Tag Archives: training

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.

How to de-clutter your training – Part 1

Have you ever thought about how many people in the world workout/train trying to look, feel and function better? Ever wondered how many of those people actually see results? The answer to that question is, not many. Only a very small percentage of people who workout regularly actually get results and chances are very high that you are not one of those people.

Genetics and laziness – the two greatest determinants of success or failure – aside, one other aspect that influences the extent of your results is, shockingly, ‘doing the right thing’. This doesn’t really say much because ‘doing the right thing’ can be very different things based on who it comes from. That said, every great mind, every seasoned master, every passionate soul, every legit being will tell you that in order to be successful, you need to focus on the things that matter the most. Like how focussing on family, good health, education etc., helps with a better future, focussing on a simple set of effective training tools helps with awesome results.

Here are my top 4 tips to de-clutter and simplify your training.

Kill the fluff.

The problem is always fluff. All day everyday in everything. Fluff causes undue anxiety, confusion, overdoing and, eventually, failure. Fluff here is ‘the flashy but unnecessary’. In all walks of life, there is such fluff. Being very attractive, it confuses, mesmerizes and captivates you forcing you to forget the basics and fall prey to ‘fads’.

The solution is to fight the temptation to do what you want and focus on doing what you need to do. Stated differently, quit doing something because it looks fancy and focus on exercises that matter. It doesn’t matter if your goals are to lose weight or get strong or perform better athletically or look awesome naked. Without mastering the squat, the hinge, the push, the pull and the run (which are the most basic human movements)  in one form or the other, you’re getting no where close to where you want to be.

While performance seekers ‘get this’, that isn’t always the case with people who train to look good. Understand that, in the raw sense, your looks are a visual representation of your physical capabilities (of course assuming your nutrition is fairly on target). Today, I can do about 20 pullups and can deadlift double bodyweight and what do I look like? I look like someone who can do 20 pullups and can deadlift double bodyweight. If I want to look like that guy there who can do 30 pullups, well, I need to train and become capable of doing 30 pullups. What I’m trying to say is, you’re not going to look like a greek God(ess) just from walking on a treadmill and lifting 2kg dumbbells. Awesome looks result from great capabilities which result from simple but hard work.

Summary: 80% of your training should be squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling and running in their most basic form. The remaining 20%, call it ‘f*ck around time’ and do whatever it is that floats your boat.

Worry less about what you use and think more about how you move. 

It doesn’t matter if you work with barbells or kttlebells or dumbbells. It only matters that you don’t work with the Shake Weight that you do the right movements. Not exercises, movements.

The only requirement is resistance and that can be generated from any object that obeys the laws of gravity, be it the oh-s0-awesome looking kryptonite coated pink colored dumbbells or a beat up paint peeling kettlebell or a backpack with a bunch of books in it or a rock or even your own body. What you need to focus on is not the tool (equipment) but understanding and mastering the movement. If you can’t do 10 perfect pushups, you have no reason to even glance at that monster bench pressing 300 lb. If you can’t do a single pullup, you’ll only waste time curling iron. If you can’t activate your hamstrings when doing a hinge, bedroom time isn’t going to be too much fun lifting heavy loads off the floor will only beat up your lower back. If you cant bend down and touch the floor, rest assured that you will hurt your spine sooner or later.

Summary: Change the way you look at fitness. Forget what equipment you use. Remember that training is all about moving efficiently and without that you’re just wasting your time. Nothing more and absolutely nothing less.

Keep that intensity high.

It isn’t about how long you train for or how many reps you perform. It is about intensity. The higher the intensity the lesser the time you should train for and the better the results. When training for strength, it isn’t just your muscles that are fatigued. Your Central Nervous System (CNS) take a beating too and the more you let it recover the better you will be able to recover and hence, the better you’ll be able to train in the long term. Too much work too frequently will only result in mediocre results and plateaus and overtraining and, almost undeniably, injuries.

Summary: Rest plenty between sets where plenty = time taken for complete recovery of target muscle group/movement, but work uber hard during each set. 

Rehabilitate everyday.

I believe everyone is injured at all times. An injury needn’t mean only an injury in the traditional sense but also an incapability. Not being able to touch the floor, in my opinion, is a bigger injury than a strained muscle and needs more attention than a traditional injury would. Keep in mind that training is about working on aspects that need work. If you have a painful joint, then you need to dedicate time to rest, rehab and recover until the joint is back to normal before worrying about doing anything else with it. Similarly, if your mobility is compromised, you need to dedicate time to work on that. If you’re super mobile but weak, then strength and stability should be your focus. You get the idea.

Summary: See what needs work and take time everyday to work on it. Most rehab and mobility work takes 15-20min per day and results in a drastically better quality of life. 

In part 2, I’ll write about the same 4 topics, but will get more specific about who needs to do what, when, why etc.

Peace out.

