Friday, 30 January 2009

Heavy Friday

I intend for today to be a bit heavier on the training front. This lunchtime I have completed the following gymnastic workout:

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (20mins)
1a) Tuck Planche (4x5s)
1b) Kneel to Headstand Reps followed by Assisted HSPU on Swiss Ball (5, 4, 3, 2)
1c) Back Bridge (4x15s)

2a) Lever (4x5s)
2b) Cuts (3x30s each side)

I left the gym feeling pretty 'oiled' and far from tired. This is good as tonight I intend to put together a bit of a paleo workout as follows:

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (15mins)
1a) Hill Sprints (4x10s)
1b) Muscle Ups with L-Sit (5, 4, 3, 2)
1c) Ring Splits (4x5r:10s)
1d) Fingerboard Laddering with Heel Hooks

The fingerboard work will be more 'freeform' to closer emulate climbing. This session will be intense and as short as I can make it.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Arrives

I have waxed lyrical about the paleo concept before. It cannot be owned nor 'branded'. It is noetic and intuitive.

You can give people a paleo scenario such as how they would go about hunting an animal, escaping a predator or simply getting them to detail how they would survive on a desert island and they will implicitly get the idea. (The only real mistake people make is in assuming that hunter-gatherers regularly endured starvation - but a migratory population can follow herds of prey and unlike a damaged crop, if your prey escapes there is another one around somewhere!)

Once you get the idea it is easy to abstract and transport that idea to a modern environment and implement the principles in to your lifestyle. It is easy to get it right. You have a robust framework from which to work.

Cynics see it as 'New Age' - particularly prior to engaging with it. They just KNOW that you have to 'eat less and do more'. To them, Paleo seems wishy washy and too easy, but it is this ease that makes paleo so powerful. What's more, you can extrapolate form this base understanding - and so you engage on a journey of self discovery along a path from which it is actually pretty hard to get lost....

One thing I have noticed about the Paleo community is its breadth. There are a lot of blogs and sites out there pushing the paleo message. These blogs may cover much of the same material but by force of conviction, they each maintain their own flavour.

Most of the sites I stumble across contain some nugget buried in there somewhere. If not a new exercise or variation, a link to some interesting book or paper - or maybe even some personal reflection on how paleo has changed their life. These sites might suggest a novel adventure or a recipe. Paleo is a broad church. What is more this powerfully driven community creates an rich output, most which is done free of charge.

In contrast we see the marketeers pushing 'Fatty to Thinny of the Year' on the corporate diet programs. As we all know, these people will have to exercise chronically in a state of hunger for the rest of their life - and will usually have to face obesity again at some point.


The paleo model has obviously marked its 10,000-15000th anniversary and is probably closer to its 40,000th to 200,000th anniversary. That is a long time for our behaviours to become ingrained. Many behaviours (such as fear of heights and fear of loud noises), run deeper still and suggest an even greater lineage.

Thus, it is no coincidence that many people hit upon the same kind of ideas and come to the same conclusions within the paleo community - even when operating in relative isolation.

I talked recently of how I got clues to my training from how my children play and have formulated the concept of the Play Test. Of course this is not a revelation in either concept nor execution - anyone who has watched a nature program (particularly about mammals), could tell you the same thing and would certainly arrive at the same conclusions.

Similarly I have always seen my interest in climbing as an extension to the tree climbing I loved as a child. Whether escaping a woolly rhino or a gang from the next street, the skill of climbing quickly upwards could serve you really well (as would the bodybuilder's puffer-fish technique of looking bigger).

Maybe it was easy for me to fall in to paleo given my background in climbing. Climbers like John Gill have a rich history in gymnastics and bodyweight feats. Gill's path is in no way unique amongst climbers, although he was/is undoubtedly something of a pioneer, bringing his own flavour to fitness.

The training Gill was doing 50 years ago would fit the 'athletic' paleo model - short of a bit of sprinting and throwing. But the extension of play to adult life and the ability to primarily escape-agility and the broad spectrum control of his body are paleo to the core. The results can be seen on his site where he documents senior athletes (70+), who are still capable of incredible physical feats (check out the profiles Gill has compiled).

Gill himself seems to have come along a several decades after a previous paleo-minded movement.

One Hundred Years Ago
There looks to have been something of a fragmented and embryonic paleo movement in all but name some time around the 1900s. This thought was reaffirmed recently when I came across the work of Georges Hebert and his concept of 'Movement Naturelle' on the Conditioning Research blog.

Over a century ago, in his books 'The Play of Animals' and 'The Play of Man' Karl Groos was driving at the imperatives of play. Interestingly he noted a curious 'rule' that small mammals (including humans), prefer to be the prey in a game of chase. But in larger predators such as wolves, they prefer the role of predator - hence your dog likes to chase a ball whilst your kids will prefer to be chased.

Similarly, Banting's Letter on Corpulence predates Atkins by a century!


So what does all this show? Well to me it shows how modern fitness trends have totally obliterated intuitive diet and exercise. Particularly the fat phobias spawned in 1950s and the jogging trends that have exploded since the 1970s.

Fitness has become dominated by trends from aerobics to eZ-Barbell Curls. Fundamentals have been replaced by fashions and it has resulted in a general public unable to recognise what fitness actually is and how to obtain or maintain it.

