Tag Archives: exercise science

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.


Filed under Benefits of exercise, Exercise science

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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Filed under Benefits of exercise, Natural movement

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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Training in Nature to find your nature

Nature: it’s rough, unpredictable and at times dangerous. So why would anyone want to train in these conditions? Well for exactly those reasons.

Our bodies are extremely good at adapting to situations. This is one of the underlying principles of strength and conditioning training, we stress the body and in response the body adapts to better tackle the situation the next time we encounter it. However because of this, our bodies can become extremely well adapted to a response if we continually give the same stimulus. For example if we run the same path, same distance on the same terrain every day, our bodies become ‘used’ to doing it, and as such end up doing it in the easiest or most efficient way possible. Which is great right? Well it is and it isn’t.

Becoming efficient at a form of movement is basically the goal, but we also want to continue to progress, grow and become stronger, faster and generally more capable human beings. And that is what we lose, that ability to continue to grow, when we don’t modify our training.

So to come back to the point, training in nature – where everything is different – will invariably give us this varied stimuli that we need. Every rock that you pick up or tree that you climb is a different size, shape or weight. It will require a different grip, hold, and strength to move or climb. Ergonomic hand holds are vary rare in the real world so to train with devices designed to be used by us is, in a way, defeating the purpose of training.

So yes it’s sometimes difficult to hold, slippery, unmanageable or just plain tough, but this is the whole point of it – to fully utilise the nature of our how our bodies work, we should utilise the nature of our environment.


Filed under Benefits of exercise, Exercise science, Natural movement

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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The science behind barefoot running

After having a conversation recently with a physiotherapist who asked about the science behind my barefoot running belief, I decided to make a list of my top picks for articles about barefoot running. This is far from an exhaustive list (there are loads of articles available even in local press) but if you want to an understanding of the science, these links will get you started…

#1 Barefoot Running – M. Warburton

An interesting analysis of the efficiency and rate of injuries in different running populations.

#2 Mechanical Comparison of Barefoot and Shod Running – C. Divert, Et Al. 

A study of impact forces of barefoot running on treadmills.

#3 Barefoot-Shod Running Differences: Shoe or Mass Effect? – C. Divert, Et Al.

A good counter-point to the ‘anti-shoe’ crowd. Good food for thought.

There’s plenty more out there, but some of it is a little restricted (unless you have institution log in). As I find more articles (or you guys do) I’ll post them into the comments.

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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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Staying fit during the cooler months

If there is one fitness trend that I have noticed, it is that during the cooler months, as the temperature drops so does the amount of exercise we do. Whilst many Canberrans have recently noticed the first signs of the change in seasons, how can we stay motivated as the cold begins to take hold? Training in cooler climates does have some advantages, and below are some tips to help get you out of bed on those cold Canberra mornings and also to prevent cold-related injuries.

Burn More Calories

We use up more of the body’s energy when exercising in the cold. This happens for a number of reasons. Firstly our bodies, in an attempt to keep warm, will begin to shiver when exposed to cold environments. This shivering, caused by small involuntary muscle contractions, increases our energy expenditure, which means we burn our energy stores 5-6 times quicker.

Secondly, our coordination and ability to think and react are dulled in the cold, which means that most exercises will become less efficient. The up side of this is that the less efficient an exercise, the more work it will take to do and the more calories you will burn.

Burn More Fat

Repeated exposure to cold weather will eventually (in 2-3 weeks) allow our bodies to adapt. One of the effects of this adaptation is an increase in the body’s ability to use our fat stores as energy.

Tips for staying injury-free during the cooler months

Decrease intensity

As our bodies are working harder in the cold to keep everything at the right temperature, we need to lessen the intensity of exercise to keep everything at the right balance. Our blood vessels also constrict in order to keep heat in the body, which can raise blood pressure. If you have a pre-existing heart or circulation condition, or if you experience chest pain while exercising in the cold, you should discontinue immediately and see a doctor before continuing.

Don’t overdress

Eskimos used to have a saying ‘You sweat, you die’. This is probably a little dramatic for our Canberra winter conditions but the principal behind it is the same. If we have too much clothing on we increase our body temperature, which causes us to sweat. If this clothing does not have the ability to wick the moisture away from our skin, it stays locked in contact with us. As soon as we stop exercising or there is increased airflow, this moisture has a super cooling effect on our bodies, which can lead to hypothermia. Clothing should be light with moisture wicking properties, and layered so that as you warm up you can remove one layer at a time.

