Track the journey.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was starting up again with my health and fitness regime after a period of slow but steady weight gain. I have been reading up on success strategies with following through after setting goals because that’s where most of the challenges seem to lie.

Setting goals is easy as we all know deep down what we want and what we feel will improve our lives. Once they are set, everything is exciting because we feel we have made some major progress. However, the reality is that just setting goals is not going to make any difference at all until we start to take action on those goals.

So how do we start to make progress towards our goals? One thing that I have really responded well to is tracking your results and getting some accountability even if you are being accountable just to yourself.

I use a website called irunurun.com. This is site is excellent for this activity. It creates data for you and tracks your progress using a points based system.

This has really helped me to stay on track and to keep streaks of activity going for far longer than usual. I have used it so far to track my eating habits, my physical exercise and writing on a daily basis.

Another big tip is to make the action you want to build into a habit very easy and build up to a higher level over time. Don’t set a daft goal that is setting you up for failure. Keep consistent with an activity until that level feels really easy and then raise your standards with the same target.

I’ve done this with my training to great effect. I have wanted to start the habit of daily cardio for years but could never get myself to do it. I solved this by slashing the time of my cardio down to 10 minutes a day to start with. This felt easy to do, attainable, and something I could turn into a habit and I have. So far I have completed my cardio session for 18 straight days with two planned rest days. I have also raised my cardio up from 10 to 14 mins already. The trick is in the consistency. The 14 minutes feels exactly the same as the 10 minute session did I when I started. I will gradually raise my time up to around 25 minutes and keep up the daily frequency. This would be a huge increase in daily cardio output, but is easily attainable with this approach because the habit would be well and truly formed by then. I try to do my cardio at the same time each day and have dragged myself out even when I haven’t felt like it or I have been very tired.

If you want to form a habit or make a change in your lifestyle, these skills are transferable. Find a way to track and monitor your efforts in some way. You also need to try and set an action that seems easy to start with and focus on consistency. Once the consistency is there, then you can ramp up your output and quickly accelerate your results.

Tracking the journey is a skill and habit of the successful. Adopting this idea might be the missing piece in your habit forming puzzle that allows you to make any action you would like to develop become a permanent one.  I am sure that it will if you execute these ideas properly.

I wish you the best.

The real reasons I gained weight and the real solution to it.

The real reason I’ve struggled with weight gain

For the last year since my daughter was born, I’ve watched my weight steadily increase. I’ve been disappointed about this and annoyed, but in the cold light of day I cannot be surprised. People often come up with lots of weird and wonderful reasons why their weight has increased and how puzzling it is to them since they hardly eat anything.

I for one am not that naïve. I know exactly why my weight has been creeping up and up. There are two main reasons.

  1. I used to rely on exercise to help keep my weight down and I don’t have the time to exercise for as long anymore.
  2. My diet has been inconsistent.

It really is as simple as that. I have been blissfully unaware of how poor my eating habits had gotten, thinking to myself in a state of grand delusion, that I could just stop and start dropping weight whenever I wanted.  The only problem with this thinking was that it was not true. I was eating so much that I was craving the feeling of being really full. Every time you go for that you have to eat that little bit more.  A twelve inch pizza becomes a 14 inch next time. A 50 gram bag of crisps becomes 100gr and so on.

I was completely in denial as well. I had deliberately not weighed myself thinking that would make things easier to cope with, but the body never lies. I could feel that I was heavier, and my clothes all of a sudden felt like they had been shrunk.

I could have gone blissfully unaware but eventually, I had to face reality. I braced myself and faced the music. The results were not pretty and I underestimated my weight by a few pounds as well, but it was the reality. I felt better knowing exactly where I stood and what would be needed to make improvements to my weight.

One thing I have learnt to do during this time is accept myself for the person that I am. My thinking has shifted from you will be happier when you are a particular weight to be the best you can be on this day at this size. I’ve realised that I will only get to live this day once, so I want to make the best use of it that I can. Stressing over what has been or what may be is a waste of energy that could be put to better use.

Focussing on being the best I can be for that day makes sticking to healthy habits easier. I have found that setting large goals in the past has been difficult because I get daunted by the journey and worry that I might not be able to make it. Instead of that, focussing on the present moment and the day breaks the goal down into small manageable chunks. Setting the goal and working towards it daily feels like a good approach. You need the long term vision to see the overall direction, but then need to become adept at winning each day as it comes.

So what tactics am I going to use in order to get my health back on track?

  1. Consistent diet.
  2. Regular strength training.
  3. Daily movement and general physical activity.
  4. Lots of water
  5. A good dose of micronutrients daily (vitamins and minerals)
  6. When possible, get earlier nights for better sleep and reduction in stress.

