Thursday, March 18, 2010

The ABCs of Success

I am going to share with you some simple tips that i learned from the business world, which also applies to fitness or other pursuits. Acronym ABC.

A - Associations

Who do you hang out with?

It is important to hang out with the right people. Most people have been brought up with negativities all around. They are taught that "you can't do this, you can't do that, that's impossible, you won't succeed" etc.

Don't hang out with these people. They would jeopardize your success. These are what we call dream stealers.

They already "know it all" because they have tried whatever you say and did not succeed. They are probably right. But, there are other people who have done it. Hang out with these people.

Yes, it is hard to find associations with people who are looking for success. That's why it is very important to search for them. Once you find them, learn as much as you can from them.

If you don't know such people in your circle of friends, one suggestion is to go online. There are many good fitness websites with lots of free articles and forums out there that you can learn from. Not any forums however, as there are a lot of nonsense being spread around in forums too.

Guess how i learned a lot of my physical training knowledge? Through forums, specifically the Rmax Forums.

B- Books

If you are like me, people around you probably do not have expertise in a certain subject you are interested in. So what do you do? Learning from them is the same as learning how to fly a plane from someone who have never flied a plane.

Read books. Yes, old fashioned books. Learn the struggles of successful people and how they overcame their obstacles through books. Learn in depth expositions of various subjects beyond what school teaches you. Books are an investment.

Not any books though. The market is saturated with nonsense books. Probably less than 10% of the fitness books in the library are worth reading.

Part of the fun in books is sifting through the nonsense and finding the gem amongst the crap.

Guess how i got into real physical culture? Again through learning from good books in the library.

Again, I recommend you read books from Rmax. These are very well written books comprehensible by the laymen, yet makes you learn beyond what is taught in school and tapping into the knowledge of the world class athletes:

Big Book of Clubbell Training

Free to Move

Prasara Yoga

C - CDs

If a picture speaks a thousand words, a video speaks ten thousand words or more. CDs are a great way to learn proper technique without having a coach teaching you live. After you have read the good books, you may forget how the movements or exercises looks like. And CDs would be a good reference, which may be even better than books.

With the rise of the internet age, it is becoming easier to get CDs imported from respected publishers that are not available in the local market. Websites like Amazon or Ebay makes it easier to search for particular products under one roof.

Guess how i learned a lot of exercises in my vocabulary? From CDs. With the popularity of the bodybuilding culture, conventional strength & conditioning (SnC) exercises are somewhat boring and unchallenging (in terms of skills, not resistance).

Through CDs, i learned unusual exercises that are fun and challenging. My experience in artistic gymnastics and capoeira tells me that complex movements can be used for SnC. CDs show me that these movements can be used for the general population given the right progressions.

With high speed broadband, physical CDs may not even be neccessary anymore. Eproducts can be downloaded instantly and saved in a convenient place. Eliminating the need for time and cost spending in shipping the product.

Here are some of my top picks for CDs (and eproducts):



Prasara Yoga Instructional

Clubbell Blackbook

Kettlebell Foundation

TACFIT Commando

Bodyweight Exercise Revolution

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Age-Old Wisdom Meets Modern Ingenuity

This article is so good i have to share it with you. Article Source:

Age-Old Wisdom Meets Modern Ingenuity
Beautiful bodies are not exclusive to the era of pec decks and treadmills.  Age-old traditions of physical culture have been delivering vibrant health and functional physiques for centuries, and much of this was done exclusively with bodyweight resistance.

Ancient and modern physical cultures use bodyweight for impressive results

The Pahlavani, an ancient wrestling art in Iran, made extensive use of bodyweight conditioning methods in its training.  It's said that one famous wrestler, Pahlavan-e Bozorg Razaz, performed 1,000 Shena (a form of push-up) per day as part of his conditioning regimen.
As early as the 5th century BC, the physical culture surrounding the wrestling traditions of the Indian Peninsula were based largely around body weight exercise.  Some examples which have been revived by modern fitness professionals include the Bethak (Hindu Squat) and the Dand (a form of swooping "push-up").  As with the Pahlavani training methods, these ancient body weight exercises (/ancient-bodyweight-exercises) were traditionally performed using very high repetitions without added resistance.

