Workouts for Wimps: Your First Bodyweight Circuit

Extremsport by Mueritz

Babies do push-ups, planks and squats all day long. You can too.

Circuit training is one of the most efficient ways to combine strength building, endurance building and fat burning all in one neat little time saving package. In addition to high intensity interval training, circuit training is perfect for people who want to get as good of a workout as they can in as short a time as possible. Making them bodyweight circuits has the added benefit of not requiring any expensive equipment or a gym membership. If you’re really out of shape but don’t have the cash for a gym membership or hours to waste on a treadmill then bodyweight circuits are for you.

What Is Circuit Training?

At its most basic circuit training is a workout routine that places the whole sequence of workouts one after the other and then moves the rest periods from between sets and puts them in between each exercise circuit. So instead of doing for example five sets of push-ups with rest periods between sets followed by five sets of squats with rest periods between each one and so on, you would do one set of push-ups followed immediately by one set of squats followed by the next exercise with no rest between.

This not only speeds up the workout meaning you can get more done in less time, it also adds an intensity to it similar to high intensity interval training that fires up your CNS. That translates not only to more strength but also a higher VO2 max, better endurance and a much more favorable hormonal response leaving you building more muscle and burning more calories for a longer time after the workout.

The Beginner’s Bodyweight Circuit

This circuit is for absolute beginners. People who have a decent level of fitness should go for a slightly harder circuit or modify these exercises to be appropriately challenging.

  • 10 Push-ups
  • 20 Bodyweight squats
  • 10 Inverted bodyweight rows
  • 30 Second plank
  • Rest for 2 minutes

Complete that circuit five full times as quickly as possible and with no rest between exercises except the two minutes at the end of each cycle and you’re done. Do this at least two times a week with at least one full recovery day in-between each circuit day and you’ll start seeing improvement in no time.

Push-ups – Do whatever push-up you need to to be able to complete all ten, but don’t make it too easy. If you’ve never done a single standard push-up find an easier push-up variation here.

Bodyweight squats – Keep your back straight and toes pointed forward and bend at the knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground, just like sitting back into a chair. It’s ok to hold onto something sturdy if you need a little help balancing. If you need a little more assistance find a low chair or a bottom step – sit down on it and then stand back up without using your arms and count that as one rep.

Inverted bodyweight rows – This exercise sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. There are a few ways to do them though. The easiest is to lay underneath a sturdy table looking up. Grab the edge of the table and pull your chin up to it while leaving your heels touching the ground. Low tree limbs work as well, as long as you have something you can pull your chin to while leaving your heels on the ground. The farther you are from standing straight up the harder it becomes.

Planks – To do a plank lay on the floor face down and place your forearms on the ground so your arms are touching the floor from your fingertips to your elbows. Then lift yourself up on your toes and straighten your back so your forearms and toes are holding the rest of you up and your belly is no longer resting on the ground. Do your best to keep a straight line from the back of your head to your heels the entire time and hold this position for the time required.

That’s it! If you need a little extra motivation challenge your friends to a race through the whole circuit or try and beat your previous time every time you workout. It doesn’t look like much on paper but you’ll find that circuit to be a good challenge and if you want to lose weight and build some muscle you’ll start seeing results before you know it.

Have any experience with circuit training or some suggestions for ways to make it better? Just have some questions about this particular circuit? Share them with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Mueritz

Workouts for Wimps: Beginning High Intensity Interval Training

The Runner by Hamed Saber

You used to know how to run.

Note: This article is intended as a starter for people who have never worked out a day in their life or are extremely out of shape. If you’re already in decent shape but looking to take things to the next level, you will probably want to head over to a more advanced article on high intensity interval training.

If your goal is to lose weight, increase endurance or just to run a little faster and you want to reach that goal with the minimum amount of total work time invested – high intensity interval training (or HIIT) is for you. Besides a properly structured strength training routine there are no other forms of exercise that give so much benefit in such an efficient package. With only 5 to 15 minutes per week you can get HIIT’s full benefit. Everyone can spare 15 minutes a week to be healthier.

So What Is High Intensity Interval Training?

Simply put – training in an interval pattern at a very high intensity. Ok, moving on…

Alright, I know, you want more than that. High intensity interval training is a system of training that uses alternating periods of work and rest (intervals) to allow the person doing them to perform maximal or near maximal effort for a longer total time than without rest periods.

Why Is HIIT So Great?

