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'?