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Friday
Mar252016

Spice Up Your Sets And Reps

If variety is the spice of life, then the average gym-goers menu is a pretty bland affair. If you've been on a diet of "Three Sets of Ten" for years then it's most definitely time to add some masala powder to that recipe. Changing your reps will spark new progress and give your brain a break from the same old same old.

Here are three great options.

Five by Five - A classic set and rep scheme to add a mix of size and strength for the intermediate trainee. Pick a big exercise to do first in your workout, ideally a squat or deadlift for the lower body, a bench press or chin up for the upper body. In fact, pairing the bench press and chin up for five alternating sets of five heavy reps is a fantastic upper body workout in itself.

Twenty rep breathing sets - These are a little more advanced and gruelling, and best reserved for the squat. After a few warm up sets, pick a weight that you know is normally tough for ten to twelve reps... And then do twenty. How? By taking tests between reps when it starts getting tough, WITHOUT re-racking the bar. Keep the bar on your back, take a few deep breaths, then do a few more reps until you hit twenty. Do this right and you won't need more than one set, trust us.

7/3/7/3 - This one is a little more fancy, and takes advantage of something called post-tetanic facilitation, which is a fancy way of saying that moderate weights feel a lot lighter after you've lifted a heavy weight, meaning you can get more reps.

Here's how to use it. After a few warm up sets, pick a weight you think you can only manage seven good reps on. Then rest two minutes before upping the weight to something that will be heavy for just three reps. Then rest and repeat that process, this time with HEAVIER weights on each set. If you've got the weights right, you should be able to lift 3-5% more on both the seven and three rep sets, as if by magic.

Try one of these techniques out for 4-5 weeks and we bet you'll see some great progress. As ever if you have any questions just drop us an email or chat to one of us at the studio.

Friday
Feb122016

Training Men Vs Training Women

We've come a long way in the past decade. We can 3D print a prosthetic leg, summon all human knowledge on a black rectangle that lives in our pockets and there are like a hundred more flavours of Ben and Jerry's.

Another way we've made progress is in gym culture. In the past the gym could be a pretty intimidating place for some, and there were all sorts of silly ideas around what kind of training was "for women" or "for men".

Nowadays you're just as likely to see women clanging weights around and guys doing yoga, and that can only be a good thing. But are there any real differences in training men vs training women? Here are a few quick thoughts.

1- Overall, there really aren't that many differences, and a well thought out program will be good for guys and girls alike. One thing to consider is muscle fibre type. In general, women will have more slow twitch fibres than men. In practical terms, this means that women will get more reps at a given percentage of their maximum weight on any lift. You see this all the time with clients, a man bench pressing 80% of his max weight will get maybe 3 reps before failure, where a woman with get 5-6. So in general women should do slightly higher reps than men. If a guy is doing 4 sets of 6-8, a woman can do 4 sets of 8-10 for the same effect.

2- The strength difference is overestimated.
On most exercises, relative to a person's own body weight, there's really not much difference in strength levels between men and women. Yes guys can tend to lift more overall but this is mainly because they're heavier.

The one exception to this is upper body pushing exercises, which women do tend to be weaker on. But overall it's about the same. The takeaway here is not to shy away from heavy weights or limit yourself based on preconceived notions.

3- In general, women tend to chase a high heart rate while weight training to feel as if they're getting a cardiovascular effect. Often we have to encourage them to rest more, so as not to impact the weights they can lift on subsequent sets.

Guys are usually the opposite, they like heavy weights but always want to extend the rest, so we have to be more vigilant with rest periods.

The takeaway here is to have consistent rest periods and stick to them. If your focus is fat loss, keep rest periods between 45-60 seconds. For muscle gain, 60-90. For pure strength, 120 seconds.

4- Due to a number of factors like pelvis width and muscle fibre type women are more predisposed to knee injury. We can counteract this by focussing on building strength in the glutes and hamstrings. For this reason, the barbell hip thrust and the hyperextension should be part of your strength training program.


Tuesday
Dec012015

An Advent Calendar of Awesomeness 2015

It's right about now that you start freaking out about how fast the year flew by. "January feels like yesterday," you'll lament. "It's like time goes faster every year".

Well the good/bad news is you're not just being paranoid. Time does seem to move faster every year, and we know why. It's because of cortisol.

