Tuesday, 04 December 2012

Getting back to the grind

Its the season,  the warriors are getting their gear on for the summer vibes.  Vacations are planned, bottle stores are being raided and all hell is about to break loose on every beach across the South African coastline.

Enter December.

We know what this month is about, we know debauchery is about to be unleashed on our prized physiques that we've trained all year to obtain. Yet a quick 3 weeks down the line you waking up on the bathroom floor staring at the ceiling with a second heartbeat in your head.

Enter January. 

I’ll be honest with you, January and I have never quite seen eye to eye.  The start of a new year seems to automatically put everyone under pressure, as five minutes ago you were lazing on the beach by day and shovelling turkey and champagne by night.  

The fireworks die down and the sun rises on that dreaded first day of the month, which wants you to start being awesome when all you want to do is bury your head in a cushion on the couch, kick up your feet and take a much needed break from your break.

January expects you to start fresh, set new goals and establish new habits when your mind is still in the chill zone.  My modus operandi to this annual situation is to approach with caution, and ensure that you are mentally prepared for the transition well before it encroaches on your holiday swagger.

When the new year’s work week starts, diving head first into your reality of corporate meetings, rush hour traffic and pin stripe suits is going to leave you more exhausted than you were when you packed your holiday suitcase.

Getting back to the grind after the holidays is never an easy task.  I'm not going to sit here and bore you with the mundane cliches society dishes out in the back pages of their suburban newspapers "Get home a few days before the alarm clock strikes 5am on Monday morning" or "Prepare your to-do lists for your first week back a week before you leave"

Just writing that made me cower in shame it’s such commonplace and banality, what I can suggest, is to not rip the ass out of your holiday.  Taking a three week break over the festive season is not a hall pass to drunken binges, overindulgence and physical abuse.  You have worked all year (or at least the last three months to get that body, beach ready) to throw it all away because its ‘the season to be jolly’ besides the physical side effects of debauchery, the new year’s guilt is enough to send you spiralling back into old habits.

In no way am I suggesting you spend your vacation feeding off rabbit food and sipping luke warm water.

You deserve a little luxury and a little personal spoil; after all, you’ve worked your ass off all year to look good for the next few weeks.  I am merely suggesting you do things in moderation, not only for your physical well being but to aid you in a smooth transition from holiday to office boardroom.

Using your holiday as a break from your realities ensures that when it’s time to get back to the grind stone, you are rested, energized and even amped to grab the bull by the horns come first day back at the office.   Nine times out of ten we set ourselves resolutions that entail goals in health and success in one way or another, which reminds me, gym owners, brace yourselves, the new years resolution gym members are coming.

Why not kick off your year of new beginnings in a healthy state of mind, rejuvenated, restored and determined as opposed to hung over, jaded and exhausted.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Got Juice?

We are all aware of the ongoing saga surrounding doping internationally, Lance Armstrong being made the most recent example.

Everyday, all the time, athletes are being ripped of their medals and egos.  Everyone is using and everyone is denying.

Look, in my personal opinion, Livestrong's Armstrong is still an incredible athlete, he beat cancer and went on to compete in the Tour De France many a time, whether he won it or got stripped of his titles, the fact remains that this man fought and incredible fight, and won that hands down.

However whether we agree or disagree with abuse, the truth is, steroids are illegal in the sporting world.  If they were legal and every single athlete was a user, well then the playing field would be fair again.  However choosing to use when you know that you shouldn't, is cheating.  Its that simple.

It all boils down to respect for the game.

Those who know me, know I feel strongly about users.  If using is going to help you score that winning touchdown and earn you another $50 000 000 at the end of the season, well then hell that's your personal choice.  That is a choice with motivation.  I know many a power lifter and many an athlete that do use, they know that I disagree but what I will give them, is their choice to use is at least justifiable, whether it is wrong or not, they use with reason.

If you are going to use, so that you look good in boardshorts on the beach, well then, you're a complete minion in my books.  There is no justification for misuse of performance enhancers, when your performance is just strutting your stuff on the sidewalk.  Steroids have their place in medicine, as do they arguably have their unfortunate place in sport, however if you are not suffering from anything that requires the use and are not competing in something that could change your life, you just look ridiculous with your weak backbone, and fragile mind.

The long term side effects of abuse, namely cardiovascular problems, liver failure, neurological issues, blood pressure and cholesterol issues, increased organ size (amongst many other fantastic issues) are not worth the trouble caused later in life.

If you have turned to the gym and chosen training for your physical wellbeing, for absolute strength, for health, for vitality and for longevity and even just to look great aesthetically, cheating your way to hotness just cannot be equalled to the empowerment you feel from reaching those goals based on your own hard work.

The choices are simple.  Albert Einstein said "Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value"

Monday, 12 November 2012

Interview with Andy Craig at CrossFit Durban

CrossFit, whether you love it or hate it, is on the rise in South Africa.  This method of training, and approach to fitness is quickly becoming a known entity by everyone and anyone who's listening.

The community and culture of their members across the board is evident.  The training environment incorporates a sense of family, trust and belonging whilst the work involved is constantly varied, highly intensive, functional movements with the addition of power and Olympic lifts.

Over the last year I have come to know who I would consider the ambassador to CrossFit South Africa, Andy Craig.  Despite my highly opinionated character, criticism and despondence towards his training styles, Andy, being the gentleman that he is, set aside my indifference, and encouraged a friendship.  This trait, I have come to learn is definitely a strong reason behind his prosperity.  Needless to say we have got on like a house on fire ever since.

Him and his business partner Dean Ridgeway are the guys behind the flagship 'box' in Gateway, Umhlanga, and have set their new venture a light with the recent success of the UWS games.  When the dust had finally settled surrounding the grand opening, the games and business commenced, I got five minutes of the busy mans time to bring Andy to you.

1)  CrossFit has taken South Africa by storm, being in the US since 2000, it is still in its infancy in our country, where do you see your ‘CrossFit culture’ going to from here locally?

