Category Archives: Fitness

Fitness hacks: What if you are too busy to be fit?

Situation 

You’re busy. You have long hours at work or an unruly child or are an internet addiction. There never seems to be enough time. Not just for exercise but for anything. How do you stay fit? 

Guardian guide to running - GPS watches - video

Solution 

The long term solution is, of course, to smartly rearrange your day and make time for things that matter i.e. getting your priorities right. But what about the short term? 

Option 1 

Wear your shoes, carry a watch and get out of the house. Set a 20-30 minute timer. Start walking or running based on your capability. Every 2-4 minutes stop and do a few pushups or burpees. Yes, people will stare. At the 10-15 minute mark, turn around. Make it back on time. Don’t worry. The mess at home will wait for you.

Option 2 

Do 100 burpees. Pick a version of the burpee based on your capabilities – Beginner burpees or with pushups or with pushups and pullups. Do 100. It should take you anywhere from 6 to 20 minutes based on your fitness level and the kind of burpee you’ve chosen.

Option 3 

Set a 10 minute timer. Do as many burpees as possible. Push as hard as you can on that day. Some days you’ll get 50 and some days you’ll get 150. Doesn’t matter. Just work as hard and safely as you can for 10 straight minutes.

Option 4 

Set a 20 minute timer and do as many rounds as possible of  (7 squats, 5 pushups, 3 pullups) or (3 squats, 2 pushups and 1 pullup) if you can’t do too many pullups at once.

Option 5 

Find a building with 3 to 5 floors. Run from the ground level to the terrace as fast as safely possible. Walk back down slowly. Repeat for a total of 6 to 10 rounds.

Truth is, you don’t need a gym or 2 undisturbed hours everyday or the latest and greatest equipment to get fit. All you need is the will to be fit and you will find a way to get there and stay there!

When in doubt, keep it simple.

The best kept secrets to muscle building!

 The word “muscle” to men is as exciting as chocolate to kids. We can’t enough of it. We love muscle and everything that is associated with it. Gaining muscle, working muscles, looking muscular, sore muscles and being muscle bound are all terms that will make any guy take a second look.  But not everyone is able to gain muscle and very few men actually end up looking muscular. Why? What are the secrets behind building slabs of muscle? What is that special training program one needs? What supplements should you take? Let’s find out.

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You see, building muscle is a very slow and painful physiological process. In all honesty, losing 5 kilos of fat is so much more easy than gaining 5 kilos of muscle. To be specific, it is very possible to lose 5 kilos is 5 weeks for most people but gaining 5 kilos of muscle  is a task that could take anywhere from 5 months to 3 years depending on the trainees current status, genetic make-up, training intensity, nutrition and other lifestyle factors such as sleep and stress. 

Though incredibly hard, muscle gain is a simple process and the “lift heavy, eat big and sleep plenty” is a mantra that always works. To be more specific, in order to gain muscle you will need to lift heavy loads and there is no way around it. Now, the load you lift could be barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, your own bodyweight or even unconventional objects like stones and rice sacks. The tools don’t matter much, at least not as much as the resistance they provide and the intensity you lift with do. Irrespective of what tools you use, you will need to work in the 6 to 12 repetition range and you will need to work the right movements. More on that later, but let’s get to the point here.

How fast you grow and how much muscle you build will depend on many aspects of yourself and your training self. 

Your training age 

Beginners tend to gain muscle much faster than advanced athletes who already have a significant amount of muscle on their frame. As a complete beginner one can expect to gain a good 10-12 kilos of muscle, albeit along with a very noticeable amount of fat, with a year a consistent, diligent, linear progression based training. But if you’ve been training consistently and legitimately for 2 years or more, expect to gain 1 to 3 kilos of muscle per year and not much more. As your training age increases, the rate of muscle gain will decrease and there’s nothing (natural) you can do about that. So be smart and work on getting stronger and gaining muscle right from the early days of your fitness journey.

Your training program 

Big lifts are critical for muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) mainly because they activate the most muscle fibers and hence cause the greatest testosterone and growth hormone secretion. So make sure your training program is dominated by squats, pushups, bench presses, overhead military presses, pullups, rows, deadlifts and/or heavy kettlebell swings. Biceps and tricep exercises can be included as supplementary moves but they have very little benefit since every pull you do (pullups, rows etc.,) work your biceps more than any curl can and every push (pushups, presses, bench presses etc.,) burns your triceps more than any isolation exercise (tricep extensions, for example) will.

