Sunday, 28 December 2008


Just before Christmas the BBC reported that Elephants 'Die Earlier in Zoos'. Now this should reach deep in to your consciousness and give you a good shake as the researchers involved in this story found that:

1) obesity is a major cause of death,
2) they also cite stress as the key factor in the death of young captive animals

Khyune Mar from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at Sheffield University noted the following:
  • "[Zoo elephants] have a very monotonous lifestyle, every day is the same for [them], they have to live in the same compound, with limited roaming, this makes them more stressed,"

A member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was quoted as saying 'diet and lifestyle are the key factors influencing elephant lifespan in zoos'. Now I don't want to state the obvious - but does this scenario ring any bells yet? An obese population, chronic stress, early death?

Dr Mar went on to draw parallels with working elephants who enjoy greater health and longevity:

  • "We keep working elephants in the workforce for no more than six to eight hours a day. For the remaining hours we let them loose in the forest, they live like wild elephants, they can meet and mate with wild elephants, they have a full elephant life, good exercise and good food"

I am no elephant expert and don't want to draw too many parallels between elephants and humans, but this story has brought a smile on my face.

The underlying message here is that of following innate behaviours and especially the 'seeking out of novelty'. Now as usual, I am sure many of us would disagree on what constitutes 'good food' and 'good exercise'. I feel that whilst Dr Mar would classify good exercise as that prescribed by 'life in the wild' - as would, I am sure that the good doctor would NOT go so far as to state that good foods are also those prescribed by life in the wild. (I would actually like to challenge the doctor on this).

For those who do no exercise, or follow some heavily-blanded gym routine (including everything from 'classic' weight routines to spinning and jogging), and those who eat junk food (the traditional kind and the 'health food' kind of junk food), this is your wake up call.....!

I have read before that the brains of wild animals weigh more than their domesticated cousins. I have also seen animals looking hopelessly glassy-eyed in zoo enclosures. In 2009, I for one will try to limit work to eight hours - after which I will let myself loose in the forest!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Bettystown Swim

So today I did my annual 'Bettystown Swim'. Bettystown is just north of Dublin and home to probably the shallowest sea ever!

The beach was busy with walkers (all wrapped up), taking in a 'constitutional' after 24 hours of excess. It was VERY cold getting out of the car. I walked as close to the sea as I could and then stripped off to my shorts (no wet suit,naturally!).

I then began sprinting in to the sea. And I kept sprinting. After 100m my knees were barely in the sea so I had to keep going. Eventually it became waist deep and so I went for a dive under.

I could eventually feel a numbness setting in to my feet after a few minutes, but really, I was surprised at how 'OK' it felt. After two years of cold showers I think my body has adapted well to working in the cold. A few minutes was enough - and out I came.

Whilst on the beach Captain Kid was scared of crabs and sand worm tracks. Flash was amused be her Dad's behaviour as much as the surf - but we all returned to the warmth of the car with colour in our cheeks and feeling better for the fresh air.

I am looking forwards to next year.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Ground of Artes

What is the least you can do each week? What are the most functional exercises? What are the most basic activities you could or should perform? What exercise gives you most bang for your buck?

Such question often flow through my mind. Sometimes I go off route with my training. I devise all manner of routines and am guilty of trying to achieve too much at once.

I am seeing growing evidence of beneficial cross training effects - most recently my handstands have improved without practice. What I had been doing was a lot of kneeling to headstand leg raises which unexpectedly led to my suddenly finding that my handstands moved up a gear. Similarly a lay off from planches earlier this year led to some PBs when I went back to them.

To cut a long story short, I need variety and novelty. I want to be a generalist, but I deep down I want to be a generally good specialist! I keep in mind my paleo compass - so when I do get side-tracked by curling (rarely) or deadlifts (occasional), I can promptly get myself back on course.

To this end I have begun to distill my exercise list down to a handful that I perform at least once every week, and which I supplement with more specialist exercises. Here then are my choice of the most important, fundamental and beneficial exercises.

1) Paleo Exercises
Here is my choice of the four greatest and best and most excellent exercises!

This is THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL, FUNCTIONAL AND IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR TRAINING! It is never 'big beats the small', it is the 'quick that beat the slow'.

In my opinion you should (and indeed must), sprint at least four times a week (on separate days). This might comprise of one or two formal sprinting 'sessions'. For the remainder you might only perform a quick 10s sprint or sprint as part of a game of football or 'chase' with the kids. But make sure you open your after-burners and give it full-throttle with a degree of regularity.

Muscle Up (MU)
There are only a few times in my life where I have sat back and thought "Fuck me!". You know those moments when you just cannot believe what you are seeing. I was taking part in an assault course and there were a few gym rats there. The were big. Very big. Decorated even. The could lift some heavy weights - particularly in the bench press and squat. Could they get over 9ft wall unassisted? Nope. Could they perform several proper pull ups (palms out, from straight arm to 'neck above the bar')? Nope.

If you cannot lift your own body weight with a degree of comfort, it is too heavy or you are too weak (or a combination).The muscle up provides a way or rapidly propelling yourself upwards through trees. It has the advantage or comprising a pull and a push that works most of the muscles in the arms, shoulders and back. You get a gold medal for nailing the muscle up, but if you can only do a pull up and get stuck at the 'transition', close but no cigar!

I would say that one Muscle Up is the benchmark paleo strength test. I rarely do pull ups due to my climbing activities, but I always do muscle ups on a weekly basis. Chins (palms in) don't count for nothing!

I would add rope climbing to this category, as you can also work your pressing strength as long as you reach high up the rope as you climb. In fact you can also 'lock-off' with one arm between each grab. Full marks if you DON'T use your legs - and maintain them in an L-Sit position.

Kill Carry
I am sure there are many of us that have read of the benefits of deadlifting. Lifting a heavy weight from the ground is a fundamental exercise that engages and trains a whole chain of muscles. From a paleo point of view, I can't help thinking that this exercise is a wee bit pointless. I really cannot think of an event where you would be called upon to do this. When was the last time you needed to lift a very heavy weight a few feet off the ground for a few seconds? Sure it targets a load of muscles and if you want a quick workout, it ticks the boxes, but it lacks functionality.

However, think of lifting a big weight and carrying it - I can come up with a few scenarios such as carrying a carcass back to camp, or moving to a new camp.

My favoured position is weight I can carry on my shoulder (I use a heavy duty punch bag). Option B is carrying my youngest around in a papoose but really, an asymmetric shoulder-load has a paleo edge over a Berghaus rucksack - no matter how heavy the rucksack. In fact with a shouldered load, you have to continually use your arms and torso to control the load thus targetting deep core muscles.

No only do Kill Carries target a chain of muscles but can also be adapted for added functionality. Thus you can accentuate speed (move faster) or endurance (go for longer), or add weight for test of strength.

I was going to suggest a 'Press Above Head from Floor' as my final exercise of choice, but in many ways, a well chosen object launched at speed will target much the same muscles - legs, core and shoulders. In addition, throwing has greater utility - think spear-work in an attempt to kill an animal or rock throwing as a form of defence.

My personal choice here is Medicine Ball Throws (MBT), which I perform one arm at a time. For variation I will either chose a heavier medicine ball and concentrate on control of the negative phase of the exercise (catching the ball one handed), or chose a lighter ball and emphasise explosive throwing on the positive phase of the exercise ( again, catching the ball one handed).

I will shoe-horn and One-Arm Snatch from the Floor in to this section as it does fit mechanically in to this section (ish), but MBT feel way more Paleo! Lifting a weight from the floor to an overhead position is the epitome of chain-strength throughout the body. Remember to keep your form with your back straight and driving with the legs.

2) Play Exercises
So having identified THE fundamental paleo exercises, I will now list further exercises which are drawn from the concept of play.

