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”.
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.
What did our primal ancestors do for exercise? Well, for a start, exercise for them wasn’t anything they had to think about. It was life.
There were no gyms or running tracks. No spin rooms or Zumba classes. It was just the surrounding environment. Everyday. This meant moving and exercising to gather food, build shelter, or simply to survive.
An evolutionary exercise program can be defined as one that is similar in principle to what our ancestors did on a daily basis.
Move often at a slow pace
Early humans spent much of their day walking around hunting and gathering their food, along with seasonal migrations to new territories following food sources.
Low level aerobic activity throughout the day will build stronger blood vessels, bones, joints, and connective tissues.
Some easy ways to incorporate low level aerobic activity could look like this:
Walking or riding your bike to work;
Parking your car as far away from your destination as possible and walking the rest of the way;
Take the stairs instead of the elevator;
Take frequent breaks at work to get up and walk around; or
Take a walk outside during your lunch break.
You may even want to try a standing desk if possible. On weekends or after work, try going for a hike or even a swim. The possibilities are infinite.
Find ways stay active every day, even on your rest days. The benefits of being mobile are endless, especially as you enter into older age.
Sprint every now and then
Our ancestors didn’t spend hours upon hours exercising, and neither should you. For early humans, life depended on being able to outrun animals, either in the form of hunting them (persistence hunting), or to avoid being hunted by them. They would only work hard when it was absolutely necessary.
These short bursts of high intensity physical effort increased the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH helps to maintain, build, and repair healthy tissue in the brain and other organs. This hormone can help to speed up healing after an injury and repair muscle tissue after exercise. This helps to build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and burn fat.
HGH is released in proportion to the intensity (not the duration) of the physical activity.
Lift heavy things… and carry them
Just like sprinting, early humans had to use quick bursts of energy to lift and move heavy objects. They would have to move large rocks or logs to build shelter, carry firewood or large animal kills back to their camps.
These types of high intensity workouts help release testosterone that boosts metabolism and improves muscle strength and size.
The best movements to mimic this type of activity are the basic movement patterns:
This includes exercises like the squat, deadlift, pull-ups, push-ups and farmers walks.
The biochemical signals created by these very brief, but intense muscle contractions generated a surge of HGH, prompting an increase in muscle size and power.
Rest, relax and recover
Exercise is utterly pointless and even counterproductive without proper rest, relaxation, and sleep. You need to eat well and eat enough, let your muscles rest and recover, and have enough downtime to reap the benefits of exercise.
If you want a better quality of life, to be strong and have the ability to run fast and for distance so that life is generally easier for you. Then get your rest and recover well. You don’t need to be in the gym every day. Enjoy time socially with friends and family. Read a book. Visit a museum or art gallery. Give your body some time to physically recover.
You don’t have to spend hours every day in the gym to be physically fit. It’s actually the opposite if you’re after general physical fitness. Depending on individual goals and competitions you may need to spend additional time completing sports specific training.
However, if you want to be healthy, strong and mobile into old age the basic template can be fairly simple to apply, follow and easy to achieve.
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.
Commonly, when you talk to somebody in the gym about programming or training they will always tell you how much they can bench or sometimes how often they squat.
A lot of people will tend to talk about the pushing or squatting movements. Sometimes they might say they do a few pull-ups here and there. The major focus is on the musculature that they can see. This not optimal for anybody, from the elite athlete to the occasional weekend warrior.
There are five basic human movement patterns.
You will always hear about the push, the pull, and the squat. Occasionally, you will hear about the hinge. The final basic movement is the loaded carry.
Some examples of the five basic movement patterns:
Push-up, bench press, overhead press and dips.
Pull-up, cleans, rows and pull-downs.
Goblet squat, back squat, lunge and leg press.
