Tag Archives: benefits of exercise

Excuses and Fear: why we really don’t want to do something

comfort zoneI’m tired. I wasn’t ready. My legs hurt. It’s raining. It’s cold. I don’t have the right shoes on.

Excuses.

Excuses are like A**holes. Everyone’s got one and they all stink. There can be a million different reasons for why we don’t do something but ultimately it boils down to one thing. Fear. You’re afraid to do (or not do) a particular activity. There is something, deep down in your brain, that’s telling you ‘don’t attempt this, you’re going to fail. It’s going to hurt you. You’ll be humiliated’.
The truth is that you probably will be. This fact shouldn’t be a reason to stop doing these things, it should in fact be the opposite. There was a time when we didn’t know how to walk. That didn’t stop us from attempting it though. I’d say that all of us failed at our first attempt. This didn’t stop us either. We continued to try until we got it. Then we practiced it daily and improved upon the technique until we could do it efficiently. Why should any other task be treated differently?
This fact was sparked in my mind when I saw a t shirt the other day with the slogan “If you never play then you’ll never lose”. I would argue that anytime that you decide not to play,train,interact or try, then you have already lost. Lost an opportunity to grow, not only physically but mentally, spiritually. Grow in character. Like Alfred said to Bruce Wayne (Batman) “Why do we fall? So we can pick ourselves back up again”. It’s in the attempt that we succeed, not in the succeeding itself.
You’ll never be able to shut off the excuses, but identifying that you have them, and acknowledging that you have fears, is the first step. You’ll be able to slowly replace the ‘I can’t’ with ‘I think I can’ and eventually with ‘I will’.

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180 bpm – The perfect running cadence?

natural fitness 8At a class recently I was asked why I teach 180 beats (or foot falls) per minute is the most efficient. My answer was “because science said so”. So to prove that I wasn’t lying and to make up for my brevity in the initial answer, here is the science:

Check out this blog post from one of my favorite bloggers Alex Hutchinson of Sweat Science (now writing at Runner World). I came across it when I was first looking into running cadence and it remains (in my opinion) one of the most succinct writings on the topic. Be sure to check out some of the original articles linked in there as well as the video. He has a little more on the subject on the blog as well so be sure to check out the other posts.

This post is actually linked in the above one but it’s definitely worth a read by itself, from Dave Munger at Science Based Running

And just to offer some counter point to the theory check out this post from Peter Larson writing at Tread Lightly on how 180  is not the be all and end all.

 

At the end of the day I believe that 180 is a good target for most people to have, especially if there are not experienced runners. But as you can probably tell there is plenty of information out there on the subject so read up and inform yourself.

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Human Adaptation – Do you ‘Fit’ your environment?

The Tengeri mark I Log-Like Lifting Device. Complete with un-ergonomic naturally formed hand holds (and ants)

The Tengeri mark I Log-Like Lifting Device. Complete with un-ergonomic naturally formed hand holds (and ants)

For thousands of years our bodies adapted to the environment around us. Our surrounds forced us to walk, crawl, run, jump, climb etc etc. Our bodies look and move the way they do because they were forced to adapt and evolve to the stressors that the environment placed upon them. So if we became who we are today by our environment, what happens to us if we take away that stress?

Modern life is a pursuit of comfort. We constantly seek out easier ways to do our daily activities. We create more and more ergonomic designs for our environment. The upside is obvious – our lives are easier – but do we ever consider what the long term effects are, and I mean long term as in multi-generational. In short, what are we doing to the evolution of our species? By making things easier in the short term we are actually making them harder for us in the long term. Just ask anyone who has suffered lower back pain or RSI of the wrists from sitting a desk for too long. We weren’t built to do these things. We will adapt but it will take time and will be painful.

It’s not that we are devolving, we never really devolve (or de-evolve?), we just evolve in a different way. We become most ‘fit’ for what we need to do. The problem being here is that today we don’t need to do anything. We can almost get away with sitting in chair all day. To me that’s a bit of a scary thought, It’s not something I want to particularly become adapted to. And then what if we were suddenly forced to rely on our bodies again to survive? How many people could?