Provincially, nationally and globally CrossFit and the sub culture you talk of will only grow in size and interest.  I have often taken a step outside of what we do to really try and grasp what it is I am involved in.  It is actually mind blowing when you think of what CrossFit is globally and the wider CrossFit community that is such a big part of CrossFit. 

In Cape Town and Johannesburg we are seeing boxes open almost quarterly and in Natal I think we will have another 4 boxes open with in the next 2 years at least.  I know of 2 people already down the road to affiliating.

2)  How does CrossFit separate itself from other forms of training currently available on the market, and what led ‘Andy’ to being an ambassador to the brand in South Africa?

CrossFit is unlike any other training.  I’ll be the first to admit we didn’t invent exercise.  We didn’t invent the squat, deadlift or pull up, but what CrossFit has done is package a program of fitness that uses variety and pretty bad ass training to allow the general public the opportunity to build a level of fitness and skill most didn’t think possible. I like to think of ourselves as exercise bandits.  We will use whatever works to develop better health, strength and fitness.  If it works use it, if it doesn’t get rid of it.  This is why we use Olympic lifts, power lifts, rowing, strongman training and kettlebells in our program. 

From when I can remember I always wanted to do everything.  If I saw other kids jumping off a bridge I wanted to do it.  If I saw someone climb a rope I wanted to be the next one up there.  I played every sport at school, did nearly every event in athletics and was pretty good at most of it.  I’m sure most of us are like that and that is what is so attractive about CrossFit – you get to try everything.  It introduces people to lifts and disciplines that they may otherwise never of had the opportunity or drive to do.  I know of a guy in the UK that only got into weightlifting through CrossFit and recently competed in a competition to get to the Commonwealth games. This is what sets us aside from other forms of training, we get to do all the fun shit.

I was essentially made redundant from my day job in the UK because of CrossFit.  I was running my gym and working a day job and when the recession hit they let me go.  In Hindsight it was the kick up the ass I needed to step in to coaching full time.  My wife is from Durban originally so in February 2010 I flew out to see if it would take here and in September 2010 we got off a plane and started our affiliate.  Maybe it was blind stupidity because no one knew me or CrossFit at the time but I had a belief that it would work and it seems to have paid off.

3)  CrossFit is not only a training methodology but a growing culture with an ever increasing community, what is the drive behind this, that separates the average gym goer from the CrossFitter?

CrossFit’s whole beginning stemmed from a desire from coach Glassman to move away from the globo gym, mass membership, limited service model with a view to providing open source free information to the masses.  This is still the case today and  the community has grown around that

The CrossFit community while global in it’s entirety, really grows from each individual box.  Every box has a distinct community that seems to have been lost in today's busy climate and this is a deciding factor for many when getting in to fitness again or taking on a new challenge.  Due to the group environment people feel part of something greater than just a workout

It is very difficult to explain to people just what CrossFit provides for you both physically and emotionally.  You have to do it and be involved to really understand. CrossFit can be tough and at times mentally as well as physically exhausting.  It isn’t for everyone and those that do it are the kind of people in life as well as in the gym, are willing to get stuck in.  CrossFit is a lifestyle.

4)  There is a lot of contention surrounding CrossFit's approach to training, me personally in the past having held a high opinion of it, how do you separate yourself from the controversy and dispute that encompasses this practice of training?

I don’t!  Why would I separate myself from the very style of training I love and practice just because other people think it’s dangerous or doesn’t work?  It works for me and my members.  With all due respect to you Lil,  there is also much contention as to whether kettlebells can really provide absolute strength to someone once they are passed squatting with 2 x 32kg bells, would this mean you would try to separate yourself from this training style?

Louis Simmons broke his back twice power lifting.  Has he tried to separate himself from that style of training? No.  Do people still do power lifting? Hell yes. Has Louis addressed the reasons he broke his back? Definitely. 

I’m a CrossFitter.  If I only wanted to be strong I would do strength work.  If I wanted to be a runner I would just run.  If I wanted to be good at lots of different things, be relatively strong and also conditioned I would do CrossFit.

5)  CrossFit aside, you are a certified trainer, Olympic lifting coach, and sports massage therapist amongst some of your other vast extent of certifications,  and like the rest of us, have a burning passion for physical strength and well being, what are some of your own personal goals in training and how do you go about achieving them?

To get better at the things I'm crap at.  CrossFit encompasses so much that you will always find something that you are less capable of doing.  Take ring handstand push ups, I can do them but not with the greatest of ability and if they came out in a workout I would be in a world of hurt.  So, I must work on them. 

I love strength work.  I love to squat and deadlift and throw heavy stuff around.  I will continue to work these while still trying to work on my weaknesses.  As long as I am constantly progressing then I am happy. 

How do I go about constantly getting better? Programming which includes nutrition and rest.

6)  What led you personally to this industry and what motivates you on a daily basis to keep doing what you do?

I have always been involved in sport both playing and coaching.  At school they literally locked me in a room and only let me out to play sport and represent the school.  It's all I really knew and understood growing up.  It's a miracle I even made it in to mainstream corporate society but I did and it paid the bills and paid for me to study my qualifications and run my gym when I first started.

I reckon mid life crisis had something to do with it.  I was coaching teams and putting programs together for guys at the gym before I studied and qualified.  It was and still is my passion and I wanted to follow that passion.

Being able to coach people and give my knowledge to them is a special thing.  Watching every day people learn and develop and be able do things they never thought possible makes me get out of bed in the morning.  Sure they pay me to do it but it's fun for me.  I have seen shy people come out of their shells.  Overweight people shed incredible weight, and people do amazing things that they thought were out of reach for them when they first started.  CrossFit is who I am.  It defines how I live my life and how I mould other peoples.

7) What is the greatest advise you can give to any aspiring coaches in your field?

Practice what you preach and never stop learning.  Never discredit anything before trying it and have the balls to admit if you make mistakes. 

 Andy, thank you so much for your insight into your work and the world of CrossFit.  

Photos by Tanya Olsen

Thursday, 08 November 2012

Fight for your life

It's all good and well having goals, and aspirations.  I want to be fit, strong and look good naked. 

