Friday, June 4, 2010

But Your Exercise is so Strenuous

When i show you explosive movements like kettlebell swings and invite you to join me, what would you think?

I bet more than one of you would say "but your exercise is so strenuous", or if you are more blunt "i think it is too strenuous for me therefore no thanks".

But is that just your perception or the reality? Can we quantify what is strenuous? To put it more specifically, can we quantify intensity? What are the some of the factors that affect intensity?

In this article, i hope to address some of these questions and remove the apprehension that some may have regarding proper exercise.


Which is more intense, lifting 10kg or 100kg? Obviously the answer is 100kg. Manipulating resistance is one of the easiest way to changing intensity.


This refers to the total work done. Assuming you are running at a fixed pace, which is more intense, running 1km or 10km? Obviously the answer is 10km.

Even if you run slow enough, at an enough volume, it would feel intense. An example is marathon.

Pace or tempo

This refers to the frequency of the exercise being done. Assuming you are doing a total of 100 push ups. Which is more intense, 1 push up every minute for 100 minutes or 1 push up every 4 seconds for 400 seconds? Obviously 1 push up every 4 seconds.

Rest periods

Related to the point above. Assuming you are doing 10 sets of 10 push ups. Which is more intense, 1 hour rest between sets or 1 minute rest between sets? Obviously the answer is 1 minute rest.

Motor complexity (sophistication)

This refers to how complex are the movements used in the workout. This one has not such a straightforward answer as all the other variables. But we'll still attempt to compare like with like.

Which is more intense:
1) 10 pull ups followed by 10 dips or
2) 10 muscle ups? A muscle up is a pull up and a dip combined.

Though the resistance is the same, and the volume is the same, most people would agree that the muscle ups are more intense. Why is that so? A simple explanation is that because the nervous system has to work harder because of the higher level of motor complexity.

So back to our issue "but your exercise is so strenuous". I have received this comment from people looking solely at the movement, ie before even considering resistance, tempo, rest period etc.

So it is clear that in their mind, the more complex the movement is, the more intense is the exercise.

I am going to tell you that this is not true. All of the variables i listed above play a part in determining intensity, ie they are all inter-related.

Let's take an example. Soccer vs marathon. It is obvious that soccer involves more skill than just running, ie soccer skills are more complex than running. But anybody who has common sense would tell you that playing an hour of soccer is easier than completing a marathon.

Other examples would be speaking, writing, typing, driving, playing musical instruments. These are skills much more complex than kettlebell lifting, yet a big majority of the population engage in them. Are they strenuous activities?

So what to do? In the above example, i purposely choose an apple vs orange comparison because in real life that is how people compare things. Kettlebell lifting is compared with other more common sports and is perceived to be "more strenuous".

What makes you think that kettlebell lifting is more strenuous than marathon? I think marathon is more strenous than kettlebell lifting.

To put a stop to all ambiguity, we'll use a quantifiable measure. Assign a number to the intensity and we can compare like with like. This number is the Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE). This is the subjective measure of the performer of the movement on what is the effort he/she exerts. On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being no intensity, 1 minimal and 10 maximal.

Taking the soccer vs marathon example again. An hour of recreational soccer maybe would have a variable RPE of 6 maybe 7 (moderate). A marathon would likely be a 10 (high) for most mere mortals.

Is it a perfect measure? By no means, but it makes for a more meaningful comparison between different activities.

So if i am doing my kettlebell practice and my RPE for that session is 5 (moderate), is it strenuous?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Take Home Lessons From Various Disciplines

If you could summarize in one sentence what is the biggest impact each discipline made on me what would it be?

Here is mine.

Artistic gymnastics. Taught me the importance of perfect technique for all exercises.

Eastern martial arts. Taught me how to use the hips and core for strength.

Bodybuilding. Taught me the classic lifts of weight training and their technique.

Capoeira. Taught me liberation of movement from classical gymnastics and sophistication.

Physiotherapy. Taught me the importance of keeping yourself free from injuries and how.

Strength & Conditioning. Taught me the tools for physical training in a systematic manner.

Kettlebell Lifting. Taught me the value of overhead lifting, endurance and relaxation.

Circular Strength Training. Taught me all of the above combined and more in a systematic manner.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mass Produced Programs vs Customized Programs

Have you heard of people designing their own programs based around isolation or machine exercises?

Have you heard of people designing their own programs based on ineffective exercises and wonder why they don't make progress or reach their fitness goals?

I believe the answer to the above questions is yes for a lot of people. I was guilty of these at certain points in my training experience.

I want to bring to your attention the value of good, well designed, mass produced fitness programs.

Are you crazy, Herman? Isn't every body different? And hence different program design tailored to individual needs?

Let's take an analogy here. Would you rather buy a ready made car or custom made your own design (and maybe manufacture it to your specification)?

For most of us, the obvious answer is a ready made car. Unless you have the expertise to custom make your own car, nobody in their right mind would venture out to invest precious time and money on a project not guaranteed to work.

Yet this is what we see in the fitness world. Newbies or weekend warriors "create" their own program (if it can be called a program at all) without guidance from a personal trainer or fitness professional and wonder why they are not losing enough fat or not getting their back pain free.

On the other hand, mass produced fitness programs designed by "master coaches" or somebody of extensive expertise and experience are more likely to work better, a lot better, than these frankenstein programs. Of course there are lousy mass produced fitness programs but that is another story.

See it this way, my friend, these coaches have spent time in the trenches to study human performance much longer and deeper than you do. They have studied the art and science of program design more than you do. Therefore they know how to design effective programs better than you do. Why wouldn't you want to try them out? Why do you think you can do a better job than them? Why reinvent the wheel and take the risk of it not working?

If you have not done a good mass produced fitness program and feel its effect on your own body, what makes you think you can gauge the effect of your own frankenstein program?

Put it another way, if you can't follow a recipe, what makes you think you can create a good recipe?

I have always been fascinated by good program design. I purchase a lot of mass produced fitness programs designed by Scott Sonnon and the guys at CST. And i learn a lot more about program design just studying their programs than trying to design my own programs from guides.

Well designed mass produced programs are well worth the investment into educating yourself in program design. You can study all the guides in the world but if you have never experienced a good program, you can't design a good program as you have nothing to compare with.

How can you be sure that mass produced programs work for everyone?

For the simple reason that everybody is different. Therefore even though everybody may be doing the same exercises, each person is getting a different effect from each exercise. So in this manner there is customization within the program.

Let's just take an arbitrary program composed of just two movements as an example 1) squat and 2) push up.

Two athletes are doing the same program. Athlete A is strong in the upper body, weak in the lower body. Athlete B is strong in the lower body, weak in the upper body.

A may have a hard time with the squats but breezing through the push ups.

B may have a hard time with the push ups but breezing through the squats.

Two totally opposite effects for two different people doing the same program. But the training effects are going to create a better balance between their upper body and lower body.

People are have different mobility, flexibility, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance and many more factors that you cannot expect any two people to get the exact same effect.

Left to themselves A would prefer push ups and B would prefer squats, at the exclusion of the other exercise. We are just lazy bastards who hate what we don't do well in. But with a mass produced program, each is forced to fight through their weaknesses and become a more balanced athlete.

Are you struggling with ineffective programs? Three options for you:
1) Join our FlowfitⓇ class.
2) Take up personal training.
3) Purchase any of the products that i have on the right side bar and do them.

Keep me updated of your progress.