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Wednesday
Apr092014

Ten Commandments For Getting Ripped

Hi all. I wrote these Ten Commandments for getting ripped for FHM, check them out here-

http://www.fhm.com/upgrade/mens-style/the-10-fitness-commandments-thatll-get-you-ripped-quick-85409

Just to put it in context, this would be for a very short term plan hence the extra cardio. The diet would usually be as part of a 16/8 fasting plan. So all meals would be eaten between 1pm and 8pm.

I'll be returning to regular blogging soon when my book is finished.
Zack

@zackcahill

Wednesday
Mar052014

How To Be A Superhero

With Captain America-Winter Soldier hitting the big screen and a slew of superhero films following, isn’t it time you developed a heroic body?

Between this Summer’s Amazing Spiderman 2, Captain America 2 and Guardians Of The Galaxy, superheroes are bigger than ever. At some point we’ve all wondered what super power we’d most like to have, but you don’t have to wonder anymore. Just use the Aegis Training guide to becoming a superhero and you’ll be leaping tall buildings, wielding hammers and pulling your own Lois Lane in no time.

Disclaimer- We do not recommend dressing in lycra and dispensing vigilante justice.

Superman- Super Strength

Superman dates back to the 1930's, his famous underwear-on-the-outside fashion statement was a nod to Victorian era circus strongmen. The underpants have been ditched for the latest big screen incarnation but the super-strength remains intact.

Get The Power –

Follow the rule of 3-5

3-5 sets

3-5 reps

3-5 exercises (deadlift, chin-up, military press for example)

3-5 minutes rest between sets

Low reps with heavy weights and long rest are the way to develop superhero strength.

The Super Shortcut- Testosterone tends to peak around 3 in the afternoon, so if possible try and schedule your strength workouts then.

 

The Flash- Super Speed

Struck by lightning and sent flying into a shelf of radioactive chemicals (which is pretty unlucky by anyone’s standard really) Barry Allen developed superhuman speed. The long-rumored Justice League movie should see his luck change as he rubs shoulders with Batman and Superman on screen.

Get The Power- If you want to be fast you need to train fast. Stop running long distances and choose short burst sprints of 20-50 metres. Keep the rest periods long to allow full recovery between sets, the goal is performance, not getting out of breath.

Start with 6 sets of 40 metre sprints three times a week, resting three minutes between sprints.

Always warm up thoroughly to avoid muscle strains.

The Super Shortcut- Stretch your hip flexors regularly, this increases stride length making you faster.

 Thor - Power

Thor is the only hero with a day of the week named after him (seriously, Thursday is named after Thor, Wednesday after his father Odin, and Saturday after rubbish-but-hot girl-band The Saturdays)

Thor is one of the most powerful Avengers. In the technical sense, power is a combination of strength and speed. Think throwing a heavy rock rather than hoisting it slowly off the ground.

Get the power- You can’t beat Olympic weightlifting for power development. It’s a very technically demanding sport, the masters of have been slaving away in a Bulgarian training camp since they left the womb. However, the Snatch Pull is a far less complicated movement that yields the same benefits. 

The Super Cheat – Schedule the snatch pull first in your workout and then follow it with the deadlift for a heroic combination of strength and power.

 

Wolverine - Super Healing

Thanks to his mutant healing powers Wolverine has survived being stabbed, beaten and mutilated in every imaginable way. Kind of like Jackie Chan, but with Danny DeVito's body hair.

Get The Power- Boost your immune system by looking after your gut. A probiotic supplement and two tablespoons of coconut oil per day along with plenty of green veg are a decent start. Sleep is vital too, so get to bed before 11 to get your regulation 8 hours.

The Super Shortcut – Buy a greens supplement and have one scoop with your breakfast every day.

Spider-Man- Super Agility

Another in the proud line of Marvel Comics heroes to develop fantastical powers after exposure to radiation. When we tried that method we just lost all our hair and teeth and went partially blind. Moral of the story? Comic books lie!

Get The Power – Parkour, also known as free running, is every bit as impressive as Peter Parker’s wall crawling heroics, and you don’t need to be bitten by a radioactive spider to learn it.

Be sure to get professional instruction from a company like Parkour Generations, who run classes all over the UK. 

Reed Richards (The Fantastic Four)- Super Flexibility

Bombarded by radioactive gamma rays, Reed's wife has the power of invisibility, his brother in law can turn into fire and his best friend has superhuman strength. Reed has the ability to...stretch quite far. Okay so he's kind of the Ringo of the group, but he’s married to Jessica Alba so don’t feel too bad.