The cliche's that flood our timelines, the motivational pictures, the quotes from people who truly lived and the everyday affirmations we mutter to ourselves while we put the kettle on.

I can appreciate that we need reminders, I can appreciate the motive and the drive.  A picture of a perfectly defined physique on our fridge doors to affirm our direction. Awesome.

Yet when it comes down to actually applying ourselves, it's half arsed.  Those people who are exceptionally strong, those who do look incredible naked and those that are achieving their personal goals on a day to day basis, didn't get there by talking about it.

It all boils down to mental fortitude, its about seeking the challenges and overcoming adversity.  You are only truly strong when your mind has overcome its fears. That fear for some may be that last rep of a set in training, you can either fight through the anguish or throw in the towel.  I always say it, and I'll say it again, your mind gives up before your body does.

The heart of training is in being mentally tough. Those personal aspirations you have, that extra 50kg to your deadlift, another 5 reps on the pull up bar or simply fitting into the skinny jeans you bought 5 years ago.  You not going to get any of it if you don't get through the gruelling work, this perseverance is what makes your goals an achievement and not just a vision.

There is a direct relationship with your mental toughness in the gym and your personal life.  Overcoming a trial in physical strength or fitness can transpire into you taking back your life.  It's not just about being able to push through when your body thinks it cant, its about the backbone it takes in getting there.

The most important thing I could tell you in gaining mental strength is to not lose focus. There is no excuse in the world that could justify a weak mind.  Everyone has their burdens and afflictions, we all use our vindications as reasons as to why we could not overcome something, but only you are standing in the way of you taking back control.

It's the mental game that gives the biggest reward.  

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Let the young run free

Martina Hingis, Lebron James, Tiger Woods and Pele are just some of the people, that whilst under the age of 13, had already taken the world by storm.

This is where it all starts, these are the years that can determine the rest of their lives.  Children are too often subjected to Playstations, iPads and Mylie Cyrus when they should be climbing ropes, playing on jungle gyms and standing on their heads.

Many parents today are under the impression that exercise and training can be detrimental to their little snowflakes.  I agree, 5 days a week of heavy weights and constant stress on the body, can be adverse to the bodies of our developing youth. However functional bodyweight training, mobility, flexibility, and motor skills are only going to benefit the little people physically, socially and mentally in the long term.

How many Olympic gymnasts started their training at 21 years old?  These incredibly versatile athletes were exercising their muscles from the age of 3 whilst increasing bone density, improving cardio vascular function and promoting their motor skills.  No detriment caused there later in life, that's for sure.

The word that seems to send most parents over the edge, causing a complete state of anxiety and rapid breathing is 'strength'.

Lets break this down, strength: The quality or state of being strong, having physical power and energy.

Oh goodness no, we wouldn't want that for our children.  Yes, I'll admit, I am not a parent, but I am a professional who has spent time studying the cause and effect of stress on the human body, both young and old.

Firstly lets not confuse strength training with weight lifting or powerlifting, this definitely can put strain on young developing muscles, tendons and developing cartilage that hasn't yet turned to bone, when being done in the incorrect manner.  However at a very young age, when exercising using their own bodyweight, this will increase their muscle and endurance whilst strengthening their joints.  Remember that children recover quicker from stress on their bodies, faster than you EVER will again in your life.

Supervised, practical exercise is going to build a foundation for a healthy life, and focusing on flexibility exercises are going to help children perform better in all aspects and help them avoid injury.  Whilst strength training through bodyweight exercises will increase their bone density, develop a natural power, and promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the list goes on and on of benefits surrounding your child's growth and the advantages of training and exercise in the earliest days.

Make the switch, encourage your offspring to get physical, not just in sporting activities but get them involved in practical exercise that will get them hooked on vibrant living.

Let your children start their life, how you always wished you could.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Cardio, I love to hate you

Those who know me, know that I loath cardio.  I don't just hate its being, I despise the word.  It's conditioning, cardio sounds like its covered in fairy dust and nothing this ugly deserves such treatment.

My body has never responded well to high intensity exercises, purely based on the fact that I merely need to walk across a room and my metabolism begins to demolish every form of energy I have consumed.  As a hard gainer I need every ounce of calorie my body takes in.

This is why I have such a hatred for it.

However I strongly recommend it and always ensure that I do it, your strength needs to be powered by fuel, and conditioning is your fuel.  Your muscle is useless if you run out of gas.

Nonetheless there is still a large portion of the population not combining their strength with conditioning, and visa versa.  Then there are those that misconceive the difference between the two entirely.  I cringe at what some perceive as strength training as much as I cower at the thought of those spending an hour in the gym on the treadmill.

You need to train intelligently.  Firstly strength training involves heavy weights at low repetition, so 5 reps of 4 sets with a challenging weight, with a longer duration of rest in between,  where as 100 overhead presses with a 15kg dumbbell, with little or no rest in between develops endurance, and is a form of conditioning.

Know that difference first and foremost, when planning your training.

VariableTraining goal
Load (% of 1RM)80-9045-5560-8040-60
Reps per set1-51-56-1215-60
Sets per exercise4-73-54-82-4
Rest between sets (mins)2-62-62-51-2
Duration (seconds per set)5-104-820-6080-150
Speed per rep (% of max)60-10090-10060-9060-80
Training sessions per week3-63-65-78-14

Conditioning on the other hand is what increases your energy and endurance, and is what works your cardio vascular system.  Applying a stress to your body through high repetition drills for long periods of time or at intervals is what exercises your metabolism, this is conditioning.

Whether you choose to sprint hills, flip tyres, snatch kettlebells or pound something with a heavy hammer, you are feeding your levels of fitness, and your abilities will grow and thrive to endure an exercise over a longer period of time, without gasping for air and coughing up a lung.

Conditioning will fuel your fire.

You need to assess your goals, and implement the right methodologies.  Personally, I'd like to add a few extra kilos to my deadlift and a couple extra reps to my pull ups, over getting an extra 50 reps on my kettlebell snatch.  If your goal is to excel in GS (kettlebell sport) then your focus needs to be on those additional reps, your game plan needs to involve maximal conditioning.