The five movement patterns in order of popularity:
Now, if you were place these movements in order of how they could impact you almost overnight, the order would look more like this:
Further to these movement patterns, you could add the following:
This is basically creating, or eliminating force through the torso whilst the hips and/or shoulders move. It also helps the body stabilise the spine in the event of external forces being applied to the body.
Examples of these additional movements include:
Russian twist, medicine ball rotational throw and sledgehammer swings.
When programming, just adding some form of loaded carry to you strength training can make huge impacts in just three or four weeks! Even if it is something simple like the farmers walk. I four weeks, you will be better. Your body will have improved posture and overall muscle density, which will transition across all of the other lifts.
A simple way to program is to choose an exercise from each of these basic movements and create a total body workout. Alternatively, you could combine two movements, such as a push / pull combination and squat / hinge combination and add the loaded carry to each workout.
Rotation and counter rotation exercises can be added to any workout for a more complete workout.
Training programs don’t need to be complex to work. Most of the time, the simple stuff works.
Just about everybody will agree that women will benefit from lifting weights. With the introduction of modalities like Crossfit and F45 in recent years, weight training amongst women has gained popularity, and more and more of these women have been successful in their training endeavours like never before.
That being said, the reality is that is still less popular for women to be lifting heavy weights. This is the 1 to 5 repetition range that can get you real strong and lean.
Here are some of the best reasons why women should be lifting a little heavier.
Improved body composition
Basically, this means less body fat and stronger curves. Which woman doesn’t want that?Most women join a gym and start lifting weights as part of a plan to lose unwanted body fat, but they don’t have a real goal or training end state.
They might follow a simple weight training program that will suggest moderately heavy weight in the 8 to 15 repetition range, or attend several high intensity group classes. Eventually, these workouts will feel easy, or boring, and it will be necessary to find a new challenge to keep the body positively adapting to the physical workload.
If you have successfully mastered key movements like the squat and deadlift it may be time to lift some heavier loads with lower repetitions to increase your muscular density and strength.
The stronger you get, the easier it will be to positively transform your body with continued training.
The take away point here is that lifting heavier weights develops muscular density. You will not see the serious muscle growth like some of the top bodybuilders and Crossfit athletes. That actually take years of intense training, combined with eating a lot of calories and targeted supplementation. You will however, develop the sleek sculpted curves that most women are thinking about when they say athletic and toned.
Healthier heart, brain, hormones and metabolism
Lifting heavier weight can have unique benefits to the human physiology that you can’t get from lifting lighter loads.
Heavy lifting protects the body by causing metabolic and functional adaptations to the muscles and brain that safeguard the body from injury, disease and excess fat gain.
Heavy lifting requires the training of multi-joint movements that use the whole body, such as the deadlift, squat and farmers carry. Training this way will develop the whole body as a functional machine capable of performing how it has evolved to perform.
Also, heavy lifting activates protective genetic pathways that keep the heart healthy and metabolism efficient.
Exercise in general is a great way to manage stress. The whole fat loss process is inherently stressful. Many women (men also) will fixate on it, and in doing so, increase anxiety levels which will force the body into a kind of threatened state.
Once in this threatened state the body will have elevated its cortisol levels as a protective measure. Cortisol is an important hormone when it comes to fat loss, because it is involved in the release of energy stores to be burned for fuel when blood glucose levels drop.
Optimal cortisol levels required for fat loss flow like a wave. They are at their highest in the morning upon waking, and lower throughout the day. Several factors, such as restricting food when hungry or training twice per day, forces cortisol levels to remain elevated for longer periods, which can slow the fat loss process.
Improved bone density
Another major health risk for women is bone health. Due to hormonal changes that occur during menopause, many women lose bone density and strength. Not only a risk for women, as the human body actually begins to lose bone density in its 30s and consistent strength training can delay or even reverse the process.
Improved mental and physical capacity
Not only does lifting heavier weight make you stronger and leaner, but it can have a positive effect on your entire life. You will stand taller and generally more confident overall. You will find an increase in energy levels, better sleep quality, and notice how much easier it is to run around with your children (if you have any), even carrying all of your grocery bags into the house in a single trip.
