Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Downgrading Your Skills or Upgrading Them?

Hey guys, i am sure that you have seen videos or instructions on "the best exercises for abs, butts and thighs" or something similar to that. And a lot of these teach you exercises lying on the ground on your back or on your tummy. Some of these exercises have names like sit ups, crunches, superman etc.

Ever heard of Pilates? I suppose you do. Do you know that it was originally created for bedridden people? Now do you know why there are so many lying down exercises in it. Are you bedridden? Why in the world would you want to exercise the bedridden way?

I am not criticizing the system of Pilates. There is nothing wrong with these, considering that it was meant for bedridden people. And some of the advanced variations can be really tough.

But what i want to bring to your attention is: we don't work on our backs or on our tummies. Humans are made to work on their feet. How many percent of real life movements are performed lying down (not counting sleeping)?

I am not criticizing exercising on your back at all. There are applications for these. But for the rest of us, how do you progress to real life movements beyond that?

I bet you have never asked yourself that, haven't you? Most people exercise just for the sake of the exercise. They don't think of functionality. What this means is how applicable this exercise is to your real life movements. We should try make strength and conditioning training harder than your sport so that your sport movements feel easier. Now your life is your "sport" and there is no need to downgrade your skills to make them easier.

Make your training harder so that your real life movements feel easier and better.

Let's take the example of a wall squat. You squat with your back flat against the wall. Now compare this to a freestanding squat. Which is harder? Any person with a right mind would tell you that a freestanding squat is harder. But why is the wall squat routinely prescribed to people wanting to tone their "abs butts and thighs"?

It does not make sense if the person can do a freestanding squat already. If this is the most difficult variation they can do then i say it is a rational way to exercise.

Why do an exercise that does not improve your sport (or life, if you are not into sport)?

Can't do full squat? Don't do wall squats. Don't do partial squats. Learn exercises leading to the full squat.

I can list you many variations of squats and lunges that are many times harder than these and guaranteed to make you feel your abs, butts and thighs burn in no time. You see, these exercises require much more stabilization and strength in their execution than the wall squat (see below). No need to downgrade your skills through exercise. Upgrade your skills through exercise.

Your mind and body craves sophistication. This means seeking more complex movement patterns. Ever wondered by there are so many boring exercise programs out there? One reason is they don't allow for more complex movement patterns. They would add weight or resistance (which is nothing wrong btw), but they don't teach you more complex variation of the exercises.

Your body is already capable of complex movements. Increase your movement vocabulary through exercise, not decrease it. Exercise should be a playful activity, like a child playing in a playground. Ever seen a breakdance routine or a capoeira game? That is real playfulness. That is what your body is capable of doing. If exercise is not fun, you won't do it. If it is fun, you would crave it.

Ok, here are some variations of squats and lunges that you can do to hit those abs, butts and thighs. Please don't think that only sit ups and crunches work your abs. These exercises due to their stability requirements, require you to involve your core much more than the wall squat.
-Squat (all the way down)
-Forward lunge
-Cossack lunge
-Backward lunge
-Bulgarian squat
-One legged lunge
-Pistol (one legged squat)

There are many ways to make them easier or harder, but i won't go into them this time.

If you need any help sifting out the real deal about fitness or learning these exercises and putting them into a program, please do not hesitate to get me for personal training.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Do You Know That You Have Eyes on Your Feet?

Herman, you must be crazy! How can you have eyes on your feet? Everybody knows that humans only have two eyes, on their faces.

No, no, i am not out of my mind. I am not talking about eyes literally, but i am talking about the sensitive nerve endings on your feet. Do you know that the most sensitive parts of the body includes the hands, feet, genitals and lips.

Sensory homunculus

Look at the diagram of the sensory homunculus. This is how much surface area the brain dedicates to each bodypart. The physical size of the bodyparts represent the sensitivity of that part.

So when blind people feel their way around using their hands, they are actually seeing their way around with their hands. The feet are not as sensitive as the hands, but they are remarkably sensitive in the absolute sense. There are people without hands who can perform things we take for granted using their feet, like writing.

In the not so extreme use of the feet, grapplers use their legs and feet to manipulate their opponents just like how you use your arms and hands.

Ever imagined how life would be like if you go around blindfolded? That is exactly what happens when you enclose your feet in stiff, thick soled, thick heeled shoes.

Just as you would be out of your mind to go around blindfolded, it is a crazy thing to walk around encasing your feet in a cast that you call shoes. Your feet need to move more. There are 28 bones and more than 30 joints in your foot. If they were meant not to move, God would have created them to be made of one bone.

There are some good general purpose shoes out there in the market like Adidas Jawpaw and Vibrams. Get these if you need to wear shoes. Otherwise try to be barefoot as much as you can.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Kind of Coach are you Looking for?