Get The Power – Most men treat stretching like Dracula treats garlic, crosses and the Twilight movies (i.e. they fear, hate and avoid it). But flexibility is very important for injury prevention. There's nothing big and clever about being stiff as a girder

Start your workouts with at least 15 minutes of stretching and mobilisation. Joe Defranco's Limber 11 is a great option.

The Super Shortcut- Roll the soles of your feet with a tennis ball for freakily instantaneous improvements in hamstring flexibility.

Wednesday
Feb192014

Why Americans Are Fat

I've just spent five days in Vegas and have now arrived in Palm Springs, and I've figured it out.

American's are world leaders at breakfast. I wake up here giddy about it. Cruising the buffet like some hungover apex-predator , ladling food stuffs into my plate with a total disregard for genre. Sweet meets savoury, Thai meets southern, honey drenched waffles sit astride knuckles of lamb. Every meal a pan global celebration of diversity to make Dr King salivate. I return to my seat with the entire cast of The Lion King on my plate.

You've heard about American food servings of course but you've got to experience them.
At restaurants, servings are so large they take on the quality of a mad dare. The waiter deposits a groaning tray of triple-carb apocalypse, a thermonuclear assault on your waistline, with a smile that says "you just try and finish that one buddy".

I battle through it bravely , emerging proud and somehow changed, like a veteran of some sort of delicious Vietnam. Finally finished, I put my cutlery together and sit back contentedly digesting. This must be what those huge snakes feel like after they swallow an whole zebra and need to just lie still for a few weeks.

It's at this moment that the waiter arrives with a dastardly twinkle in his eye and a plate of complimentary ice cream. Once more into the breach, dear friends.

Friday
Dec132013

What Action Man Tells Us About Male Body Image

(This was originally published in GQ Style September 2013 - Zack)

Traditionally, us men aren't meant to get hung up on our bodies. John Wayne never asked if an outfit made his bum look big, and Humphrey Bogart managed to marry several beautiful actresses despite the duel burden of a face like a melted Dracula mask and the name "Humphrey".

But as we approached the millennium and the critical mass of masculine vanity that was the "metrosexual", we became correspondingly more body conscious. For some of us this means being less laissez faire with the booze and biscuits or joining the gym, but at the extreme it means something darker. While our tight-lipped approach to disclosing health problems makes hard stats tricky to come by, it’s estimated that there has been a 67 percent increase in UK males seeking treatment for eating disorders in the last five years.

One such issue is muscle dysmorphia, sometimes called "manorexia".

"It's an extreme anxiety about the size of your muscles and your physique in general. Typically, guys will be ashamed of their bodies - even if they are in great shape - and become extremely distressed if they miss a workout or eat the wrong foods," says Dr Mark Rackley, a clinical psychologist specialising in male eating disorders.

So what causes it? "There are multiple factors, but the way men are portrayed in popular culture is definitely key.” For example, since the 1960's the Action Man toy has lost three inches on his waist and gained three inches on his arms. “If you scaled him up he'd have bigger arms than any bodybuilder in history" says Rackley.

Of course it’s still predominantly women being portrayed as sex objects, but men are gaining ground. Witness Daniel Craig emerging from the surf under the cameras lascivious gaze for a recent cultural flashpoint of male body-worship. It’s a safe bet that as many men joined gyms as bought expensively product-placed wristwatches in the wake of the Bond reboot. One of those was Josh Mullin, a 25 year old personal trainer who struggled with muscle dysmorphia in his teens.

"My daily routine was all about muscle building,” says Josh. “My worst enemy was missing a meal, or, god forbid, a training session. I would train for two to three hours per day and eat obsessively. I found it difficult to socialise as any time spent away from the gym was a waste in my eyes."

In conditions like anorexia or bulimia, still overwhelmingly female issues, there is a very clear demarcation between disorder and normal behaviour; there's no such thing as moderate bulimia. But for men, the idealised physique is not emaciated. Low body fat is a prerequisite for sure, but so are gym-honed muscles, and you don't get those by starving yourself. Instead, an incredibly delicate balance must be struck. You must consume enough of the "right" foods to provide the raw muscle materials, which may mean six meals a day and thousands of calories. But there's a risk: eat too much and you'll obscure definition with excess fat.

It's a caloric high-wire act, requiring constant refinement and ascetic restriction. But the actual behaviours, focused exercise and good nutrition, unlike the binge and purge of other disorders, are not inherently unhealthy.