Thankfully, we seem to be rediscovering our ancient heritage. There is momentum building behind the paleo concept and the 'breakthrough' should have a real and sustainable impact on health.

'New' Paleo

I have 'ranted' before about my frustrations with the world of fitness and my admiration for the New Paleo guys. People who are walking the walk and showing what is possible within the paleo model.

Of special note is Art DeVaney - who produced an excellent paper from December 2000 on Evolutionary Fitness. Whilst perhaps not completely groundbreaking in its content (Vince Gironda and Mike Mentzer experimented with HIT for years, paleo eating has its roots in the works of Banting, Weston A Price, Steffanson and Cordain and a broader paleo concept had been outlined by Georges Hebert and, I believe, Michael Eades by this time), for me, this paper pulled the various threads of the paleo concept together. (I should point out that his talk of 'gene expression' was and still is somewhat pioneering).

As I read it, it felt like I was stepping in to a pair of shoes - and the laces were pulled tight. The (paleo) shoe suddenly fit! De Vany has written what I consider to be the most succinct, eloquent and erudite paleo article of all time! It is a manifesto for paleo which neatly draws on the full spectrum of paleo tenets. Even now, for more scientifically minded individuals looking to adopt a paleo approach to training, I suggest they read this paper before all else.

Mark's Daily Apple is another great resource that manages to lay a paleo template across modern life. It is a rich source of paleo information and provides a digest of complex topics in manageable form. As always I must mention the inimitable Dr Mike Eades whose tireless work against those who would make 'worthless data confess' is worthy of a post all on its own.

This is where I think the new paleo movement really gets its strength. Rather than the wider 'slimming movement' and its appeal to our respect for doctors/anyone in a white coat - regardless of quality of their advice, there are very smart guys in the paleo world who are the living embodiment of their advice.

In fact I am always surprised by the number of paleo blogs out there and the number is growing. This shit really works and people are being driven to tell the world!


Perhaps the only 'revelation' in this whole paleo model is why in a culture dominated by concerns for health and fitness and concepts of 'natural' and 'organic', we don't trust our instincts a bit more.

I intend to follow this post with a few more on the theme of Feeding Your Mind and the psychological rationale for paleo. Sure, as I said above, we can all work the stuff out - but what do 'experts' reckon?

I hope you stay tuned.

Wednesday Lau Gar

After a night of Lau Gar (one hour) and some fierce sparring, I did some deadhanging (for climbing strength).

1) 4x30s - 3 minute rest (One armed, four fingers)

The Lau Gar was my warm up! I did it fasted again and got the same feeling of sharpness although the teeth grinding (whilst still evident), was not as bad. I had my usual strong coffee at lunchtime so intend to repeat this experiment without the coffee next week.

The fasted workout definitely suits me and is something that I will continue with - especially where balance and other skill is required.

I ate late, and I ate massive - thus explaining a slightly disturbed sleep.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Tuesday Gymnastics

I went for another micro workout today - secreting some assisted pistols and assisted Headstand Press Up (HeSPU) work in to wider gymnastic activity.

One gain I noticed today was that I can now do two quality pistols unassisted off each leg. Both the negative and positive phases are under control. This is a milestone!

As with much of the work I do, I have varied the sets and reps and not been scared to vary the exercise in achieving this (or indeed achieving a goal in any particular muscle group). Gains come, but they take their time and they are normally solid once made!

This is an approach which suits me - particularly as I have some complex goals (a planche and a body lever).

My legs are quite slender - I reckon I have a Masai-type physique as you can see in the picture above of Flash and I going for a walk. Flash is the shorter of the two of us (in case you hadn't guessed). But I don't mind slender legs - I try to develop functionality, and any mass is a by product not a goal, of my training.

Warm Up (5 minutes of the usual joint rotations and swings)
Main (20+ mins)
1a) Pistols (5, 4, 3, 2 - unassisted)
1b) Tuck Planch (20s frog, 5s, 5s, 4s)
1c) Cuts (30s Left: 30s Right, 30s Left: 30s Right, 30s Left: 30s Right)

2a) Tuck Lever (20s tight, 5s, 5s, 4s)
2b) Kneel to Leg Raise (5, 4, 3, 2)
2c) HeSPU (5, 4, 3, 2)
2d) Kneel Backs (30s, 30s, 30s)

Each set is made up of three and four exercises respectively. I repeat each set four times - the load/time is shown after the exercise. If only three sets are shown then that is all I did for that particular exercise.

As noted above, the first three sets of pistols were assisted. the HeSPU is also assisted so I split the leg raise from kneeling in to a separate exercise, followed by (freestanding) HeSPU off a swiss ball.

It was quite warm outside so the warm up, planch and pistols were performed in the winter sunshiiiiine! ;)

Monday, 26 January 2009


Just in case you missed it, I thought I would flag up the following program on BBC2 tonight at 2100hrs:

I have high hopes for this program as Horizon has provided some quality viewing in the past. What is interesting here is that there is acknowledgement in the write up that it is not all about 'diet and exercise'. This is something central to the paleo movement. We KNOW this to be the is just that everyone is about 40,000 years behind us.