Don’t be an idiot

So about 5 weeks back, I came home from The Quad and brought along with me a pair of pushup handles since I had twisted my left wrist pretty bad while doing some non-training related activity. Due to the messed up wrist, I wasn’t able to do many traditional moves and hence was working within what I could do without aggravating the injury. That night was upper body day and so I decided to do a simple push-pull combo. This was the workout…

Repeat for a total of 10 rounds.

  • 5 pushups @ BW + 70lbs
  • Rest 90 seconds
  • 5 bent over barbell rows @ 135 lbs
  • Rest 90 seconds

I usually try and do more pulls than pushes to even out the chronic anterior-posterior imbalance we all suffer from, so every other round, I added in 10 pullups. So overall it works out to be 50 pushups @ BW + 70lbs, 50 pullups @ BW and 50 rows @ 135 lbs. Being 145 lbs, this is a fairly intense workout but by no means crazy. The goal was exerting optimal power within the constraints of proper technique. If at any point of time my technique was compromised in any exercise I decided to stop the step.

The loads felt light and I kept knocking each rep out of the park. Rest periods were perfect and I felt strong overall. At about the 5th set, as I continued to feel great, I very subconsciously decided that I was going to kill this workout. That is when shit hit the fan.

I reached the 8th round and as I was doing my 4th pushup, I felt some discomfort on my right shoulder (possibly from overly compensating using my right side due to subconsciously trying to reduce load on the left wrist). I consciously ignored it and went on to do my final and hardest rep. I grit my teeth through the pain and completed the set in style but after the set, I felt considerable stiffness on my right shoulder. I did some basic shoulder mobility work and expected to feel better. Since I didn’t feel too much better after the mobility work, I decided that for the 9th and 10th rounds I would not do weighted pushups but would do bodyweight pushups instead. Painful and uncomfortable as they were, the last two rounds were  already“step-downs” from my original plan and, in my head, I “needed” to do “at least” this. Not doing the last two sets was not an option (at that time).

So I did about 25 pushups in each round and successfully completed the workouts with 40 pushups @ BW + 70lbs, 50 pushups @ BW, 50 pullups @ BW and 50 rows @ 135 lbs.

I woke up the next morning with an overly stiff and painful shoulder and since then have been nursing that shoulder till date. While I’m not in pain anymore, I’ll tell you I’m well away from feeling a 100%. This messed up my training pretty badly. I’ve met 4 different physical therapists, spent over Rs 8000, taken two non-consequetive weeks completely off from training and am only now slowly getting back to training with a plan.

One rep! Just than one damn rep! If only I had stopped before that rep, I would not have had to suffer for more than a month. I’m such an idiot! Right?

I’m an idiot alright, but it wasn’t that one rep that caused the damage. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t that set or that workout or even the workouts before that. I wasn’t overtrained or fatigued. I wasn’t lacking focus or sleep. I wasn’t eating junk and was by no means weak.

So then, what caused the damage? Honestly, my attitude. My attitude towards training is what caused all this havoc. Let me explain.

Like most fitness enthusiasts, I have a tendency to get carried away when I workout. Though I have solid goals defined for each mesocycle and for each workout, I tend to forget those and get lost in the moment. I try to kill every single workout. If you have been training for a while, you’ll know that’s a recipe for disaster and if you’re brutally honest with yourself, you’ll realize you do it yourself!

In this specific case, my goal for the quarter was strength. Not max pushups or fat loss but strength. And for me to get stronger I need to train very consistently. And for me to train consistently, well, I need to stay injury free. So, though, at that time, that last rep seemed like it was taking me towards my goal of getting stronger, by doing the rep I injured myself which has set me far far away from my goals.

What do I need now? Rehab? A new training plan? Some postural alignment? Sure. I need all of these. But most importantly I need a change in attitude. I need to look at training as training. I need to focus on the big picture. I need to not be penny wise pound foolish. I need to train myself to work towards a larger goal be it strength or long term injury free living or general health.

Similarly, very very similarly, it isn’t that one week binge that made you fat. It isn’t that one cheat meal that made you “fall off the wagon”. It isn’t that diet that made you sick of health and fitness. It isn’t that trip you had to make that messed up all your efforts.

It is your attitude. It is your attitude towards transformations and fat loss and health. Let me break it down further.

  • If you think you can eat junk tonight and “burn it off” tomorrow either by doing some extra reps or extra cardio, you need a change in attitude.
  • If you think you can “go on a diet” and lose in 6 weeks what you have gained in 6 years, you need a change in attitude.
  • If you think eating well for 3 days gives you the leeway to stuff your face on the 4th day, you need a change in attitude.
  • If you think you can just moving your arms and legs for a few minutes three times a week and saying no to cake once a week will fix all your health problems, you need a change in attitude.
  • If you think the people who look awesome or perform at a high level or live forever just put in a few weeks of work, you bloody well need a change in attitude.

To help you and I change our attitudes, I’ll present here the most inspiring thing I’ve ever heard.