There are a handful of reasons that high intensity interval training is a better option than long, slow drawn out cardio like jogging. Here are just a few:

  • HIIT is efficient – Due to the intensity of the exercise HIIT puts a lot of stress on your respiratory, cardiovascular and central nervous systems in a very short amount of time. This may sound bad, but this stress is good in small doses. Just like with weight lifting that’s how you get stronger. That intensity means you can get more benefit from 5 minutes of HIIT than you can from an hour of running.
  • HIIT increases your metabolism – That stress on your CNS I just mentioned also means that unlike with most exercises your body stays geared up long after you’ve finished actually exercising. That means that three hours later when you’re sitting around playing Skyrim or watching TV your metabolism is still roaring as if you were active.
  • HIIT releases growth hormones – Yet another benefit of the stress put on your system is that high intensity interval training triggers the release of Human Growth Hormone, Testosterone and Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 just like strength training does. This lovely cocktail of hormones means quicker fat loss, more rapid muscle growth and improved insulin sensitivity. All good things.
  • HIIT improves aerobic and anaerobic systems – High intensity interval training improves performance in anaerobic areas (intensity / power output) and aerobic areas (endurance). Unlike a five mile run which only improves aerobic performance (and even then questionably) HIIT gives you a two-for-one deal. On top of that, high intensity interval training improves your VO2 Max, a measure of how efficiently your body processes oxygen. That means you can do things harder for longer.

How Do I Start HIIT?

The ‘high intensity’ part of high intensity interval training is not there sarcastically – HIIT is intense. This is the main reason it’s so beneficial but it’s also the reason it can be dangerous. Now this HIIT routine is already assuming you are completely out of shape or just starting exercising but even so it will put a lot of stress on your heart.

If you are at a point where you’re at elevated risk of having a heart attack than take it slow and talk to your doctor before you really get going. Properly applied HIIT will get you and your heart in the best shape of your life, but overdoing it can put you in the emergency room or worse. Be careful and use your head.

With that out of the way, here’s what you do:

5 minute warm up. This will depend on your overall fitness level, a very brisk walk or some easy jumping jacks should do the trick. The idea here isn’t to get out of breath, or even tired really, but to prepare your system for the shock it’s about to get.

30 seconds of full exertion. Here’s where you get going. This will also depend on your overall fitness level. The idea is to do something as hard and fast as you can manage. For some that might mean a furious set of jumping jacks or a quick stair climb for others it might be a full-on sprint. Running up a steep hill as fast as you can for 30 seconds is a good place to start if you’re not sure where your limit is, or 30 seconds of sprinting on flat ground. By the end of 30 seconds if you’re not huffing and puffing you need something harder.

2 minutes of active rest. As soon as your 30 seconds are up switch to active rest. Now, when I say active rest I don’t mean just standing there – walk around in circles, stroll back down the hill or casually work your way to the bottom of the stairs. Savor it, because you’ll find these 2 minute periods go way too quickly.

Repeat 7 more times. As soon as your 2 minutes are up immediately start into another 30 seconds of full exertion, followed by another 2 minutes of rest, followed by another 30 seconds of exertion and so on until you’ve done a total of 8 sets of 30 seconds. This sounds easy. It’s not. If you absolutely cannot make the full 8 sets then remember where you quit and do one more set each workout until you hit 8 total.

5 minute cool down. This is as important as the warm up. After you’re finished with all your sets take 5 minutes more to gently cool down. Take an even more casual 5 minute walk, do some light stretching and let your breath slowly return.

That’s it! To begin with, only do one session of high intensity interval training per week. If you’re doing strength training (which I highly suggest you do) you should either do your HIIT on a day you don’t have a strength workout or, if you must do them on the same day, do it after your strength training.

Eventually, you can move up to two or three sessions per week and shorter rest periods, but for now it’s best not to overdo it. HIIT really does put a lot of stress on your CNS and it’s easy to overtrain if you don’t give yourself enough time to rest in-between sessions.

One more tip, never do HIIT shortly after having eaten. Trust me.

Have any other advice to add for people just getting started with high intensity interval training? Leave them in the comments! It’s always helpful to learn from other people’s experiences.

Photo Credit: Hamed Saber

A Beginner’s Guide to the Deadlift

First Deadlift by Oplotnik

Ok, when I said beginner's guide....

If you want to be as strong as possible, you need to include the deadlift in your training.

The deadlift is absolutely the second most important exercise for developing full body strength (the squat still being #1 in my book) because it engages every one of your muscles and works them with the heaviest loads possible. Deadlifts will not only make your entire body stronger, fix lower back pain, enhance your rate of force development (power) and dramatically increase your grip/wrist strength – they’ll also condition you to pick up heavy things with a straight back. That means next time you need to toss some bags of dirt around for landscaping or lift a flipped car off of someone, you won’t destroy your back.

So, how do we do it then?