Your lifestyle 

When gaining muscle and size is the main goal, you’ll need to make some changes to your lifestyle. In general, you will need to sleep more, stress less and move less. To be more specific, get at least 49 hours of sleep per week, keep a log to check how often you get stressed or lose your temper and limit that to twice a week and remove all forms unnecessary movement that causes energy (calorie) usage. Sports, cardio, running, cycling, swimming etc., need to be restricted to 30 to 40 minutes a week and strictly only at an enjoyable intensity. The higher the intensity in such activities, the more calories you’ll burn and that, in your case, will mean wasting calories that could potentially be used to help you recover from you previous strength training session and to promote hypertrophy.

Your nutrition 

The most important rule for gaining muscle is to eat above satiety i.e. you will need to eat more food that your body needs. Let’s say you need 2000 calories per day in order to maintain your current body composition. You will then need to eat anywhere from 2200 to 2700 calories per day in order to even expect muscle growth. Now this doesn’t mean you go about counting every morsel you eat. Generally, if you (60 to 80 kilos) eat wholesome real food which is partitioned fairly well with enough protein (~ 100 to 150 grams), good fat (~ 80 to 120 grams) and starch (200 to 300 grams) along with a reasonably well planned and intense strength training routine, you will grow and there is no denying that. But to hit these numbers without counting you will need to eat wholesome protein rich foods above satiation i.e. till you feel full and also add a handful of nuts and dried fruit as an extra snack. And just so we’re clear, junk food is a NO. Though your goal is to gain weight, junk food and gluttony will not help one bit and only result in gaining fat.

 Your supplements 

Now realize that there is absolutely no supplement that will help you if you bypass the steps mentioned above. Supplements are meant to supplement your training and nutrition and nothing more. For the common man looking to gain some muscle and look awesome, a multi-vitamin pill, some whey protein, ZMA (zinc + magnesium) and maybe, creatine is all you need.

There you have it. The most well kept secrets of muscle building are not complicated and new but simple and archaic. Drop the mass gainers and steroids and pick up a fork and some heavy iron.

Peace out.

PS: I originally wrote this article for The Week’s SmartLife health magazine. This is the unedited version.

Beyond miles, minutes and medals

On Sunday, 1st December 2013, more than 7,500 folks gathered to run what was possibly Chennai’s largest fitness event – The Wipro Chennai Marathon. Firstly, kudos to the organizers for such a wonderful event. I didn’t get to run this one, but the word on the street is that the run was beautifully planned and executed. Secondly, congrats to everyone who participated in the event.

So how did you do? Awesome or awful? Did you blast through it or did you suffer your way to the finish? Did you make yourself proud or did you walk out feeling defeated?

If it’s the former, I’m here to offer you a different perspective on running. If it’s the latter, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter. Because the joy of running is beyond what miles, minutes and medals can capture.

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Photo credit: Weekend Studios, The Wipro Chennai Marathon 2013

Most of you who have followed me know that I started my journey towards health and fitness with running. I was a running junkie and enjoyed every second of being one. For the runners who don’t know me, I’m the guy who writes about smart training and how to not be a dumb runner- something running junkies are never fond of. More on the subject here, here and here.

Thanks to a lifetime of sedentarism and asthma, my entry into running was dominated by suffering. My first run lasted an amazing 100m at the end of which I found myself sitting on the pavement panicking and hurriedly taking puffs from my inhaler. A month of relentless consistent running and I broke the 1 mile barrier in (a painful) 23 minutes. It took me 6 months of hidden-running (on the side-roads post 10pm) before I could muster the courage to sign up for an official run and boy do I remember that one vividly.

It was the Skyline Ridge 14 km Trail Run which took place in Palo Alto, California. I had set myself a goal of 85 minutes.

I land up at the start all excited and I see a total of just about 150 people. Most of these folks were in pretty good shape, had hydration packs, compression shorts, dry-fit tees, funky shoes, crazy watches and no ear phones. And there I was wearing tracks I’d bought the previous week, a zipped hoodie that I wore to work, an old heavy pair of Reebok sneakers, a regular water bottle with water and a heavy-ass 1st generation iPod in my pocket that threatened to pull my pants down anytime. Excellent. I’d brought a knife bunch of old rusty crap to a gun fight.