Somehow I still think there will be many people who come away from this program thinking that obesity is out of their control and that fundamentally, it is still about 'eat less, do more'.

Sadly many members of the medical and political establishment will be the ones left with this deeply ruinous impression. I would go so far as to say that many members of the medical and political establishment will not watch this program because they KNOW it is all about eating less and doing more.

Finally a warning for all the paleo people out there - might catch fatness.

As the French say, "Baise-moi!"

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Super Sunday

I performed my usual Sunday Workout. I had originally aimed at making my Sunday Workouts purely climbing oriented, but they seem to have taken on the paleo burden.

I tried to swing the pendulum back to climbing training tonight but the workout overall became too long and by the time I had done my Kill Carry, 45 minutes had passed. This session was about 50% longer than I wanted it to be. If I had removed the deadhanging it would have easily been completed in about 15 minutes!

Warm Up (5 minutes of the usual joint rotations and swings)

Main (30+ mins)

1a) Sprint (4x10s)

1b) Ring Routine (1MU, 2MU, 2MU, 2MU,

1c) One Arm Deadhang (45s, 30s, 30s, 30s, back 3)

1d) Ring Splits (4x5rep:10s hold)

1e) One Arm Deadhang (45s, 30s, 30s, 30s, front 3)

2) Kill Carry (extended circuit with weight vest) - 1o mins

Exercises 1a - 1e constitute a set. The Kill Carry (KC) was the 'cool down'. The increased length of the session was caused by the asynchronous deadhanging (which I do purely for finger strength/climbing). Really I should have used double arm hangs, dropped the KC (God forbid), or (preferably), reduced the number of sets in the main workout to three rather than four.

Ending with a KC draws the session into the Inverse Saw-Tooth energy expenditure model. Just as the lion hangs on to its prey, adjusting its position and trying to conserve energy, so I walked around the streets for 10 minutes under a load - trying to relax and adjust the weight in to as comfortable position as I could.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Friday Session

I went to the climbing wall last night and climbed routes rather than bouldering. My stamina is way down, but the power and ability to recover is still there.

I chose another quick workout this lunch aimed at flexibility - but got suckered in to a wee bit of dynamic strength work:

Warm Up (5 mins)

Main (15 mins)
1a) 20m Shuttle Sprints (8, 8, 6, 4)
1b) One Arm Medicine Ball Throws (8x2kg, 8x2kg, 6x3kg, 4,5kg)
1c) Pillar Jumps (8xTwoLeg, 8xTwoLeg, 6xOneLeg, 2xTwoLeg + 2xOneLeg)
Rest 30 seconds and repeat!

Flexibility (10 Mins)
2a) Back Bridge (4x15s)
2b) Planche (3x5s, 1x15s - easier variation)

3a) Lever (2x5s, 1x15s - easier variation)
3b) Cuts (3x30s each side)

The exercises were grouped as shown (so for example, completing one each of 1a, 1b and 1c constitutes a set). I aimed broadly for 4 sets in each group. The OAMBT should emphasise explosiveness - as should the jumps.

It was a cloudy but mild day and the ground was wet but when the sun broke through it was rather enjoyable. The back bridges felt really good today. I think I am improving my shoulder flexibility. I was in and out in around 30 minutes.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Improve Balance & Flexibility, Feel Sharper, Be Quicker and Work Harder for Longer in 24 Hours!

This weekend brought the realisation that there have been more than 'Twelve Days of Christmas' in 2008. Indeed I reckon I have used up some of my Christmas allowance for 2009.

With regard to my diet, I tightened the 'Paleo screws' some time late on Sunday - munching down the last of the kids' cheese toasties! I have put some quality training together since the beginning of the month and decided to cut back slightly on the physical work.

By this morning (Wednesday), I felt ready for a fast. I have blogged previously about intuitive 24 hour fasting and this was simply another example of it. Then something pretty interesting happened!

Fasting Indicators
I was able to fast in comfort all day - aided by my usual few coffees and teas (so not a true paleo fast). There were no hunger pangs nor 'gnawing' or the dreaded 'shakes' - the classic carboholic fasting symptom. In fact I felt physically strong all day and mentally elated. (The picture of Captain Kid and I above reflects how I felt!)

I had to work late and during my drive back I realised I was grating my teeth quite hard. I didn't feel stressed or anxious. I would say I felt alert and keen - almost like an amphetamine high (so I have been told!). ;)

During a fast I find that my wedding band becomes very lose and has to be worn on the right hand (the band didn't actually fit on my right hand just after Christmas). Now whether this is due to water loss, reduced inflammation, fat loss or whatever I just don't know but I succeeded in the 'band test' today.

Now comes the really interesting bit.....

During this evening's kickboxing class I felt lightening-fast all night. During the warm up I was able to perform back kicks (Hou Tsarn) with much, much greater balance than I could last week - perhaps my most composed ever.

During stretching work (I don't normally do static stretches but the class demands it), I found I had much greater flexibility during my static stretching (dynamic stretching was unaffected).

During the sparring, I wouldn't say my maximal effort was any greater than normal, but I would say that I was able to operate at a greater intensity for longer.

I honestly felt six feet tall and bulletproof for the whole session and in generally top form. My sparring was more precise and whereas I was eating punches last week I felt sharper this week and my reactions seemed quicker.