I’m sure it will work if I remember to focus on each day as it comes and win enough little victories to create consistent healthy habits that last years.

I wish you the best.

Why I’m sick to the back teeth of diets!!!

I’ve followed a few eating protocols down the years with a very similar pattern happening each time. Focus hard and lose weight, then somewhere down the road falling into old habits again and being back at square one. This doesn’t make sense. Why is it that people who put in less effort than me sometimes lose weight really easily whereas I’m there struggling for every pound?
I think the problem has been in the struggle. With all the rules, protocols, meal timings, meal plans and the hate campaigns on whole food groups, I became a little lost and confused. One guru would tell you eat only low carb. Someone else would say the exact opposite. Arguments in fitness and nutrition seem to be an annoying constant.
Inspired by the work of weight loss expert Jon Gabriel, I have decided to abandon any ideas of diet, restriction and regimentation from my eating. It sounds counter-intuitive, and that’s why I like the idea. Do I want to track my calories on my fitness pal or something similar? No. Do I want to weigh myself every day because what gets measured gets managed? No. What get’s measured too emotionally leads to negativity that has always surrounded all my weight loss efforts. This time needs to be a very positive experience where I believe that it is possible to get the exact result that I want.
The brain will always lead you towards pleasure, so I’m going to eat the healthiest foods possible that I find a joy to eat. I’m going to workout in ways that fit my lifestyle. I’m going to use extremely quick and effective workouts that make me feel fantastic each day.
I don’t want to be a fitness model, and I’m not particularly bothered about being overly lean and ripped. I want to be healthy, fit and have a decent physique with the least amount of time spent on requiring it. I don’t want to wear my fitness like some badge of honour over others and certainly have no interest in obsessing over training or eating or anything else of that nature. I’ve proven to myself that forcing things in that way doesn’t work in the long term for me.
To be honest, I’m sick of getting so stressed out about how I look. It is still one of my major challenges that started in my younger days when family members would make negative comments about my weight. They didn’t realise the damage they did to me and that I still struggle with it some days. But those days are over and I have moved on. I don’t give a monkeys what anybody thinks about the way I look anymore. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if I don’t lose a single pound, but I feel healthy and energetic, then I can accept myself as I am today till the end of my days.
I’m going to eat what I want, when I want and as often as I want. Hopefully, this will then allow my body to realise that food is abundant and there is no shortage. I have always been healthiest when taking this approach and it leads to me making healthier choices most of the time because no food is seen as bad or off limits to me.
Rant over
Be awesome.
Shaun

Choices choices…..

Plan B
I was planning on doing a pretty intense Kettlebell workout tonight. I am in week three of five of the 10,000 swing challenge that I have already mentioned. It turns out my Daughter Ava had alternative plans for the evening. In between writing these sentences, I am keeping a close watch on a little girl who has been crawling for about a week. She is lightning fast and keeping me on my toes. I’m not going to have the energy to do the workout planned for tonight.
This is where the beauty of a plan B comes into play. I have got a quick 12 minute workout that I do in place of my original plan so that I keep the consistency going. Doing something is better than doing nothing and sometimes life does get in the way of your great intentions. I could have worked out this morning, but Ava (A.K.A M.s non sleep) had us up at midnight and then 4. Safe to say, I wasn’t feeling like knocking out 500 swings.
So having flexibility with your plans is important. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment or inconsistency with an all or nothing mentality with your workouts.

A different perspective on exercise.

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A different perspective on exercise.

I have been following a new exercise regime with my kettlebells over the past few months. In the past, I would have workouts that would incorporate lots of different movements. This made me feel productive as I would feel the burn. I would sweat a great deal and this made me feel like I was making progress. Also, because I was focussed on burning calories, it seemed like the best way to workout as I was obviously expending lots of energy.

My perspective on exercise has now changed. As a result, my approach to exercise has also changed.

I use exercise as a way to build myself up rather than break myself down.

Now this may seem paradoxical since exercise does in fact lead to muscle breakdown, but I’m talking about building myself up in different ways.

1: My level of skill: I focus on a few exercises at a time and try to develop in these areas through regular and persistent practice. Within that practice the variables change i.e reps, weight, intensity. However my new goal is to practice my movements as often as possible throughout the week without ever going smashing myself to pieces in the process.

2: My level of conditioning/tolerance.

A direct result of training this way is that my conditioning has improved considerably from where it started.

Two months ago, I started focussing on some bodyweight movements but my main exercise was the kettlebell snatch. Initially I was working in strength ladders that went no higher than 5 reps per side on the hardest day.