Nevertheless, I present myself at the start line and listen to the organizer explain the running route as he points up to a, ummmm, moutain! No maps. No directions. Just a couple of colored ribbons tied to branches which are meant to keep you on track. In other words, if you’re left behind, you could be lost.

The whistle blows. I turn on the first song on my playlist and start running. With sub-zero temperatures and altitude, I instantly find myself struggling to run and in about 15 minutes a feeling of over-expanded lungs forces me to stop and use my inhaler. I see people of various ages and sizes zip past me and I can’t help but feel small. So I decide to pick up my feet.

I turn up the volume, focus harder and accelerate. I overtake a good number of folks. I feel alright. I’m at mile # 2 and I keep this going for another 2 miles. At mile 5, an unexpected hill presents itself and I’m hit. And this time I’m down and the inhaler doesn’t seem to help either. I realize I don’t have it in me to get back up.

I start to really panic. How am I going to finish within 85 minutes? What if I’m among the last few? What if I finish so late there is no one to cheer at the finish line? What if they publish the results? What if I get lost? What if this asthma episode is real bad? Do I have to call for help?

I decide to calm down and breathe. Almost completely broken, for the very first time in the last 50 minutes of turmoil, I look around me and I was breathless. But this time, in a whole other way.

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Photo credit: www.atrailrunnersblog.com

Everything that is right about the world was right in front of my eyes but I refused to open my eyes. Silence in all it’s glory encapsulated me but I rebelled with music. Water in it’s purest form hydrated me but I said no thanks to the mist and wiped myself dry.

What am I doing here? What am I trying to prove here? Who am I trying to prove it to? Who am I racing against? Is it the 70 year old man running ahead of me? The ultramarathoners who ran their way from home to the start line? The world that talks but doesn’t care?

I said, fuck it. I’m going to live this run. I’m not going remember my first run as the one that made me feel miserable. I’m going to love every remaining second of this trail. It doesn’t matter if I have to walk it or even if I have to call for help, but I was going to savour every remaining moment.

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Photo credit: www.atrailrunnersblog.com

And so I did.  I finished the run in about an hour and 40 minutes. Not the first. Not the last. I placed 41 among 71. But that didn’t matter anymore. It was not about ranking and timing anymore but about collecting memories. And from then on, for me, running was about the experience.

You see, running is a sport. How fast your run your 10k means something. Running your first half marathon or full marathon is definitely something you should train meticulously for. But before all that, running is a passion driven activity and it is important that you enjoy it for the right reasons.

So for a minute, forget how well or badly you did. Forget your timing. Forget how far you ran. Forget the difference between you and the overweight unfit runners who huffed and puffed their way to the finish. Forget the many miles between you and the faster runners who you barely caught sight of.

Take a moment to look beyond numbers. Remember the weather, the rain, the darkness, the sound of your heart pounding, the bounce from each step, the wind, the views, the excitement, the motivation, the smiles, the sweat, the grit and, finally, that feeling of liberation.

Take a moment to relive the experience ‘cos at the end of the day, it’s all about the experience.

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It’s a marathon, not a sprint

It’s all so fast paced today. It’s common to expect overnight turnaround on everything. Our microwaves heat up food within seconds. Our washing machines wash and dry within minutes. Our smart phones give us access to messages in milliseconds. And Facebook provides us information about everything about everyone we don’t really care about every second of every minute of everyday.

So it’s natural for us to expect things to be done quickly and this is absolutely fine. That’s what technology is meant to do – make life convenient, efficient, better, easier and, most importantly, faster.

But when we expect physiology to match technology, we have a problem. 

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Photo Credit: LindaSC via Flickr

You see, today, everyone wants to go to bed drowsy from a dozen donuts but wake up with washboard abs. And this in all probability includes you at some level. Quick results are what you’re after. You don’t care for patience anymore. You’re all about the results.

You don’t have the patience to focus on the process anymore. It’s all about what the process results in. You don’t really about the journey anymore. You’re too busy obsessing about results, you don’t take the time to enjoy the journey.

But let me know ask you this – What’s the hurry? What are you rushing towards? Why this insatiable desire to lose as much weight in as little time as possible?