Cortisol, the hormone commonly associated with stress, is also heavily involved in the storage of memories. So much so that people on cortisol suppressing drugs have poorer recall after watching videos of stressful events like car accidents. When you have a novel or stressful experience, more cortisol is released, meaning the memory you store is much richer in detail. As a result, when you recall the event, it feels like time was moving slower.

Think of it like frame rate on a video. A time lapse camera takes a picture every ten seconds, so you can flick through an hour of footage very quickly. If everyday memories are "filmed" on time lapse, then stressful memories are given the full HD treatment. That's why time seems to slow down during an accident and why you vividly remember where you were when you heard about the attacks on September 11th.

So think about it: The younger you are, the more novel experiences you're bound to have. For a toddler, everything - from spinning round in a dribbling circle to throwing your dinner at the wall - is a novel experience, so times seems to move slowly. But as we age, we slip into routine and have fewer novel experiences.

The upshot of this is simple: The more new experiences you have, the slower time will seem to pass and the richer your life will be.

To help you out here are 25 vaguely health related things you can try this month to make your life better. Hopefully some of them will be new to you.

1 - Do the unthinkable in your training. If you always do X, stop for at least a month and replace it with something new, something you're bad at. For me this was bench pressing (in fact, 'chest' workouts in general) which I haven't done for four months now. I replaced it with standing barbell press, which I've always been crap at. Funny enough I made more progress in those months than the rest of the year.

2 - If you use social media a lot, stop for a week and see how you feel.

3 - Write down a tiny, achievable, behaviour-based objective and do it for the rest of the month. It could be as small as taking ten deep breaths whenever you feel anxious or calling your parents once a week. Small things are big things.

4 - Read a hard book. When you finish it, read some articles about it, read about the author's life, there'll be plenty of stuff you missed. This is weight lifting for your brain. I recommend Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. It's such a staggering work of genius it makes me want to chop my hands off.

5 - Do something good and don't tell anyone about it. There is research supporting the benefits of kindness and altruism. We get more joy from buying lunch for someone than having it bought for us. Do something good and don't seek credit for it.

6 - Binge watch Master of None on Netflix, a ten part sitcom from comedian Aziz Ansari. It's funny, poignant and beautifully filmed with long rambling takes and beautiful New York vistas a la seventies Woody Allen.

While you're at it, check out Jessica Jones too, even if superheroes aren't your thing. It's the least superhero-y superhero show ever, mostly a noir-ish detective story that happens to contain people who can lift cars. As a side note, netflix are really nailing the whole effortless diversity thing in a way that puts the big screen to shame. Both MoN and JJ take place in a New York that actually reflects the city's ethnic make up, and JJ will occasionally go whole minutes with only female characters on screen, talking to each other about something other than men. Mind blowing, right?

7 - Stretch your goddamn hip flexors.

8 - Recognise that you are and will always be a work in progress and give yourself a fucking break.

9 - Make an effort to cook a vegetarian meal at least once a week. Like time-travel, it's not impossible, just improbable.

10 - Check out this exhibition about the Soviet space program at the science museum. You will believe a man can fly...Around the Earth, in what looks like something a thumbless chimp welded together.

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/Plan_your_visit/exhibitions/cosmonauts.aspx

11 - Think of something you wanted to achieve this year but didn't. A general lifestyle thing like changing your job situation. Sit down for ten minutes and come up with ten ideas on how to do it.

12 - Further to that last point; if you're a procrastinator, try the pomodoro technique. Simple but stupidly effective.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

13 - Include some easy but frequent cardio. Fifteen minutes five days a week beats an hour twice a week.

14 - Check out this amazing exhibit on abstract art at the White Cube. With works by masters like Picasso and Matisse alongside modern artists they've influenced.

http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/tightrope_walk_painted_images_after_abstraction_bermondsey_2015/

15 - Look at this amazing thing.

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/plane

16 - And this.

https://www.ted.com/talks/bobby_mcferrin_hacks_your_brain_with_music

17 - Stop believing quotes and stats posted on the Internet just because they're superimposed over a nice image. Any idiot can do it, including those who want you to be as racist and misogynistic as they are.

18 - Keep a bottle of water by your bed. Drink it when you wake up.

19 - Spend more money on better wine and drink less of it, more slowly.

20 - Remember that when it comes to exercise, it all counts. Maybe you don't have a spare hour to train. Do something anyway. Twenty minutes still counts.

21 - The chicken wings at Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch are life changing.