Bare in mind that you cannot have ultimate strength and ultimate conditioning, it would be like driving a Lamborghini Murcielago and a Hummer at the same time, if you want to be an Olympic lifter and achieve maximal muscle the other qualities will suffer.  To the average gym goer, do both separately and reap the benefits of both strength and conditioning.

It all depends on what your objectives are, one always has to suffer.

If you are not a competitive athlete, I would recommend 50/50 of both your strength and conditioning.

The most important factors are that in order to lose weight, gain strength, mass, or fitness you need to implement both imperative factors into your training, keeping your goals in mind and apply both according to your needs.

Keep these training methods separate, if you have the time, do them on different days and never go overboard just for the sake of doing more, your sweat does not determine the intensity of your workout.

If you want to see swift gains in your size and mass then strength is your primary goal and you should take a 70/30 approach to your conditioning.

Conditioning is valuable, but just how imperative depends on your goals, your weaknesses and your sport.

Remember that if you not training for a marathon, or preparing for a competition, or you not trying to set a new record or trying to impress anyone, your health, fitness and strength will save your life.

Tuesday, 09 October 2012

Legs: The forgotten apendages

It's that time of year again, the gyms are roping in the masses, low fat products are flying off the supermarket shelves, and competitive figure athletes are fifty shades of Dorito.

Two things: Summer is knocking on our doors and its competition time in the fitness and bodybuilding world.

Athletes, fitness models and bodybuilders have been working towards these few weeks for months and the weekend warriors are filing into the gyms in hopes of making some changes before they strut their stuff on our beach fronts.  The common trend here is that the guys are hitting the gyms.

However there seems to be a trend in the world of the weekend warrior and a drift amongst some men, like a secret society.  Your secret is out I am afraid, we have noticed, you are not training your legs.

The reason I aim this at men is that genetically a women's fat deposits sit from the navel to the buttock to the thighs.  We know this.  We train our legs, to avoid this, amongst other things.  Men on the other hand tend to focus their training on those pecs, biceps, and abs. Those 'show' muscles.  It is the area that the opposite sex seems to be attracted to, well, so the men think.

I know men personally who have in fact never trained their legs.  Yes.  Never.

I know men who train their legs daily, then there are those men who dedicate one training day a week to the deadlift and squat.  Now, these guys who focus on the deadlift and the squat alone, are few and far between.  These men are the ones who know what immense gains are attained from performing big exercises.

Don't get me wrong, athletes and sportsmen have their chosen exercises for their legs that are effective to their needs, the squat and deadlift do have many holes in translating into everyday sports.  The topic here is training those legs in general.

90% of the figure athletes out there are doing what needs to be done to perform at their best on stage, however there are those few who somehow filter through the cracks and make it onto that stage without a leg day logged.  I shake my head in shame.  The competition is tight at this level and one should know better, as for the warriors, I take this opportunity to enlighten you.

There is nothing more monumental in your regiment then focusing a workout on the lower body weekly.

Firstly, and the most obvious reason of all, aesthetically you want to be in symmetry, which will never exist if you have a mammoth upper body and hosepipes for legs. Your balance will be completely off and more over you just look ridiculous.

Your legs consist of some of the biggest muscles in your body, by working these large groups your body impulsively excretes more natural growth hormone.  Your body needs to produce more of this to assist your recovery, which in turn aids the rest of your bodies growth, knowing this just reinforces the relative stupidity of the bicep curl/crunch kind of guy.

When training the lower body, because of the size of muscles recruited you burn a higher calorie percentage, these large muscle groups also require longer recovery periods.  Due to the length of recovery your metabolism is raised for a longer period.

In simple terms the bigger the exercise the greater the hormone production.  It's that simple, the deadlift and the squat will do more for you simultaneously, the same way a bench press will kill a chest fly, more muscle recruitment, more hormone production, more gains, bigger results.

Strong legs are the foundation of an amazing body, and friends certainly don't let friends skip leg days.

Thursday, 06 September 2012

Don't be that guy!

- A guest post by Terence Mitchell 

1.  Be the man who honors his debts and pays his bills.  Fuck deadlifts and squats, real men pay their way in the world.

2.  Stop trying to get things for free, actually do the opposite and pay more. Become someone who is prepared to pay for value and not a back street hustler trying to save a penny.

3.  We live in a world of science, which is cool, for now I guess, but this has made people obsessed with the minor details and not the big picture.  Every where I look on social media there are people arguing and debating crazy shit like carb back loading, nutrient timing, perfect post work out nutrition.
Don't fall for that!  Instead get your technique sorted on the big lifts and leave the rats and mice for the birds. Don't be that guy with all the scientific gear but no real training idea.

4.  The best program for you is the one you stick to.  The funny thing is even an average program with very basic exercises will get great results over time.  The thing is, every person truly believes he is a special snowflake who is the exception to all the proven rules.  Don't be that guy.  I have lost count of how many online programs I have made for friends, and after two weeks they are onto the next one.  Don't be the program hopper.

5.  In my gym a saying has been coined "The best assistance exercise for the squat, deadlift, press and bench is TIME"  People listen to me!  There is NO magic combo of assistance work that is going to propel your deadlift from 180kgs to 270kgs or bench from 120kgs to 180kgs in a year of training.

Shit takes time people.  You can have long levers, short levers, your momma could have been a hippie and your father could have been a punk rocker!  That won't help.  Time my friends... time.  
Don't become Lord of the assistance exercises!

6.  Guys this is another one for you because clearly some of you need help with your game.  I have noticed some classic schoolboy errors on my recent night time escapades in the big city of Ballito.  Remember girls want to meet guys,  as shocking as it seems most girls like guys.  So where do good times go bad?
The moment you think you can dress like a punk and somehow score with the opposite sex.  Guys, t-shirts are for gyms and loafing on the couch while watching re-runs of Monster Fish.  Instead spend some cash money on good quality dress shirts, if you cant buy off the shelf, stop cursing your poor luck and sad life and get shirts tailored.  Seriously, meeting girls whilst wearing smart, dress shirts is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel of fish.  Don't be that guy who thinks 'meeting girls is impossible' just sort your wardrobe out playa!