Now, I use the same weight of kettlebell, but I work in straight sets. On my heaviest day, I work in sets of 15.

I deliberately started with workouts that were easily within me. That gave me the chance to get better at the skill of kettlebell snatching. This then led to a nudge type effect where my reps are lots more, but the effort feels similar to what it was in those early workouts. This is real progress.

If I had started out, trying to perform at my maximum, then I would have injured my body and not reached the level I am now at. Developing patience and awareness were the lessons over the past few weeks of my training. I surprised myself at how quickly I am progressing now that I am thinking more holistically about my training.

 

3. The effect that exercise has on my state.

I work out hard in sessions and push myself, but I walk away from workouts feeling energised, invigorated and strong, not shattered injured and weak. Over time, the amount that you can cope with will increase. Don’t force it.

This certainly works for me, and might just be the way to go if you have been apprehensive about staring a workout regime, or have stopped soon after beginning.

This perspective on exercise works no matter what exercise you choose to do. It also addresses the mental aspects of exercise which many people ignore but is probably one of the most critical determinants to whether you will continue. Bottom line is, if something makes you feel good, you will do it. If something makes you feel rubbish you will eventually quit. We must change our perspective to be able to see the benefit in every session we take part in. When I have a workout that is not my best performance, I remember that keeping consistent is the most important aspect so that workout has helped to develop my consistency. In that respect, it has been a success, even if no progress was made with numbers or setting PRs.

Action steps

  1. Pick an exercise that feels almost too easy and focus on consistency. This allows you to just show up and train without the fear if failure or injury.
  2. Increase the amount or intensity when you feel ready to do so. Do not rush the process. Think long term perspective. You want to stay active all of your life. This isn’t possible if you are doing hard core sessions every time. High intensity has its place, but so do low and moderate intensity workouts. Think balance.

 

Inspire through action.

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I went to the park to complete my workout today. It was an intense session complete with kettlebell snatches, chin ups and dips. I was focused on the session and really enjoying my workout. When the first person of the session said hello to me during my workout. He was an elderly man. i would guess he was into his sixties. “Well done” he said as I struggled and strained through a set of chin ups. 

About five minutes later it happened again. “Keep going” the next observer commented as I completed my set of kettlebell snatches. Later on, a couple of boys were making their way towards me kicking a football between them, as they made their way closer to me, I saw them stop and watch me for a little while. They then waited until I had finished training on the chin up bars and decided to make their way over and have a go themselves.

These little exchanges reminded me that sometimes it’s watching someone take action that inspires us to take some for ourselves. Those boys were intrigued and interested in what I was doing. As a result they wanted to have a go at doing some chin ups for themselves. I wonder how many times they have walked past that bar without stopping to try. I hope that the man who saw me earlier on in my workout decided to do something a little more active that day. It’s not always what we say, but who we are and the actions we choose that can inspire others.

Post 009: Why I don’t bother with the gym.

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I Love Kettlebell training!

For years I used to go to the gym on a regular basis. When I lived in Liverpool, I lived near an amazing gym where I used to go and workout using weights, kettlebells and cardio equipment. The experience was always great but there were issues. One of the key issues was the time it took to travel to the gym, get prepared to work out, set up my weights and everything else. It was quite a list. When my son was born, the time pressure increased and so I found myself trying to fit workouts in after work when in reality I wanted to be home spending time with my son. I know that successful people have to sacrifice certain things to get what they want, but missing out on time with my boy in his early months was something I didn’t agree with at all. I had to make adjustments. I wanted to work out and be in good shape, but didn’t want to do it at the gym. This was when I got seriously into Kettlebell training.

For those unfamiliar, Kettlebells have been around for centuries and although the origins are argued over, most people believe they were created in Russia during the 17th Century and were used as a device tio measure goods for ships.

They were later used as a means to develop strength with strong men and circus performers using them on a regular basis. During the early 20th Century well known strongmen like Arthur Saxon, Edgar Mueller and Eugene Sandow used kettlebells in their strongman shows.

Fast forward to today’s time, and kettlebells are popping up every where. I have seen them being used in video footage from commercial gyms, many sports teams and athletes use kettlebells, and they are very popular as a training tool in the world of Mixed martial arts.

There are many reasons why I love kettlebell training and why they may be useful for you to. Let me list some for you here.

1: They are simple to use.

The most useful kettlebell moves have the same starting point and travel through similar ranges of motion. This means that focussing on form reaps huge rewards and benefits.

2: They work the whole body.