Keep Hydrated

A lot of people tend to forget about drinking in colder environments, but our body’s still needs water to continue functioning properly. The lack of proper levels of water intake can lead to dehydration.

Motivational tips for training in cold weather

1.      Pre-plan what exercise you are going to do

Look at the weather the night before and decide on what sort of exercise you are going to do. Having a plan gives you a goal. Also organising to train with a friend means that you’ll have someone relying on you to show up, and showing up is half the battle.

2.      Have your clothes/equipment ready the night before

Once you have your session planned prepare for it by placing all the clothing and equipment you will need out the night before. Having everything ready to go in the morning is much more motivating than rummaging through drawers in the dark.

3.      Reward yourself with a hot shower and warm drink

After your session has finished, jump straight into a warm shower. Have a warm drink such as a cup of tea. Warm drinks will not only help raise your body temperature back up but also help refuel your muscles after a workout. You can use these things as motivation to go out into the cold and train.

4.      Listen to music or podcasts while training

Use music or podcasts to distract you from the cold weather. For most people the cold doesn’t bring any physically debilitating problems, it’s just mentally tough. So using something to overcome that hurdle can be just the trick to getting out there.

5.      Warm up/cool down indoors

Before embarking out into the cold, start with a quick warm up of squats, push-ups, or jogging on the spot – anything that will raise your heart rate and get the blood pumping around the body. This will make the initial part of the session much easier. When you’ve finished your session, head back indoors for stretching/cool down to get out of the cold as quickly as possible.

If you live in Canberra, cold weather is inevitable. But going into hibernation for the winter (and the extra kilos that come with it) are not. Using these tips you will be able to stay motivated and exercise safely through the colder months to come.

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The Importance of Water – can increased protein lead to increased dehydration?

Water. The majority of our bodies are made up of the stuff. Our survival depends upon it. Yet a large percentage of Australians aren’t getting enough. Most of us have heard how important water is to our general well being, so why aren’t we getting enough, and how much is enough?

Water Intake Recommendations

Most people would have heard of the ‘8 glasses a day’ recommendation which, roughly speaking, equals about 2L (standard cup = 240ml. 240 X 8 = 1920ml or 1.9L). From normal everyday activities (i.e. standing, talking, eating and just generally being alive) we will actually lose more like 2.5L a day, however about 500ml of fluids will be consumed through the food we eat. Which leaves us our deficit of 2L to make up.

As little as a 2-3% drop in hydration levels can have a dramatic affect on both performance and cardiovascular function. So apart from obviously not drinking enough, what factors affect the amount of water we need to consume?

Increased Protein = Increased Water Intake

A paleo-type diet, which is generally categorised as having higher than normal intake levels of protein, will have an impact on your body’s need for water. This is mainly due to two things:

  • Firstly, carbohydrates help the body hold more water. If we change the ratio to increase protein intake, thus diminishing carb intake, the body’s ability to hold this water will decrease. This has been shown to be true even in athletes, whos bodies should be more adept at retaining water.
  • Secondly, the water ‘cost’ of protein is higher. The amount of water the body needs to metabolise 1 gram of protein is substantially higher than than the amount needed for carbohydrates. So if your dietary intake of protein is higher, you will need more water.

Increased Exercise = Increased Water Intake

The amount of exercise you do will also impact on the amount of water you need to consume. A general recommendation is to consume approximately 500ml of water an hour before strenuous activity and 300-500ml for every 30 mins of activity. A more accurate way of measuring your personal water intake needs is to weigh yourself before and after an activity. The amount of weight loss minus the amount of fluid consumed should give you an idea of your personal water needs (i.e. the remaining weight loss should equal the extra water your body needs).


Some handy tips for getting your water intake up:

  • have a bottle with you at work (if you use a 2L bottle, fill it up in the morning and aim to drink most of it by the end of the day – make up the extra before and after work)
  • add a squeeze of lemon for a bit of extra flavour
  • check your urine colour – if it is yellow, you are dehydrated
  • make a goal to reach each day – if you are drinking 2 cups of water a day now, aim for 3 cups tomorrow, and build up every few days.

Want to know more? This subject will be covered in our upcoming Fitness Lifestyle Retreat.

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