via lipolysis, or the breakdown of stored fatty acids within the fat cells;
Caffeine has been shown to increase thermogenesis, or heat production, which helps you burn more calories;
Caffeine can raise endorphins, which increase feelings of happiness, giving you the exercise “buzz” that people often experience after working out;
Caffeine may also spare glycogen stores (carbohydrate stored within the muscles), primarily due to increased fat burning. This can enhance endurance performance.
Most of exercise/caffeine research is based on endurance training and performance. Historically, the most often cited benefit to consuming caffeine before a race or training activity was that it would increase the oxidation of fat, thus sparing muscle glycogen for when you really needed it, such as the final sprint to the finish line.
Maybe the caffeine simply makes exercise more tolerable, makes muscles work harder and better, and allows those exercising to do so harder, and for longer. Caffeine generally will give you a bit of a buzz. When taken prior to a workout, this “buzz” equates to an increased endorphin response to exercise.
So, if endorphins are high, exercise is more tolerable, even enjoyable.
The effects of caffeine in sport aren’t limited to improving endurance. Research also indicates the benefits of caffeine in strength performance.
Whilst the results of studies are varied, they generally suggest that supplementation may help trained strength and power athletes.
This meta analysis, comparing 27 studies found that caffeine may improve leg muscle power by up to 7%, but had little effect on smaller muscle groups
Caffeine may also improve muscular endurance, including the amount of repetitions performed at a certain weight.
To summarise, most research indicates that caffeine may provide the most benefits for power-based activities that use large muscle groups, repetitions or circuits.
How to use caffeine for performance
Although early research was conducted using high doses of caffeine (6+ mg caffeine / kg body weight), more recent research indicates that lower doses can provide similar performance benefits with less negative side effects.
Individual responses to caffeine vary but typically doses in the range 1-3 mg caffeine per kg body weight are sufficient to improve performance (e.g. 70-210mg for a 70kg athlete).
Some experimenting may need to be done to determine the most beneficial timing protocol, which may include taking caffeine:
Pre-competition or exercise;
During competition or exercise;
A combination of both.
Potential side effects
High levels of caffeine intake can cause declines in performance through:
Increased heart rate;
Impaired fine motor control;
Anxiety and over-arousal;
Like any other supplement, it is important to trial smaller doses first in training activities prior to race day to assess individual tolerance and responses.
The incorporation of caffeine into an athlete’s nutrition plan should be considered on an individual basis.
Caffeine is one of the most effective exercise performance supplements available. It is also very cheap and relatively safe to use.
Many studies have shown that caffeine can benefit endurance performance, high-intensity exercise and power sports.
The recommended dose varies by body weight, but is typically about 200–400 mg, taken 30–60 minutes before a workout.