So where is the tipping point between enviable fitness fanatic and muscle dysmorphia?

"It comes down to how extreme the anxiety is," says Dr. Rackley. "A person might get a bit antsy if they miss a workout but it's no big deal in the scheme of things. But if you are getting incredibly stressed about diet and it's stopping you from having a normal social life, it could be muscle dysmorphia."

That guy at the changing room mirror, anxiously appraising his reflection and plucking at a millimetre of fat below his navel may not just be a narcissist, he may be a sufferer. Former sufferer Josh agrees. "I think there is a fine line between looking at your body for improvements and body dysmorphia and the two can easily merge. I remember looking at myself thinking I was in terrible shape, but now when I look back I was probably in the best condition of my life."

I found myself nodding along to Josh's story, recognising traits I once shared.

Muscle is an emotional issue, often a reaction to bullying or poor self confidence. Here's the difference: Most sports are self - selecting, a child is exposed to it, finds he has a natural aptitude and sticks with it. As a result, athletes have a relaxed mastery of their bodies, an ownership of their muscle. In contrast, those of us who train for aesthetics tend to do so precisely because of a lack of athletic ability. It appeals because of its solitary nature and the ideology of self -betterment as an end in itself. We're building confidence in proportion to our muscle, and have a proportional fear of losing it because so much of our self-image is tied up in our physiques.

But therein lies the inconvenient truth. Getting into truly remarkable shape requires an obsession with every morsel you put in your mouth on a par with, if not equal to, an eating disorder.

That's not necessarily a bad thing when done for a specific period of time and with a level of emotional detachment. It can be a powerful and transformative learning experience. But when it becomes a chronic state, creates constant stress and prevents us from having a life outside of the relentless pursuit of a physical ideal, the constantly moving target of the perfect body, the eating disorder tag becomes more appropriate.

Most men eventually get perspective, realising it's possible to be both in shape and a well-rounded person. But occasionally they get stuck, and when that happens Josh has some advice.

"Ask for help. It may seem like no one understands but there will always be family members, friends or medical professionals that can give you advice and repairing steps to take."

Tuesday
Dec102013

Zen And The Art Of Rock Climbing

(I'm still halfway through a book hence the paucity of recent blogs. Instead here's something I wrote at the beginning of the year. This was originally published in OutThere Travel back in February - Zack)

Stepping out of the chilled Air Asia cabin, the mid-day heat of Krabi, Thailand feels like a kick in the chest. By the time my feet hit tarmac my previously crisp shirt looks like the Turin shroud. But I’m not here for a religious experience - I’m here to rock climb.

In all honesty, I’m no outdoorsman. For me rocks are things you order scotch on.

I have no excuses, being both Irish and a personal trainer. The country of my birth has no shortage of spectacular landscapes, but growing up in suburban South Dublin our main hobbies weren't particularly rustic. We didn't gambol through meadows, catch fish in the bay or skin our knees clambering around ruined castles. Granted, we spent much of our formative years drinking in fields. But compared to the sun-drenched pastoral utopia my antipodean friends reminisce about, we were sedentary city kids.

And while my day job of lifting heavy objects means I'm fit and strong, I've always been more about show than go. Primarily, I exercise so I have something nice to hang a t-shirt on.

So when OutThere Travel asked me to come and hang off cliffs for a few days in one of the greatest climbing destinations on Earth I bit their arm off...before wondering how much of the trip I could feasibly spend lying on the beach.

Call me shallow, but you can take your temples, your elephants, your monks- Thailand appeals to me for different reasons. It's a glimpse of the good life, a sliver of luxury that, thanks to the vagaries of exchange rates and global economics, we can all access. But then what’s the point of travel if not opening yourself up to new experiences?

Halfway up a cliff on my first day I think I've figured out what makes climbing addictive. So addictive that in the few days I spend around climbers the most common piece of autobiographical chit chat I hear is "...well I've just quit my job to come and climb here"

I'm on a route known as Groove Tube (climbing route names provide a useful insight into the climber mind - Hello Dali, Fit To Be Thai'd, The Little Shit etc) and I'm stuck. I'm twenty metres up and enclosed on either side by a half-pipe of smoothly curved limestone. The view from here would be breathtaking, blue skies over Tonsai bay, an idyllic inlet framed by monolithic cliffs that explode from the sea, dripping stalactites and tapering to a precariously narrow base.