Understand that health or fitness or looking awesome or reversing a disease is a long term effort. You are not going to sport those sexy abs with a 6-min abs program. You’re not going to become an awesome athlete with half-assed mobility work. You are not going to lose (and keep off) those extra 20kg by going on a diet for 2 months. You are not going to live to see your great grandchildren by eating at pizza hut every other day. You are not going to reverse diabetes by replacing sugar with splenda. And we are not going to get anywhere with an attitude that undermines real work.

We are only going to achieve all this by possessing one thing – consistency. Consistent effort leads to sustainable long term results. Period. Be it aesthetics or performance or blogging or cooking or meditation or even life in general, consistency results in excellence while inconsistency results in mediocrity.

And just to be sure you and I got the message, I’ll say it again…

Don’t be an idiot. Focus on the big picture.


Training when traveling (with minimal to no equipment)

Enough has been said about training when traveling but the questions never cease. So here are my thoughts on what, how and when to do what when traveling.

  • Keep it super simple. Stop obsessing about how perfect your training can be and spend time on what you’re actually traveling for, be it business or pleasure.
  • Get your training done first thing in the morning and eat a good breakfast so you don’t have to worry about dedicating time for training and/or special meals during the rest of the day.
  • Forget body part splits, forget isolation exercises, forget targeting anything and focus on full body moves that train strength, speed, anaerobic/aerobic endurance and mobility. Do a kitchen sink workout of sorts.

As for exercises to do when you travel, I’ll give you 3 options. Choose 1 each day or choose more than one and combine them.

1. Burpees

Few exercises can replace a properly executed burpee when it comes to time efficient and effective training. Irrespective of what your goals are, a burpee workout will make sure you move closer to it. Here are some suggestions.

– If you are beginner, stick to the modified 4-step burpee and focus on performing each squat with perfect form, each plank with core activation and each jump with explosion. Set a number and work on completing that many burpees as fast as possible while maintaining good form or set a time and get as many legit burpees as possible in that time.

– If you are an intermediate, do the regular 6-step burpee with perfect form and fight for reps. Focus on sky high jumps and chest touch pushups in each rep. Do 5-10 reps per set ,exploding in each step, for 10-15 rounds resting as required between sets.

– If you’re advanced and are after both strength & conditioning, do one of the three…

  • Find a couple of heavy dumbbells or a weighted vest and do weighted burpees, again, fighting for good for and explosion in each rep. 10-12 sets of 5-10 reps with 30-45 sec rest between sets works wonders.
  • If weights aren’t available, up the number of pushups and jumps in each burpee to 3. So each burpee will have a squat, a kickback, 3 pushups, a reverse kick back and 3 squat jumps. And of course, you’re fighting for solid form in each rep. Stick to the same rep-set scheme as above. A hundred burpee workout = 300 pushups and 300 jump squats… can you handle it?
  • Do a burpee pyramid. Start with a regular burpee and as you do more, increase the number of pushups and jumps in each. Example below.

2. Pullups/Chinups

Chinups work everything the burpee doesnt (biceps and back) and hit that core again. So, if you have a bar or a ledge or a door and the strength to do some chin-ups, do them without fail! Here are some suggestions.

– Set a number that is 6-7 times your max and try to hit it in as few sets as possible without ever going to failure. If your max is 10, try to get 60-70 chinups in say 10 sets.

– Get max reps of chinups in 5 sets trying to get the same number of reps in your last set as your first set. Rest 3-5 minutes between sets.

Here is a short instructional video on pullups/chinups.

3. Run/Sprint

You don’t need anything to get this done really. Even shoes are optional. Find a road and go out for an enjoyable run or find a stretch of road/land and sprint. Here are some suggestions.

– Sprint 100 m at 90% effort. Walk back 100 m. Repeat for a total of 6-12 rounds and stop when your sprint is considerably (20%) slower than the first one.

– Run 400 m at 70% effort. Walk back 100 m. Run 300 m at 80% effort. Walk back 200 m. Sprint 200 m at 90% effort. Walk back 300m. Sprint 100m at max effort. Repeat for a total of 2-4 rounds and stop when you’re 100m sprints start feeling like a painful run (as opposed to a tearing flight!).

4. Combine

Now like I mentioned up top, you can do one of these each day or you can club these together and do a conditioning workout of sorts. Here are a couple of examples.

1. Repeat for a total of 5 rounds…

  • 10 Burpees [4-step burpee is your a beginner, weighted if you’re advanced]
  • 10 Chinups [Assisted if you’re a beginner, weighted if you’re advanced]
  • 50 m sprint
  • Rest 3 min.

Note: Make sure form is perfect and each rep/sprint is strong, solid and explosive. Do NOT do more reps at the cost of form. Increase rest period if required.

2. Complete in as less time as possible without compromising form in any move…
  • 30-100 Burpees [30 if you’re a beginner, 100 if you’re advanced]
  • 1 max set of chinups or 400m run for each burpee break

Here is a sample (short) conditioning workout that includes just pushups, chinups and squat jumps.

Peace out.
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