This isn't the first time I have worked-out fasted, I have done so with a degree of regularity for a couple of years. (I should reiterate that the fasts are dictated by intuition rather than a prescribed periodicity and I may either fast before or after exercise).

What has stuck me on this occasion is how much better I felt performing a workout in a fasted state - something I have felt to some degree before, but never this acute. I don't know if these effects were more apparent because this is the first exercise-fasted training I have performed this year making the contrast is more apparent.

I have fasted at least once this year already, but not prior to a combat workout which arguably requires greater speed, agility and reaction time.

I cannot dispute that easing back on exercise for the past few days did not help, but my amphetamine like teeth grinding on the way home and general feelings of sharpness suggest something a little deeper was occurring.

This is something I intend to investigate further. Stay tuned. In the meantime, comments from fans of intermittent fasting and ex-nineties ravers are welcome!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Warm Up Routine

This is my usual five minute warm up. I have reprinted the routine here although it is taken from a lengthier post from last year. It is based upon a warm up in 'Stretching Scientifically' and has served me well for nearly 20 years!

The Warm Up: Part A - Rotations

Start by standing with your legs shoulder-width apart. keep your head up and relax. You will now perform a set of rotations. The rotations should be at a 'medium pace' and exploit your full range of motion:

1) Straighten your arms out at 45 degrees from your body and rotate you hands/wrists clockwise five times. Then rotate them anticlockwise for five rotations. Repeat this step once (so you will have completed a total of 10 rotations in each direction).

2) Now move to the shoulders. Rotate them forwards five times, then backwards five times. Repeat this step once (so you will have completed a total of 10 rotations in each direction).

3) Rotate your chin (not your head), in a clockwise direction five times, then rotate it anticlockwise five times. Repeat this step once (so you will have completed a total of 10 rotations in each direction).

4) Rotate your pelvis clockwise five times, then anticlockwise five times. Repeat this step once (so you will have completed a total of 10 rotations in each direction). When performing these rotations, imagine you are using a Hula Hoop. Try to keep your torso upright and your upper legs still, accentuating movement in the pelvis alone.

5) Now move down to your knees. Bend them slightly and put your hands on your knees (in a 1950's shang-a-lang 'stylee'). Rotate your knees five times clockwise and then five times anticlockwise. Repeat this step once (so again, you will have completed a total of 10 rotations in each direction).

The Warm Up: Part B - Swings

Stand upright. You arms should be relaxed and hanging down by your side. For each activity perform 1-3 sets each of about 10 reps:

1) Front arm-swings; Imagine you are marching like a soldier. Your arms swing back and forth in a vertical plane. This is exactly the action you perform for front arm-swings (but keep your feet still). The swings should take your arms as far back as they go but rather than wildly 'throwing' your arms back, try to 'lead' them. With each swing, try to push for a greater range of motion.

2) Side arm-swings; Hold your arms out in front of you at shoulder height. Swing your arms back and as wide as possible behind you, and then bring them forwards in front of you. Vary the angles between the arm and the body and use a different 'plane' for each swing (think of 'semaphore'). Again, the swings should not be wild, you should 'lead' your limbs. With each swing you should aim to push your arms further back behind you.

3) Front leg swings; In this exercise, you will be using your hand as a target to kick to. Stand upright and hold your left arm out in front of you (imagine you are holding a dog on a lead). Now swing your left leg up until it touches your hand and then lower it again.

You MUST start well within your comfortable range of motion with this exercise. With each subsequent swing, raise your hand slightly - to give you a higher target to kick to. As a rough guide, your swings should be just over half your maximum range of motion when you are half way through the total number of kicks you intend to perform. Repeat for the right leg.

4) Side leg swings; As above, in this exercise, you will be using your hand as a target to kick to. Stand upright and hold your left arm out to the side. Now swing your left leg out to the side until it touches your hand and then lower it again.

Again, you MUST start well within your comfortable range of motion with this exercise. With each subsequent swing, raise your hand slightly - to give you a higher target to kick to. As a rough guide, your swings should be just over half your maximum range of motion when you are half way through the total number of kicks you intend to perform. Repeat for the right leg.

5) Rear leg swings; Bend over and rest your hands upon the back of a chair or stool. The height of the support is not too important. Now swing your left leg out behind you, taking care not to turn your torso (i.e. keep your pelvis forward facing).

Again, you MUST start well within your comfortable range of motion with this exercise. With each subsequent swing, try to lead your leg higher and higher. As a rough guide, your swings should be just over half your maximum range of motion when you are half way through the total number of kicks you intend to perform.


There are normally three problems people find with this warm up:

1) If you reach a plateau at a non-maximal range of motion in your warm up, it means you are pushing too far too soon in the warm up. Aim for initial swinging ranges well within your comfort zone. Your maximal range should be reached only on your final swing or two.

2) If you achieve maximal range of motion well within your warm up (but after one set of about 10 reps), then simply cut back on sets. Once maximal range is reached your muscles should be locked and loaded for action.

3) 'Tweaking' is a (potential) injury. It means that you are swinging your limbs too wildly. Slow down the swings.