Modern fitness enthusiasts might be surprised to learn that the training methods of these rugged Indian wrestlers intersected fully with the practice of yoga in its more ancient and rigorous form.  Our imported, westernized version of yoga tends to emphasize the yielding side of the discipline.  But that is only half the equation.  The Yogi of old were able to yield and overcome with incredible strength and grace.  As my coach and mentor Scott Sonnon, founder of the Circular Strength Training system, is fond of saying, "Yoga was never meant to be a thumb and a blanket, but rather a hurricane and an earthquake."  If you dig past the softer side of yoga and apply a little imagination, you'll discover that old school yoga can be an incredible source of inspiration for body weight only exercise options
Today's Icons Of Body Weight Training

Today, we need look no further than the physique of the male gymnast to recognize the power of resisting the pull of gravity on our own bodies.  Moving deliberately through space in three dimensions, with awe-inspiring control, results in unbelievable physical development.

According to renowned gymnastics coach, Christopher Sommer, the overwhelming majority of a gymnast's training is done using only the resistance of his or her own body weight.  Sommer attributes much of the impressive gymnast's physique to straight arm manipulation of the body, the plyometric nature of many of the exercises, and a lot of jumping and single leg exercise for the lower body.

It's all relative

Complete mastery over how your body moves in space is almost magical.  How well you handle your own body weight is known as your relative strength.  It's dependent upon how strong you are, how heavy you are, and how skilled you are at moving your body.  When you can master your own movement, it appears as though you can actually defy gravity.
But beyond show-stopping tricks, in essence relative strength is all about how well you can apply your strength.  If you can squat or bench huge numbers, but you don't have the skill to transfer that strength into performance on the sports field or in the arena of life, then it's not necessarily useful strength.  Bodyweight exercise is a great way to integrate strength into more sophisticated movement patterns. Being able to manipulate the way your body moves in space also has the potential to reduce your risk of injury and to increase your performance in life and sport.

When you slip on a patch of ice, your body must react instantly in order to keep you upright.  This righting reflex is automatic, but the way your body responds, and which movement patterns are recruited to do the job, can be trained by moving your body through all of its potential degrees of freedom.  This must be done in a mechanically efficient way to ensure that correct movement patterns are trained.  Anyone who has watched an accomplished martial artist take fall after fall, effortlessly and soundlessly, has seen one example of the end result of such training. 

What do I mean by "movement patterns"? This refers to the way our bodies are put together and how they generate force. A very smart fellow named Thomas Myers popularized a concept calledAnatomy Trains, which essentially refers to slings of muscle and connective tissue that traverse and criss-cross the body.  These "trains" are lines of tension or pull that are activated to elicit movement-that is, if everything is firing correctly.  Activities like sitting at a desk all day, or performing only two-dimensional strength training and conditioning, can cause our bodies to forget how to move naturally, a phenomenon referred to as Sensory Motor Amnesia. Over time, those misfirings become habitual movement patterns. Using bodyweight exercises to take your body through its full movement potential allows you to solicit all those little muscles that should be part of a given Anatomy Train, but which may have become disconnected through disuse.

One of the most frequent comments I hear from new clients who already have an extensive training history is, "Wow, I discovered some new muscles after our training session."  My clients are often strong, fit people, but by taking their bodies through more complete and complex patterns of movement using only their body weight, I'm able to connect the dots and get all their muscles firing in concert along the various chains of tension.

This same idea of coordinating strength has implications for the athlete as well.  For example, a football lineman may have a high level of isolated strength in pressing with the legs alone (as in a squat), or with the arms alone (as in a bench press), but tying that strength together into a coordinated effort should also be part of a complete training program.  In the heat of the action, the player is both driving with his legs and pushing with his arms.  One interesting example of a bodyweight exercise that can tie these two actions together is the Quad Squat, which we'll explore later.