A few days ago, i just taught a personal training session to a client and colleague (he is also a coach). He is ranked top 15 triathlete in Singapore and he can do it without special training.

He wanted improve core strength as well as improve strength in his glutes, hamstrings etc.

So after finding out his current condition, training program etc, it is obvious he knows how to train. But he does not do prehab or rehab except foam rolling once a week. Ok great, so my role is to teach him prehab and rehab.

We did Intu-Flow and some jumping technique.

After the session he told me that though he liked the session and found it useful, it is not what he expected. And one advice he gave me was other clients may not like it and continue the training. As usual, people usually ask for fat loss, strength training etc, if you give them mobility, they may not continue the training. Business suffers.

One the other hand (he speaks from experience), if you give them what they want and some time along the way they find that things are not working as expected, then you tell them about mobility, prehab and rehab and chances are they are more willing to listen to you and continue the training.

From my own experience as a trainee, when i took up Circular Strength Training, i wanted to learn Prasara Yoga and Joint Mobility. At that time i was not interested in Clubbell Swinging, since i was already doing kettlebell sport training. Anyway for the sake of passing the cert i just went through everything required.

At that time i did not know there were three rings of CST, and all the other theories that makes CST what it is.

It wasn't what i expected, but looking back, i was glad i went through all those. CST is only complete with Clubbell swinging as it is an extension of the joint mobility movements to weight swinging in 6 Degrees of Freedom.

Anyway i am going to revamp my programs: bootcamp classes would be available to the public but technique classes (include prehab and rehab) would be available only for personal training. Let's see if it improves my business.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Are You Bored With the Monotony of Linear Training

Rmax Faculty Coaches Scott Sonnon and Ryan Murdock just released Tacfit Commando a few days ago and this must have bodyweight training products. I recommend you to take a look at it and see how different it is from other boring, linear bodyweight training programs.

The full product would be released in just two days from now and i am gonna get it.

Training Safety 101

Have you head of people getting injured while training? Especially heavy weight training? How can that be possible? Training is supposed to strengthen you right?  How can a healthy activity cause injury?

Well, these short advices to follow would help you avoid those nasty training injuries. If you don't pay careful attention to these things, you can set up yourself for injury.

1. Rate if Perceived Technique (RPT)

This refers to how many points out of 10 you would score your technique. 1 being worst, 10 being best. You should have in your mind an idea of what perfect technique looks like. Then rate your performed technique accordingly. All activities, not just training exercise but also includes your activities of daily living (ADLs) like carrying furniture, carrying babies/children, running, jumping etc, must score an RPT of at least 8 and above.

If you do not know what perfect technique looks like, you can get me for personal training to teach you.

2. Rate of Perceived Discomfort (RPD)

This refers to how many points out of 10 you would score your discomfort. 0 being none, 1 being minimal and 10 being maximal. You should always aim of having zero discomfort in all your activities. Discomfort here refers to injurious pain, e.g. joint aches and pains, sharp pains, pain in your soft tissues like muscles, tendons etc. All activities (including exercises) must score an RPD of 3 and below before you start loading the exercise.

RPT and RPD are very closely related. With better technique, discomfort should decrease. But you may not be able to improve your technique because of previous injuries or lack of mobility. That's why it is so important to do your prehab work. It would improve your technique instantly, guaranteed.

3. Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE)

This refers to how hard you are working, i.e. intensity. Also in a scale of 0 to 10. 0 being no effort, 1 minimal and 10 maximal. This is the only variable that you can vary according to your training needs. Each number roughly corresponds to the percentage of your maximal heart rate, i.e. RPE 8 is 80% max heart rate (MHR), RPE 5 is 50% MHR. This is just a rough guide and an easy way to gauge your intensity without having to invest in a heart rate monitor (HRM)

RPE and RPD should not be confused. High effort should not produce more discomfort. Breathing hard and deep is effort, not discomfort.


All activities must have: RPT ≥ 8, RPD ≤ 3 before you are ready to load the movement. If not practice your technique.  How to improve technique? By practicing. Practice must be distinct from training. In practice your objective is to improve technique. In training your objective is to be able to do higher loading (weight, number of reps, speed, distance, time etc.).

When the RPE of a certain activity drops from an 8 (hard) to a 6 (moderate), you can up the loading.

I hope this information would greatly help you in avoiding training injuries.

Till next time.

Friday, February 5, 2010

7 Ways Kettlebell Lifting Can Improve Your Martial Arts

Ok guys, this is one article which i am a bit reluctant to write. Mainly because all this while i have been saying that you got to improve your movement quality, then your chosen activity will improve. It is just as simple as that. As i have mentioned elsewhere, individual joint movements are the ABCs of movement, compound movements are the words. Get your ABCs right and your words would improve.