Finally.... As you progress, you will be able to drop sets from this warm up. With time you should be able to get to your full range of motion from about 10 swings of your limbs. The whole routine should take about 5 minutes. Conversely, do not worry about adding a few more rotations or swings to any particular step if you feel stiff.

Tuesday Gymnastic Session

This lunch was another blue-sky winter day. I really appreciate the chance to work outdoors in these conditions.

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (10 mins or so)
1a) Planche Variation (20s, 4s, 4s)
1b) Headstand (kneel to raise and lower 4 times per set)
1c) Kneel Backs (30s)

2a) Lever Variation (20s, 4s, 4s)
2b) Pistols (5, 4, 3)
2c) Cuts (30s per side)

I performed each group of three exercises three times.

Weekend Play

I have had a few days off from 'formal' training. The weekend was spent with Captain Kid and Flash in the park. Both are a handful in open space and have a habit of running off in diametrically opposite directions!

At four and a half years of age, Captain Kid is in to chasing games - either as pursuer or pursuee. This play develops agility in both of us with lots of short sprints and direction changes.

Flash on the other hand is only around nineteen months old - but don't be fooled by youth. She has speed on her side, much like a little cannon ball. She manages to do two things well:

1) She appears to be right next to you but then 'teleports' to a point about 10m away. This is sudden and unexpected.
2) The destination location of the teleportation event will be near some hazard - such as a child on a swing, an open gate (on to a road) or a foaming dog.

The combined effect of these two points is that I am prompted to sprint at speed towards flash and scoop her up to safety! Sprint and Scoop - a new paleo mode of training?

For me, the sprint and scoop is taxing and picking a weight up at speed from a position low down works a full chain of muscles.

I suspect that for women, carrying a weight equal to a baby and little more than that of a toddler would be optimal 'carrying' training weight from an evolutionary perspective.

Another good example of building paleo in to your daily life!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Friday Workout

I went to the climbing wall last night and my fingers are destroyed today! I just had a quick workout this lunch aimed at flexibility:

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (15 mins)
1) Sprinting (4x10s; 1 min rest between)

2) Back Bridge (3x15s)
3) Planche (2x5s, 1x20s - easier variation)

4) Cuts (3x30s each side)
5) Lever (2x5s, 1x20s - easier variation)

The exercises were grouped as shown. The aim was to keep it light. Sprinting is always a great way to start the session and ensure the blood is flowing throughout the body, warming the extremities!

The first two sets of levers and planche were with my new 'hard' variation and the last set was and easier variation to build volume in the session.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Wednesday Quickie

Just a quick workout this lunchtime! It was sunny but wet outside so I only warmed up in the sunshine and then had to go indoors to pull the moves. Not a very 'paleo' attitude I know!

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (15 mins)
1) Back Bridge (3x15s)
2) Cuts (3x30s each side)

3) L-Sit Walks (3x5 steps)

4) Planche (3x5s)

5) Lever (3x5s)

The first two were performed as a mini circuit and the rest as single. I rested up to 30s between sets.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Horseman

There are some new readers of this blog who want to lose weight and/or get fit. This post is for them and indeed ANYONE who thinks that the way to lose fat is to 'eat less and do more'. It is based on an original post that can be found here.

The Official Line on How to Lose Weight
The official line on how to lose weight can be summarised as follows: 'Eat less, do more'.

Whichever way you cut it, just about any diet you care to mention (that does not involve restriction of refined carbohydrate), falls in to one or other - or both - of these categories; 'Eat less or do more'.

Dinner At Mine
Now if I were to invite you to my house for a three course meal with all the trimmings and said 'bring your appetite', how would you develop your appetite?

You might skip breakfast (i.e, eat less), and/or you might go for a big walk or for a swim (i.e, do more). Whichever way you cut it, just about any way you care to mention to raise your appetite falls in to one or other of these categories; 'Eat less or do more'. (Commonly we talk of 'working up an appetite'.)

Spot the difference
Did you spot that? The 'official'/conventional recommendation to lose weight is to 'eat less and/or do more' whilst the VERY thing you would do to compel yourself to eat more than usual requires that you ; 'eat less or do more'.

NOW do you understand why calorie restriction based diets do not work? The next time your doctor or a dietitian advises you to 'eat less and do more' to lose weight, ask them the question above and see what they say! ;)

The Power of Hunger
Hunger is an incredibly powerful driver. You can eat 'bulky' foods and drink all manner of shakes to fill the belly, but your body cannot be lied to for long. If it thinks it is 'losing', then all other (hormonal) factors being the same, it will crank up the hunger accordingly.

FFS one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is famine! (For anyone on a calorie-restricted diet, look at the picture above - the rider in the foreground; that's you that is).

That is indicative of the power and pain of hunger.

Even those who have had surgery (liposuction, gastric banding and other invasive surgery) find that their cravings remain. Furthermore, such weight loss is not a one way street. In many cases, despite the surgery, weight can be regained. This is because without changing WHAT you eat, you are not tackling the root cause of the problem.

So what is the root cause of obesity? In a word insulin.

Insulin is the primary hormone that governs fat storage. People with Type 1 Diabetes cannot produce insulin and die emaciated. People with Type 2 Diabetes are awash with insulin and (usually) die obese.