Evolution by it’s nature is an adaptation to environmental pressures, so if we control our environment, we technically control how we evolve. I like to think of it as that we now have a choice. We can continue to utilise technology and ergonomic designs to make our lives easier and evolve to the current state of our environment OR we can continue to utilise our bodies the way they where made to – by placing them under stress, even if it’s simulated, and pushing them beyond what they could previously do. We can either forget the genetic heritage we have been given or we can choose to build upon it.

Just a little something for you to mull over while you’re thinking about your training this week. Maybe instead of picking up that weighted bar, which just so happens to be the perfect size for a closed fist, try picking up a log, sand bag or rock. Pull ups onto a tree branch. Box Jumps onto a rock. All the environmental stressors your body needs to adapt to are out there, you just have to get out and use them.

 

 

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The Evolutionary Tipping Point

Have you ever stopped and thought about where we are headed? I mean where we, as a race, are going to end up? What will humans be doing in 100, 1000, 10,000 years from now? What will we look like? Well if we take a snapshot of where we are at now and extrapolate that out, the answer doesn’t look good. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer. These Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are the unfortunate reality of today’s first world societies. Diseases not borne of a virus or bacteria, but of our own choosing. Sadly these diseases have become so common place that they are seen by many as inevitable, but this is far from the truth. Not only can we prevent this from happening but we can reverse the damage we’ve done to ourselves right now by changing our patterns and habits for the better.

An obese person is much more likely to have obese children. Whether it’s from the genetics or the environment (or more likely both) the fact is that how you treat your body and what you eat now will not only affect you, but your children and even your children’s children. You’re potentially setting your family line up for failure. If enough of us continue this pattern then we’re setting up the human race for failure.

My goal has always been to fight against this trend of NCDs; to build better humans. I believe that we at an evolutionary tipping point – where our race can continue as it is, to degenerate and rely solely on modern science to save the day; OR we can take responsibility and control for not only our own personal health and wellbeing but also for those around us.

It comes down to helping others by helping yourself. If you have major health issues the last thing on your mind is helping people with theirs. According to Maslow we have a hierarchy of needs, and to successfully fulfil these needs we need to build it up like a pyramid, with the more important base needs forming the foundation. Unfortunately a lot of people today aim at fulfilling the higher needs without giving much thought to the base health needs of their own body and thus build on a foundation of sand. By concentrating on yourself, getting your own health in order, you then have the ability to help others, who in turn help others and so on. If enough of us continue this pattern then we can reverse the detrimental changes we are starting to see today.

At the end of the day it’s up to you, the individual, to stand up and take responsibility for your own actions and the consequences that they have.

It’s for this purpose – to help you help yourself – that I have created the Daily Natural Activity site. It’s an online workout resource that takes natural fitness and puts it into an easy to follow workout routine, something that anyone, regardless of previous experience or skill level, can follow. Check it out and take up the challenge to make a positive change in your life.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”

- Mahatma Ghandi

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Summer’s Coming – Time to go Barefoot

The season is definitely starting to turn and for me that means one thing – Barefoot running is back.

I usually get pretty slack with going barefoot during Winter (especially when I was down in Canberra), preferring to utilise minimalist shoes for my runs but spring is now days away so what better reason to unleash your feet and get into (or back into) barefoot running.

Barefoot running is a great way to not only learn a biomechanically efficient way to move but if built up to and done properly, can be a great way to prevent future injuries by strengthening stability muscles and improving balance.

Jumping into barefoot running with both feet however can be problematic, with most of the complaints I usually get from barefoot runners being that they injured themselves from trying to do too much too quickly. So here’s a little quick start guide to get you out there barefoot and injury free.

1. Toughen up your sole - Start by being barefoot around your house as much as possible. Whenever you have the chance, kick the shoes off and walk around. This will start to get you used to moving without shoes and will start ‘toughen’ the soles of your feet.

2. Barefoot walks - Go for a stroll with some shoes that are easily removable and take them off for sections of the walk. As you get used to walking around barefoot progressively introduce more barefoot sections.

3. Barefoot runs - Using the same theory as the walks, use shoes that are easily removable to add barefoot sections to your run (I would recommend something like New Balance Minimus or Merrell Foot Gloves). Slowly build up the barefoot sections until you can run the whole way with out shoes. I recommend that you start by running on grass until you start to get the technique correct before progressing to harder surfaces. It is a good idea to plan your route with softer sections in it (like grass or dirt) so that if you do need to give your feet a break you can.