Anyway, there are people who want more specific exposition on the benefits of kb lifting (and SnC in general) so here goes.

We would look at the benefits in terms of the 7 Key Components of Structure in Circular Strength Training (CST).

Kettlebell moves are mainly divided into:
Pulls: swing, clean, 1/2 snatch, snatch
Pushes: press, push press, jerk
For videos of the movements, please go here.

I hope that is beneficial to you. Of course we can go into more specific exercises like the Turkish Get Up, but these are not from the kettlebell Classic Lifts. You can do them with sandbags, which gives a more difficult challenge than using a solid weight.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stay Away from Hospital!

Hey guys, do you want to know how i got into the physiotherapy profession? Read on.

My physical culture background was artistic gymnastics and martial arts, which i picked up in my school days. Of course, our sports teams do not have strength & conditioning coaches or rehab therapists. We just trained the way our seniors taught us to. If we were injured, we just took a few days off and continued training after that.

So i suffered numerous ankle sprains in my school days.

In the Army, i had five ankle sprains in my Basic Military Training (BMT). So that means one every two weeks. I was always with the pai kah pai chiu (Hokkien for injured arms and legs) gang. What the heck was going on? I wanted to do my best and become an officer. Looks like i can't make it if this happens all the time. Later i realised it is because of my previous injuries that i had unstable ankles.

Then i heard that some people who had back pain went for physiotherapy. And they are people who give them exercises for injuries.

Damn SAF, why didn't they recommend me for physiotherapy? Seeing i have had so many ankle sprains in such a short period of time.

So i decided to check it out. Went for specialist at Singapore General Hospital and asked for physiotherapy.

So i went for my first session. I was given stretches and some strengthening exercises to do (how effective these exercises are is another story). But most of the time there, the physiotherapist was running around checking on the other patients she had.

On top of that, although the appointment card said 3pm (insert an arbitrary time here), the training session never starts on time. It is likely to be 330pm.

So it is queueing, plus more queueing, plus only fifteen minutes of the physio's time out of the two plus hours spent at the hospital.

These are some figures which you may be interested to know:
-A typical hospital physio does about twenty patients a day.
-The average working day is 8 hours.
-So that makes 24 minutes per patient. But realistically it is likely to be less than this.

With multiple patients at the same time, for the whole day, day after day, what do you think is going to happen to quality? Even teaching a person Intu-Flow joint mobility takes more than half an hour with teaching and explanations. You can technically go through the motion without teaching and explanations, but you won't get the patient convinced in the methods.

And not forgetting that people have the mindset of "i'll do these exercises if i have the time", or "i'll try to do them".

How much do you think you can learn from the hospital?

Why do they have so many patients a day? Are they greedy for more money? Or are they really concerned about people? If they are really concerned about people, why not have more physios so that every patient have at least an hour with the physio?

No doubt the service is cheap, but cheap is usually not a good option. You pay more in terms of:
-Queueing for an appointment
-Queueing at the counter
-Learning less
-Longer recovery period

If you are a sedentary person, probably going to the hospital physio is not a big deal. After all you don't really care about the injury so much.

But if you are a high performance athlete, it matters much. Time wasted is training wasted. Training wasted is gold medal wasted.

That's why i keep telling people not to go to hospital physios but get a private one (like me). With private physio, the whole one hour can be dedicated to the one patient. To ensure that the patient is learning everything he needs to know to get to his path of recovery.

And even if you have an hour with every patient, there are some patients who are going to take time to learn, i.e. that one hour session may not be enough.

Besides that i am the product of my own products. I was also full of injuries and rehabbed and trained myself to high performance. I would only sell products that i myself use. How many hospital physios are there just for the job? Be realistic my friend, not every one out there has a passion for human movement. Many can't even perform a proper squat or deadlift. Some don't even know what is a deadlift. Let alone teach your proper movement.

And if you have been my client before, you would know that i touch people as little as possible and teach you what you should do instead of doing things for you. Even myofascial release i let the client and foam roller (and related equipment) do their job, not my hands.

My job is to do as little as possible and let the client do as much as possible so that they can be independent. Dependency on the therapist can cost a lot more money than if you can do it yourself.

Healing doesn't come from me or my hands. Healing comes from knowledge and the application of it. And you apply that knowledge by your own personal practice - by practicing and refining your movement.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who is Your First Contact When Injured

Hey guys, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you have an injury? Go to the doctor right?

Now, i am going to tell you that this may or may not be the right thing to do. In certain cases it may well be your path to recovery, but in other cases, it may set you back.

Let's say you were playing soccer (the favourite pastime of Singaporean men) and you sprained an ankle. And you go to the doctor.

What would the doctor give you? Even if you never had this injury before you would know the answer: painkillers. And probably an MC too.