Next summer head down the park. In amongst the free-play you will see amongst the kids, when given an open space and only their imagination to play with and you will witness role-play, chasing games and more importantly cartwheels, handstands and back bridges (unless you are in an Australian school). Of these exercises handstands and backbridges really interest me as they offer rich functionality to our bodies.

Where do I start with these? They really work your shoulders. With practice you can hold them still and work your core. Or, walk around on your hands and feel the hit on the complete shoulder girdle. With time you should be able to perform a handstand press up (HSPU) which will give you an almost complete upper body workout.

Handstands and their associated variations epitomise philosophy and value of bodyweight exercising without any equipment (event he pull up needs a bar!). In two words, handstands are 'The Daddy'.

What I mean here is a Back Limber and a Front Limber. Limbers work your core and encourage spinal flexibility. I see so many kids doing these kinds of moves at my park last summer it really made me determined to re-master such a skill.

There are variations such as 'Kneel Backs' (where you lie on the ground with your knees touching and your toes pointing behind you. Your feet/heels should be outside of your buttocks. Now lean back. You should feel a warm stretching sensation along your thighs. You should be able to lean all the way back so your back comfortably rests on the floor.)

Other variations are standard back bridges which can be made easier by having your feet on a platform. Once happy with this position, you can then do Wall Walks where you back bridge with your hands close to a wall and then walk your hands up the wall until you are standing upright. You can also reverse this latter move.

Experts can go on to perform a 'limber'. Get yourself to for further details.

3) Other Exercises
One of the keys to paleo living is to develop strength through a more general paleo-centric behaviours. For me, three activities stand out.

Climbing is highly specialised now, but with its general development of upper body strength I would sincerely recommend it to anyone as an integrated way of developing strength in the back arms and shoulders. Climbing would have been a fundamental skill on the plains of Africa.

A tree would have provided an optimal defensive position amongst other apex killers! You certainly wouldn't have tried to out run a lion and a spear is useless against a pack animal, particularly if you are on the ground. Much better to head upwards...!

Martial Arts
I personally think that combat would have been a familiar ingredient in paleo life. Fighting for women, territory and resources (has anything changed?). Both striking arts and wrestling (including things like Judo) will fit the mould.

Training, particularly with arts like kickboxing, involve intense shorts bursts of activity followed by rest. This is a classic paleo activity profile and one that should filter through in to your training mentality.

One minute front-kicking a kick-shield will break you, especially when your pad-man starts walking towards you! If you ever get the chance to train with a boxer, you will truly see what fatigue means. The fighting arts can milk every part of your body.

Gymnastics: The Planche and the Lever
The planche and lever are totally UN-PALEO. I cannot possible shoe-horn them in to the paleo-training model. But if there were two exercises that I would advise anyone to perform other than the four at the top of this post, these would be them.

The planch and lever engage just about every muscle in the body. They both offer several progressions and variations meaning they are two exercises from which you can make continual gains. You can even integrate them with the exercises above (planche to handstand or Muscle Up to a ring routine involving levers).

So there you go. These are my paleo staples. If you do the paleo and play exercises at least once a week, you will indeed develop your paleo-athletic qualities. The 'other sports' I suggest will similarly develop your athleticism. Any comments, thoughts and insults will be gratefully received.

I hope to post up some routine ideas in the new year and show how I integrate these ideas/concepts in to my training.

I should point out that I will undoubtedly fall off the paleo cart over the coming weeks. In fact the cart will be rolled on its roof and torched! However, on Christmas Day I will go for a paleo-dip in the Irish Sea (no wetsuit). And, I will try to get out and perform one or two sprints, planches and a few handstands.

I am happy to kick back a bit as I know it will refresh my hunger for 2009!

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to one and all!


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Fat Kids

Here is a story I just have to bring to your attention. Obesity in kids is 'set' before the age of five and according to Lead researcher Professor Terry Wilkin, of the Peninsula Medical School, Plymouth,
  • "What is causing it is very difficult to know."
The article notes that "...there must be a factor now that was not there 25 years ago which is making today's children obese." He is getting warmer....we live in a low-fat and high (refined) carbohydrate environment now. There is definitely more refined carbohydrate and other processed foodstuffs like HFCS in our diets now.

With no development of this idea he falls back on the traditional line,
  • "It is entirely possible that the calorie density of food and portion sizes could be higher."
Unless he gets a copy of 'Good Calories, Bad Calories' in his stocking this Christmas, there a lot of kids out there who will be looking at a low fat, complex carb and fat future of failure.

As a paleo eater who chows down without restriction on lots of fat, meat and vegetables and takes part in only episodic strenuous exercise, I can only imagine how hard the future of these kids will be. They will be encouraged to eat a lot less than me, and probably be forced to do more.


Three Free Books

Like many paleo-types I am a polymath with an inclination towards autodidacticism. To put it another way I find loads of stuff interesting and 'devour' books and other media to 'bone-up' on whichever subject is currently floating my boat. (I suppose this could be a symptom of ADHT butI guess I will diagnose that when I read a book about it)

To tackle the pulling apart of studies I have a number of sources to hand. Ben Goldacre's Bad Science has been the significant find this year. In addition, Michael Eades can always be relied upon to give a superlative dissection of any paper that crosses his path (his current blog on 'Making Worthless Data Confess' exemplifies both his intellect and humour). In the same breath I will also mention Dr Briffa who also offers scalpal like precision when it comes to cutting through the BS surround diet and nutrition research.

I posted a while back here about a free online book called Testing Treatments which shines a light on to medical research. It is very accessible and worth a read. I have since found three other books which are similarly worthy reads. The are available from Trinity College Dublin and cover subjects that will resonate with paleo types:
  1. Death of Humane Medicine
  2. False Premises, False Promises
  3. Follies and Fallacies in Medicine
After reading this selection, you will be suitably armed to identify medical humbug! Read and enjoy!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Noetic License

There is something noetic about the paleo model. Make no bones about it. You might tell somebody that you don't eat bread, rice, pasta, cereal/grains, potatoes and dairy - and they may well roll their eyes and mutter the dietary millstone of "Atkins".

If you talk of very short, high intensity training based around sprints, basic lifts and so forth, and they look at you with a degree of incredulity under the misapprehension that 'lots of cardio is the only way to burn fat'. You might also receive a caution about being 'muscle-bound' with HIT.

Our friend will undoubtedly continue on a their theme of health, exercise and nutrition which will share a platform with that held by the wider public, namely to 'eat less, do more', or 'cut fat and run distance'. These are reflex answers from decades of social conditioning.

But, as soon as you ask them what they would eat if stranded away from civilisation - the shackles of twentieth century diet and exercise dogma fall away and the paleo model appears clear and well formed.

Some cannot see, and will not, and may never see this innate beauty in the paleo model. Or, may be unable to transfer it to their present day condition. Otherwise will gape in awe at how easy it seems. Too easy? Possibly. But then how did health and fitness ever come to arrive at a place where it wasn't easy? We have had two million years to practice with mother nature drawing us on and the skilled knife of evolution cutting away at the inadequate and unsuited.

We think of ourselves as a single self - a whole entity. In reality we are a coalition. Billions of cells have risked all to become specialists, depending on each other as much as other cells depend upon them, to build YOU- thus resulting in a 'greater than' sum of parts. In the game of survival, freeloading is a heavy burden and is poorly tolerated. The result? Efficiency. An organism tailored to the environment. You.

With modern advice to get fit there always seems to be lots to remember. There is both a complexity to the information and copious amounts of it. All the while there seems to be an emphasis on counting and measuring, be it calories, grams of fat, reps and weights, distances and time. In stark contrast, I like many people reacted to the paleo model with the sound of KFC (kerr-fucking ching), and an audible "Aha!".

Ultimately the modern concept of exercise and nutrition are conceptually unsatisfying answers for us, the paleo crowd, and are physically unappealing drivers even to those who espouse them. They are repeated mantra-like, but never strike a chord within us. Have you ever thought about that?