A good point to note with barefoot running is that there is definitely an efficient and an inefficient way to run (As I outlined in a previous post here). It is probably worth checking out some of the running technique videos on YouTube or reading up on POSE running technique to get a rough idea of what you should be doing.

4. Recovery massage - The calves and feet will probably get sore after barefoot running for the first couple of times, so make sure you stretch after the runs and use self massage techniques like rolling a golf ball into the calves and the arch of the foot to aid with recovery.

Hopefully this helps some of you to get out there sans shoes.

Happy Running,

Stuart

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What blogs I’m Reading

I’ve come across a few really interesting articles and blogs over the past 2 weeks so rather than reiterate them, I thought I might just share my top 3 thought provoking blogs for the week.

This first one is entitled “No Shoes No Problem: Why Not Train Barefoot?”  from Imprint – the University of Waterloo’s official student newspaper. It talks about the ‘modern’ trend for people to go barefoot.

In a similar vain is “Finding a Sustainable Running Stride” from the New York Times’ ‘Well’ section, written by Tara Parker-Pope. A good mini analysis at some of the alternative running styles that are starting to emerge into the popular market. Touches on Chi running, POSE technique and little on Barefoot. Good read for those interested in learning about different styles.

Lastly is a good one on the effect of Gluten on the body in “No Gluten, No Grains” from Jo Svendblad’s Nutty Kitchen blog. Good information on why to eat primal/paleo and some great recipes too!

Enjoy :)

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Semantics of the ‘Workout’

What is a workout? Is it pushing yourself hard for 30-60 minutes? Hitting the gym? Going for a run? Working up a sweat with 10-15 minutes of warm ups and a 5 minute cool down. I was recently forced to think about how I define a ‘workout’ when I sat down with a friend who is about to start training with me.

I kept using the word ‘workout’ when it suddenly occurred to me that our individual concepts on what a workout is may be very different. Having worked in and around the fitness industry for a few years now, I know that the norm is a one hour workout with warmup and cool down included, and this is probably the way most people would view a workout. There where many times when I was training people in the past that I would find myself padding out or filling in time to the end of the session just because they expected to go for one hour. Needless to say this is not how I do things anymore. As I explained to my friend, this is not how I train myself, so why would I train others differently.

To me the word workout is a very broad term encompassing many different activities. It doesn’t need to be ‘for time’ or have as many rounds as possible, it just needs to be me moving in some way. Some days it’s climbing a tree. Some days it’s walking (or chasing) the dog. Whatever the goal of the particular activity I’m doing, what I definitely don’t focus on is the time. If practicing scaling walls takes me 5 minutes then that may be it for the session. The point being that I don’t tailor the activity to the time.

Something else to consider in the time of a workout in relation to the intensity is the risk of injury. Obviously the more tired you are, the higher the risk of doing something wrong and thus the possibility of injury. So if you have gone hard at the start and continue to exercise after, you are putting yourself at a higher risk of injury. Do you really need to keep going to fill in the time? Or have you completed the ‘workout’ you set out to do?

Having a structure is a great idea and the one hour session does make a lot of sense, especially if you’re starting out, but try to consider it as a plan that can be deviated from rather than the hard and fast rule. Another problem I often hear in relation to the time of a workout is “I don’t have time to workout”, well my answer is shorten the workout. Tailor the activity to what time you do have and get back to the ‘plan’ of a longer workout when you do have the time.

So don’t feel constrained by the feeling that your workout needs to be a certain length of time. Focus more on the goal of what you are setting out to achieve rather than the goal of filling out time, there’s probably something else you can be spending that time on, and if you are struggling for time in your life don’t drop activity from your life all together just remember – doing a little of something is better than doing a lot of nothing.

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Warm ups – are they really necessary?

Cavemen probably didn’t take 5 minutes to ‘warm up’ before stalking their prey. Or running from from a predator for that matter. So why do we insist on the need to almost ritualistically perform a set routine before we workout? And does it even help?