How to Deadlift

  • Start from the floor – If you’re pulling the weight from the safety pins of the rack then it isn’t a deadlift. If you’re starting at the top then that’s a Romanian deadlift which, while an excellent exercise in its own right, is not the deadlift you’re looking for (had to resist the urge to wave my hand there). Th point is, the bar starts on the floor.
  • Center the bar above you feet – You want to stand with your feet a bit under the bar at a little narrower than shoulder-width. You’re going to want to give your arms enough room and if you stand too wide your legs will get in the way.
  • Grip the bar – Your arms should go straight down and grip the bar overhand (that’s palms facing you) with your shoulders directly over the bar. It helps to grip the bar hard and make sure that you don’t bend your arms – this is a deadlift not a curl.
  • Bend your knees – Not too much, but just enough that your shins touch the bar. You may have naturally assumed this position when grabbing the bar to keep your shoulders directly above it. Make sure not to lower your hips as much as you would for a squat, or you’re going to end up scraping your shins or hitting your knees on the way up.
  • Head up, chest out – Look straight ahead and keep your chest out so that your head stays inline with the rest of your spine. Your shoulders should be back and down, not squeezed together like for a squat. Keep your back straight.
  • Lift – Roll the weight a bit over your shins and knees keeping it close to your body until you get to the top position and your knees and hips are locked. Again, keep your back straight and once you get to the stop don’t lean back unless you hate your shoulders.
  • Rinse & repeat – To put the bar back down where it came from, start by pushing your hips back first. Start bending your knees after the bar passes them otherwise you’re going to hit them with the bar and that gets old quick. The bar should be resting on the ground before you start your next lift, don’t cheat yourself.

That’s all there is to it.

Common Questions & Problems

There are a handful of problems that people tend to have when first starting the deadlift. Additionally, because this is an exercise for serious people who actually want to get strong not just pretend they’re getting their money’s worth from that gym membership fee, people usually have a lot of misconceptions. I’ll try to address the most common ones.

  • Won’t deadlifts destroy my back? – The short answer, no. The long answer, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO. In fact deadlifts are an excellent exercise for reducing lower back pain because they strengthen the muscles of your back and the entire posterior chain. As long as you maintain proper form deadlifts will alleviate back pain, not cause it.
  • My shoulders hurt after doing deadlifts. – You are probably leaning back at the top of your deadlift, or are pinching your shoulders on the way up like you would for squats. Keep your shoulders back and down and at the top of the lift don’t lean back.
  • I keep smacking my knees/shins with the bar! – If you’re knees are getting bruised chances are you’re bending them too early as you’re putting the weight back down. Start lowering by pushing your hips backward and don’t bend your knees till the bar passes them. If your shins are the part getting mangled, it’s likely you have your hips too low at the start of the lift. Raise them up a bit, but keep your shoulders over the bar and your back straight.
  • Some guy I met at the gym says deadlifts are a terrible exercise and/or are dangerous. – I don’t want to get into one of those ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ arguments… but they’re wrong. Deadlifts are completely safe provided you maintain proper form.

That’s all you need! Go get started! If you have any questions about proper technique or have hit any problems that weren’t covered share them in the comments and we’ll do our best to help out!

Photo Credit: Oplotnik

Workouts for Wimps: Your First Real Pushup

The Art of the One-Handed Pushup by Andy Carvin

This baby can do a one-armed pushup - why can't you?

The pushup is one of the most timeless, absolutely essential bodyweight exercises there is. Along with squats and a few others, the pushup in some for or another is the foundation of every bodyweight strength training regimine out there – or at least every worthwhile one. If you want to get in shape, and you don’t have access to free weights, you better be able to do pushups.

So, what if you can’t?

What if you’re too weak or too overweight to do even a single standard pushup? No problem! There are lots of alternatives that you can use to work your way up to it. All of these have been tested and proven both by myself and Caroline. I was the kid that got laughed out of gym class for being too fat to do a single pushup, and Caroline was the yoga nut who weighed next to nothing but had never done a day of strength training in her life. Between the two of us, we know these should work for everybody.

Anyone can build the strength to do push ups if they follow the right progression. (Tweet this!)

The Staircase Progression

Staircase progressions are the method I used to get my 55 year-old mother, who I don’t think had even done one single pushup in her entire life, to get to the point where she was doing full sets of standard pushups on the ground. We’re not quite to one-armed pushups yet, but we’ll get there.

How it works:

All strength building works on the principle of progressively increasing resistance. Your body adapts, you up the resistance, it adapts again, etc. So if you’re not strong enough to do even one pushup, you need to start with something easier and work your way up to it progressively.