Simply put, being able to complete everyday tasks as required with ease and having the capacity to do more as life requires.
Strengthening your body will improve your overall quality of life.
The Stair-master is a piece of gym equipment that has been designed to simulate the climbing of stairs. First of all, no machine will ever beat the real life task of climbing a set of stairs or hiking up the side of a mountain. The satisfaction of making it to the summit, along with the view, will always surpass the view of the gym car park or a row of televisions and or mirrors.
However when used correctly, the Stair-master can be used to supplement your training and have some cardiovascular benefits along with being a great tool in developing strength and endurance in the lower body.
This is not always the case as the majority of people are using the machine incorrectly.
The problem with the Stair-master
Almost every time you walk into a gym you will find people who don’t know how to use a Stair-master, or many of the cardio machines for that matter. The machine is meant to simulate climbing up stairs. Pretty basic right? Yet still you will find many people who find it necessary to add all of these un-natural movement patterns to try to complicate a simple movement.
Common mistakes people make on the Stair-master
In no particular order these are just some of the mistakes people make using the Stair-master.
Not really sure how this movement developed? Did someone say that this would help give you bigger more developed glutes or did you see someone else doing this exercise so you thought it was worth giving it a go?
Just Squat. And Hinge. The act of kicking out your leg while using the machine does nothing for you other than giving you the impression that you think you’re actually doing something productive.
After you finish squatting, do some glute bridges and kettlebell swings.
There are only two reasons you should need to hang on to the rails of a Stair-master:
You’re an older trainer and have poor balance;
You’re completely new to working out (or walking) and have developed no balance.
If you fall into the second category, you need to slow the machine down or take a walk around the park.
Stair-master sideways walking
Why? Is it because someone somewhere told you need to try to develop the outside (or inside) of your legs?Those muscles are probably already tight on you and if they’re not then going sideways on a Stair-master isn’t going to fix that.
Do you go to the gym to workout or do you go to the gym to read the latest gossip on the bachelor? There is a time and place for everything. Focus on the task at hand. If you want a good workout, then do a good workout.
How often do you walk into the cardio section of the gym and see people slumped over on the Stair-master? The aim of the machine is to simulate the climbing of stairs. There is zero transferable skill to slumping while conducting this movement pattern.
It’s bad enough to sit slumped over at your desk all day, but to go to the gym afterwards and make it worse by slumping over on a machine for an hour? One of the main reasons the gym exists today is to help correct the imbalances created by living in the concrete jungle.
Just slow down, stand up straight, chest up and shoulders back. And get those hands off the rails!
Chasing calories on the Stair-master
Why? Because you need to burn 500 calories so you could eat some food afterwards? Or the night before? There is another whole post here. Chasing calories will not develop successful training or eating patterns.
Firstly, if you’re slumped over and holding onto the rails then the number on the display isn’t even an accurate measure of calories burned.
Secondly, all this is doing is creating a negative relationship with both exercise and food. This will almost always end in failure.
How to use a Stair-master effectively
This picture tells a thousand words. Try a real set of stairs. Get outdoors and go for a hike. There is no machine that is going to help you with your movement so you actually have to do the work. You can’t lean on anything. You can’t read.It’s just hard work.
The one-arm get-up is general test of strength which had considerable appeal to most strongmen from yesteryear…
It has always made a hit with the theatrical public, for it was obvious to them that magnificent strength was being displayed when an athlete did a one-arm get-up with a heavy bell.
– Siegmund Klein (an American strength legend)
The Turkish Get-up (TGU) is an outstanding exercise that develops strength, conditioning, mobility and stability throughout the entire body. It is both an excellent injury prevention and rehabilitation exercise for the shoulders. In fact, the TGU will give you shoulders that can take punishment, and dish it out.