7.  Do you think that when a bunch of very strong guys get together they all talk about secret assistance exercises and nutrient timing?  No they talk about the only thing in the world worth talking about, bitches.  There I said it.  Ha ha

8.  A new trend I've noticed, mostly from the married men with kids is this "Ah, its so easy for you Terence, you are single, with no kids to get in the way of your training and eating act"  Now listen up, that may or may not be true BUT we all make our beds and have to lie in them so its no use lamenting over the circumstances in your life and using them as some excuse as to why you are not the man you desire to be.

Remember no matter what the hell is going on in your life, nobody is going to lift that weight for you.  That is why my life is so deeply entrenched in the iron game, because when that weight hits the ground there are NEVER excuses, you either get your ass to the gym and grind out that rep or stay at home dreaming of things that others are fighting for.  Don't be that guy who searches for excuses.  Take responsibility and find meaning in life's difficulties.  Many of my mentors in this game and some of the strongest lifters I have met, all have wives, kids and very stressful jobs.  Don't be that guy who thinks he is a special snowflake part 2.

9.  Don't be that guy who 'used to be incredible' if you were, which I doubt, forget about the past and worry about today.  I care little for the overweight, injury-riddled guy who once benched 180kgs whilst on every substance under the sun.  Today is about today men.  The past is best left where it belongs, in the past.

10.  Recently I got a few tattoos done, not for any other reason other than that I think they look nice.  The funny thing is, people say things like "You do realize that is forever don't you" to which I answer "My friend everything in this world is forever, that is what so few people realize, every foolish decision, poor choice, bad relationship, dumb move and bad date is forever!  It's done, written in life's big book and can never be taken back"

What is my point?  Everything is forever so deal with it, accept it and move on. That my friends is what I regard as living North of Vag.  Thanks JW

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

What women want: Not featuring Mel Gibson

Everything Oprah, women's fitness magazines and the girl next door has ever told you about 'toning' and getting in shape is as useful to the 'real' woman as eating soup with a fork.

As a coach I read a lot of magazines, Internet blogs, and articles, and listen to a lot of what is being said relating to how to get 'in shape'.  The majority of the people who know me, know that I'm a little more raw when it comes to 'training' and know as most women should that all the bullshit we are being told, is in fact, just that, bullshit.

There are some simple rules I follow in order to keep myself at my best, and the same laws apply to the ladies under my watch.

Firstly the word 'tone' is not in my vocabulary, a muscle can either be made bigger or smaller, that's it, simple.  Woman seem to run from the idea of 'building muscle' when they should be running towards it, building muscle enhances your 'definition', it also increases 'fat burn' the more muscle you have the more energy you require to feed the muscle, so this causes an increase in your metabolism and this aids in fat burn. Simple.

I've touched on this subject in previous blogs, but I still meet woman on a daily basis who claim to get big when they lift heavy, heavy cakes maybe.  Lifting weights do not make you big, eating cakes make you big.  We just don't have the hormonal profile that men do, unless we are mainlining testosterone our genetic make up just does not allow for it.

My advice as a coach is to pick up heavy weights, lifting milk bottles are not going to help you achieve anything.  If you want to see changes to your body, challenge it. Simple.

Heavy weights at low reps (8-15 for woman) builds definition, whatever you have been brainwashed to believe about shooting a 5kg dumbell around for 50 reps is going to get you 'definition' is fabricated.  Another great phenomenon I hear quite a bit of, is that if you not sweating, its not working.

Any experienced coach will tell you that it's not about what you burn in your workout, it's about what you burn in the hours following your training.  Lifting heavy increases your metabolism which forces your body to burn more calories, feather weight lifting for 100 reps does not.

On that note, lifting the same heavy object day in and day out for months on end will get you nowhere.  My next simple rule applies here, progressive overload.

It's all about adaptation, you lift a 20kg bar above your head every day for weeks and your body is going to build itself up in preparation for it, your body adapts and this no longer becomes a challenge.  Add more weight, or more sets, or shorten rest - present a new challenge. Simple

I've been lifting heavy for a few years, I have achieved feats of strength I once couldn't comprehend, yet I still do not look like a female Jay Cutler, its simple science.

My biggest rule, no matter what I've read, witnessed or have been told otherwise of is that compound exercises, big exercises give big results.  I hate gimmicks and gadgets and new ideas, balancing on balls, hanging from ceilings and wasting time on the small things when the big things are what make big changes.

We as women should not be subjected to the 'yes no' machines, ab classes, stomach crunches and butt blasters.  Its all about the fundamentals, sticking to the basics that have always worked.  If you want to lose fat and build muscle in a big way, do big exercises.  Deadlifts, strict presses, heavy squats, rows, chin ups, dips, push ups and the assistance exercises that accompany them.  I do these, I know, this works.

Personally, as a woman its not just about achieving a 'great body' there is something empowering about being feminine, being a woman and being able to lift heavy.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

In the presence of a great: Mike Mahler

"If you only had one shot, and one opportunity to seize everything you've ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or let it slip?" - Marshall Mathers

Two years ago whilst trailing the internet for research I came across a site on vegan bodybuilding that spoke highly of Mike Mahler, not being a vegan myself but on exploring more into his ideologies, I found myself chasing into the methodologies of this coach.

Mike draws from an extensive background of strength and conditioning, having worked with top athletes and mixed martial artists alike, also being a strength athlete himself.  Mike has 10 years of training experience through the School of Hard Knocks and achieved his senior level as a certified kettlebell instructor under Pavel Tsatsouline of the RKC.

Having read his kettlebell workshop manual, prior to even lifting any bells, my hunt began.  When Mikes "Living life aggressively" came out in 2011 I was knee deep in his writings.

When Sean Temple invited him out to South Africa to give a couple workshops I was excited to say the least, never assuming for a moment that I would be fortunate enough to be in the presence of a great so early in my career in strength.