Making a pushup easier is all about physics. As excited as I get about physics, I’m not gonna go into details here – let’s just say the higher your head is in relation to your feet, the easier the pushup is and vice versa (this is also a handy way to increase the intensity, when you’re ready). A staircase provides a perfect platform to progressively increase the resistance on your pushups. You can find one just about anywhere, each step is equally spaced between the one above and below it, and you can easily measure your progress.

Start with your hands on the highest step you can reach with your arms straight out in front of you and your toes down on the floor touching the bottom step in a standard pushup position. Lower yourself to the stair as if it were the ground and you were doing a regular pushup. If the highest step you can reach is too easy, and chances are it will be even if you can’t do a single pushup on the floor, go down to the next step and repeat. When you finally hit a stair that’s low enough that you can’t do at least five pushups in a row, stop and take note of the stair one higher than that one.

That stair is where you’re going to start your actual workout. Now you may have an existing strength training routine, though if you can’t even do one pushup I’m guessing you don’t. If you do, you can work it around your pushup training routine which will be as follows – 3 days per week, with at least one rest day between each, you will do five sets of five pushups on the stairs. The first week you will start on the last stair that you were able to do five consecutive pushups on. The second week, you’ll move down one stair which you should then be able to do five consecutive pushups on. The following week you move down again. Eventually, you hit the floor – and I don’t mean from exhaustion – and can start doing pushups there.

Take a moment to congradulate yourself, and then get ready to start learning one-armed and handstand pushups…

Tips and Tricks

If you don’t have any other strength training routine, such as what might be included as part of a beginner’s fitness plan for example, then I would suggest taking around a 30 to 45 second rest between each set. That is, do five pushups, rest for 45 seconds or so, and then do another set of five. If you find that 45 seconds is too short, and you can’t do 5 full pushups with good form, then increase the rest time until you find your sweet spot.

If you find yourself requiring excessively long rest periods (2 minutes or more) then you may want to try an incidental training pattern. On your strength training days, everytime you go up or down the stairs stop and do one set of pushups. With the longer and more variable rest periods, you don’t have to worry about stopping at five total sets for a day, but do still give yourself the rest day. Then just bump down a step the following week like normal.

When doing the pushups, it helps the most if you lower yourself very slowly (count to 5 from top to bottom) and push back up very quickly (faster than you can count to 1). This will help build the necessary strength up as quickly as possible. Try not to rocket your upper body off the staircase. You can work your way up to plyometric and clapping pushups when you get to the ground.

Getting Negative

Don’t worry, I don’t mean mentally. In weight training, a negative is the part of the movement when gravity is doing most of the work – in our case, the part where you’re lowering yourself back toward the ground. Negatives are the way that I went from no pushups to handstand pushups.

How it works:

The negative is also called the eccentric contraction and, unlike eccentric relatives, is extremely beneficial and something you should get better acquainted with. A majority of the strength building activity in an exercise occurs during the eccentric phase of the movement. That means that if you just do that part, you can still get a majority of the benefits.

To do a negative pushup, you start at the top of the standard pushup position on the floor. Then, you lower yourself down as slowly as possible. Seriously, I want your arms shaking a little by the time you get to the bottom. Once you’re at the bottom, instead of struggle and fight and try to push your way back up with your arms, just get up. Yep, get back up on your hands and knees and put yourself in the top position and lower yourself down again. It’s that easy. If it seems like cheating, well, it kinda is – but it works.

Do five sets of five negatives three days a week with a day of rest between each training day and 30 to 45 seconds rest between sets. After one full week of training, try to work one single standard pushup into each set of negatives as the first rep. If you still can’t do it, increase each negative by five seconds, i.e., lower yourself five seconds more slowly with each rep, and try again for one pushup per set the following week.

Once you go a week of doing one full pushup in each set, go for two full pushups in each set for the next week. Keep increasing each week and before long, you’ll be doing five sets of five full pushups on the ground with no problem.

Tips and Tricks:

This method is pretty straightforward, so there aren’t really a lot of tips and tricks to it. If you’re concerned that you’re so weak you’ll get about halfway down the first negative and then plant your face into the floor like a scared ostrich, by all means put a pillow or rolled up towel between your face and the floor.

If you are having that much trouble with the negatives, you an also try the old fashioned knee pushups, where you use your knees as the fulcrum for the pushup instead of your toes. In my experiences, however, it’s hard to make the jump from knee pushups to standard pushups. What I did, back in my whale days, was to do negatives with my hands on a slightly elevated platform. In my case it was an office chair jammed up against the wall so it wouldn’t roll out from under me. A set of stairs, as mentioned above, makes a nice choice too. Anything stable that gets your hands a little higher than your toes will work.