The body tries to maintain about a teaspoon of sugar in the blood at any one time. The body has evolved to maintain blood sugar in a very narrow band. When excess sugar enters the body, insulin is released to remove and store this excess energy. It is stored as fat. Carbohydrate is simply a long sugar that is split in to a simple sugar by the body.
In contrast the impact of a natural fats is negligible, and protein impact is modest in terms of glycemic load and index.

Carb Scarcity
Think about a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. What would you eat? You'd hunt animals (protein and fat) and eat seasonal fruit and vegetables. Carbohydrate would exist in the fruit and veg but would be a small proportion of the diet by volume as a whole.

Our hunter-gatherer might find wild honey but those wild bees are aggressive and so this would be a rare treat.

Fast forwards 40,000 years. The average diet is awash with carbohydrate - usually bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. These are sugars. These promote secretion of the fat storage hormone, insulin.

Day-in, day-out, the modern body has to chronically pump out insulin (from the islets of langerhans), due to this excessive carbohydrate consumption. As with any drug, the insulin receptors eventually become desensitized so the body has to produce more and more insulin to control blood sugar. Eventually the islets of langerhans get burnt out - they can no longer produce insulin in the required amounts.

Congratulations. You now have diabetes.

We haven't evolved to live in a high carb environment. Of course we crave refined carbs as they were historically a rare treat and valuable source of energy. But, if you can get your insulin under control you can better handle and control the cravings.

In addition, on a diet low in refined carbs YOU NEVER HAVE TO GO HUNGRY. You can eat as much as you want as long as it is from the paleo food groups (and preferably follow seasonal fare). It is that easy.

Your digestive tract and your body as a whole has been shaped and honed by thousands of years of evolution. Natural selection does not tolerate waste. Cutting bits off yourself and binding other bits up is no solution.

Here endeth the first lesson!

Inverse Saw Tooth

Yesterday I performed a total of about 15s in a planche position, 15s in a lever position and about 15 pistols on each leg and 15 supported headstand press ups.

These are cumulative figures, totals for the workout. These exercises constituted a couple of minutes 'under tension' for the whole session!

I felt I had more to give on leaving the gym. But this morning I am sore all over (called delayed on-set of muscle soreness or DOMS for short). On paper, what I did above looks trivial, but in reality this was one hell of a workout - and here is why.

If you imagine a predator such as a lion stalking its prey, you will see it crawl or canter along. At some point there is an intense burst of speed. The lion then mounts its prey and grips on fiercely as the victim bucks for its life.

Now imagine you are walking through town at night. Someone lurches at you from the shadows. Immediately you put in a burst of maximal speed. Once a safe distance away, you progressively slow your speed.

Welcome to the world of inverse saw tooth intensity (ISTI), which for me is THE intensity profile for a productive paleo workout. You can see the regular saw-tooth profile in the picture above (nicked from Wiki). The inverse saw-tooth simply has the tail at the other end (i.e. in mirror image).

The are plenty of training modes that fit this profile from High Intensity (Interval) Training to Fartlek ('speed play'). The key is to quickly take yourself way up near you maximal effort (unlike other exercises, I almost always perform sprinting at a maximal level given that it is such a fundamental movement), for a BRIEF period of time and then ease way off on the intensity.

You can simply target another muscle group or walk around between each activity to allow recovery. A typical activity might involve around 10s of activity with 30s to 1min of recovery - or if you switch body parts, any particular bodypart may get several minutes recovery time.

Science-y Bits
With an ISTI paleo-centric workout, you are working anaerobically (using the ATP-CP energy system), and with the correct choice of exercise you are targeting and thus developing the Type IIb muscle fibers.

Type IIb muscle fibers have a low resistance to fatigue but are capable of extremely fast contractions and of generating very high forces.

It is worth noting that you can perform a saw-tooth workout which should fatigue the other muscle fiber types and encourage them to 'drop out'. Thus enabling you to fire the Type IIb fibers. This is a technique endorsed by legendary paleo guru Art Devany.

Done correctly you get increased recruitment and some hypertrophy. But, be sure not to push yourself to failure. Think quality NOT quantity!

Increased power! Speed! Strength! All in less time! What's not to like? Less is more.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Monday Lunch and Burn

I performed a quick gymnastic/flexibility routine this lunchtime. I was in and out of the gym in about 30 minutes which included a 5 minute warm up and 10 minutes of stretching at the end.

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (15 minutes)
1a) Planche (Tuck, 3reps: 5s)
1b) HeSPU (5x3 supported)
1c) Kneel to HS (3x3)

2a) Body Lever (Tuck, 3reps: 5s)
2b) Pistols (3x5 assisted)

Cuts (3x30s each side)
Kneel Backs (3x30s)

All the planches are now tuck planches (which I can only hold for around 5 seconds) but they feel solid and I am sure gains will be made!

I was in the gym long after the gym-rats were in there and they were still 'pumping iron' as I left.

Oxidative Stress

The gym is packed out with cardio types today. Most of them probably don't know how flimsy the evidence is that what they are doing will lead to actual fat loss long-term. Even fewer of them will understand how such activity can lead to oxidative stress, hypertension and heart disease.