Having this one opportunity, this one moment to seize everything, I had to capture it. The day dawned and I was bouncing off the walls like a fat kid in a candy store.  Mike Mahler is a leader in the field of strength and conditioning and the development in modern kettlebell lifting as well as being an expert in the field of hormone optimization.

For those of us who attended either his workshops or talks on hormones, I think would agree that the knowledge this man exudes surrounding his field and his teachings are not quite something one could download or simply research on the net, if I could wire his thought process to my ipad, I would be completely in motion.

Mike teaches you how to use the kettlebell in its purest sense, and exposes you to a training regimen that combines the best of weight lifting with strength endurance and optimal performance through balancing of hormones.  His knowledge and passion for the game intensifies his instruction of his students, with every word.

His fluid guidance and abilities to communicate his practice makes learning through him an indulgence.

We were fortunate enough to have Sabina Skala, Olympic weightlifting strength coach and competitor form part of Mike's workshop.  Sabina's presence alone reaps solace, and if you where not interested in these lifts prior to meeting her, you left having formed a new passion for the barbell.

Sabina's knowledge surrounding the anatomy and bio mechanics makes her teachings sound, effectual and invaluable. It was truly an honor to train under her direction.

This weekend with these two leaders in their fields, will go down as an experience not to be forgotten and their teachings will transpire into my coaching styles and ideologies.

"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions" - Oliver Holmes

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

My journey to strength

Pavel once said that Strength is a skill that must be practiced.

Looking back on my very first rep all those years ago, and recognizing that it was that first step towards strength that had changed my life in so many ways.

I turned to the iron when all else had failed, not realizing at the time that in all its simplicity and purity that it would construct fortitude, backbone, courage and heart whilst humbling me.

Having struggled a fight against addiction, my body did not immediately form a great bond with exercise.  My heart, liver, bones and muscle had taken a serious beating which meant I needed to learn to crawl before I could walk.

Having to fight the addiction whilst putting all my blood and sweat into building my body again came with its own set of drawbacks.  Dealing with mental demands whilst working out is bad enough without having to throw in a body that refuses to respond and has spent so long thriving on detriment.

With each day came new challenges, with each challenge came set backs and with each set back came failure.  I can honestly say, looking back, overcoming the failure was my greatest defiance.  If someone where to ask me what my greatest achievement was, it would be that I rose again.

Despite my personal struggles I went from strength to strength, having started out in a local gym, the exercise high was incomparable. My body was yet to change after months of training, but my mental fortitude had increased in leaps and bounds.

My new found lease on life had ignited a passion in me, seeing notable differences in my physique and feeling the fire of my entire body working in synergy without battle is indescribable. Experiencing that rush of blood to every muscle in your body that awakens every sense and instills an amazing sense of achievement in you set me on my path to absolute strength.

Knowing that I was in the process of overcoming great downfall drove me more and more each day, the increase in strength grew my dedication to the body, and in turn my passion to the world of health and the science of human movement.  I knew that my future lay in development in one way or another.

Four years down the line and I have physically achieved things I once couldn't comprehend, I am achieving personal feats of strength that were once unimaginable to me.  Everyday I am learning more about the human anatomy and what its capabilities are and how one small change can cause a reaction of life changing effect.

My strength is not measurable against a pound, my strength comes from within and is portrayed through every rep I perform, my strength is not comparable to a woman through height and size my strength is my personal fight and my personal gold.

Your journey is driven by your weaknesses and your struggles, the decision to turn that fragility into energy is a revolution.

Friday, 13 July 2012

An Interview with Mike Mahler

There is a lot of buzz in the South African air at the moment with the news of Mike Mahler gracing our shores in August.  Whether you are a part of the fitness industry or just a grey man in the street who enjoys a fit and healthy lifestyle, Mike's teachings are something that cannot be missed.

Mike Mahler is a visionary and leader in the world of strength and conditioning and the development of modern kettlebell lifting.  Not only a coach in the world of lifting but also an active strength athlete.  Mike's focus when it comes to training is in the development of strong, fast and conditioned athletes that can transpire into everyday life activities as well as instilling mental fortitude into his students.

An exceptional strength coach but also an expert in hormone optimization, these two factors go hand in hand in the evolvement and reinforcing of ones lifestyle.  As an aspiring strength coach, this opportunity cannot be missed to learn from one of our industries greats.  I had the chance to pick Mike's brain for five minutes and this is what he had to say:

How did you get into kettlebell training?

Back in 2001 a really good friend of mine that does BJJ and Muay Thai told me about it.  It looked really interesting so I looked into it further.  I was doing some Olympic lifting and sandbag training at the time so kettlebell training seemed like a great addition to my regimen.  I like the focus on ballistic moves such as cleans, swings and snatches.  Once I started playing around with kettlebells I was hooked.  A few months later I took Pavel Tsatsouline's RKC certification.  It was only his second certification course so kettlebell training was still in its infancy in the US.  It was a fun weekend and I had a blast learning from him and the other students at the course.  I knew kettlebells would blow up in the US in a few years and I saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor and also to enter the fitness industry with a unique selling point.  The rest as they say is history!  Ten years later it has been a great ride and I still love training with kettlebells and learn something new every year.

What makes a great kettlebell instructor?

Great question! First a great kettlebell instructor has to actually train with kettlebells. This may seem like an obvious point but you would be surprised how many trainers try to teach kettlebells to others when it is obvious that they have never taken any time to learn how to use kettlebells properly themselves!

Second, a great kettlebell instructor has to have an unquenchable desire to constantly keep improving. This is what exceptional kettlebell instructors such as: Steve Cotter, Ken Blackburn, and Jason Dolby all have in common. They all love kettlebell training and they’re always looking to learn more and keep improving. I love learning from these guys as their enthusiasm is contagious and they break down complicated concepts extremely well and make it accessible to everyone.

Third, a great kettlebell instructor has to keep the focus on the students. Sometimes as instructors we get distracted and want to show everyone what we can do instead of helping our students with their goals. I made this mistake early in my career when I felt I needed to teach every exercise with the heaviest kettlebells possible at my courses and show all kinds of complicated moves. I improved drastically as an instructor when I focused less on what I can do and more on helping the students. Sure, people like to see what you can do and it is important to lead form the front but if you overdo it, it becomes counterproductive.