Moving Through 6 Degrees of Freedom

In talking about relative strength and your ability to respond in a functional way to situations both in day-to-day life and in athletic pursuits, I mentioned the importance of moving the body through all its potential degrees of freedom.  This concept was pioneered by the Circular Strength Training® system.  The idea of describing spatial movement through the convention of 6 Degrees of Freedom has been in use in the field of aeronautics for a very long time.  But CST founder Scott Sonnon recognized the genius of applying this concept to human movement, taking us beyond three dimensions and into six degrees.

Essentially, you can think of the three axes we already know and understand from three dimensional movement models, but now imagine moving both along and around each axis.  This gives you the 6 Degrees of Freedom: 
  • Heaving: Moving up and down the vertical axis
  • Surging: Moving along the front-to-back axis
  • Swaying: Moving along the side-to-side axis
  • Yawing: Moving around the vertical axis
  • Rolling: Moving around the front-to-back axis
  • Pitching: Moving around the side-to-side axis
If we imagine our customary sagital plane, we can both surge along it and pitch through it. We sway along the frontal plane and roll on it. And finally we heave along the axis of the transverse plane and we yaw around it. The most interesting thing about this way of looking at movement is that we can apply it individually to each joint, even when spatial orientation changes. Although you can take the body through the 6 Degrees of Freedom using many different tools, the most versatile and natural tool for this is the weight of the trainee's own body.  This is a powerful mechanism for creating vast pools of bodyweight exercises which address the degrees of freedom most important for a given sport, activity or client.


The greatest problem with conventional bodyweight exercise programs is lack of variation. You can only do so many push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks before boredom drives you away.  But the reality is, the sky's the limit when it comes to creating innovative exercise variations and designing effective bodyweight-only conditioning programs.

Sources of inspiration include age-old physical cultures like yoga and the martial arts, gymnastics, tumbling and of course all of the old standards we know from conventional strength and conditioning sources.  I consider the Circular Strength Training® system (CST) to be the undisputed leader in absorbing and re-expressing all these sources into a comprehensive and captivating approach.  Most of my own vocabulary of body weight exercise either comes from or is inspired by CST.

Incremental Sophistication

One of the hallmarks of CST is a concept called Incremental Sophistication.  Essentially, this means continually increasing the quality of movement along with the quantity.  We don't just lift heavier, longer and more often, we move in increasingly sophisticated patterns as well.  Movement sophistication is also the key to creating variety in bodyweight exercise programs.  As you, or your clients, progress in a program, you have the option of moving to a more sophisticated level of the same exercise rather than simply adding repetitions, sets or time under tension.

The most eloquent expression of the idea of Incremental Sophistication that I have seen is Scott Sonnon's FlowFit® program.  On the surface, it's a very simple circuit of seven bodyweight exercises chained together to form a flow.  But if you dig a little deeper, you'll discover that FlowFit® is a well thought out and complete full-body exercise routine.  The flow is specifically designed to take you through all 6 Degrees of Freedom.  Beyond that, each individual exercise is presented in four progressively sophisticating versions.

With each version of an exercise, the brute effort required may not be more demanding, but the finesse of execution becomes more sophisticated and the resultant training effect is increased.  More complex movement patterns mean more sophisticated neuromuscular recruitment.  The sum of the parts equates not just to more work, but to better quality of work and greater potential for carryover to life and sport.  Along with load, volume and frequency, sophistication can provide a valuable tool in exercise progression.