My own epiphany is recorded here and detailed further here. As soon as I was asked what I would eat to sustain me if stranded on a desert island, all became clear. I was shaking with the revelation. KFC indeed!

In the comments to this post Marc offers an extract that similarly expresses how profound was his 'conversion':
  • If you look at nature, it expends a big time effort in sustaining itself, but it does not struggle.Does the tiger get up in the morning and say "I'll struggle like crazy today and hopefully by dinner time I'll get something to eat? No Way! It just rises, has a little sniff under it's tigers armpits or does whatever tigers do at breakfast time, and heads out.At noon there on the path is lunch, provided courtesy of the great spirit.

We often look for confirmation bias. We often see patterns where there are none. We can be tricked and mislead by our minds. In light we see something in the shadows and in the dark we see phantoms. But, with considered experiment, we can verify. By adopting a paleo model I found living proof of 'the way'.

This year I feel a transition from a position of knowledge to that of wisdom. There is still much for me to learn but there is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom out there to draw from (see the links to the right of this page).

Various factions of the scientific community also seems to have shifted their position slightly this year. Science is discreetly shuffling in its seat, moving ever closer to advice based upon our ancestral patterns and practices. I really like Bertolt Brecht's opinion on the objectives of science in 'Galileo'. He says,

  • "The chief cause of poverty in science is imaginary wealth. The chief aim of science is not to open a door to infinite wisdom but to set a limit to infinite error"

This is a noble objective for all of us. Be careful of the goals you set yourself in 2009!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Weekend Climbing Workout

I have still felt my shoulders are a bit sore from recent training so have cut back a bit more. I completed four sets of the main routine:

Warm Up (5 mins)

Main (mini circuit of about 15 minutes)
1) Sprint (8s, 9s, 10s, 11s)
2) Basic Ring Routine (2xMUs on the first two sets and then 4xMUs on the final two sets)
3) Ring Splits (5:20s, 6:15s, 7:10s, 8:5s)
4) Fingerboard

Extended Kill Carry with +10kg (9.5 mins)

I am really enjoying the Kill Carry training. I extended the original route to take in a big hill and it gave me a good test! The Muscle Ups (MUs) felt hard but the levers in the ring sequence felt pretty easy.

I am currently looking at revising my training slightly. I need to balance my specialised climbing and gymnastic training in light of my broader paleo goals. I am distilling the exercises down to those with broad functional application. I will post that up as and when I complete it.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Thought for Food

I try to keep an eye on the news for anything with a 'paleo' angle.....I think it is called confirmation bias!

I read today that Blueberries can reverse memory loss. No doubt we will see cereals and other foodstuffs with added blueberries (I think you might already be able to get this), or blueberry drinks. Marketing will want to drive blueberry health your way - principally adding blueberry to processed foods. You will also get blueberry pills in time.....and I firmly predict the blueberry cash cow will result in one of two headlines:

1) Blueberry cereals/drinks/pills do not protect against memory loss
2) Excess blueberry consumption causes illness 'x'

Also, there has been a story about the benefits of nuts in the diet. Now bar the hazard of choking on nuts, nuts probably cannot kill you. Before someone mentions it, I should add that peanuts are legumes - trivia fans and pedants take note! Nuts in the paleo diet (Pecan, Brazil, Hazelnut, Almond and Walnut), are both fruit and seed.

No doubt there will be a redoubling of efforts to get us to eat more nuts. As always this will come from a marketing effort to place nuts in to processed food - and eventually to bottle 'nut goodness' with the aim of making a pill. 'Pill-ation' of nuts will then undoubtedly lead to a scare and thus it will be found that:

1) Nut cereals/drinks/pills do not protect against whatever they are currently held to do,
2) Excess nut consumption causes illness 'y'

Finally, in the news is this story linking circadian rhythms and diabetes. (I have just finished reading 'Lights Out' and hope to blog about it soon - save to say that if you ever think you have found a new angle on Paleo living, visit Conditioning Research first as Chris is a Paleo-Amundsen and will undoubtedly have found some useful stuff about it already! You may also want to check out Dr Briffa's site for similar broad content.)

The long and the short of it is that the media latch on to a variety of health revelations. These revelations appear to have their roots in a paleo concept and are subsequently verified by 'science'. But the underlying driver of these revelations are implicit in paleo living. Blueberries? Check! Nuts? Check! Cycling with our circadian rhythms? Check!

And that is what I want to reaffirm. Paleo would appear to put us ahead of the health curve. The best that science can do is play 'catch up'. The best that marketing can do is shoe-horn this benefit in to some processed offering and trumpet the news. The best the meeja can do is sensationalise each health item as a revelation....until such time as they can perform an about turn and sell another load of papers to an increasingly confused and worried readership. This will come on the back end of a particularly un-paleo implementation of whatever health benefit was originally proposed.

For the rest of us, de-industrialise your diet and exercise. Go low-tech. That real food and primal activity is of benefit is indeed a revelation - but only amongst those who have forgotten their animalistic roots.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Finger Strength

I ventured out for a quick workout last night. It was another cold and clear winter evening. I placed emphasis on the climbing aspect - particularly finger strength.

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (mini circuit of about 15 minutes)
1) Sprint (8s, 9s, 10s, 11s)
2) Fingerboard
3) Ring Splits (5:20s, 6:15s, 7:10s, 8:5s)
4) Fingerboard

Kill Carry with +10kg (4 mins)

I completed a total of four sets the exercises above, one each of 1-4 counting as one set/circuit. The fingerboard routines were based around laddering. I use a variety of hand positions including open and closed positions and crimps. I also vary the width of rung I pull on.

For each pass through I increased the sprinting by a second. I addition I incremented the number of ring splits but reduced the 'time under tension' of the 'hold' (I always hold the last split for time).

I finished with a kill carry wearing my weight vest - which is my new favourite exercise.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Max Strength

As I suspected, I needed to roll back a bit today. I was messing around with some handstands on Wednesday night and could feel a bit of fatigue in my shoulders.

I nipped out at lunch for a quick workout thus:

Warm Up (usual 5 mins)
Main (10 mins)
Sprint (10s, rest 1min)

Dumbbell Squat to Press
One Arm Dumbell Row

The dumbbell work was performed as a mini-circuit at 'max-strength' for the given number of reps. I did four sets (8, 6, 4, 2) with little rest between exercises. (So I did 8 of Dumbbell Squat to Press, then 8 of One Arm Dumbell Row, then back to 6 of Dumbbell Squat to Press, then 6 of One Arm Dumbell Row and so forth).

I walked back in the winter sunshine - knowing that I need to lay off hard exercise for a few more days.......

Monday, 1 December 2008

Negatives Routine

I think I might be over-doing it a bit but I headed to the gym at lunch for a quick workout. I took it hard on the training last night so today's session was rather easy and involved some skill work.

I performed my usual warm up followed by a pyramid as follows, with an emphasis on lowering the weight SLOWLY:

1) Two Dumbbell Split Snatch (8, 6, 4, 2) - increase the weight by 2kg each rep.
2) Pull Up Lowers (12, 8, 6, One arm)

Notes: As noted above, the snatch involved a 2kg increase in weight with each set. Also, the pull ups involved +3kg for the second set, and +4kg for the third set. The last set involved lowering on one arm (alternating the arms accordingly) rather than adding weight.

I complete all the sets for one exercise before moving on to the next. The rest between sets should be around 10s! This is quite exhausting and takes under 10 minutes to complete - including the warm up.

I finished off with some optional extras - headstands, planches, levers, back bridges and cuts work. All skill based and below 'max' levels.

I am off to Lau Gar tonight, but will take it easy. Tomorrow I will rest completely.....although Captain Kid will be wanting to wrestle as soon as I get home from work! No rest for the wicked eh?