There you have it – you now have no excuses for not being able to do pushups. Once you master this movement, you’ll be well underway to having the basics of bodyweight exercises under your belt. At least, until you decide your ready to go one-armed…

Anyone else have any helpful tips or tricks to add, or some other method they used to build up to standard pushups? We’d love to hear it!

Winter Molt Challenge: Success!

Roughly 141 days have passed (I’m not sure if today counts yet) and I am now officially at the end of Winter Molt Challenge.

I have to say, overall it has been a tremendous success. As of today I weigh in at 156.3 pounds and am 9.8% body fat. Now, technically my original goal was to reach 150 pounds by this date. I’ve found however that, with the strength training routine I’ve been following and my goal of obtaining as good a strength:weight ratio as possible, 150 pounds and under is just too light.

Charts and data are to come, as well as a general overview of everything that worked and everything that didn’t. In the meantime though I wanted to get something up today so no one is left hanging on the results.

The Paleo/Primal Diet 101: The Basics

Caveman by Sabeth718

Thankfully, eating like a caveman is a lot easier than it used to be.

I eat like a caveman.

Well, ok, not exactly like a caveman. We don’t know with 100% certainty how pre-agricultural man ate and I admit to enjoying the occasional bottle of wine, bar of chocolate or aged cheese – all of which I can pretty comfortably say wouldn’t have been easily available 20,000 years ago. Let’s not get too bogged down in particulars here though, compared to the vast majority of my modern man compatriots I eat like a caveman.

So why do I eat like a caveman and not the way everyone else eats? Let’s take a look at two average specimens of good ol’ Homo Sapiens and see if we can’t solve this riddle.

  • Caveman – Our paleolithic specimen is tall, even by today’s standards. He’s what most people would probably call ‘ripped’ (think Olympic gymnast or sprinter) with a body used to running down animals twice his size for dinner and running from animals twice his size to not be dinner. He gets a good nap in everyday, and even has straight, cavity-free teeth.
  • Businessman – Now our modern day speciman on the other hand, is several inches shorter than his ancestor. What he lacks in height, he makes up in girth as he’s currently 60 lbs. overweight. He gets winded if he takes the stairs at work, and needs several strong stimulants to make it to lunch which comes from a box or a drivethrough window. Oh, and he’s already losing his hair at 30.

So what happened? In a word, agriculture. Mankind had just spent around 100,000 years slowly adapting and evolving to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. 100 millenia’s worth of subtle, trial-and-error tweaks had made us pretty good at living in that environment.

Then, we had to go and mess things up.

Ok, so agriculture wasn’t all bad. We wouldn’t be here today without it. Agriculture provided a surplus of food, which let us settle down and invent the Internet. Eventually, anyway. The problem is, this all happened in the span of about 10,000 years. That may seem like a long time, but in evolutionary terms that is less than a blink of the eye.

It’s like waiting until you’re 95 years old and then deciding you want to be a professional linebacker – our bodies just couldn’t handle the sudden change. We had enough food to survive, but that food made us sicker, shorter and weaker than we had been a few thousand years previous.

The main culprit? Grains. We didn’t really eat grains before we domesticated them. They can be hard to find, they have to be processed to be consumable, and they have comparatively little to offer nutritionally.

Grains, unlike some other plants, don’t want us to eat them. They are full of two very nasty chemicals, lectins and gluten. Both of these cause systemic damage to the human body, causing inflammation, intestinal damage, allergic reactions and all sorts of other unpleasant things.

On top of this, grains consist almost entirely of carbohydrates. Extremely dense sources of carbohydrates are extremely diffcult to find when living as a hunter-gatherer and as a result, made up very little of our ancestors’ diet. Our bodies adapted to make the most of the carbohydrates that they could get.

The basic process is that carbs are turned into glucose which is then used for energy and to feed your brain and help some other body processess. The extra glucose is then stored as fat since, back then anyway, big doses of carbs were few and far-between and times of starvation were a real risk.

There’s more to the process involving Insulin and some other fascinating bits of body chemistry, but I’ll leave that for another time. The point is, too many carbs in our diet nowadays makes us fat. We don’t have to battle a horde of irate bees over their honey to get a sugar rush anymore, we just have to open a box of cookies or down a soft drink. That’s bad.

So how do we fix it? We eat like cavemen! Or at least as close to it as necessary to get the benefit of expressing our genetics in the way evolution shaped them to be expressed.

What do I eat?