You have great strength and great power, how do you personally apply kettlebell lifting to your program?

Thanks a lot! I use kettlebells for all kinds of applications. Sometimes, I use really heavy kettlebells and focus on lower reps (5-7) for strength and explosive power. At other times, I use kettlebells for strength endurance and work capacity and focus on moderate kettlebells for higher reps (15+). I like to use kettlebells as part of a metabolic circuit with box jumps, trapbar farmers walks, battling ropes, bodyweight exercises, etc. In addition, I use heavy kettlebell ballistic moves to prime the nervous system for heavy powerlifting work. For example, before doing heavy deadlifts, I will do fives sets of five on heavy double kettlebell swings outside the feet with 2 40kg to 44kg bells. I swing outside outside the feet as I can generate more power and the stance is similar to what I do for deadlifts. Check out the following clip to see what I mean at: 

Outside the knee swings and snatches are a blast and I will be teaching both moves at the August intermediate courses in South Africa. 

Finally, I like to use kettlebells as part of my joint mobility routine by doing complexes. I pick four to five moves and go from one move to the next with a light kettlebell without putting it down until I have done several rounds. Great way to wake up and get the day going. Also fun on training days where you don’t feel like putting in a maximum effort but still want to do something to speed up recovery and
 stay active. You can see a clip of this at: 

A lot of martial artists, athletes and serious lifters have turned to kettlebells, what would you say makes them different to other resistance training methods?

Kettlebell ballistic moves such as clean and jerks, swings, snatches, clean and push presses etc all have a very strong athletic component so combat athletes see the application right away. When done for high reps or for high volume you develop serious conditioning as well as mental toughness.
While you can do just about every kettlebell exercises with a dumbbell, anyone that has done both will tell you it is just not the same. Kettlebells are really fluid for ballistic moves and by far the best weight training tool for building strength endurance and work capacity. You can rack kettlebells comfortably and the way they sit in the hand is very comfortable for long duration sets. Kettlebells are far more comfortable for swings and snatches than a dumbbell and have a shock absorption component which is very useful for any combat athlete. 

A lot of powerlifters like kettlebell training for warming up, active recovery, and endurance training. You don’t see too many bodybuilders doing kettlebell training, but I think more should as high rep kettlebell training is a perfect fit for cardio instead of doing boring activities like running on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine.
As great as kettlebells are, I think kettlebell only programs are not optimal either. Yes, the average person can get in great shape with just one kettlebell, but for trainees that want to be strong and powerful there is no need to be limited to one training tool. barbell work, bodyweight training, sprinting, sledgehammer tire strikes, box jumps etc all have a place and the variety keeps training fun and exciting. 

As a strength coach and in my opinion, expert in hormone optimization, what advice could you give to assist in achieving optimal hormone levels for both men and woman?

It will be different for everyone and I believe in a personalized approach for each person, but some general recommendations are: Focus on organic food, eliminate food sensitivities, address vitamin and mineral deficiencies, get a balance of protein, healthy fats, and low glycemic carbs at every meal, drink lots of water, get eight hours of deep quality sleep every night, avoid over training and balance adrenaline training with restoration training, take vacations, get a massage every two weeks, and most important find a career that gets you excited everyday to put in work and surround yourself with people that make you better not worse. if you hate your job and you’re in toxic relationships you will never be hormonally optimized no matter how hard you train, what supplements you take, or how perfect your diet is. 

I will get in to more detail at the SA courses in August.

As a vegan, your choices are different, and you combine certain foods to make complete proteins, could you give us a better understanding of this and what this means?

Sure, I follow a vegan diet for ethical reasons meaning I want to avoid contributing to animal suffering as much as possible. This is part of my spiritual belief system. With a vegan diet it is important to get variety and combine foods such as nuts and seeds with legumes for a complete protein (all of the essential amino acids for health and optimal training). Some examples include: black beans and pumpkin seeds, pistachios and navy beans, garbanzo beans and hempseeds. Each of these combinations has a nice balance of protein, fat, and low glycemic carbohydrates. 

Your beliefs in eating patterns are quite unlike the average bits of advice people receive on a daily basis where you believe in longer stretches between meals, could you tell us why and what the benefits are?

Eating frequently trains the body to be inefficient and you will rely on constant feedings to perform at a high level. Miss one of those feedings and your blood sugar levels will crash big time. 

When you eat less frequently, some great things happen. One, three hours after a meal, the hormone insulin starts going down and another hormone called glucagon is released from the pancreas. Glucagon pulls energy from the liver and then goes to stored bodyfat for energy. Thus, you get a snack on stored bodyfat in between each meal. 

If you take six hours in between each meal, you get three hours of fat burning. Also mild hunger in between each meal releases a hormone called grehlin from the GI tract which is a growth hormone secretagogue. Growth hormone is a powerful fat burning hormone and also is important for workout recovery, skin health, lowering inflammation and many other healthy things.
Longer stretches in between meals also gives insulin and leptin receptors a much needed break so you avoid leptin and insulin resistance. Leptin and insulin sensitivity are critical for health and optimal hormone production. Byron Richards goes into great detail about the importance of leptin in his excellent book “Mastering Leptin.” 

Once you get used to the longer stretches you will find that your productivity goes way up as you don’t have to worry about eating every few hours and will also have more energy for other activities. Digestion is a huge expenditure of energy. You will eat more at each meal but will be more primed and ready to digest each meal optimally and pull as much energy as possible. 

I think a sign of a great meal, optimal digestion, and health is your ability to perform at a high level for many hours afterwards. When i teach a seminar, I often have a light breakfast and then teach for 6-8 hours without eating. This is not a problem for me at all and I can perform at a a high level all day long. Afterwards of course I feast which is also fun and rewarding after a hard days work. 
I will get into great detail on all of this at the SA courses. Just this info alone is worth 5x the price of admission. I wish someone taught hormones the way I teach it when I first started researching this stuff seven years ago.