This article details an individual "who looked the picture of health—no cardiovascular risks, a marathon runner who had exercised vigorously each day for 30 years".

You ask most people in the gym how to lose weight and they will reply with something that can be summarised as 'eat less and do more'. If you ask them how to avoid heart disease, they will probably advise you eat less fat and 'do some cardio'.

I imagine many of the individuals at my local gym will have 'exercise-induced hypertension'. They are chronic over-exercisers - a condition that is acute in January.

The alarming thing for the many runners and spinners out there is that this case indicates cardio is not a panacea:

  • "Despite his exercise regime, he appears to be in the same boat as millions of Americans who do not exercise regularly".

Can you believe such a statement would EVER be said about a marathon runner?

Your Choice
Now you could, like me, follow a paleo model and undertake a brace of sprints for ten seconds or so a couple of times a week (no more than two minutes total per week). In addition you might want to play the odd game involving bursts of speed.

Alternatively you might (ahem...) want to head to the website of The British Heart Foundation (cheerily announcing "Beating Heart Disease Together"). They offer a list of marathons and running events you may wish to partake in here. They also advise that "eating too much fat, especially saturated fat, can have a bad effect on your cholesterol, which can increase your risk of coronary heart disease".

Don't just do it!

Sunday, 11 January 2009


I had some more thoughts about the planche. Of all the gymnastic exercises I utilise, most can be rationalised from a paleo perspective - they are of a climbing nature such as muscle ups and levers, or they are rooted in 'play' such as handstands. Even exotic gymnastic exercises are 'bastardised' versions of basic movements.

But then it occurred to me that the planche may well be seen as one of THE most fundamental exercises.

With babies you are recommended to put an infant on its front for a period of time as soon as it can hold its head up. (You can see where this idea is going). As the child develops it then progresses to sitting up unsupported at around 7 months and then eventually to kneeling, then pulling up to standing (assisted) and then to crawling.

You can see that several of these stages involve arm, shoulder and back strength similar to those targeted by a planche. Such strength in an 'all fours' position is evident in most if not all land based mammals.

So maybe the planche is actually pre-paleo. Maybe the gains we can get from it are rooted in our evolutionary past on all fours. I would love for someone to look further in to this idea.

Enough of my ramblings. ;)

Weekend Routine

We spent yesterday doing a light family workout. It barely got above freezing all day and so we headed out to the local woods which afforded a bit of shelter from the wind.

I love walking through the woods at any time of the year. I have spent a few summers working out under the trees with my gymnastic rings hanging from the branches.

Flash was encouraged to walk but I ended up carrying her in the papoose on the hilly sections. Captain Kid was happy to run around and took to pressing a few fallen logs and walking along felled trees.

You shouldn't underestimate the benefits of such workouts. Everything from housework and gardening to family walks count towards health. Variety is key.

This afternoon Captain Kid was getting cabin fever, so after some chores we headed out for our regular Sunday session. Training with CK does slow things down a bit but it makes training a laugh.

I have begun to focus a bit more on finger strength for my climbing which, with the extra focus on gymnastics (a goal for this year), will hopefully result with a fruitful summer on the rock!

Warm Up (5 minutes of the usual joint rotations and swings)
Main (20+ mins)
1) Sprint (10s)
2) Ring Routine
3) Deadhang (45s, back 3)
4) Ring Splits (5rep:5s, 4rep:10s, 3rep:15s, 3rep:15s)
5) Deadhang (45s, front 3)

Kill Carry (extended circuit with NO weight vest)

I went through the exercises 1-5 four times. The deadhangs are static exercises for climbing involving three fingers at a time. I wrapped things up with a KC that took about 10 minutes.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Here Be Dragons

Early cartographers would adorn their maps with the phrase 'Here Be Dragons' whenever the boundaries of the known world was reached. I feel that some paleo-types may be of a similarly fearful nature.

I follow the paleo model of nutrition and fitness, I am wary of straying too far from this model as it has served me well for several years now, but I am also aware of what Skrabanek calls the 'utopian romanticism' practiced by 'Greens' - a movement under which I believe we could file many if not most individuals who follow a primal pattern of fitness.

In Healthism, Skrabanek notes that "A return to nature is a recurrent dream of those who cannot cope with the complexities of life...who wish to regress to an infantile stage and to bury their faces between the welcoming breasts of Mother Nature. Some may romp naked in the woods...while those more philosophically minded conjure up utopian vistas of the holistic harmony of Man and Universe."

This is an apt and sobering reminder for those who follow a paleo model - that they maintain an evidence-base for their paleo-oriented beliefs. I want to make sure that my exercise and nutritional patterns are at worst non-detrimental to my health and so continually try to record, measure and adjust my current model as appropriate.

I have long been a fan of bodyweight exercises and see more and more potential in fundamental gymnastic exercises. Gymnasts train with basic movements and holds that can involve contractions throughout the whole body. Planches, Body Levers, Muscle Ups and HSPUs are simply fantastic kit-free exercises. Add a sprint on to the end and you have a complete workout right there!

Although I cannot see a paleo driver to planch or to perform an HSPU there is no reason to avoid them, such is their potential for strength development.