Kill Carry

So last night I headed out for another quick workout. Again it was designed towards climbing strength - fingers and upper body but with two notable additions.

The first of these was some sprinting. I work out in and around my garage and at 2000hrs last night when I began my workout it was sub-zero. The prospect of pulling on small holds without being fully warmed up is pretty frightening. After my usual round of joint rotations and limb swings (full warm up here), I progress to sprinting. Sprinting is something I have found to constitute THE most effective phase of warming up extremities and thoroughly preparing my fingers for some small-edge action! Make sure you have performed quality rotations and limb swings before lighting the afterburners - and take the first sprint at 75%.

The second addition was what I call a 'Kill Carry'. After finishing my workout I shouldered my punch-bag (all 35kg of it) and went for a walk around the block! This is meant to replicate the carrying of a kill back to camp.

When performing Kill Carries I imagine that other hunters (both human and animal), might be after my prize. Carrying a load makes you vulnerable and some predators might see an opportunity of getting two meals for the price of one! Speed is of the essence.

Warm Up - (5 mins)
Main (20 mins):
1) Four-Way Sprints (Running for five double-steps sidewards, backwards and then forwards)
2) Retreat to garage and do a simple ring routine (muscle-up, skin the cat, levers) - which takes about 30 seconds (Adding an extra muscle-up for each set)
3) Ring Scissors (reducing the number by one each set but increasing the hold time)
4) Fingerboard Laddering/Dead hanging sequence

5) Kill Carry (4min 30s) - done after four 'cycles' through 1-4 above.

Notes: I complete four sets in total . The sets comprise of one each of exercises 1-4 above (as a mini-circuit).

The first time through I start off with one muscle-up when starting my ring routine. The second time through I perform two muscle ups prior to starting the ring routine, for the third set, three MUs and four MUs for the fourth.

The Ring Scissors involved a dropping pyramid. The first time through I did 5 ring scissors, the last one I held for 5 seconds. Next time through I dropped to 4 ring scissors and held it for 10 seconds. Set three comprised three ring scissors and a 15s hold, whilst set four was also of 3 reps but with the last one held for 20s.

After the main workout I shouldered the punchbag (35kg) and went for a walk round the block. I switched shoulders and moved quickly in the cold night air - looking extremely dodgy in the process! I intend to add weight and increase speed in future. I came back and did one more lap on the fingerboard (a bit of plyometric work).

Job Done.

The whole workout was a bit longer than I had anticipated, but the 'Kill Carry' was a fun way to end and a brisk walk under the cold and starry sky was invigorating. If you don't want to do the splits nor have strong fingers, then simply substitute an alternative skill and/or choose an alternative exercise. But, make sure your alternatives don't exhaust the same muscles used in sprinting or ring work.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Scare Story

I just wanted to draw attention to this story titled '"'Meat intake cut' on cancer fears" which would lead you to believe that people have cut their consumption of meat due to fear of cancer.
It also implies that meat consumption causes cancer. This is classic fuel for the anti-paleo brigade. You know the type of comment, when you tell someone that you eat a lot of meat/fat and little refined carbohydrate and they immediately 'prove' how dangerous this is with a link to a 'meat = cancer' headline....

A quick dip in to the story clarifies that we are talking about 'PROCESSED' meat - not quite the same thing as I would not classify 'processed meat' as paleo nor natural (once meat goes beyond simple preparation/butchering I rarely touch it - canned fish being an exception due, shamefully, to convenience).

Putting aside the 'association does not equal causation argument', the association between processed meat and cancer is then further diluted by the comment that;

"The cancer prevention report highlighted the evidence for the potential dangers of processed meat, but also pointed to other elements of diet and lifestyle which could either reduce or increase cancer risk."

Hmmmm, 'potential dangers', 'other elements'? All rather woolly. Bowel Cancer UK offer us a bit more detail;

"There is increasing evidence that lifestyle issues such as poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise are directly linked to an increased risk of the disease "

FM! Are we STILL making this point? EVERYONE in the West knows poor diet, obesity and a lack of exercise are linked to an increased risk of cancer/is unhealthful. What we disagree on is what constitutes a poor diet and the what constitutes appropriate exercise. We disagree what causes obesity and how we should address it. Bowel Cancer UK's advice above is a waste of zeros and ones. A better use of the World Cancer Research Fund's money would be to address some of the research in to the Lipid Hypothesis/Obesity proposed by Gary Taubes.

Obviously most readers who come by this blog will already have embraced the Paleo Way ( and if not why not!). Thus you'll be one step ahead of the 'World Cancer Research Fund' and 'Bowel Cancer UK', two steps ahead of the media, and sadly several more beyond joe-public.


I have been busy with work for the past week and so apart from the Lau Gar classes I have not done any of my usual strength based exercise routines. I will head down to the climbing wall tonight so the fingers, arms, shoulders and upper body in general will get a bit of a workout, but my body in general will do nothing as intense as that brought about by my bodyweight strength training.

The rest will do me good. I allows me to mentally recharge and I am already looking forwards to a workout on maybe Sunday evening and/or Monday. After a rest period I always get back in to workouts using sprint work. It is such a fundamental movement and easy to perform. Five or so maximum-speed sprints with around 10s rest gives you a massive bang-for-you-buck. I feel it in my arms and shoulders as much as my legs as each limb is forced piston-like to drive me forwards.

Of course with the Lau Gar classes I was never idle in my week off (and nor should you be!). A bit of wrestling with Captain Kid each evening - including some handstand-play (all at her behest I hasten to add), and the day to day ordeal of carrying Flash around (18 months old but with the mass of a small planet!), ensures that rest does not mean 'do nothing'.

Flash can actually walk/waddle pretty quickly when she wants to and will make a break for it especially near roads and stairs or any other clear and present danger. In fact she floats like a ninja and silently moves off in the blink of an eye. Thus I am proficient in sprinting short distances and scooping up a child shaped object. I am sure paleo-dude mastered a similar skill!

On the fitness front, I have found that performing freestanding headstands has had a fantastic carry-through to my handstands - something I was not anticipating. I was actually worried that headstands would ruin my handstand but have found quite the opposite. Some of my handstands have been static for up to 20 seconds which is a record for me.

This is also testament to non-specific and cross training. Being a 'generalist' does not mean being bad or average at lots of things. Gymnasts show that you can excel in many areas as long as you take time to explore the limits of your ability and the movements available to you.

Above all, LEARN to listen to your body.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Accelerator Workout 2

Today I went for another quick 'accelerator' workout. It was cloudy and cool. Only the sprints were performed outdoors.

Again the aim of the session is to perform the positive phase of the exercise as fast as possible. REALLY accelerate against the resistance.

Warm Up (5 mins)

Main (10 Mins)

1) Four-Way Sprints

2) One Arm Dumbbell Snatch

3) Bent Over Rows

One 'pass' through each of these exercises constitutes a set.

As usual I finished with a bit of skill work - a quick planche and lever. Such work is not necessary as part of my workout, it is purely to fulfill a desire I have to achieve some gymnastic skill!

That evening I headed to the local climbing wall for some longer 'route work' (up 15m walls).

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Road to Anhedonia

There is something quite invigorating about an 'outdoor workout' - whether it is running through the woods or over hills as opposed to a treadmill, or swimming in the seas and rivers rather than an indoor pool. It feels somehow more 'organic' and refreshing.

My workouts involve a variety of exercises and modalities and are kept brief and vigorous. I use compound movements that I believe reflect the play of children and the skills of a warrior (....ok there is a bit of poetic licence there!).

My food is real food- that which you would recognise in its 'original' form. It is now approaching winter so I have cut back on my fruits and am consuming more flesh and fat, more nuts and more winter vegetables. Come spring, fruit will be back on the menu, along with salads...but for now I try to follow mother nature's menu.