22 - Pick a challenging body weight exercise and get good at it. The front or back lever, handstand push up or L-sit are all great choices. There's a shitload of tutorials online.

23 - You know when you wake up after a night out and are afraid to check your sent messages because you've done something stupid? Delete that person's number now.

24 - Offer to help a friend with their health and fitness goals. If you're reading this you probably know more than they do.

25 - There's probably no heaven, so whatever it is you're scared of doing just say fuck it and do it anyway.

Happy Christmas, jerks!

Thursday
Oct082015

How To Lucid Dream in 5 easy steps

The first thing to accept is this: The divide between sleep and waking life is permeable, fuzzy. Two cities that occupy the same space.

For example, if you've ever looked at a clock, you will have experienced the odd sensation that the second hand took longer to move when you first looked at it. What's going on there? In the microsecond it took for you to move your head and focus on the clock face, a jumble of blurred images went past your eyes. Your mind had no use for them, so it retroactively edited them out and reinserted the lost millisecond once you had something to focus on. In this case it happened to be a clock, which gave you a reference point. It allowed you to spot the trick. But really, things like this happen all the time without you ever noticing.

The mind is constantly taking shortcuts. We see an object moving toward us and in an instant it is scanned against a database of images. Some key points are noted and we decide it's a car, how fast it's moving, what direction. Complex calculations performed almost instantly, usually with great accuracy. But optical illusions are an example of this mechanism misfiring.

The point of all this is that the mind isn't just an observer. It takes cues from external stimuli but it is constantly interpreting, streamlining, disregarding irrelevant data, filling in gaps and cut-and-pasting over blind spots. It's a reality generating engine. The amount it generates depends on how close we are to a dreaming state, but it is constantly generating.

For the experienced lucid dreamer, dreams can become every bit as vivid, as real, as the world you perceive around you right now.

Most of us have experienced a lucid dream at one point. It's the awareness that you're dreaming, while you are still in the dream. Typically we'll experience a brief moment of excitement, maybe even try flying for a bit, but all too frequently our excitement wakes us up. So you need to learn how to lucid dream more often, and then maintain the dream once you realise you're in it.

Step 1- Cultivating awareness in waking life.

Dreams are an analogue of waking life and our habits and values are reflected in them. So, to be lucid while dreaming we need to become more lucid while awake.

So how do I do that?

The 'reality check' method. In daily life, sporadically "check" if you're dreaming. You might do this by checking the time, looking away, then checking again. If you were dreaming, the numbers would be inconsistent or meaningless. It may seem silly, because you intuitively know when you're awake, but building the habit is what is important.

While using the reality check on a regular basis, we can then try and induce lucid dreams directly.

Step 2- The wake/back-to-sleep method.

Set your alarm for two hours earlier than you would normally wake up. So if you need to be up at eight, set it for six. Then, when it wakes you, stay awake for 30 minutes. Then, go back to sleep with the intention of having a lucid dream.

It's a good idea to use that time to write down what you intend to dream about.

This method works by starving your mind of REM sleep, so that it increases the duration of the REM state in the following half hour. This has probably happened to you by accident before. Think about when you naturally woke up earlier than necessary, went back to sleep and had some of your most batshit mental dreams. The difference here is that you're waking yourself up on purpose then going back to sleep with the intention to lucid dream.

It may take practice over a couple of weeks but you should eventually be able to induce lucid dreams at least some of the time.

So you're lucid dreaming, now what?

Step 4- Maintaining the dream state

It's common to become over excited in a lucid dream and wake yourself up. There are some weirdly specific methods that seem to help with this. Some suggest looking at your hands in the dream as a method for calming and refocusing the mind.

Again this may take practice but over time you should be able to calmly realise that you're in the dream and then maintain that state.

At which point you can start to have some real fun.

Step 5- Do what you want to do

There are some obvious options I don't really have to detail here. Indulging your every hedonistic fantasy will probably keep you busy for a while, depending on how imaginative you are. But when you've exhausted that depraved stockpile, you might try a more spiritual route.

One particular lucid dreamer told me about a series of dreams he had where he gradually built a control room within his mind. A sort of observation deck (which in retrospect sounds eerily similar to the one in the Pixar movie Inside/Out, although this conversation took place years ago).

Eventually, a voice within the observation deck said, "what do you want?"

And he responded: "Show me something I've never seen before."