It is a highly dynamic movement with enormous carryover to lifting heavy things. It does this by combining a series of movements from lying down to standing up with a heavy kettlebell overhead.
Many strong athletes have been humbled by the functional strength required to perform this movement, but mastering the TGU will make all overhead exercises safer and easier to perform.
A bit of history
The TGU was a staple exercise for the old-time strongmen and wrestlers. It has been said that this was the first and only exercise taught to many aspiring weightlifters to practice. The young athletes would have to master the TGU and be able to perform a TGU with 100 pound (45kg) weight with each hand.
When this goal had been achieved, the athlete was able to progress to the other lifts. There is some real wisdom behind that old-time methodology.
It takes tenacity and commitment to conquer this feat of strength. Secondly, it builds a solid foundation of strength that practically “injury proofs” the body, making it ready for more demanding training. It also significantly strengthens the major muscle groups, smaller stabilising muscles and the connective tissues.
Benefits of the Turkish Get-up
Promotes cross lateralization (getting the right brain to work with the left side, and vice versa);
Promotes upper body stability;
Promotes lower body stability;
Promotes reflexive stability of the trunk and extremities;
Ties the right arm to the left leg, and the left arm to the right leg;
Gets the upper extremities working reciprocally;
Stimulates the senses that contribute to balance;
Promotes spatial awareness;
Develops anterior/posterior weight shift;
Develops upper body strength, trunk strength, and hip strength.
How to perform a Turkish Get-Up
To keep it simple. The TGU can be broken down into three parts.
The half get-up;
The transition; and
The full get-up.
TGU: The starting position
Lying on your back, extend the arm holding the kettlebell in front of the chest with the arm locked out. If necessary, you can use your supporting arm to assist the initial lift or spot the weight. The goal is to get the weight into the locked-out position and not to build a big chest by pressing.
Post your left foot flat on the ground, with your heel close to your backside. This is the starting position. Remember to keep your eyes on the kettlebell throughout the exercise.
TGU: The half get-up
From the starting position, with your supporting hand flat on the ground, roll slightly to your right side and sit up. Allowing the weight to drift forward slightly, then push off your posted foot to help you sit up.
It is acceptable to allow your free arm to assist slightly against the floor in sitting up. Finish with the left arm and kettlebell vertical (above your head), making sure the wrist is tight and elbow locked.
TGU: The transition
In the transition, the athlete will move from the sitting to the kneeling position.
Begin by pressing the shoulder of your supporting hand (the one on the ground) away from your ear. This is important, but often overlooked step. It puts the shoulder into a strong position. It keeps the shoulder “active”, by keeping it in the socket.
Simultaneously press off your hand and posted foot, lifting your hips off the floor, forming a glute bridge. This will create the space necessary to swing your (right) leg underneath you as you slowly move into a three-point kneeling position.
TGU: The full get-up
Slowly straighten your torso and pull your right arm up off the ground so that you are in a two-point kneeling position. Keeping your eyes on the kettlebell, and actively pressing the kettlebell straight up toward the ceiling.
Keeping your leg vertical, load your weight onto the heel, contract the outer glute and stand up, pushing the kettlebell up overhead as you straighten.
From here, pause for a few moments, then reverse the steps under control to lower yourself on to the floor and back into the starting position.
Remember, there is no rush in completing this movement, and at times speed will destroy the movement quality, leading to an even more challenging or even dangerous practice. You will benefit from time under tension. So take your time and get it right.
Finally, always keep your eye on the kettlebell whilst conducting the movement.
Mastering the TGU is an excellent investment of your time and effort. The TGU can compliment a variety of workout programs giving you many transferable benefits. It is versatile enough to be used as an injury prevention or rehabilitation activity, to a warm-up or even the main lift of your workout.
Personally, it is one of my favourite exercises (in and out of the gym), and has been a staple movement in many of my strength and conditioning programs over the years.