On leaving the gym the other day I was struck by the stern faces all around. I could see excessive effort and training to failure from some individuals, and a more sedentary 'going through the motions' from others. Most of the people there were in the gym before my arrival, and were still there after I left. Jeez they looked miserable.

And why wouldn't they be miserable? When I think back, I too was in that same situation but two years ago. However on this day I had been training outside bathed in sunshine under a blue sky- the thought of which brings a smile to my face. It was pleasantly cool. My routine was demanding, novel, fun and varied enough to sustain interest and commitment.

The other day I walked out of the gym smiling. I loved the workout - and strode back to work with my head held high in the warming sunshine, feeling relaxed and ready for anything. That evening I ate a meal which left me with a similar feeling of satisfaction.

My diet contains novel cues to the time of year/seasonality. As such it has in-built variety and is always tasty/flavoursome. I look forwards to eating. I enjoy my food. I eat without guilt or gluttony. There is no post-prandial low. No bloating or sluggishness. No sickly sweet protein shakes to imbibe.

I write these words simply to illustrate to myself more than anything that there is 'another way'. That health and fitness should be stimulating and rewarding. Not draining and mundane. Modern dietary and fitness advice leads to anhedonia.

We seem to have reached a point in exercise where we can never do too much. Conversely, our diet has reached a point where we can never eat to little. I can look back and see my journey to this point. A bit of me longs to have found the paleo way much sooner, but you can't change the past. I am just happy to be at a place where I am excited about my next workout rather than fearing that I didn't work hard enough in my last one. I am happy to be in a place where several days between workouts is intuitive rather than a source of stress less my muscles begin to atrophy. I am happy to be in a place where food is a pleasure in which I can indulge rather than a battle ground.

The biggest challenge for me was to let go of my previous convictions with relation to diet and exercise. If it was tough (chronically so), then it must be good. "That which does not kill us makes us stronger...!" I refused to see how bad the traditional model was. It was only with a bit of personal experimentation that I eventually succumbed to letting go of what I knew, and tried a something new.

I am determined not to be so closed-minded in future. We all seek confirmation bias. Having said that, I don't see anything better to paleo coming any time soon...

...the worst mistakes are truly those repeated.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Accelerator Workout

Today was one of those excellent blue-sky winter days. If you kept out of the wind it was truly warm and pleasant. Thus, I donned shorts and vest (a guy needs his vitamin D), and headed out for a 10 minute mini circuit.

I find that if I keep my workouts VERY short, I can mange up to four a week. I keep total 'time under tension' for all strength workouts in a week to about an hour.

The aim of the session is to perform the positive phase of the exercise as fast as possible. REALLY accelerate against the resistance.

Warm Up (5 mins)

Main (10 Mins)
1) Wall Jump (3ft5"/3ft9")
2) One Handed Medicine Ball Throws (3kg/5kg)
3) Fast Pull Ups (slow lower)

One 'pass' through each of these exercises constitutes a set. I started of with 8 reps of each exercise for the first two sets. The final two sets (making 4 in all), involved an increase in the resistance and only four reps (so the wall jumps were made to a higher platform, the throws done with a heavier medicine ball - you need to do the reps for each hand, and the pull ups were weighted by 5kg).

Each exercise needs to be done explosively and as fast as possible. The jumps should be clean and elegant. The medicine balls should involve an attempt to throw the ball as high as possible engaging all of your 'throw' muscles.

You should NOT go to failure - stop the reps as soon as quality drops!

I finished off with ten minutes of skill training - slowly moving in to a freestanding headstand from a kneeling position, backbridges and some stretching for 'the cuts'/front-splits. Finally I did a quick planche and a quick lever.

You should finish the session feeling ready for more. But you WILL feel it the next day.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Power Training Sunday

This took about 25 minutes including warm up. I perform one exercise then quickly move to the next. Once I have completed one-each of all four exercises, this counts as one set. I aim for four sets:

Warm Up (5 mins)

Main (4-5mins per set, 20 mins total)
1) Ten Second Hill Sprint (focus on maintaining maximum speed)
2) Two Muscle Ups in to
Basic Ring Strength Series (tucked all the way as I am not strong enough)
3) Scissor Ring Splits x 5 (hold last split for up to 20 seconds)
Campus Board Laddering (this clip should give you an idea)

I repeated the above sequence four times (it takes under five minutes for each rep). The Scissor Ring Splits are sport specific for Lau Gar. The Campus Board work is finger intensive and again, sport specific. The sprinting and ring routines are for my Rhino Test tick! The sprinting and ring sequences mean I am totally warmed up for the finger training.

On the fourth and last set, instead of simple laddering on the campus board I did this sequence:

1) One arm ring hangs (20s, one hand)
2) Medium Edge Pull Up (6 reps, two hands)
3) Small Edge Hang (8s, two hands)
4) Ring Pull Ups (6 reps, two hands)
5) Medium Edge Hang (15s, two hands)
6) Ring Pull Ups (6 reps, two hands)
7) Small Edge Hang (8s, two hands)
8) Medium Edge Hang (12s, two hands)
9) Small Edge Hang (to failure, two hands)


If you don't climb you can substitute the campus board stuff for something else 'upper body based' - but allow for the intensity of the ring work. The same goes for the split work. If I have done some sprinting in the previous days, I will substitute the sprints for a 'kata' or form.

Note that the routine goes legs, arms, legs, arms (fingers). It is important that you let upper and lower body rest alternately when working at your limits. All sections (even the splits) are heavily movement based, the heart is working from start to finish. The idea is not to rest by idling.

My cool-down involves putting all the crap back in to my garage that I have to move when I want to work out (I kid you not).

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Learn From My Paleo Mistakes!

I was trying to think about the biggest obstacles to my paleo lifeplan - excepting viability of walking around in a loincloth and hunting my own food with a spear.........I ended up with the following guidelines.

1) Sleep More
Here is wisdom "an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after!" You should be trying to get a minimum of around 9 hours sleep a day. Try it for a few weeks and you will see what I mean.

2) Sun More
Regular readers (there are a few!) of this blog will know I have a fondness for working out outdoors even in winter. You should expose your arms and face (and in fact as much flesh as is legally/socially permissible), to the sun every day you can during winter. During summer, if you get outdoors enough, then appropriate sun-time will follow!

3) Meat (Your Maker)
Do not limit yourself simply to the 'prime' cuts of meat. As a minimum you should be eating liver twice a week - and do not avoid the fat that comes with the cut.

4) Flow More
Stress is a bastard. It has its place in your life - and should be episodic. If it is chronic and severe then some form of life-change is required!

5) Seasonal Fruit and Veg
Bananas in winter and regular supplies of carrots - fantastic. But from a paleo point of view this is not so good. At the very least, try to accentuate seasonal foods in your diet. This is something I struggle with...although the 'pull' of winter vegetable soup is particularly appealing when the weather gets cold. At this time of year (and for the next six months) you should be eating MINIMAL fruit.

6) Exercise Modality
Change your routine - and particularly the exercise modality. If you have been sprinting one session, try jumping on to a platform the next. The next session try pistols, or a deadlift, or static wall sits (the Chair). Go plyometric. If you 'cycle' through such modalities you will ALWAYS progress.

7) Less is More
Are you formally exercising in a gym for more that about 30 minutes at a time up to three times a week? Too much already.

8) Fasting
If you cannot go one day a week eating only one meal without significant cravings or hunger pants then there is something wrong with your metabolic flexibility.

9) Playing
Playing counts towards your physical health. It should be fun and heavily skill based.

10) Exercise Choice
Sprint! Jump. Lift your body off the ground using only your upper body strength. Throw something. Wrestle with someone or something (a large punch bag). Go upside down (handstand). Pick a weight up from the ground until it is above your head.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


I thought I'd share some thoughts on my typical workout week.

