Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

crossfit: the best training program in the world

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I would like to shamelessly promote the exercise program that has completely changed my approach and attitude towards fitness over the past few years: Crossfit.  The idea is that you cross-train with lots of practical exercises (no machines required) to become an all-round fit athlete. It’s essentially lots of intense circuit training with some gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting thrown in for good measure. 

Originally starting out as a niche workout program for people in emergency services and the military, it’s grown into somewhat of a cult phenomenon over the past few years – just Google ‘Crossfit’ and see how many different gyms, variations and articles there are.  Loads.  But the heart of it all is at, where the workout of the day (WOD) is posted, with lots of instructional videos to help you learn about the weird new exercises (like handstand push-ups!).  Best of all, it’s completely free.

Crossfit was founded by Greg Glassman, a gymnastics trainer who is referred to by the Crossfit community as Coach, with a capital ‘C’ (one of the cultish aspects of the program).  The rationale behind Crossfit is that if you perform lots of practical and intense exercises, it will make you bigger, faster and stronger.  Workouts are short and fast.  They’re often less than 20mins but will leave you doubled over and gasping for air.  The workout called “Cindy”, for example, is as many rounds as you can in 20mins of: 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats.  Workouts like this push you to the limit both aerobically and anaerobically – you’re building up your endurance and your strength at the same time. 

One way of describing Crossfit is to call is to call it the generalist of exercise.  Running, weightlifting, swimming, biking – these are all specializations that require certain movements and training.  A long-distance runner is probably not very good at weightlifting and vice versa. But a crossfiter would be pretty good at both of these.  One of the things makes Crossfit so great is the focus on functional movements that help you to build core strength.  For example, deadlifts give you the strength and form to pick up anything heavy off the floor – great for moving!  For firefighters, being able to do pull-ups could save their life if they were hanging on a window ledge or ladder.  The workouts themselves are fun, short and constantly training.  I got hooked from the very first time I tried Crossfit when my brother introduced me to it, and I haven’t looked back since.  I can only suggest that you try it out for yourself.

What water bottle are you using?

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

If you workout then I’m sure you use a water bottle or a shaker bottle.  You probably pay more attention to what’s in the bottle than the bottle it self.  But it’s time to take a look at what bottle you’re using because it could be harming your health. 

Bisphenol-A (BPA) was, until recently, a chemical component in nearly every water bottle.  But more and more studies are showing that it could be toxic and damaging to our health – possibly even leading to cancer.  This is especially true of plastics that you use over and over and wash on a regular basis.  The more use you get out of them, the more they break down and are potentially harmful. 

In a number of countries, like Canada, BPA in baby bottles has been banned for some time, but the concern is spreading to beyond babies.  Chicago has banned all bottles with BPA and the trend is set to continue for other cities and countries.

BPA-free bottles are now widely available.  For more on the subject, I recommend this New York Times analysis.

get fit in 4 minutes with tabata training

May 12, 2010 1 comment

The title of this blog looks like one of those ridiculous claims that you would see on the front cover of Men’s Health.  But I stand behind it because it’s been proven that four minutes of Tabata training really is more effective than an hour of cardio training.

The Tabata method is becoming an increasingly popular form of high intensity interval training (HIIT).  HIIT consists of short bursts of intense activity at near max heart rate, followed by less intense exercise or rest.  For example, sprint 30 seconds, jog one minute, sprint 30 seconds, jog one minute, and so on until you can’t continue.

The Tabata method takes this type of HIIT as a template and turns it into an exact science to maximise anaerobic capacity and VO2max.  In other words, four minutes of Tabata training produces better fitness results than an hour of endurance training.

All the hype comes from a 1996 study by the training method’s namesake, Izumi Tabata, from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo.  In his six-week study, participants were divided into two groups.  The first group did one hour of moderate cardio (70% VO2max).  The second group did eight rounds of 20 seconds intense exercise (170% VO2max) followed by 10 seconds rest – equalling a total of only four minutes.  Here are the results:

  Group 1 Group 2
Exercise Moderate cardio Tabata training: 20 seconds of activity followed by 10 seconds rest for eight rounds
Time 60mins 4mins
Frequency Five days per week for six weeks Five days per week for six weeks
Increase in anaerobic capacity Not significant 28%
Increase in VO2max 10% 14%

And the winner is: Tabata training.  In just four intense minutes, Tabata training achieves greater aerobic and anaerobic capacity and more max oxygen consumption than an hour of cardio training.  This not only means higher levels of fitness and exercise tolerance, but even results in more weight loss than moderate cardio.  Time to get off that elliptical machine!