  • Meat – Sorry vegetarians, but this lifestyle probably isn;t going to work for you. I’m being all-inclusive with this category. Beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, & any other animal it is societally acceptable to consume. You want all your meat to be grass-fed, not grain-fed. It’s worth checking into, since eating a grain based diet is just as bad for the animals you eat as it is for you. You want your eggs to come from free-range chickens (Omega-3 enriched are a nice bonus) and your fish to be wild, not farmed.
  • Vegetables – Go crazy. Eat as many different vegetables as you can handle but stay away from the extremely starchy vegetables whenever possible. This includes potatoes. Sorry. Also stay away from corn. Corn is a grain, not a vegetable, and is particularly bad for you, especially since it is in everything now.
  • Fruits – This is the only place you should be getting your sugars from. I indulge in a bar of dark chocolate every once in a while too, but it is extremely rare. Too many fruits may hamper weight loss efforts a bit, but for overall health they’re great.
  • Fats – Stick to good, naturally made fats. That means no to margarine, shortening, canola oil, vegetable oil and peanut oil. The why’s are somewhat complex, but you’re far better off sticking to olive oil, lard, butter, avocado oil & one of my personal favorites, coconut oil.
  • Extras – Things like nuts and seeds can make a fantastic paleo appropriate snack, or a good way to bump calorie intake up a bit if you’re having trouble adjusting to the diet changes. Be careful though, nuts and seeds pack a lot of calories in a little package and shouldn’t be eaten in too large of amounts.

That’s it! That’s what I eat. Now on to what’s equally as important.

What do I not eat?

  • Grains – This one should’ve been obvious. This also includes anything that has grains in it. That means no bread & no baked goods. It also means no corn and nothing with high fructose corn syrup in it (trust me, you won’t miss that).
  • Refined Sugar – All the sugar in my diet comes from either fruit, honey or the previously mentioned occasional treat. No more soft drinks, no more sugar in your coffee and no more candy.
  • Dairy – There’s a lot of arguments about this one. On one hand, our ancestors never would have drank milk past infancy, and certainly not that of another species. That being said, a lot of people can handle milk tolerably well, and butter – though our ancestors may not have had it – seems to not have any of the detriments of other dairy items. Personally, I avoid milk, eat lots of butter (from grass-fed cows), and enjoy a good aged cheese now and again.
  • This is the basic outline of what it means to eat like a caveman. I could explain all the health benefits, talk about all the people who have gotten into the best shape of their lives eating this way or share my own personal story, but who cares about all that? My advice, try it for 30 days. 30 days is nothing, and if you don’t feel like a whole new person you can always go right back to eating donuts and drinking soda.

    Anyone have any personal success stories they would like to share? Leave them in the comments!

5 Reasons to Practice Parkour

London Parkour by JB London

Getting in excellent shape is just one benefit to parkour training.

Parkour.

If you’re not practicing it, you should be. If you are, well, then you don’t really need to be reading this do you? Go outside and have some fun.

Anyway, back to the people who are the actual targets of this article – people who don’t practice parkour. You might be wondering, “What in the world is parkour anyway?”. I’m glad you asked.

Parkour, as defined by Mark of American Parkour, is “…the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment.” Now, that’s just speaking strictly of parkour, there’s also freerunning. I’m not really going to touch freerunning for right now, since there’s a lot of debate over what ‘real’ parkour is and I don’t want to get into it here. Suffice it to say that parkour is moving over obstacles in the most fluid and efficient way possible.

Put another way, parkour is the art of making the entire world your playground.

So, why should you care enough to give it a try? I’m glad you asked that too. Here’s five reasons.

Parkour Can Be The Ultimate Fitness Plan

Without going too much into the history of it all, parkour was very heavily influenced by a man you’ve probably never heard of before named Georges Hébert. Hébert found when travelling through Africa that the people there were in a state of fitness that put the people back home to shame, even though they never followed a structured exercise routine. This lead him to develop a fitness system he called the Natural Method, where each training session would involve a variety of real world movements like running, jumping, crawling, climbing, throwing etc.

His method resulted in substantially more even body development and significantly better fitness than the methods commonly in use at the time. Parkour took some inspiration from his method, and by its nature develops the body in much the same way.

When you practice parkour you walk, you run, you sprint in bursts mixed with periods of slow movement (sound like interval training?), you vault over things, you roll, you climb, you crawl, you jump, you balance. Almost every way you can make your body move, parkour practice will find a way to make you do it.

This kind of free flowing circuit training is fantastic for your fitness level. Even without working out more, just by going out for a few regular parkour training sessions, you’ll find your strength, balance and likely even flexibility improving. Additionally, it’s all real, compound, full-body movements. These aren’t some isolationist bicep-curl-esque exercises, training for parkour prepares your body to use its fitness in real world situations.