Sunday: Climbing (20 minutes)
Monday: Gymnastic Session (30 minutes)
Lau Gar Kung Fu (1 hour) *
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Lau Gar Kick Boxing (1 hour) *
Thursday: Climbing (20 minutes)
Friday: Gymnastic Session (30 minutes)
Saturday: Rest

The Lau Gar workouts are class based, so are static entries in to my weekly timetable.

The two gymnastic sessions are similar quite fixed (and usually performed at lunchtime), although the Friday session may be brought forwards or pushed back by a day or so.

Similarly the climbing training may 'slosh' around a bit in the week. Although what is above is 'typical'.

The climbing training and gymnastic training routines take the form of mini circuits.

Between them, the gymnastic and climbing session are 'modular' in that you could combine the workouts one after the other (in any order). The gymnastic sessions seldom work the shoulders or back with intense pulling movements (that is for the climbing session to do). If there is much overlap, I will drop the more limited back exercise from the gymnastic session (e.g. 'ring rows'), favouring to keep the more varied ring routine implicit in the climbing session.

The gymnastic sessions will share some skill and flexibility work such as back bridges, planche and levers. They will differ in the leg work - so I might do some jump-work on Monday but at the end of the week I might hit pistols.

In addition the Friday gymnastic session may be done after work and - if I missed Thursday's climbing session, will combine with climbing training. Any overlap between the routines will be mitigated by dropping exercises as necessary.

The two climbing sessions focus primarily on finger strength and shoulders (using a short ring routine.) In addition, I will sprint in at least one of these sessions. The weekend climbing session frequently involves a trip outdoors, in which case there is no sprinting or ring work - meaning shoulder/back exercises will be accentuated in the weeks' gymnastic session.

Rest days are never idle. I just take it much easier.

Further Notes:
The point I want to make here is that several sessions drift between days - and may be ignored altogether.

Each session can be adapted - gaining or losing and exercise depending on fatigue, time constraints and the content of future planned routines. The ring training versus 'traditional' back and shoulder work is an example of this. Sprinting is another good example - as long as I get around two sprint sessions in a week.

I try to mix protocols for any given body part in the same week. Thus the legs get hit with sprints one day, jump another and the week after that, use pistols. Handstand work may be replaced by vertical basketball throws or some kind of press work where I concentrate on raising a dumbbell explosively. Keep it mixed up.

Example of my Climbing Session
Climbing is inherently playful as is basic ring training - thus passing the Play Test. The sprinting angle and the ring training makes it also a gold star routine for passing the Rhino Test!

I have posted my usual warm up routine here (it really needs some pictures!) A condensed form follows:

Warm Up Phase 1:
I start off by doing joint rotations of the wrist, shoulders, neck, waist and knees (10 in each direction).

Warm Up Phase 2:
I progress on to arm swings, gradually increasing the range of the swing (it is NOT a wild swing). I perform a set of about 10 vertical arm swings and then 10 horizontal arm swings.

I then perform leg swings off each leg, starting of well within my movement range and raising the height with each swing. I'll do ten to the front for each leg, ten to the side for each leg and then ten to the back.

At this point I feel warm throughout and my heart rate has been raised. I have also engaged all of my key muscles.

The main part of the workout goes like this:

1) Sprint up my road for about 10 seconds (not necessarily in a straight line, and over the weeks, with each sprint emphasising a different quality such as top speed or acceleration)
2) Retreat to garage and do a simple ring routine (muscle-up, skin the cat, levers) - which takes about 30 seconds
3) 30 second kicking drills (Lau Gar) or Ring Scissors
4) Fingerboard Laddering/Dead hanging sequence

The sprinting means that there is loads of fresh blood pumped to my extremities for the duration of the workout. This is important when working the delicate parts of the body like the fingers.

The rings take care of arm, back and shoulder strength and the dead hanging optimises the finger specific training - also ensuring I rest up to 4 minutes or so between attempts on the fingerboard.

The whole session is over in around 25 minutes. I add bits in or remove bits as I see fit but as you can see above, I want to improve my splits so dropped in the ring splits to accommodate this.

Through my paleo lens I know that this routine would enable me to sprint from a predator and scale a tree to safety.

Bottom Line
There is a lot to take in here. The main points are:

This is a climbing specific routine (with a side order of training for kicking!)
Perform it about twice a week.
Vary the exercises as you deem fit (make up ring routines and vary the sprinting).
You can do additional training sessions in the week as long as they compliment this routine (i.e. your other sessions are not shoulder and upper back intensive).

Time constraints don't allow me to climb as much as I used to. This routine has allowed my to keep my finger strength nearly up to my maximal levels on a fraction of the climbing I did at my peak. As I make gains, I can maintain intensity and perhaps get stronger that I have ever been!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Here is the Next New Pill Craze

I shouldn't get in to the habit of posting an opinion about every 'health story' posted by the BBC, but they really are too tempting at times.

This story covers vitamin B3 which,

  • "may help protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease - and even boost memory in healthy people."
And guess where it is found?
  • "A vitamin found in meat, fish and potatoes."

But there is more,

  • "The vitamin, also called nicotinamide by scientists, is sold in UK pharmacies and health food shops. It has already been shown to help people suffering from diabetes complications and has some anti-inflammatory qualities."
So let's get this straight - a vitamin found in meat and fish ('two out of three ain't bad!"), that benefits those with diabetes complications and has some anti-inflammatory know, I am sure there is a diet that ticks all these boxes...if I could just remember what it is called.

Before we all rush off to buy these pill, there are still some ongoing trials and the article points out that,
  • "people should be wary about changing their diet or taking supplements. In high doses vitamin B3 can be toxic."
I Imagine the body can manage B3 from a dietary source. So once again the plaeo way would seem to be just a little bit ahead of the curve!

Sleep in the Face of Fear

We went to a bonfire party tonight. There was the usual array of 'explosives' and massive fireworks going off all over the place.

One thing I noticed was that Flash (aged 17 months), was initially startled by the fireworks and then became gradually docile and quite sleepy during the display - despite the loudness of the explosions. When we got back indoors, she pepped up again and was rather alert. Earlier in the week we went to an outdoor Halloween event and Flash was alert throughout, so the only real difference was the noise of tonight's event. I recall the same thing happening with Captain Kid when she was the same age.

This got me thinking, I wonder if sleep can be invoked as a survival mechanism. I mean I understand that we are all born with two basic fears - of heights and loud noises. All other fears and phobias are apparently learned.

Thus when faced with the apparent danger of tonight's environment (loud noises), it would make sense for Flash to sleep. This, as I see it would have an individual benefit to her as she would lower her stress hormones (cortisol), and also be of advantage to the wider group as the normally noisy infant would be 'inert' and thus unable to give a vocal reference to any 'predator' of the groups' position.

Just a thought.

Trick or Treat

And so it goes on....

The BBC reports that a new drug has been discovered that will trick the body in to losing weight:

  • French scientists say they have found a drug that tricks the body into burning off fat even when on a high-fat diet.
Did you get all that? Let me emphasise that this drug works "EVEN WHEN ON A HIGH FAT DIET!"

Now the only other way I can think of to invoke 'fat-burning' other than using this drug 'even on a high fat diet' is to ignore the drug altogether and a diet high in animal fat and low in refined carbohydrate with 50% by volume of quality meat and fresh vegetables.

Maybe the headline should actually read something like this:

  • "Natural Messiah says he has found a high-fat diet that tricks the body into burning off fat even when on a drug."
What is it with this mentality of 'treating the symptoms'? Why do we as a society seek to 'run to the pills'?

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Sugar & Cancer

I stumbled across a rather interesting article on the Irish Times website that you can read here. Sugar and sugar variants are seemingly reliable indicators of cancer:

"Cancer cells also use sugars to hide from the body's immune system so that they can travel from the primary site to seed new cancers in other organs, a process called metastasis. This means that the levels and types of sugars produced can also be used to monitor disease progression and how the patient is responding to therapy"

I wonder if and when the relationship between sugars and the cause of cancer will be drawn? Time to air one of my favourite quotes:

Superior doctors prevent the disease.
Mediocre doctors treat the disease before evident.
Inferior doctors treat the full-blown disease.