It is this desperation that makes you vulnerable – vulnerable to food manufacturers who scam you into believing their food will let you have the cake and eat it too, vulnerable to pseudo-fitness gurus and gyms/fitness centers who promise you results that are too good to be true and vulnerable to a side of yourself that is always tempting you with shortcuts.

So what’s the deal then? Focus on slow gradual results over a period of time? Absolutely! And here’s why.

Firstly, any and all of your efforts towards fat loss and health are meant to be done for a long time. 3 months? No. 6? No. It’s more like for the rest of your life. In other words, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to lose those kilos that you so desperately want to lose because if you don’t keep those kilos off you’re back to square one!

One way or the other you are going to have to keep doing what you did to get there, for the rest of your life. Let’s say you ate well and exercised consistently and lost a significant amount of weight and are now at a place where you are happy with yourself. If you choose to stop and go back to living like you did earlier, you will end up going to looking and feeling like you did earlier. No doubt about that.

The only way to consistently and sustainably stay in shape and/or in good health is to make long lasting sustainable changes to your habits – physical, nutritional, physiological and social.

With that being the case, let me ask you again, what’s the hurry? What are you rushing towards?

Realize, it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon and a hard one at that. The better you pace yourself, the more you learn about yourself, the better you plan your life, the more sustainable your results will be.

It’s about skills

I think I was 7 when I first tried riding a real bicycle – you know, the one without the balancing wheels and baguette basket. I spent most of my childhood being a short kid and then I grew up to become a short adult. So I clearly remember a friend helping me climb on the machine before I pushed the pedal, experienced a magical moment of lightness and then fell face down. Little did I know that the face plant was the start of a journey. An incredible journey that will have challenged my idea of movement, distances and independence.

The process of learning this simple act of moving through three dimensional space by merely pressing on a pedal was the foundation of so many things. It taught me balance, pace and focus. I experienced for the first time that amazing feeling of speed. It made distances seem plausible. It made transport more time efficient. It ended my limited world view of just a few meters and made me look further. It made me independent. It opened up a whole new world.

That’s the beauty of learning skills. Every time you learn a skill you add another tool to your toolbox and a new perspective towards life is created. You are now capable of more. Impossible tasks now seem possible. More of the world applies to you and new interests and opportunities present themselves.

Bodily movements work the same way. Every movement is a skill and needs to be treated as a skill. You need to learn the skill before you start using the skill to help you in life. The squat, which is the most fundamental movement there is, is the most basic and important skill you can learn. Once you have mastered this skill, you can move on to bigger and better things. But first, you need to master the squat. The hinge isn’t any different. You need to learn to hinge properly, and by that I mean activating the appropriate muscle groups, tempo, breathing, stability etc., before you start using the hinge in movements like the kettlebell swing, barbell deadlift, broad jump, barbell clean and snatch.

Adarsh and Chezhiyan can squat and hinge a truck but they took their time to learn the basics.

Unsurprisingly, this is the case with any movement in any activity whatsoever. Be it the pushup or the cover drive or the forehand volley or even, running. It is absolutely critical to learn to do the movement well first before you start using the movement in life – to help you lose fat or get stronger or strike the ball faster or whatever it is that you’re looking for.

But here’s the deal – failures and mistakes are a part of learning.

You will  inevitably fail in almost each progressive step and that’s OK! The failures are what makes the process educational. If you remember, learning to ride a bicycle wasn’t easy or eventless. Countless falls triggering false alarms, innumerable bruises calling for Dettol and Soframycin and scars that serve as battle wounds till today were a part of the process. But then, a priceless skill was learnt.

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The handstand is a skill the demands practice, patience and common sense

This holds true for movements too. The first few weeks when you learn a new movement chances are high that you do the movement wrong. You will probably feel the wrong muscles. You may feel excessively sore. You may even strain a muscle or two. But that’s OK! You are learning a skill and you are allowed to fall and, more importantly, learn from it. It is this process of learning from your mistakes that help you move towards mastery. So don’t shy away from it. Don’t lose heart. Don’t freak out. And don’t run around screaming bloody murder. It’s OK. You fell. You will get back up. You may fall again and that’s OK too. It’s only matters that you learn from your mistakes.

At the end of the day, it’s about skills. The more time you invest in learning skills, the more dedicated you are to betterment, the more tools you will possess and the more you can do in life.

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