Kettlebell work involves the whole body. With moves like the kettlebell swing and snatch, the body’s chain of movement is all engaged simultaneously. Basically speaking, your body works harder than if you were doing isolation moves like bicep curls and leg extensions.

3: Anyone can use them with correct instruction

The range of kettlebell weights is so vast that anyone can be taught how to use one with a weight that is appropriate to them.

4: They can be used anywhere.

This one is so important to me. Kettlebells allowed me to spend time with my family and get in shape at the same time because I could work out at home. I would train in the back yard, sometimes in the cellar. Sometimes I would throw the bells into the car and workout after work in the park before driving home. They are versatile, portable and fit in beautifully with a busy lifestyle allowing you workout exactly when you want.

5: Workouts can be short and effective.

Sometimes less is more. One of the kettlebell coaches who I follow (Geoff Neupert) is a huge fan of 15-20 minute workouts on a more frequent basis as opposed to the marathon workouts that people believe they must do to get results. My workouts are rarely longer than 30 minutes when I factor in warm up and training. This frees up much more of my time to do other things that I enjoy like reading, writing blog posts, teaching children and spending time with my family and friends.

6: You feel bad ass using them. In other words they build your confidence.

There’s something cool about taking a cast iron ball and being able to press it over your head or to be able to swing the kettlebell with one hand and swap the bell in mid air. You start to gain in confidence and belief. Then before you know it, you are ready to work out with heavier weights or double kettlebells.

7: Kettlbells encourage consistency.

Having the kettlebells allowed me to become more consistent. I schedule in when I plan to train and try and stick to that, but when life happens and you need to make adjustments, it’s easier to do that on your own terms rather than being a slave to the opening times of your local gym. Consistency is what I strive for now more than new workout programmes or equipment.

8:They encourage natural whole body movement.

With the Turkish get up for example, most muscles in the body are used.  This is important because it teaches you to move in a more efficient manner.  I found when using kettlebells, it allowed to move much easier and with increased athleticism and agility. I have eliminated my niggling lower back pain, have much stronger legs and my chronically sore shoulder is now much stronger. My cardio ability is also improving from using kettlebells.

9: You can do workouts that improve strength, increase cardio, or target both in one workout.

Kettlebell training has a wide variety of lifts that promote ballistic lifting (Fast explosive movements) and grind patterns (Slower strength based lifts). This allows you to target different energy systems within your body and allows for you to train with higher frequency by alternating between the two.

10: Having kettlebells around at home means my son is already getting interested in exercise.

The other day I caught my boy trying to lift one of my kettlebells as he has seen me lifting them every now and then. Because he is seeing exercise happening in his environment, he will hopefully come to see exercise as part of his day to day life. This influence was not really that present in my early years and I do think it’s important to instil the values of physical exercise early in life. I’m blessed that Nathan loves the outdoors, running throwing balls around and jumping. Maybe because I value it I’m trying to make sure he does to. I digress, but the point remains that Nathan seeing me exercise is inspiring him to be really active.

There are many more benefits that I could list, but ten seems like more than enough to write about.

If you have been looking for a new way to exercise and improve your health and strength, then kettlebells are an excellent option. They are just a tool like any other, but the principle I’m following is that you reap what you sow. Kettlebells allow me to workout out consistently which will allow me to reap the rewards far better than I have found with other forms of exercise. I do supplement my training with early morning walks and jogging as well as being conscious about my diet. These three things for me mean I can improve my health and fitness in a way that’s enjoyable and fun for me.

If you are interested in getting involved with kettlebell training, my advice would be to look for a certified coach who can show you correct technique and execution of the main lifts. If that isn’t possible, there are books and resources online that you can look to that can help you with learning proper form and technique.

Google search these guys for more on kettlebells as I’m no expert. All I can comment on is my experience. These guys are certified kettlebell professionals and will take your understanding forward much better than I can.

Pavel Tsatsouline

Mike Mahler

Chris Lopez

Steve Cotter

Geoff Neupert

Marianne Kane

Girls Gone Strong. G.G.S is a brilliant website that promotes health fitness and well being to women everywhere. They don’t focus specifically on kettlebells, but I’m sure you find some stuff there.

Till next time

Shaun

Post 006:My principles of health and fitness

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One thing that I have noticed during the years when reading about and participating in health and fitness is the myriad of choices, advice and confusing information that seems to be available today. One minute everyone is talking about manipulating your carbs, the next day no carbs, the next day high carb. High fat, low fat, no fat. It’s overwhelming! It amazes me that so many of us (including myself) have strayed from our intuitive sense of what is best for our bodies.