Here’s how you do Tabata training:

Tabata training can be done with any exercise, but I prefer body weight exercises because they allow you to easily stick to the 20sec/10sec work/rest split, they can be done anywhere and they are challenging.  If you’re doing Tabata for the first time, I recommend starting with air squats.  So you would do eight rounds of:

  1. As many air squats as you can in 20 seconds
  2. Rest 10 seconds

Record the lowest number of squats that you did in any given set and use this as your benchmark.  So, if the lowest number of squats you could do in any of the eight rounds was 15, then this is your benchmark to beat next time.  Make sure you have a stopwatch, because the timing is precise.

Want something more challenging?  Try ‘Tabata Something Else’, taken from the CrossFit website.  It’s the same 20sec/10sec x8 routine, but with four different exercises: pull ups, push ups, sit ups and squats.  You do a four-minute Tabata sequence for each exercise, totalling 16 minutes.

  1. Pull ups: max reps in 20secs followed by 10secs rest: x8
  2. Push ups: ditto
  3. Sit ups: ditto
  4. Squats: ditto

If you’re interested in keeping tabs on your progress, record the total number of reps you did for each exercise for the entire 16 minutes then try to beat this next time.

One final note: make sure you go all out in Tabata training.  You should be well outside of your comfort zone and feel exhausted when you finish.  It’s only four minutes, but it should be a very hard four minutes.

barefoot running – what’s the big deal?

May 6, 2010 1 comment

A growing number of runners have been ditching their shoes and going barefoot.  This eccentric community of athletes may have been a joke in the running world for a long time, but some compelling research is proving that they’re not so crazy after all.  In fact, barefoot running appears to have a lot of benefits over running with shoes.

Evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman, from Harvard University, recently published a study in the journal Nature in favour of barefoot running.  He states that if “endurance running was an important behaviour before the invention of modern shoes, then natural selection is expected to have operated to lower the risk of injury and discomfort when barefoot or in minimal footwear.”  In other words, humans have been barefoot running for millions of years, so why do we think modern ‘shod running’ is better for us?

Lieberman says about 75-80% of runners in the West are heel strikers – meaning they land on their heels then roll to the front of their foot.  This is creating significant force and strain on the heel – two to three times the runner’s bodyweight in fact.

But many of the runners I’ve spoken to have said heel-to-toe running is how they’ve been taught.  Are personal trainers and running coaches teaching people form that will end up hurting them?  Perhaps.  Heel-to-toe running causes “sudden forces with high rates and magnitudes of loading that travel rapidly up the body and thus may contribute to the high incidence of running-related injuries, especially tibial stress fractures and plantar fasciitis”. These repetitive stress injuries affect about 1/3rd of all runners according to Lieberman.

You might think that advances in running shoe design have helped people to reduce injuries, but surprisingly the “incidence of such injuries has remained considerable for 30 years despite technological advancements that provide more cushioning and motion control in shoes designed for heel–toe running27, 28, 29

Barefoot runners, on the other hand, tend to land slightly on the balls of their feet, creating much less force than shod runners.  Barefoot running helps to reduce heel striking and improves posture.  Lieberman says that “previous studies have found that habitually shod runners tend to adopt a flatter foot placement when barefoot than when shod, thus reducing stresses on the foot.12, 13, 14, 15

Take a look at this video.  It’s a good explanation of Lieberman’s case for barefoot running:

Aside from running on grass or the beach, you’re probably thinking that barefoot running will be pretty painful.  You’re right – I tried it the other day and it was unpleasant for my tender feet! For people like me who don’t have tough, leathery soles, there are shoes that are designed to simulate barefoot running without shredding you feet.   Barefoot running is a fun and interesting experience if nothings else. So give it a try and you may find yourself part of the growing barefoot community.

monkey bar gym

April 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I came across this bodyweight training program a couple weeks ago and thought it was worth a nod.  The name is a bit misleading and doesn’t actually consist of doing all your training on monkey bars (although that would be interesting!).  Like many other bodyweight programs, it’s mostly circuit training and based on a generalist approach to fitness, rather than focusing on a specific area such as cardio, bodybuilding or strength training. 

Here’s what the owner Jon Hinds says about it: “We teach and train the four, basic functional fitness skills: Running, Jumping, Crawling and Climbing.  Mastering these movements will provide you with the stability, strength and power you need for all of your favorite activities.”

Workout videos are posted on the site and include a good mix of kettle bells, medicine balls, jump rope, bodyweight exercises and even some yoga for good measure.