— Huang Dee Nai-Chang—(2600 BC 1st Chinese Medical Text)

Monday, 27 October 2008

What Follows Will Change Your Workout: After the Rhino Test

My previous post seems to have been well received. I hoped it would highlight certain qualities that I felt were important to a quality workout, and give a vivid handle on what you should and should not be doing to 'leverage' your body's evolutionary capacity to respond to activity. So, having given you 'The Rhino Test', I figured I would expand on some of my other thoughts on exercise.

First a little digression. One of the first points I would like to raise is that of metrics. One thing that most of us are guilty of is trying to apply detailed measure to our workouts. This is fine, to a point. We need to 'see how far we have come' on a particular program. Unfortunately we can get too wrapped up in reps, sets and weights without seeing the bigger picture.

Think back to the Rhino Test and tell me how you would quantify such an activity? You couldn't. Even if you applied measures to one rhino hunt, would they apply to the next one? Yet despite this lack of metrics, I am sure we would both agree that anyone tackling coelodonta antiquitatis would exhibit excellent physical markers of health and would not be lacking in athleticism!

I am not saying that metrics have no place, I just feel that we should not get too hung up on them. In particular, if you feel during a workout that it just is not 'happening' for you, then either sack it completely, or on occasion, simply throw the metrics out the window and go with the flow. Try to 'feel' you way through the workout rather than chasing numbers.

One way to 'feel' your way through a workout is to invoke an element of 'play'.

The Importance of Play
I look at my kids playing and they give me loads of ideas for what exercises I should be doing. Captain Kid (CK), is my chief inspiration (as Flash has only just mastered walking - so her repertoire is currently limited).

Given any open space - either the living room or a field, CK will gladly demonstrate short bursts of sprinting, quick changes of pace and direction, jumping, rolling, tumbling, climbing, back bridges, hopping, handstands (although my handstands are better than hers ;) - at the moment!), and various throwing activities of sticks and stones (particularly near water).

If you were to list the range of exercises you perform in a typical session, would it come anywhere close to CK's list in terms of variety? I know that in my days as a gym rat, my routine wouldn't compare! More importantly, I would say that CK's 'routine' would satisfy the Rhino Test! Not bad for a four year old with no formal knowledge of training.

It is this 'instinctive' play that I find so appealing. Think about those nature programs you see on TV. All the mammals (particularly apex predators), develop their skills and abilities through play. Even your domestic cat and dog will hone hunting instincts in the safety of your house, before tackling mice/postmen.

Play and Intensity
There is tendency to train 'hard' every session. At times it is very difficult to avoid this mentality. I normally train about six times a week. This comprises of two martial arts lessons (that can be physically easy and more skill based, or, intense sparring sessions with heavy pad work), and four mini workouts of about 30 minutes. Two of the mini-workouts are gymnastic-based involving body weight exercises (and the odd dumbell), and two are more climbing oriented.

My broad approach is to have a 'hard day' followed by one or more easy days. The easy day will involve light training or complete rest. I do two or three 'hard days' in a week. I might do a hard gymnastic workout at lunch and follow it with a hard climbing session in the evening. Sometimes these sessions are a day apart. I allow my sessions to 'drift' through the week and alter intensity accordingly.

When I approach a light session, be it during a martial arts, climbing or gymnastic session, I choose to mentally embrace that workout as a session of 'play' as this seems to put a natural brake on my inner gym-rat.

For example, with the gymnastics, I will replace a more 'rigid' exercise like pistols, with something more fun such as hopping over a small obstruction. Alternatively, sprinting might be replaced with a game of 'tag' with the kids. The idea is to substitute some of the exercises for more 'fun' options.

Play and Exercise Selection
This is one of the more revolutionary changes that I have adopted! Given the role of play amongst wildlife in developing primal skills, I believe that you should be able to describe all of the exercises you perform in terms of play. This I will call The Play Test.

When you think about this, it is a natural (and hopefully right), conclusion to make. I mean why wouldn't our inclination to play reflect those skills we require later in life?

Moving my exercise to the outdoors and emphasising climbing, combat and gymnastics was an express route to the 'play' approach. Kids instinctively climb, they play-fight and perform gymnastic activities, relying heavily on body weight (handstands, rolls, back bridges etc....all those things you'll witness as a parent).

I have noted amongst some gym-rats a reluctance to go down the route of body weight routines (BWRs). It is irrelevant whether I think BWRs are better than training with iron, but the thing to remember is that it is all 'resistance' and with gymnastic body weight exercises there is always a harder variation to master!

the 'play test' means that what is 'out' are curls, pec-dec flyes, tricep extensions, lying leg curls (although I do use a heel-hook' when climbing), and other exercises which lack wider utility.

If you want big guns, try pull ups (especially as part of a tree climbing activity). You want big triceps? Well, as a kid I would climb the local football/soccer goal. I would traverse out along the 'cross bar' hanging by my arms and then perform a 'muscle-up' and try to stand up on the crossbar. Muscle ups REALLY work the triceps!

You get the idea. 'Play' builds utility and function.

Play and Skill
Play has a greater emphasis on skill than strength and fitness. The latter follows on from skill as you push your performance. Not all performances have to be 'maximal'!

Again, with gymnastics in particular, there are always harder variations to master and so you can always push your abilities. Conversely you can base a light session on easier variations of an exercise.

So there you go. These are my thoughts on exercise. What you have just read in the last two posts is my framework for how I train currently. I will flesh out the bones in subsequent posts.

A final thought I'd like to leave you with is that 'play' is almost exclusively a body weight activity. I don't think we should limit ourselves to training ONLY with our own body weight, but we should certainly EMPHASISE it. My reason for thinking this way is neatly expressed by Steven Johnson in Emergence,

  • "the essential characteristic of all organic growth - [is] to maintain diversity and balance, the organism must not exceed the norm of its species. Any ecological association eventually reaches the 'climax' stage,' beyond which growth without deterioration is not possible."

Now go play!

What Follows Will Change Your Workout

"What Follows Will Change Your Workout". How about that for title? It might sound a tad arrogant, but for most of the people out there, I think this post will give you significant food for thought.

Paleo Food
We can see from cave paintings and bone remnants that paleo dude hunted down game.....BIG game.
The problems of a diet based upon high levels of protein and the constraints of carbohydrate availability - particularly during the winter period and even during cooler periods in the earth's history where the vegetation would have been characteristically slow growing, difficult to harvest and largely indigestible to humans, are circumvented by adaption to the hunting of big game.

Big game offers copious amounts of fatty meat and additional materials (skin, fur and bone) from which to make tools and garments. Big game offer optimal utility in a marginal environment. Big game was a staple of our early diet.

Big Game
You often read about 'big game' and ancient hunter gatherers. I have visited several museums with flint tools and skeleton of these mighty beasts. Images of early man tackling mammoth and other giants of the planet abound. This is the reason for my post!

Woolly Rhinoceros
The Woolly Rhinoceros was just under 4m in length, around 2m in height, with a one meter horn on its nose. These bad-boys weighed in at 3 tonnes and were powerfully built. I cannot find a information on the speed that they could attain, but modern rhino can reach around 30mph, and it is not improbable that the Woolly Rhino could reach a similar speed. They existed in herds called a 'crash'.

If you saw one of these beasts you would undoubtedly find it intimidating. Very intimidating. I was at a museum the other day where they had a model of a woolly rhino - and I managed to capture a photograph of it with a man standing beside it - useful for scale purposes. The guy was about 5ft8in tall and is standing directly beneath the animal.

You probably know where I am going with this, but look at that picture for a minute. Now imagine that this was one of your staples - a staple which you HAVE to tackle, simply to eat. Now imagine yourself going out on the hunt, to kill on of these animals......!