I have had issues with my weight in the past and have had periods of my life where I have been quite overweight. For years, I thought that the issue was that I hadn’t found the right information yet and so I kept on searching and searching for the latest and best information available. This allowed me to do two things. Firstly, it satisfied the human need to search for meaning and novel ideas. It was fun to find all of these different workouts and see which one looked the best. I looked forward to having a go and trying out new things.

Secondly, it kept me distracted  from seeing the real issue that was stopping me from achieving results. Basically I wasn’t consistent enough. I allowed my constant searching and hopping from one idea to the next to interrupt my focus on what I wanted.

Reading so much on the subject did have benefits though. It allowed me to search and find the golden nuggets inherent in each strategy that combined to create the basic principles that I now look for to check I am on track with my training and nutrition.

When I look to these principles for guidance rather than new fangled fads, I tend to find that they result in me having a changeless set of ideas which I can apply daily.

Principle 1: Nutrition is king. You would struggle to find a fitness professional or anyone with much sense to argue with this. What we eat is critical to our health and fitness. It’s as simple as that. When we are getting the best food we can and nourishing our bodies with that, you will feel better. What I did quite recently was rank my biggest challenges with my eating in order of negative consequences for my health. I then take one of these each week and focus on this single thing and nothing else. This allows me to really celebrate these small achievements and create a compounding impact on my health as these small changes start to stack on top of each other. This is working really well for me.

Principle 1.5: Drink enough water. It amazes me how many people I see at work and in my family circle who don’t drink much water. Ironically, you see people drinking all kinds of things that are advertised to improve your health and do all sorts of magical things. None of them will improve on water.

Principle 2: Try to incorporate strength training of some sort to your regime. There is so much depth to this one subject that I might write about this separately on another post, but there are so many different ways that you can incorporate strength work and progressive improvement into your training regime. Maybe it’s doing bodyweight exercises and being able to do them for more reps. It could be going to the gym and improving in certain lifts by lifting heavier or more times. I believe that strength training has lots of carry over into your day to day life and allows you to carry out tasks so much easier. If you think about the opposite, like when your body is injured in some way, you then really appreciate having your vitality and strength. So we should look to build upon what we have to create an even stronger foundation.

Principle 3: Movement is critical. Our bodies were designed to be active and moving. This principle was really brought home for me when I watch my son playing and interacting with the world. He is at an age where he is really exploring everything around him and he moves all of the time. It’s in his nature to do so, and within all of us is the inclination for movement and exploration.I wouldn’t get too fixated on how you do that either. Whether it’s a fitness class, walking, running, a sports club, dancing or doing some gardening, movement is movement. One thing that I don’t like about some professionals in the fitness industry is that they demonize some exercise regimens because they are not the most efficient way to lose fat. We are forced to think constantly about fat loss and surface level appearances, that we can sometimes forget that movement is natural and the way I see it, if someone wants to walk for their exercise it’s all good. My two year old son doesn’t climb, run and jump because he wants to be ripped. He does it because it’s what he loves to do which leads me to……………………

Principle 4: If you’re not enjoying it, you won’t keep doing it.

The best decision I ever made when it came to my health and fitness was to stop buying so many magazines and reading so many articles on the internet (Ironic I know). I decided what I loved doing, and I stick to that. Football (Soccer for any American readers), walking, running, bodyweight training, kettlebells, and lifting really heavy weights in the gym. I don’t do all of that all the time as changes in my life mean changes in my training. However, these are the activities that I come back to because I love doing them and that makes me consistent. The best thing you can do for your physical fitness is discover the activities that you love and make time to do them consistently.

Principle 5: Trust the process. This speaks for itself. If you don’t have any belief in yourself or the programme you are following, the chances are that you won’t find the success that you were searching for. Each day you stick to your nutrition that you set for yourself, each day you workout, each day that you choose to invest in your health and fitness brings you that little closer to your goal. It’s like watering a seed in the soil. In order to see the fruit, you must trust the process and continually give the seed the right conditions it needs in order to thrive. If you do that for long enough, you will start to see results.

Principle 6: Tweak and repeat. You need to check that you are getting the results that you intended. If things are going great, then it makes sense to keep going with it and keep everything as it is. However life is rarely a linear path, and you may find that you have to do some tweaking to your original plans in order to get the results that you want. This work is critical and having this level of awareness to tweak and change things slightly will make success much more likely. Being rigid with your approach will not help in the long term. Focus on the results you would like, and then commit to finding the path that gets you there. I believe this work is a work in progress for everyone. If we can always be aware of the need and benefit of having our health, then the task becomes less about do I have to?, and more about I must!

I wish you the best

Shaun