A powerful tool in its own right

I hope you've come to see that with a little imagination you can use principles like the 6 Degrees of Freedom and Incremental Sophistication to create almost limitless examples of bodyweight exercises.  I've used them both exclusively and integrated with equipment based training to provide impressive results for clients ranging from weekend athletes looking for an edge to stay-at-home moms interested in fat loss.
Get your in-depth report on Adam's choice for best bodyweight exercise the Quad Squat. Just sign up for the free Kick-Start package to get your report and a whole slew of other goodies. Adam Steer is co-author of the highly acclaimed Bodyweight Exercise Revolution. He's also a member of the Head Coaching Staff of the Circular Strength Training® system and has delivered CST workshops in Singapore, Australia, Washington State, Philadelphia and New York City. He works as a trainer with in-home and gym based clients through his Quebec City company, Momentum Training. When not actively training, Adam is passionately spreading the word about CST and other health-first fitness leaders through his Better Is Better blog.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cardiovascular Fitness 101

To be simply put, cardiovascular fitness is the ability of the heart-lung-blood system to supply oxygen to the working muscles during bouts of physical activity. This is also called aerobic capacity.

There are two factors which determines who has more aerobic capacity:

-Duration of the activity
-Intensity of the activity

Which means to say that the longer the duration and/or the higher the intensity, the better is the aerobic capacity.

Easy? Simple?

But that is where the similarities ends between real cardio training and nonsense cardio training.

I am going to introduce you an objective measure of aerobic capacity: VO2max. This is the maximal rate of oxygen used in physical activity. In the lab, the movement usually tested is running on a treadmill, at an increasing intensity. The higher the intensity that the person can sustain, the higher is the VO2. At maximal intensity, that is the VO2max.

Now do you see how the majority of people's idea of cardio is faulty?

Faulty logic #1: Confusing intensity with duration

VO2max is dependent on intensity, not duration. So why do people try to improve "cardio" through long-slow-distance (LSD) cardio? No matter how long the duration of your training is, if it does not come near your VO2max, it would not elicit an adaptation. Remember Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID)?

What you really want in training is to improve duration of a high intensity effort.

Anybody can squat once. But can you squat 500 reps in 15 minutes?
Note: Hindu squat can be tough on your knees, do normal bodyweight squats instead.

Anybody can do a push up. But can you push up 2,354 reps in 30 minutes?

If you are training to improve duration at a submaximal intensity, you would want to improve what is called lactate threshold (LT) or anaerobic threshold, which is the ability of the body to clear lactic acid, ie delay the "burn" in your muscles. Anyway training to improve LT is also high intensity (Ha!). It is not maximal intensity however. But i won't go into further details on LT now.

Faulty logic #2: Using running as the BEST aerobic exercise

Notice that in the definition of VO2max, there is no restriction on what is the movement to use. A max is a max. In running, only the muscles of the lower body are the prime movers. And if you are familiar with the Pose Method of Running. Proper running technique is very efficient, ie uses little energy.

If you can involve your whole body to be prime movers of the movement, then doesn't it make more sense to increase your intensity and therefore VO2?

Do you know that the best VO2max records of any athlete in the world is held by a cross country skier (!). And if you see the table more carefully, XC skiers take up the upper half of the table, runners the lower half.

And that athletes of a short distance of 1500m can be in the top few rankings too.


Aerobic capacity is the ability of the heart-long-blood system to supply energy to the working muscles. If you can demand more energy from the system and it can supply you that demand, then you have a better aerobic capacity. To demand more, use as much muscles as possible in the training.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What is Your Operating System?

Do you find it hard to lose weight (or substitute with any other fitness goal)? I know a lot of people who do. And they always come up with a lot of excuses on why they can't achieve their fitness goals.

Have you heard of people who say that having a new year resolution is useless?

I also know people who went for plastic surgery, look good for a while, only to put on the weight again after some time.

What is the problem?

The operating system is the problem.

If you think like the majority of the people think, then you WILL NOT succeed. Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? It applies to many things in this world. You have to think like the people who are successful in fitness.

Here are some simple steps to get you on the right track. Acronym GSM.

G - Goals

Set a long term goal. Set it to be very specific, eg, do not write "i want to lose weight", write "i want to lose 10kg of FAT (not muscle) in 3 months time".

Break down the goal into short term easily achievable chunks. Following the example above,
10kg in 3 month = 3.3kg per month = 0.825kg per week = 118grams per day.

