Tag Archives: exercise

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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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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Can sitting kill you?

Whilst researching the topic of the negative effects of sedentary behaviour on the body I came across these articles, both by Alex Hutchinson (writing for The Globe and Mail and blogging on Sweat Science), on the ill effect that sitting for long periods of time can have on the body.

The more recent one from Sweat Science, is a good synopsis of how sedentary behaviour, in particular sitting, has an effect on how our bodies handle sugar. The answer, according this Australian study, is not very well. Apparently the test group that sat (as oppose to those who had walking breaks) had a much higher spike in blood sugar levels. So, without getting too technical, insulin, which should be taking care of the blood sugar levels, isn’t doing it’s job. This makes sense when you consider the fact that exercise causes an insulin like effect on the body, causing you to take up sugar out of the blood (that’s why exercise is really handy for people who have diabetes too!)

For more of a background on this subject, check out Alex’s article in the Globe and Mail.

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Remember to Breathe

Breathing. It’s something that most of us don’t give a thought to in our everyday lives. This also applies to us when exercise, that most of us don’t think to much about it until we are out of it. But breathing the correct way can be as important to exercise as the exercise itself. Breathing the right way during exercise can make tasks easier and can help prevent injury.

An efficient cardio-vascular system is an obvious benefit, but breathing can help us in other ways. During lifts we can use our breath to brace our spine, creating a stronger core and helping reduce the risk of injury. By holding our breath and slowly releasing during strenuous activity, we increase the internal pressure and create a more stable area throughout the lower spine (lumbar) region.

To do this, we need to ‘breathe through the stomach’ (Although known as breathing through the stomach, this isn’t actually what we’re doing, as you’ll see). The point is to breath deeply, utilising more of the lungs, especially the lower part which generally doesn’t get used. This requires using the diaphragm, which sits in between the lungs and area below (termed ‘the stomach’). The diaphragm,  pushes down to cause the lungs to draw in air, and it’s this pushing down that causes the organs below to be pushed down and expand outward, giving the illusion that we are drawing breath into the ‘stomach’.

In contrast solely drawing air into the chest by expanding the chest means that we are utilising less efficient smaller ancillary muscles through out the chest area and can result in a less effecient breath intake. In reality by using the ‘stomach breathing’ technique, we are just drawing more breath into more of the lungs, filling them to a higher capacity than we usually do. Gray Cook – author of ‘Movement‘ – teaches a similar idea in his “alligator breathing” exercises, where he gets the client to lay face first on the ground and concentrate on breathing through the stomach instead of the chest (the result apparently looks like an alligator!)

Breathing technique is really quite simple, yet I see it neglected more often than not. So how is it implemented in exercise? An easy rule of thumb is: Breathe in during the less hard work, Breathe out (in a slow, controlled manner) during the hard work. Imagine you are doing a push up (or even better actually do one). On the downward phase (eccentric) draw a nice big breath in through the nose, ensuring you practice using your diaphragm. On the up phase (concentric) breathe steadily out through the mouth, expelling evenly through the effort. Easy!

So next time you’re tackling something hard, whether it be lifting something heavy or moving your own body around, give a thought to the quality and quantity of your breath. It will probably make what you’re doing easier and might even save you some pain in the long run.

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The Outdoor Gym

This morning’s training session, Bruce Ridge Canberra.

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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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