But I'm not looking at the view. I'm focused on the wall and where the hell I'm going to put my hands. I'm reaching blind. sliding my fingers along the rock in futile circles feeling for a purchase. Finally I find it, my right hand slips into a perfect nook and takes my weight as I scramble up another few feet.

That's where it hits me. Humans have evolved to be problem solving creatures, figuring things out kept us alive, so when we solve something our brain rewards us with a sweet little hit of dopamine, one of our "happy" hormones. It's the reason we like pop songs, our brain predicts how the melody will resolve itself, and responds with a burst of delicious chemicals when the song obliges. It's also the hormone most associated with romantic love. But dopamine is the driver of addiction too. And rock climbing is a perfect dopamine delivery system. It's problem solving all the way up. Every inch, every foothold, every grip, is another hit.

But we know how addiction works. Once we've had a little our brains adapt, we need more and bigger to achieve the same high. Luckily nature lavishes us with ever more challenging routes, and our bodies adapt in tandem. Our eyes become keener, and tiny depressions in the rock surface, virtually invisible to the beginner, enlarge under the climbers gaze. When you watch the experts their arms seem to lengthen unnaturally as they stretch for a crag you'd thought impossibly out of reach.

Tonsai bay teems with experts. When we arrived here on day one for lunch and the afternoon climb, what struck me most was how the bodies changed. Gone are the gym pumped physiques of phi phi or the sunburnt beer bellies of Rialay just across the bay. This is a place for climbers. Their bodies are uniformly lithe, elegantly muscular and a deep golden brown. The Tonsai Man is all forearms, shoulders and upper back. Narrow hips and thighs flaring out into big calves. Abs are defined but not in a shredded, gym honed way. It's a body developed for hauling itself up mountains. No excess baggage, just enough essential parts.

He also has a certain swagger, perhaps the tiniest bit smugly aware that, while others get pissed on the Koh San road, he's in the "proper" Thailand.

I finish the first day elated and exhausted. The skin on my hands is sore, my forearms are pumped and a cold Singha beer in The Grotto while watching the very Platonic ideal of sunsets feels well earned.

In fitness we talk about the SAID principle - Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. It means that training does not necessarily transfer to a particular task unless it is specific to that task. I come face to face with this on day two when I realise how poorly fifteen years of gym training has prepared me for rock climbing. My upper back is in pieces. It hammers home the flaws in my technique- your hands should secure you to the rock face while your legs do the heavy lifting. I had been trying to chin-up my way to the top. The soreness gives me the feedback I need to alter my technique and I feel like I'm making progress.

Climbing is utterly engrossing, to the point of being a meditative act. As much as we talk abstractly of living "in the moment", we rarely do. Too often our minds are occupied with anxieties about the future or regrets of the past. Meditation alone is great but it's a challenge to shut off the higher conscious processes, the constant thinking about thinking. Climbing doesn't give you that option- you're in the moment or you fall off. Without conscious effort you find yourself at peace. For all the physical effort of the sport, rock climbing is a shortcut to serenity.

As a thank you to Ghop and Sue, our climbing instructors, we bring them for lunch at our hotel. Ghop tells us how he got into rock climbing in the early nineties before it exploded as a tourist industry (remember those playful climbing route names? Well the first one was called The Money Maker when Thai locals worked out they could charge tourists to climb it).

Climbing hooked Ghop utterly. He spent five years living on the beach doing nothing else. Climbing, thinking about climbing, discussing the minutiae of routes with friends, turning them over in his head, coming up with tweaks, solving the puzzle.

After lunch we tackle our greatest challenge yet, an endurance testing climb-hike-climb with the promise of the best view on the island as our reward. At the summit, the greenery falls away, the rock flattens out and our weariness evaporates as the view reveals itself to us. To call it spectacular would be to undersell it. Let’s just say the sense of achievement, the perfect blue skies and the kind of tropical landscape you expect King Kong to burst from at any minute create a truly perfect moment. I begin to understand why those climbers quit their jobs to come here.

Travel wouldn't be travel without at least one moment of existential crisis, where you wonder just what the hell you're working so hard for back home. I'm not saying I'm ready to hand in my Oyster card. I still love the mad London scramble. Cabs and cocktails, ambition and avarice. But there are lessons here if I want them and can believe they won't be eroded when I return to my East London bubble.

The lesson is the same as ever - focus on the wall in front of you. On where your hands and feet are right now. Not the summit above or the ground below. When you solve the puzzles, stop and enjoy the dopamine hit, and then reach for the next ledge.