I don't want to tell you what his mind showed him, because it might skew your own version. Plus it's not the point. The point is to use lucid dreaming to plug into a deeper part of your mind, a part that's usually inaccessible in waking life.

This is the real magic of lucid dreams. There's a person inside you who is much smarter than you. That person is where all your best ideas, all your bursts of inspiration come from. You just don't have access to them most of the time, at least not in any way you can control. As flaky and new age as it sounds, lucid dreaming is your chance to spend more time with that person.

Sweet dreams.

Thursday
Aug132015

A Simple Quiz To Change Your Life

Here's an exercise you can do without standing up from your computer. It's not going to burn any calories, it doesn't involve lifting anything and it's easy to do, but the results may be powerful all the same.

I also didn't invent it, I stole it from David Wong, a writer on a great website called Cracked.com.

Find a piece of paper - just a scrap of something will do - and write down the five things that are most important to you right now.

You're writing this for yourself and no one else - so don't try to sound like a wonderful person.

You'll end up with something like -

1- Progress my career.
2- Have a happy relationship.
3- Travel.
4- Spend time with friends.
5- Be healthy.

Your answers may be different but just be honest. This is a list of what you consider to be your values. Your life philosophy.

Now make another list. This time write down what you did yesterday, except for essential biological functions like eating, crapping and Facebook stalking your ex.

Now it's probably more like (and honestly I'm not judging here, just go with me) -
1- Work, 8am-6pm
2- Netflix 7-9pm
3- Facebook / Twitter 9-10pm

Or whatever, but you get the idea. Again, I'm not holding myself up as some paragon of productivity or claiming I don't have days like this too. But the point is this: You can basically tear up the first list, because the second one is your real life philosophy.

This sounds incredibly judgemental and condescending. Yesterday might have been an unusually lazy day or you may have been knackered from teaching underprivileged badgers how to read the previous night. So go back over the last week, or month and repeat the exercise. I think you'll see a similar disparity between the first list - your desired life - and the second - the life you're actually living.

What's the point of this, besides making you feel like shit?

This: You are what you repeatedly do, NOT what you believe about yourself. The first list is a bunch of nice ideas. The second list shows you who you are and who you'll be in ten years.

So, obviously you can change that, that's where a lot of articles like this would end. If you want to crush your career, ditch all that Facebook time and spend an hour a day pursuing your career in goldfish wrangling / palaeontology / whatever the hell it is you want to do. And it'll work. Start doing that now and you will soon be far closer to living that first list.

But there are a couple of important things to understand: All of the things on the seconds list fulfilled an important need, in fact they were the things you wanted to do MOST in that moment. Faffing about on Facebook, however trivial it seems, still provided a social connection and allowed you to wind down from work.

Okay, but what if you're a heroin addict? Your second list may have read -

1 - Try and get hold of heroin.
2- Take heroin.

Does that mean you want to be a heroin addict? Absolutely not. Nor am I saying your addiction is your fault, or any of that judgemental crap. But in a purely biological sense, the point stands: The heroin was fulfilling a need, an incredibly powerful one. For complex, horrible reasons and through no fault of your own It was the most important thing to you in that moment.

That's a huge subject and beyond the scope of what's supposed to be a fun little blog, but it was important to clear up.

Here's a less depressing example: Your first list, your list of what you think is most important to you, says; "I want to look like a fitness magazine model". And your second list, the things you actually did yesterday said: "spent the day dressing and feeding the kids and ferrying them around".

Again, that second list tells you what your actual priorities are, what was most important to you in that moment: Looking after your kids - and rightly so because you're a good parent rather then a narcissistic asshole.

So here's my point: If you want to move toward the goals on the first list, you need to change something about the second list. BUT, you also need to recognise what you will LOSE by changing something on the second list; That you will be giving up something that may sound trivial on paper but still fulfils an emotional need.

In the example above, don't think; "I want to look like a fitness model". Think; "I want to spend less time with my kids and look like a fitness model". Because, as shitty as it sounds, that's the reality. Something needs to be bumped off that second list if anything's going to happen.

The point is not to discourage you but to illustrate what it takes to actually change. Do this and you'll realise that some goals are worth cutting certain fun activities out of your life for and since you now appreciate that those activities fulfilled a need, you can prepare yourself for how tough that transition will be.

But guess what? Some other goals, when you look at what it actually takes to achieve them, may not actually be worth it...and that's okay too. Try it and see.