Parkour Gives Increased Confidence

Some people suffer terribly from a lack of confidence. In most cases, it takes a lot of work and practice to build them selves up and get used to the idea of being and acting confidant.

Parkour is a natural confidence builder, as it slowly takes you from not being able to do much to being able to do things that you never would have guessed possible. When you look up at a wall that you know is higher than anything you’ve ever been able to scale before and you commit and manage to make it over, you feel like you can accomplish anything. After a while, that feeling starts to bleed out into the rest of your life.

Whenever you start feeling unconfident about something, your job, school, whatever – you can think back to the time you got over that wall, cleared that gap or landed that precision and remember that if you can do something that awesome, you can do anything.

Parkour Brings More Creativity and a Better Attitude

Parkour, in a sense, is all about the obstacles. If there were no obstacles, you couldn’t have parkour.

Psychologically, that fact starts to affect you after a while. While once you might have seen a wall, a fence or a gate as an obstruction, something that meant you shall not pass – you now see as a toy, a piece of playground equipment, a fun challenge.

It doesn’t take long, after starting to look at every physical obstacle you find in your path as a challenge to be tackled with enthusiasm, that you find yourself seeing mental obstacles in the same way. Rather than hit a problem and immediately get frustrated, you’ll find yourself excited with the prospect of a challenging problem to overcome.

Parkour also fosters creativity. The goal is to move over the obstacles in as efficient a way as possible. That usually takes some creativity on its own, but lots of people (particularly those more inclined toward freerunning) also try to clear obstacles in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.

That means that once you get into it, you start deconstructing objects to figure out what the most efficient way to get past it would be, and how to make that look really good. Everytime you look at something you’ll be practicing your creativity.

Parkour is Extremely Fun

Maybe it’s the very fundamental, animal-like movements, maybe it’s the feeling of putting all your strength and energy into something and not holding back, maybe it’s just the intensity and the joy of flying through the air – I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about parkour that taps into our primal nature.

Practicing parkour makes you feel like a little kid again, screaming your head off as you run from whoever was ‘it’ in a game of tag. It’s like the feeling of having an all out sprint just for the fun of it. There’s just something fantastically fulfilling about it. Not to mention addictive.

Honestly, to understand how fun it really is, you just have to go try it. I warn you though, it’s addictive.

Parkour Makes You Feel Like a Ninja

Ok, so this last reason may be a bit egotistical, but who cares? Parkour & freerunning both, aside from being wonderful exercise that will get you in fantastic shape, excellent ways to make you more confident, creative, & positive and a source of fulfilling, exuberant joy, just plain look cool.

Everyone always wanted to be a ninja. Now you can be. Well, kind of. You can feel like one. Not to mention you get to be a part of an enormous, friendly, welcoming community of like-minded individuals from all over the planet who are joined by a love of fun and personal development. Seriously, there are some great people in the parkour community.

So there you go. Five good reasons (or, maybe four good reasons and one ok one) why you should be practicing parkour. To end, just in case you’re still a little confused what all this is, check out these videos. The first is about pure, strict parkour – the other is about freerunning and acrobatic parkour. Watch them. Get pumped. Go get started.




The Winter Molt Challenge: Weeks 3 & 4

This will be a very quick update since things have been a little hectic lately. Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot to report as my efforts have finally fallen into a bit of a groove. One problem I’m noticing though is that my workouts are getting increasingly easier, and I currently have no easy way of scaling up the intensity.

That problem may be fixed soon if I can purchase a cheap weight set, but in the meantime I may have to get creative.

No stats this week, or lesson, but I will in the next check-in. I’m also going to start spacing them out a little bit more. Keep checking in for more updates, and articles based on what I’m learning.

Eating to Lose Weight

Pre-Birthday Cake by MassDistraction

You should already know it won't include this.


It has been pretty well established that the Pareto principle, or 80/20 rule, holds true for most things in life. Basically, the 80/20 rule states that in most cases 80% of the results come from only 20% of the causes. For example, 80% of sales come from 20% of customers, 80% of daily speech comes from 20% of vocab, 80% of the world’s money is in the hands of 20% of the population, etc.

The point of this principle isn’t to genuinely suggest that all things are arranged in 80/20 distributions, the end percentages aren’t really that important. The point is to get across the fact that things are almost never perfectly distributed. If things aren’t distributed evenly, than that brings us to a more important point.

There exist both high return and low return variables in every situation.

Why is this important? A person who wastes all their time with low return variables will not progress nearly as much (or as quickly) as a person who identifies and focuses on the high return variables. If you can figure out which things are high return and which are low return than you have just given yourself the best advantage you can in reaching whatever goal you’re pursuing.

What’s the high return variable when it comes to dropping fat? Your diet.