Would he even touch your ankle, find out which ligaments had been sprained, which direction the forces went, and most importantly: do a movement assessment on you and prescribe you exercises? I can dare say that 99% this is a resounding no.

You go home, take your medications, wait a few days for the pain to subside, start to walk again and think that all is fine. After all that is what the doctor says. And the doctor is god, isn't he (at least that is the impression i get from people who always recommend going to the doctor)?

Some time passed. You go back to your sports. But this time it is different. You notice that every time you play, your strength has decreased. It's because of deconditioning you say to yourself, which is perfectly normal. Another thing you notice is that your knees keep getting minor pains. And you can't quite figure out why this happens.

You go back to the doctor and he gives you painkillers another time.

The whole scenario repeats over and over again.

My friend, the scenario would be very different if you had consulted a physiotherapist (physical therapist) or a movement based medical practitioner (e.g. chiropractor, sinseh, osteopath? etc.).

Yes, the painkillers would ease the pain but it does nothing in terms of aiding recovery or your injured tissues and recovering your movement.

With an injury, your movement is going to be affected, because your whole structure is affected. Your body is not made up of bricks stacked on top of each other. The body is to be seen as a tensegrity structure. It is made up of compressive struts (bones) in a sea of continuous tension (the muscle-fascia [myofascia]). Any change in tension on any of the cables/guy wires, would affect the whole structure.

An example of a tensegrity structure

When an injury occurs, soft tissues are going to stiffen, due to formation of scar tissue and contraction of muscles amongst other things, to protect the injury.

The problem is when the tension is not released. Movement at the affected joint becomes more difficult (i.e. stiffer). And what happens when a bodypart moves less? Other bodyparts must compensate to produce the same total amount of movement. This abnormal movement pattern shows up as the minor aches and pains that seem to arise from nowhere.

If the typical (i am not saying all) doctor, who knows nuts about general fitness exercise, is not competent to prescribe you general fitness programs, how can you expect him to diagnose movement problems and prescribe you therapeutic exercises? Which is a more specialised field in exercise science.

The typical MD education is in the field of chemical medicine and the medical system as a whole, including the education, is backed by powerful pharmaceutical companies. Exercise and movement and related subjects are not the focus of them. The myofascial system and things related to it is still considered alternative medicine to the mainstream medical community.

A physiotherapist is trained to diagnose and treat movement problems. So it would be wise for you to consult a physiotherapist when you are injured instead of the doctor. You still can visit the doctor, to get the MC and painkillers (if the pain is unbearable, but i'd say just skip it, why add chemical toxins to your body) but at least know what you are getting.

We'll cover more on the role of the physiotherapist next time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Hey guys, i just came across this website and it is a good resource on natural health, diet and nutrition. My dietary tips given two days ago pale in comparison to this guy's expertise. Enjoy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Home Gym Essentials

If you are like me, you do not like to go to the gym. I mean a commercial gym that charges exhorbitant prices, have what you do not need and don't have what you need.

If you are like me, you would prefer to train at home or outdoors. Doing your training this way gives you a lot of flexibility compared to training in a gym. You can train anytime, do any movements you like without any salesperson or incompetent gym instructors stopping you or trying to sell you packages.

There is however one point that justify their existence: convenience. If you are an executive working in the CBD, and short of time, training at such a gym is time saving. You can get a short workout and head back to the office in no time.

So what are the unnecessary stuff that the commercial gyms are selling you, and charging you lots of money for:
-Machines and other so called "high tech" equipment
-Lockers and showers
-Air conditioning

The only stuff they have that are justifiable are the dumbbells and barbells. Which often takes up only a small percentage of their floor area.

Of course if your goal is to lift very heavy weights then you have no choice but to buy a lot of weights, which is not practical for HDB flats. Or go to a gym with barbells. But if you are not looking for this goal, there are many options out there to design a good workout with minimal equipment.

And the stuff that you really need (or great to have) that such a gym is guaranteed not to have:
-Weightlifting bar and bumper plates
-Lifting platform
-Martial arts mats
-Strongmen equipment
-Ring and other gymnastics apparatus
-And the most important of all: foam rollers and balls for myofascial release

Actually with a little creativity, you do not really need much equipment to have an effective workout. Just a few kettlebells and clubbells can make you busy for a few years without needing to upgrade anything. Heck, even if you don't have any equipment, you can use your bodyweight to get a good training effect.

A gym in the early 1900s, no machines, all good stuff

And who says bodyweight training cannot give you extreme strength and endurance? Traditional Indian wrestlers have a daily diet of bodyweight exercises in addition to their famous club swinging training.

So think again before you pour your money down the drain for such gym memberships.

If you do not know how to design such a program, i am at your service. Just give me a call or an email and i'll be glad to design a program just for you.