Tag 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.

JasonStatham1

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.

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.

Raj handstand

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.

It’s about time you stopped exercising!

This might come across as a rude shock to some but no one wandered away and suddenly found themselves on top of Mt. Everest. It took planning, orchestrated effort, progression, dedication and commitment. So is the case with getting fit and looking awesome. If you think you can string a bunch of random exercises together and end up looking like Ryan Reynolds, you couldn’t be away from the truth.

It’s sad but the vast majority of folks today who are fitness minded or are looking to get in shape don’t really know what they hell they’re doing. Eight out of ten people who want to get in shape do “something” fitness related and expect to look like Greek Gods within a few months. This “something” could range from running everyday or spending hours on the treadmill and elliptical machines at their gym or working their abs every other day till the cows go home or attending a yoga class 5 days a week to, the other extreme of, copying what pro-bodybuilders like Schwarzenegger and Cutler do.

If you’re one of these folks, unfortunately, results are going to be so sparse that you are sure to come to the conclusion that you are doing everything possible but no change ever occurs to your physique or performance. This is where I come in and here is what I have to say.

“You have the right idea. You have the drive. You are doing your best. But, are you doing the right thing? In other words, are you exercising or are you training?”

The difference between exercise and training

Why do you think you go to school? Why do you think there are grades and exams and reviews in school? Why not just pick up a few books and start reading randomly? Why do you work at an organization with a structure? Why are the most successful organizations the ones with the best policies and strategies? Why not just walk out into the world and figure out some random way to make a living? Why do you train to get better at an art like dancing or martial arts or painting? Why do you practice the same movements and/or strokes over and over again? Why not just move your limbs the way you want to or draw some random colored lines and hope they make sense?

Success doesn’t work that way. And a transformation from fat to fit or from weak to strong or from unhealthy to healthy doesn’t work that way either.

Exercise is as any activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness. Training, on the other hand, is way more than that.

Training is the act of learning, practicing, analyzing, monitoring and progressing per a plan that is designed taking into consideration the trainee’s current position in the relevant space and future goals. It involves research and structure and testing and commitment and adherence.

It is important to understand that random acts of physical activity, though better than a carefully planned regimen of sitting and eating junk, won’t take you too far. You need a plan. You need to learn to move. You need to learn about how your body reacts to certain foods. You need a nutritional approach. You need to self-experiment. You need to strive to progress. You need to train.

Let’s cut to the chase. What should you do if you ‘really’ want to get in shape? How do you “train”?

7 steps to looking, feeling and functioning absolutely awesome

1. Understand your current situation. Are you obese or overweight? By how much? Do you have a disease you’re fighting against? How stressful is your lifestyle? How good or bad are your food habits? Do you sleep well? How low is your current fitness levels? Can you do the basic moves (squat, bend over and touch the floor, pushup) without discomfort?

2. Make an informed decision about where you want to go. What are your goals? “I want to tone up” or “I want to get fit” will take you nowhere really. Do you want to look like a model? Which one? Are you looking to fix some systemic issues (diabetes, hyper tension etc.,)? Is weight loss all you’re interested in? Are you interested in getting in shape for a particular event be it a marathon or a marriage?

3. Assess time with cognizance. Once you know where you stand and where you want to go, give yourself more than sufficient time. You can’t expect to safely go from 20 kilos overweight to a flat tummy in a few weeks and neither can you safely run a marathon or deadlift double bodyweight within a couple of months. You’d rather do something slowly and surely than to let greed lead you into a world of dreams and disappointments.

4. Make a plan or work with someone who can make one for you. If looking awesome or getting fit is your goal, you don’t have to do much but you need to do the right things. 2-3 days of full body strength training with a day of intense sprinting or light distance running coupled with a wholesome real food based nutrition plan is all you need. But realize that the specifics will change based on the thousand variables that you bring to the table.

5. Train. Stick to the plan. Learn from every training session and from every meal. Incorporate your learnings into the next session and/or meal. Strive to get better every progressing day as opposed to trying to do the same thing over and over again.

6. Monitor your progress closely. Weigh and measure yourself on a weekly basis. If things are not going the way you want them to then something ain’t right. Analyze your findings to figure out what is wrong or talk to your coach about making changes to your plan.

7. Rinse and repeat till you get to your goals.

Yes it sounds painful. And no, there is no magic bullet involved. But this is reality. This is how humans evolved and how the human body functions. Embrace it.

And realize that at the end of the day you won’t cherish the day you reached your goal half as much as you cherish memories of your efforts that led you to the goal. The journey is the reward. The sooner you realize that, the happier you will be. 

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PS: This was an article I originally wrote for The Week’s SmartLife and it was published in their May 2013 edition.

Maybe you just don’t see the point… yet

Light-bulb-moment

A couple of weeks back we had a workout at The Quad that involved running, more running and honestly, not much more than running. Actually, here is the workout.

– Run 100m
– Do 1 burpee
Repeat for as many rounds as possible in 30 minutes.

Now, this is not characteristic of The Quad in anyway. We are all about doing the big moves in a regimented, varied, fun and competitive fashion but this one was different. It was an endurance challenge and everyone had to compete. As I was explaining the workout, I saw faces shrink smaller and smaller and when I said “This is all you’re going to do for 30 minutes and, one way or the other, we’re going to make sure you work for the entire 30 minutes!” most faces turned sour and then sad and then angry!

About 8 minutes into the workout, one of my best, most intense and most dedicated athletes looks at me as he runs and goes “Boring!”. This came as a surprise to me but then I realized that this was one person who said it but we probably had another 100 trainees who thought this at various points of time during the workout. But, being diligent and sincere Quadsters, every single trainee did the entire workout. Some did 30 rounds, while some others did 60 but most of them (except the running enthusiasts) were thoroughly annoyed at the end of the session.

But guess what? We’ll do this challenge again at a later date when it makes sense as a part of the periodized training program. And again.

Why? Because just like there are foods that make you feel great instantly and there are foods that make you healthy in the long run, you understand the point of certain elements of training only after you’ve given it time to rest and sink in.

The number of emails, text messages and in-person comments we received a week after the challenge was amazing!

“I never thought I could ever run for 30 minutes! I was angry at first, but you guys have done it again!”

“Coach! Didn’t realize I sucked so much at running. What should I do to improve?”

“If not for that challenge, I never would’ve even considered running. It was a shocker that I was able to run for 4 kilometers while doing burpees every 100 meters!”

“That endurance challenge made me ask you think – Is my endurance is that bad? Can we work on it please?”

“I was able to run, albeit slowly, for the entire 30 minutes. Do you think you can help me train for the 10k that is coming up in July?”

“I just realized I ran 3 kilometers!”

I can list another 20 quotes, but you get the idea. You need to venture out of your comfort zone and test yourself. Sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised and sometimes rudely shocked. But that is the nature of the game.

It is very common to see people doing what they like and only what they like. Runners run. Lifters lift. Sportsmen play. Cyclists cycle. But fitness is beyond just doing what you like to do or what you’re good at. Fitness is about honing your strengths by conquering your weaknesses. It is about challenging yourself. It is about getting out of your comfort zone and testing yourself in order to understand your true capabilities. Fitness is a mindset. 

Getting out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself, accepting your weakness and rebuilding yourself is not easy. You may not understand it today. You may not benefit from it immediately. You may not enjoy doing it the first time. But trust me – believe, commit and give it all you got and you’ll soon have your Aha moment.

I’m going to end by quoting something someone who I respect plenty said once to me –

“Not everything we do in life needs to have a point. Or maybe, we just don’t see the point… yet.”

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