The short answer, sadly, is yes we do need to perform this. Warm ups have been shown to increase performance and decrease the chance of injury during activity. So why do we need to this? Well here is my theory – Our lives today are filled with movements (or more specifically lack of movement) that are inherently unnatural or just fundamentally different to the movement patterns of our ancestors. So much so that now when we attempt to do any of these movements, which would have been everyday activity for our fore bearers like swimming, running, climbing, etc, we need to ‘remind’ our body how to do it.

Keeping this in mind, you should use the time set out for warm ups as a chance to help correct these poor movement patterns brought about by modern life. Do drills to increase range of motion in joints and that help ‘switch on’ muscle groups (i.e. slow deep squats for the hip/knee/ankle joints). Crawling, rolling, walking, balancing are also great ways to help this process (for a variety of reasons). In effect what you are doing is rehabilitating your movement patterns, or hitting the ‘re set’ button on them (what I like to call ‘resetabilitation). Once you’ve re set the movement patterns to a more natural default, movement within a workout or activity should be easier and safer.

Once your body gets used to being put through these sorts of movements, the need to warm up for every activity decreases. This isn’t, however, a carte blanche for never doing warm ups again, rather a shift in the concept of what exactly a warm up entails. Instead of just getting your body physically warm before an activity, you should be getting it physically and mentally alert and prepared.

The result being that when we really need to perform under pressure, like when we are in an emergency of some kind, we won’t need to say “Wait, time out everyone. I just need 5 minutes to warm up” (kind of like Zombieland Survival rule #18: Limber Up). We’ll just be able to do it.

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What is functional fitness?

After reading a recent blog post from Gray Cook (author and creator of the Functional Movement Screen) on defining ‘functional’ as a term in relation to sport and exercise (PDF version here), I was inspired to add my two cents on the matter. The term, I have found in my experience at least, is widely misused in todays exercise and fitness industry and (as stated by Cook) needs to be defined.

Most people who have trained with me know that I categorise individual exercises into three groups: Rehabilitative, Strengthening and Functional. Rehabilitative exercises are used to improve mobility or flexibility of a particular joint or area, Strengthening exercises then build stability or strength in an area, but Functional is then utilising the exercise for a practical outcome.

For example let’s look at the practical outcome of developing a capability such as climbing up onto something (say a tree branch or a ledge). For many people, we spend our days in an office and may have poor posture from sitting all day in an office chair, so we need to start by improving the range of motion through our shoulders and fixing any problems that may be there in order to get them back to a ‘normal’ state, which may take the form of stretching or rotator cuff movements (group 1 – rehabilitative).

Then we would need to strengthen the muscles involved in the movement we want to do, so we may start with some isolated exercises but eventually build up to pull-ups or something similar (group 2 – strengthening).

It’s at this point where a lot of people would stop, stating that a pull-up is a functional exercise as it uses many muscles and multiple joints. However a pull-up by itself doesn’t get me up on top of something, it just brings my chest to it, so it does not achieve the practical outcome. A muscle up however (pulling up to the chest then getting over the bar and pushing up) does achieve this goal and thus could be seen as a functional exercise.

In our Tengeri training, everything has a survival-orientated goal, but your particular training may be aimed at a more sports-specific goal. The goals may differ but this exercise continuum and definition of function remains the same.

At the end of the day it’s really quite simple if you just apply this simple rule: a functional exercise must have a function to it. So unless you are thinking of taking up professional beer drinking, I think it’s safe to say that bicep curls are off the list.

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Exercise is an opportunity

Whilst taking the dog for a walk today I stumbled across a piece of 2X4 (a wooden plank). I could have just left it there by the lake to rot but I decided to pick it up and carry it the rest of the way around the lake. I ran with it on my shoulders, in my arms, I lunge walked with it, balanced it without touching with my hands and set it up in different places to practice balance walking, crawling and precision jumps. By the time I got this piece of wood home I was stuffed, but I had a fantastic workout with what would have otherwise been a piece of trash.

My point being that exercise is an opportunity, one that can pop up at any time. You don’t necessarily need equipment or specilist gear to do it, it can be a simple as finding something on the side of the path. All you really need is a little imagination and the ability to see, as oppose to just look at, your environment for what it really is – an endless opportunity to exercise, move and have fun.

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