As a lot of people (myself included) who have tried to lose weight will tell you – you can exercise constantly, but if you eat garbage all day you’re barely going to lose any weight, if you lose any at all. Conversely, particularly if you are overweight, if you sit around on a computer all day and never exercise but always eat the right things than the fat will start wasting away all on its own.

I would never say that you shouldn’t exercise. Exercise is definitely important. The takeaway from this is that if you’re only going to change one thing change what you eat.

Interestingly enough, the 80/20 principle pops up again here. When it comes to diet the important part isn’t the 80% of things you eat, it’s the 20% you don’t eat.

What Not To Eat

I’ll go more in depth on carbohydrates, proteins and fats as well as grains and gluten in later articles. Right now I want to make this as simple as possible and not get bogged down in all the science. The two basic rules that will get you the most return with the least amount of effort in dropping all that fat are as follows:

  1. If Man made it, don’t eat it. (Have to credit Jack LaLanne for this one)
  2. If it’s a grain or contains refined sugar, don’t eat it.

If you change nothing else but these two things, I guarantee you will lose the weight you want. Like I said, I’ll delve into the science of it in another article. This is a guideline for people who are sick of being overweight and just want to know what to do to drop it in a healthy way.

For those who like to focus on the Dos instead of the Do Nots than here’s those above rules applied inverted as to what you should do. Eat lots of meat, fat and vegetables and a little bit of fruit and nothing else.

To clarify, when I say don’t eat it if Man made it I mean anything that you couldn’t reasonably prepare at home. You don’t have to eat things raw. There are other provisions we can add that will optimize health, but we’re not going to worry about those just yet. Baby steps.

The beauty of this, in my opinion, is that you don’t have to worry about portion control or counting calories or any of that, if you genuinely stick to those two rules than it will be almost impossible to eat enough to get fat.

Examples

While I think it’s self explanatory, let’s run through some sample foods and apply the above rules.

  • Steak – Absolutely. Cooked in butter is even better.
  • Steamed Rice – Not so much. Grains are bad.
  • Carrots – Of course.
  • Organic Whole-Grain Bread – No. Organic or not, whole or not, grains are bad.
  • Twinkies – Just making sure you’re paying attention.

There’s more that can be added, but if you change just those two things about what you choose to put in your body you will have taken much bigger steps and will make much more progress than most people trying to lose weight ever will.

Have any additional suggestions? Tried this out for yourself? Let us know.

Winter Molt Challenge: Week 2

As encouraging as the first week was, this week was every bit as disheartening.

To start with, at the beginning of the week I was stricken with a particularly nasty cold. I would say flu, since I did have a fever, but there was no nausea – just fun things like constant chronic coughing, loss of my voice, sinuses more congested than the Cross Bronx Expressway and an unstoppable crew of cranial jackhammer operators.

As of today few of these symptoms have abated. Needless to say, I have had no interest in working out this week and have not only not started my daily high intensity interval training as I had originally planned, but I didn’t even do a single strength workout this week.

On top of that, the first of our three Thanksgiving dinners was held on the 12th. That means, in addition to not a single day of exercise, constant consumption of copious amounts of such nutritional staples as pumpkin pie, pumpkin ice cream and mashed potatoes among other things.

Surprisingly, of my 8 pounds lost in the first week, I only gained 3 pounds back. That is a serious relief for me, as I expected completely falling off the wagon as I did would have left me even heavier than when I first began.

I intend to be extra diligent in the coming week to make up for this past one as best as I possibly can. Some of you may be saying that I should have just sucked it up and worked out while sick, or just skipped out entirely on the Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s all well and good to say, but unfortunately I’m quite human. It would have been rude at best to skip out on dinner or not eat and, even if that weren’t the case, it would take superhuman willpower to resist Caroline’s cooking. As far as working out while sick, it would seem exceptionally foolish to put extra strain on my central nervous system and further weaken my immune system when I’m already ill. Sure it would’ve been the hardcore thing to do, but it also would have been the dumb thing to do.

Summary:
Weight lost: -3 lbs.
Days left: 127
Weight left to lose: 51 lbs.
Current Goal Loss Rate: 2.8 lbs/week
Current Average Loss Rate: 2.5 lbs/week

This Week’s Lesson:
It is inevitable that forces beyond your control will cause you to screw up from time to time. What really makes or breaks how successful you are is how you deal with the bad things. Roll with the punches, get back on the horse, whatever metaphor you feel like tacking in there – it’s all about not letting it get to you. Better yet, don’t just roll with it, try and learn from it. I’ve learned that it’s not such a big deal if I screw up and have a terrible week, it just means I have to work a little harder to make up for it.

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