118 grams per day is insignificant, ie can be achieved easily.

S - Strategy

Ok, so you have set your goals. Keep it at the back of your mind. Now design a training program that you WILL follow to the letter to lead you towards your goal.

I recommend the 4x7 program as mentioned in my performance tips.

Don't know how? Get me as a personal trainer, i can help you in your program design.

You jobs is to follow the training program and focus on the process. Don't worry about the outcome. The results will come when you have done your homework.

Keep a training log. I can't emphasize this enough. KEEP A TRAINING LOG. How else do you keep track of your progress if you don't. You can remember what you did last week. But can you remember what you did last month, last year?

The goal is your destination. The training program is your vehicle. The training log is your map.

M - Motivation

What is your motivation?

Write down your motivation and meditate upon it. Why you must achieve these goals.

If it is a smaller dress size, buy it and display it in your bedroom (or training area, if you train at home).

If it is a performance goal, do a test of your performance on set times and reward yourself for achieving those goals.

Some times you can pig out when you have achieved some short term goals. You need to keep yourself sane too. Don't believe the people who say they can eat clean 365 days a year.

I hope that have helped you in your fitness journey.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Magic is in the Program Design

So you have heard me talking about the superiority or interval training (HIIT) over long-slow-distance cardio (LSD).

Does that mean LSD is obsolete?

Of course not. There is a place for everything, as long as it meets your needs. As the saying goes "everything works, but nothing works forever". If your sport is marathon, then some of your training time should be dedicated to LSD.

It has been said by many that the best exercise for back pain is swimming. I beg to differ. Best for what? It certainly exerts less stress on the spine that say squats. But they are different exercises meant for different purposes. Comparing apples and oranges!

Again, best for what? Best for endurance training? Best for cardio training? Or best for relieving back pain? I for sure know that the last one is not. There are better to get rid of back pain (or any other injuries) than to "train around the injury", namely prehab and rehab. More specifically joint mobility and other stuff.

And what is the "best" training for anyone? Well, to tell the truth, there is no best. What works for you may not work for another person. What is a walk in the park for the fittest athletes maybe a gut busting workout for the very unfit.

The body adapts to what it is trained for. Don't believe that you can train for "everything and anything". Any specific stress promotes specific adaptation, technically called Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID).

Even if you try to, you can't. There are conflicting goals and training programs that if put together can render your training ineffective. "Cycle or circuit but do not cocktail". That is why we have this thing called cycling or periodization, whereby you training for one or a few goals in a specific period of time and change to another (maybe similar or different) goal(s) in another period.

That's it for now. We'll talk more in detail on program design next time.

Meanwhile, if you haven't tried my bodyweight bootcamp, do log on to 360 Fitness Bootcamp. There is a specific program design there that you can use off the shelf. Anyway the workout in the bootcamp is one of the best cardio (as in HIIT, not LSD) programs out there. Come and join now.

Monday, March 1, 2010

More is not Better, Better is Better

I have heard of people, some of whom are my friends, who do not usually exercise regularly, tell me that they want to spend the next few months (can't remember exactly how many but it is between 3-6) training for the next marathon.

I always wonder what the heck these people are up into. I mean they don't normally do intense physical exercise and they think that they can take a few months to complete a marathon.


Are they aware of the potential damage they are exposing their joints (and other systems) to?

Why aren't they into regular exercise at the first place?

Is it for bragging rights? "Hey guys, i have completed a marathon".

Is this some kind of "lose 10kg in six months" type of program?

Is it some kind of "get six pack abs in eight weeks" type of program?

Whereby you start as a sedentary person, do a little bit of training and in a few months time become a hero?

Just like the people who go for the abovementioned programs, it is unlikely that these people are really interested in fitness and physical health. After they completed the marathon, a few months down the road, ask them again what training are they into.

I don't want you to be a blind follower. There are good reasons to run a marathon, but if your reasons are these below, i'll give you other suggestions to meet your goals.

1) Long distance running is the best way to burn fat. Also called Long Slow Distance (LSD) cardio.