The Workout

Given the scenario above and the physical prowess of the woolly rhino, what kind of physical skills do you think you would want to possess prior to going in to battle with one? Obviously you'd want speed and agility to get close to it, but also to keep out of its way. You'd want great strength to throw spears or rocks into it. Your movements would involve multidirectional bursts of speed, changing angles quickly as the 'battle' dictated.

What of the 'crash'? Perhaps you might need to quickly scale rocks or a tree if the wider herd were in pursuit. For sure, you would probably choose not to 'jog' away in a steady state.

Perhaps you would be called upon to rescue an injured comrade?

Even after kill, you might be called on to protect your kill from other scavengers. The meat would have to be quickly butchered and carried back to camp. The load would be heavy.

Modern Gym Rats
Think about your local gym. Can you imagine a bodybuilder or even a power lifter expressing the necessary qualities to engage in those activities above?

More importantly, does YOUR workout?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

God to Protect Pets

I like blogging - it is an excellent vent for ones opinions and views. This blog was set up to cover my paleo leanings - particularly my experiences with paleo diet and exercise.

But, religion seems to be making a 'more than occasional' appearance. I don't mind religion or faith, nor spirituality. People can believe pretty much what they want as long as they do not use it from a position of power on a decision of policy that affects all of us. Such decisions should be informed by science and rationality rather than on belief in the supernatural.

Many of the religious people I have engaged with offer pity at my atheism - as if I am missing out on some kind of love or humanity and an experience in some kind of 'higher magic'. On the contrary, the magic of science is way bigger and more curious than any religious concept (check out Quantum Theory for a start).

The religious opine about the beauty of God's creation, but the beauty of the physical world around us (accessible to us all), is similarly matched by beauty in human endeavours such as mathematics - a field of thought well beyond all religious texts.

And what of Gods' love? Well the love I experience between myself, my family and my friends is a nourishing as anything I could hope to receive from a deity. Secular humanism offers love from a tangible source.

The thing with deism and theism is that once you subscribe to such thoughts, where do you stop? How can you exclude or dismiss the gods of others? What you end up doing is binning your bullshit filter and have to accept all gods and supernatural - no matter how absurd.

One of my personal problems with 'faith' is that I don't know which god or gods to believe in. I suppose as a Westerner I should chose Christianity...but then my problem becomes which version of the Bible to read. The Bible has varied massively in content and interpretation particularly before the onset of mass printing, often under political influence rather than spiritual.

This leads me to today's absurd religious observation. Not content with encouraging motorists to make the sign of the cross before starting a journey (does that lower insurance premiums?), it now appears that you can extend Gods own protection for your pooch. Belive it or not, you can have your pet blessed!

This says so much about how religion reflects human interest - whereas you'd imagine religion would lead humanity, it actually follows our desires. It has a plasticity that allows you to do this - which kind of makes a mockery of it.

Any gap in science (such as the source of the Big Bang), is held up as 'proof of God', anything we care about - such as pets, are eligible for inclusion. The complexity, interconnectedness and interdependence between all species is held up as proof of God's power - when if you think about it, a lack of inter-dependence would be a greater proof of God as you'd be left reasoning, from where could it originate?

Anyway, next time you are out walking and tread in some dog-muck, don't be so quick to blaspheme and resort to coarse language. That muck might just be the deposit of one 'favoured by God'!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Free Book!

I found this free book via Ben Goldacre's book, 'Bad Science' (have you bought it yet?). It is published by the James Lind Library, which has the following noble objective;

  • "The James Lind Library has been created to help people understand fair tests of treatments in health care."
The book offers an excellent primer on medical testing.

Go get!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Facing Fear

An interesting article caught my eye today which you can read here. A UCSB study has found that physical strength and fighting ability is revealed in human faces.

I have a post that is still in gestation which details some of my thoughts on physical activity. It includes the kinds of exercises we should pursue - and combat is one of them. If the paper above is correct and we have evolved mechanisms to determine an opponents ability in combat, you can bet your bottom dollar that some form of combat will be key to our physical well being and so should be a part of our training.

I myself do an hours Lau Gar Kung Fu and Lau Gar Kickboxing a week. The sessions are excellent for general conditioning and follow a classic interval training model with bursts of high intensity work (for up to two minutes), followed by rest. Some session concentrate on skill work and some are more fitness oriented.

Wider Picture
I have no interest in being 'hard', it is the wider implications of combat that interest me. Some of the kicks in particular require excellent balance (spinning kicks for example). Sparring improves reactions time and full body agility - ducking, bobbing and weaving. A key tool for the successful martial artists is speed and explosive power - jumping in to kicks and springing forwards with a jab. You develop all round kinaesthetic awareness.

If fitness is your thing then three one minute rounds on a kick shield (with a minutes rest between rounds), will get your heart working in a similar way as a sprint. The last round will demand real heart.

One of the real advantages of combat is that outside of skill work where you may follow a particular drill, sparring and pad work has a degree of randomness in that there is only a broad structure to your work. The detail within is ad-hoc and provides the randomness and novelty that should be present in every good workout.

Can you kick it?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Speed of Bite

It now appears that eating quickly can cause obesity! I hate to use car and gas-tank analogies as they can over-simplify the complexity of diet, nutrition, hunger and satiety. But to cut a long story short, that is exactly what your hunger should do. Hunger should act as a simple mechanism to guide your appetite - and given that it evolved over the last two-million years, you'd think it would be bloody good at it.

How does 'eating fast' cause obesity? According to Professor Ian McDonald from Nottingham University,
  • "If you eat quickly you basically fill your stomach before your gastric feedback has a chance to start developing - you can overfill the thing."
Now this may be true, but if you put more fuel in to your car, you can drive further. And this is where the 'eating fast' concept breaks down. It simplifies the problem much further than my gas tank analogy in that it assumes that once the food is inside of you, no further appetite correction can or will occur.

I am sure many of us have 'over filled' our stomach - on Christmas day for example. And at your next meal, did you eat your 'usual amount' or did you actually have less or skip the meal all together? I for one have witnessed my family and myself all 'fasting' between our Christmas dinner (around 1400hrs) and a small late supper (around 2100hrs).

Why do we 'fast' this period? It is because we over-consumed and our bodies were happy for us to go without a top up for longer than usual. Much longer. Are we really to believe that our bodies cannot adjust our appetite in accordance with how much food we have eaten? Has anybody actually had an experience of being able to continually over-eat at every meal time?

You might be able to over-eat at a particular meal (and feel ill because of it), but that does not explain obesity. Obesity is driven by appetite.

Fork Me
Whilst eating fast may lead to a short term weight gain, over a longer term your body still knows if it is maintaining homeostasis and will adjust appetite accordingly....unless you eat grains.....but then you already knew that.

It can be only a matter of time before scientists discover that large plates or bigger spoons are similarly implicated.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Godless Buses are more Dangerous

This story caught my eye recently. Buses are to carry atheistic slogans. On the face of it, this is fine, but it may come with a heavy price.

The Vatican notes that "one of the roots of many problems relating to traffic is spiritual". They go on to comment that "for believers, a solution to these problems may be found in a vision of faith, in the relationship with God, and in a generous option in favour of life, which is also borne out by behaviour that respects the lives of others, and the rules established to protect them, on the road." (You can read the full document here).

Researchers at the Vatican have already correlated a lack of faith and the dangers of travel in a double-blind randomised control trial, noting in conclusion that the repeated unfaithfulness of the Israelites to the Covenant "lead to a far more distressing journey".

Such distress can be avoided by all of us by no forgetting "the importance of the sign of the cross, [which is] to be made before setting out on a journey."

Now this may sound absurd to some but "with this sign we put ourselves directly under the protection of the Holy Trinity."

Science at its best. God bless 'em.