Thank you so much for your insight into training, strength and nutrition, we look forward to hosting you and welcoming you to our country.

Mike will be hosting workshops on the following dates in Johannesburg and Durban

August 11th: Beginner kettlebell/hormone optimization workshop at Flux Fluid Motion Umhlanga.
August 12th: Intermediate kettlebell/hormone optimization workshop at Flux Fluid Motion Umhlanga

August 18th: Beginner kettlebell/hormone optimization workshop at Kettlebells SA Johannesburg
August 19th: Intermediate kettlebell/hormone optimization workshop at Kettlebells SA Johannesburg

Bookings are essential and more informaiton can be found on Mikes website www.mikemahler.com

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Lessons from the greats

I remember sitting on my Nonno's lap, only knee high from a grasshopper, looking up at him in awe of his acumen and knowledge, at a man who had survived a war, sailed the seas and faced adversity, thinking to myself, with assurance that one day I too will tell a great story.

We are part of a generation that has been handed a life of ease, where everything is out there for the taking, our forefathers left us with great knowledge and great opportunity, where they have written the books and its up to us to read the writings, to learn from history while creating our own with simplicity.

Yet with all the information available to us, so many still fail to make the effort to learn. Everyday people claim to be impassioned by the work that they do, yet mention a great leader in their field who has accomplished so much for the industry, who has fathered methods and practice, and they have yet to read their books or follow their teachings.

If you want to be great at something, you need to be great at getting there.  As a trainer and a coach my life is encompassed by my passion.  People have often pointed out that I need balance and I need to let go and explore other interests.  I agree with this, yet I feel my time right now is for my development.  I spend hours a day researching top coaches theories, when I think of travel I think of destinations where I can spend time working with men and woman who have devoted their lives to coaching and training.

I have gained the basic "science" required to teach, yet that is just the tip of an iceberg of knowledge.  I strive to surround myself with coaches who have worked with the best, who have paid the price and who still  endeavour to keep learning.   In 2012, it seems that even the grey man in the street with no previous knowledge can spend two days acquiring a skill and practice it like its second nature.  Obama did not become president over night.  Chris Barnard did not just perform the first successful heart transplant.

Muhammad Ali spent countless hours in the ring training to be the best, Edson Pele spent thousands of hours attempting goals,  Nelson Mandela served time behind bars, the greats paid their dues to be the best.  The greats devoted their waking hours to giving their followers the optimum, their foremost, the ultimate of themselves.

I hate average, I hate mediocre, I will not settle for the boilerplate.  I will be unbalanced, devoted and dedicated to ensure that my clientele, my followers and myself get what is owed to them by their coach.

I remember walking down Bond Street in London one night when I came across Roosevelt and Churchill having a chat on a bench, I joined them for a moment.  At the time I was torn between two paths in my life, whether to continue along the road I had mapped out or to venture into the unknown. Just being in their presence, in the company of men who had given our generation so much, even the silence moved mountains within me.

Walking away from our silent conversation on that bench on Bond Street I learnt that, the greats, in whatever form or shape are there to be learnt from, Churchill was a veteran who wasn't afraid to to take on the big shots and Roosevelt said that the only people who ever fail are the ones who never try.  Fail quickly and fail forward to success.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Kettlebells for combat sport

I am certainly no expert when it comes to combat sports, I unsuccessfully spent a few years in a dojo practicing Judo and  dabbled for a couple months in Krav Maga. Turns out I'm not as hardcore as I thought and don't fancy getting my ass handed to me, in fact I was so shocking at both these disciplines that all I got was a bad memory and my body beaten by a bunch of tough chics.

However I do know a little bit about kettlebells and a little bit about simple mechanics.

As someone looking from outside of the cage in, and as someone who spends hours daily under the bells, putting the two practices together can definitely give you more pop for your punch.

Pavel once said that "The kettlebell swing is as close as you can get to fighting without the fight. Swinging a kettlebell helps your sparing as the swing builds explosive power and endurance while simultaneously improving the tense and relax (contract and expand) skills used by highly skilled fighters"

Kettlebell sport and MMA are two terms so loosely thrown around today, everyone is an MMA fighter and every local at every globo gym is painfully throwing around bells as they are the next big answer to strength and conditioning.

Kettlebells don't solve everything, there I said it. Power lifters, fighters, athletes, whatever your calling, you need to practice in your sport and you need to model your training around improving your output in your sport.

The word "sport specific" is the most commonly used catch phrase launched into sentences regarding lifting bells.  As a fighter, doing 100 jerks is doing little for your practice, yes its developing a synergy of strength, but fighters need to mimic their movements.  Integrating kettlebells wisely into your training, keeping your goals in mind is going to help you accomplish so much more.

Incorporating the high pull into your combat training characterizes the pulling and pushing motions promoting explosiveness, also this explosiveness makes it an anaerobic movement.  100 kettlebell jerks at a slow pace is not going to train your body for the short intervals of power required in a fight.

Packing a powerful punch drives energy from the ground up, not just from your arm and fist, the snatch is a total body exercise that generates force from below, fighters tend to live on the edge where efficiency is king,  the snatch bleeds efficiency.

If you cant fight, rest and recover, and fight, rest and recover for short intervals you may as well be lying on the ground masturbating the iron.  The long cycle trains you to contend with tension and recovery, thee most important attributes of fighting.  It builds endurance, leg drive, and total body conditioning, so when that clock ticks in those final moments on the mat, and under-conditioned fighters are exposed, you shine.

There are many tools that make up a good box of tricks for your training but if they are not applied in the right manner you may as well punch yourself in the face and hang up your gloves.

If you are working out in the gym with your douche-bag cage fighter t-shirt on throwing kettlebells around like a ninja with no coach to guide you, well then, that's where you will stay, on the sideline throwing comments to the real fighters.

As I said, I don't know much about fighting, I know a little about the mental fight and I know a little about the kettlebells that can help a fight.  With the right application, right methodology and right attitude in anything, you will come out on top, even if for your own personal fight.