Well, you can say that it burns the most amount of fat DURING the activity. But do you know the maintenance of life itself burns more calories than all your physical activites combines. This is called the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). The minimum amount of calories needed to survive. After the activity ceases, the rate of fat burning also returns to baseline.

Compare this with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Recent researches have shown the benefits of HIIT over LSD. Namely elevated metabolism over as much as 38 hours post-workout.

Even if HIIT show the same results as LSD, why do you want to spend hours instead of just minutes for training? More is not better, better is better. Every body wants to save time. But when it comes to exercise, it seems counterintuitive to want to spend more time for the same effect.

2) Running is a good exercise.

Any exercise can be a good exercise, if done correctly. I mean the movement of the exercise. The execution of the technique. But majority of people do not run properly.

If you are running with thick soled "running shoes", chances are you are running improperly.

If you are landing on the heels, you ARE running improperly.

If you have poor posture habits, if you do no prehab and rehab (or don't even know what the heck are these),  chances are you are running improperly.

Now this is the reason why i do not use running much in my training. With my long list of injuries, and without a running coach, there is just too much of a chance of improper technique.

And with improper technique, every rep you do, every step you take, is going to add microtrauma to your body. And if you do no prehab and rehab, it accumulates until someday you realise that you have incurred some overuse injury from running. Btw this also applies to any other form of activity.

And please do not believe those advices on "how to choose running shoes for your feet type". The more cushion the shoe has, the more "control" the shoe has, it means the less your stabilizers work, leaving them weaker than the prime movers. The best shoes are no shoes. I have mentioned some good shoes before so i won't mention them again. Just look for cheap uncushioned shoes, thin flat flexible soles.

3) LSD is the best way to improve work capacity.

This could be the biggest hoax out there in the fitness industry. For decades doctors and the medical industry have been telling us to do "30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio 3 times a week".

But look at what the fittest (in terms of work capacity) people in the world do: manual labourers. Is it long sustained low effort of the same activity? Or is it heavy duty work, done many times, interspersed with rest periods?

The heart is already an endurance machine. The best endurance muscle that is. It never needs to stop to rest, until that final day. Why does it need more endurance work?

I am not saying that HIIT is the only way, but that LSD is just one of the ways. Indeed to be truly an all rounder in fitness, all training modality from the shortest burst, to the longest sustained activity must be trained. Just that we can't train all at the same time. And we have limited time. So we have to prioritise our training. And HIIT (or more specifically strength training) is what most people lack in and should prioritise, not LSD.

In closing, i just want to mention that HIIT benefits you more than LSD, not just in terms of the endurance sense and associated things with endurance. But the very fact that HIIT is high intensity means that you build strength (and power) at the same time you build work capacity and endurance. Isn't that killing two birds with one stone? Everybody knows that to be able to run a marathon, you need to do intervals for training. See, even the marathoners know the benefits of intervals.

Ok, now, try this HIIT workout, not just for the extreme fat burning, but also for the cool bodyweight exercises it consist of. When you can do Level 4 at 20 rounds in 20 minutes, you would have more strength, work capacity and better movement quality than your peers. Guaranteed.

Are You Hungry?

Then eat. That is the rational thing to do. It's a no-brainer.

Are you serious about losing weight (or insert any fitness goal here)? Well then get started to train right and eat right.

If you say you are hungry and you don't eat, there two possibilities:
1) You don't mean what you say.
2) You are not hungry enough to want to eat.

In fitness this means:

1) You think you want to get fit, but you are too comfortable in your current state. You still like the junk food, the laziness, the comfort of slacking in front of the TV everyday. Your mind says you want to get fit, but your heart says you want to stay where you are.

2) You are not fat enough to want to lose weight. Your back pain is not painful enough to leave you bedridden. Your knee pain is not bad enough to leave you unable to walk.

So which one are you?

I hope your answer is neither.

Come join us now in our classes. Log on to 360 Fitness Bootcamp for full details.