I am determined to put a bit more effort in to my gymnastics this year. I still see room for Kill Carrying and Medicine Ball Throws (and I could never be without sprinting), I still want 'paleo baseline strength', but we can clearly gain from movements that would be curious to anyone in a loincloth!

Friday Gymnastics

I put together another quick routine for today (in and out the gym in about 30 mins). It focused on flexibility and basic strength:

Warm Up (5 mins)
1) Planche (1min total)
2) Back Bridge (1min total)

3) Cuts (30s per side)
4) Body Levers (1min total)

The gym was packed out with serial dieters enduring the annual ritual of reaffirming the feedback that 'eat less, do more' really does not work.

The good points of today's workout is that I managed 7 seconds of tuck planche. I have NEVER been able to do this before so this was a real surprise and boost. The remainder of the planches were shorter (3 seconds) and I padded the minute duration with some frog planches (straight armed). The body lever involved a straddle - which is another first.

I like being a generalist and gymnastics gives you 'general strength' (albeit BRUTAL strength). I intend to focus a bit more on gymnastics this year thus erring from true paleo. I will maintain a paleo element.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

First Gymastic Routine of 2009

Although I did some activity over Christmas I did no stretching and little to work through my full range of motion. Tuesday presented an opportunity to address any stiffness resulting!

Warm Up (5 mins)
1) Chair Sits (1 min)
2) Handstand (1 min; not completely freestanding)

3) Kneel Backs (1 min)
4) Planch (20s)
5) Cuts (1min each side)
6) Lever (20s)

Exercises one and two were one mini cycle and exercises 3-6 a second mini-cycle. I completed four sets of the first mini-cycle (alternating between each exercise) and then three sets of the second mini-cycle.

The whole routine took about 35 mins.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

First Day Back

I picked up training again on Sunday. (Christmas still has not truly finished for me as I have some Christmas cake left - but the tinned chocolates complete with hydrogenated fats have gone). I never had a complete rest over the festive period. There was a boxing day swim and several visits to local parks in Dublin in which I would be running and climbing with my kids.

Now, however, I need to refocus. The break from formal training has allowed a few 'niggles' to heal. As always with my training, after a break I get back to working out with some sprinting.

Sunday night featured my usual workout:

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

After four cycles through this sequence, I went out for an extended 'Kill Carry' with my weight vest and punch bag. The extended walk took my 11 minutes which was pretty slow. However, I felt good and the whole workout took around 30 minutes.

The more I use Kill Carrys the more I like them. It is heavy functional work at its best. I try to keep the loads at a level at which I can still put some speed together if needed. I am looking to use less weight (get rid of the weight vest), and try some intermittent sprints with the just the punchbag.

Friday, 2 January 2009

British Government Come Oh So Close....

My god, the paleo movement is finally getting its message through as you can see in this BBC article! You should watch the video at the bottom of the page or follow this link to Sky.

Well, OK, they do muff up the paleo model and conclude with 'an eat less do more' subtext, but the fact that the 'Change 4 Life' campaign begins with acknowledgement of our paleo roots (complete with imagery of us hunting and being hunted by FAST animals and performing and climbing), gives me some hope. They also show real food (the type that grows on trees and the type which runs around).

It all sounds most promising, but things take a turn for the worst when we realise who is behind this campaign. The most worrying issue for me is contained in the following sentence:

  • Tesco, Kellogg's and Unilever are among the companies who will be promoting the "eat well, move more, live longer" message in the "Change4Life" strategy.
If that doesn't scare you then Sky news report,

  • "Cadbury, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, Kraft, Mars, Nestle and PepsiCo are all taking part alongside major supermarkets Asda, Tesco and The Co-operative Group."
As usual I think I would disagree with each of these companies about what constitutes 'eating well' and also on what 'movements' you should be doing more of.

Whatever THEY think, I would gladly pit my personal 'vital statistics' and athletic prowess against ANY of the senior managers of these companies! I would also guess that at least 50% of their senior board are overweight with poor body composition.

The 'Change 4 Life' website itself is a a fundamental dogs-dinner of advice, and we are not talking a wild-dog either. Cutting fat, calorie restriction (termed 'me size meals'), and advice to 'do more', provide a distinctly non-paleo conclusion to events.

Sadly this whole campaign is doomed to failure as with ALL previous governmental campaigns targeted at obesity. They have simply reheated the corpse of calorie and fat restriction.

The Guardian quotes the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson who explicitly states this:

  • "The core of the problem is simple - we eat too much and we do too little exercise"

Perhaps the most annoying thing about this whole campaign is that the cost is £75m. Now if this message is the same as that featured in all previous campaigns, why do they think it will suddenly work now?

I don't mind mistakes. I do get angered by repeated mistakes. I get more annoyed by expensive, repeated mistakes. What makes me truly mad is expensive, repeated mistakes that I have to pay for. If that was not enough, I have since realised I can get pushed to DEFCON One by expensive, repeated mistakes that I have to pay for in times of economic crisis.

Having a vegetarian and vegan past, I often get criticised for 'always changing my diet' (I have changed my diet three times in over 30 years). But this change has been on the back of personal experimentation and formal research.

The former has provided me with feedback and the latter has been a source of education and ultimately, confirmation of my own experience. When the facts change, I change with them.

Our government and Alan Johnson in particular could do with doing the same.