Dynamic Stretching – Safe or not

Dynamic stretching, is it safe? Will doing dynamic stretching rip your muscles apart, as so claimed by experts? Well, many conventional “personal trainer” certification courses seems to do so. And many experts had also condemned dynamic stretching. 

Well, to their poor credit, to the sedentary and white collar slaves,who have the amazing ability to be stuck to their desk from 8am-5pm, moving only for lunch and toilet breaks, these folks WILL break something if they decided to do some dynamic move. It seems that the ‘experts’ have limited their research to only this group of people. 

If Dynamic stretching is all that bad, Usain Bolt would have torn his hamstring long ago, as sprinting involves muscle extension and contraction, in extreme speed. Each strand of muscles contract to the shortest and spring to the max to propel the sprinter forward. There is no time to allow your muscle to “ease” into the stretch.

What about Chinese Wushu (Kung fu)? Kicks are delivered high and lowered in split second. So, does the so called experts dare to mention that these sprinters and martial artists are not doing the right thing? 

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The only reason why people can get hurt from dynamic stretching, is because they lead a lifestyle too sedentary. So much that their body got used to only a short range of motion. So when the range of motion goes just a little further than usual, any form of stretching (or even movement) will tear them apart. 

The body is a very adaptable organism. Stop moving, and your body will adapt. Move alot, and your body will also adapt to it. 

 

Posted by Jay Ding

Physical Freedom – Take It, It’s Yours!

For those of you who have watched the movie Troy, this line must have sounded familiar to you as you read it in your mind.

Achilles, the greatest warrior and hero of Homer’s Illiad, played by none other than the equally-famous (some would say infamous) Brad Pitt, challenged his band of warriors to seize the glory of battle in Hollywood’s grand rendition of the Trojan War.

I thought it fitting to throw out this same line as a challenge – a challenge for all of you reading this, to seize your health and physical freedom, and thereby take control of the most fundamental aspect of your life.

For those of you minimalists when it comes to the investment of your time and effort, think about this: Is it not worth investing your time and effort to ensure that you are taking care of your health and body, as best as you can?

We have all seen them – affluent office men (and women), who strut in their crisp business outfits and expensive suits, who drive around town in their sleek, mirror-shine sedans, with their precious timepieces and diamond cuff links glinting in the light of the sun.

And I’m sure we have all noticed the very visible trend – the older these people are, the more they look out of shape. This appears to be the case for a significant number of them, and especially for the men.

Singapore is a country of widespread affluence, which is awesome, for those of us who are getting our fair share of the GDP pie. So you have more money to spend. That’s great. But it’ll be even better if you have good health to go along with it.

There are too many people who are paying unnecessarily for health-related expenses, when just a little investment of their time and effort will save them alot of time, money and trouble, which can be far better spent elsewhere. Even if you aren’t suffering from any major, acute illnesses, being plagued by chronic, low-level cumulative health issues can really be a drag on your life.

Tired of lugging around a huge gut all day along with your heavy briefcase? Sick of those nagging lower back aches and perpetually-stiff necks and shoulders? Feeling a persistent sense of physical discomfort that you can’t quite put your finger on?

Health and physical freedom – take it, it’s yours!

Spend just an hour a day moving, and you’ll shake off most, if not all of your health concerns which are the results of your sedentary lifestyle. The government is now big on healthy and active living – the planners and observers in the relevant Ministries and official departments are probably increasingly-aware of the rising healthcare costs and issues that are laying siege to our nation’s increasingly-wealthy population.

I’m sure many of you will be shaking your heads in denial when you read this. “An hour a day? Where got time?!” Is the typical Singaporean response. And these same people I see a few years later will almost invariably have developed some chronic and persistent health issues that they constantly complain about, which they could very well have avoided or prevented by the hour a day which they used to scoff at in the past.

Don’t wait till you can’t see your feet for your midsection, and don’t wait till the aches and pains start to bedevil you like stubborn mosquitoes. When that day comes you will have to sweat so much more to regain the health that you have lost through your inattention.

And for the men, especially those of us who are liable for our annual IPPT – why make yourself dread these tests and end up dragging your feet for them, and ultimately feel embarrassed when your chin just can’t seem to clear that pull up bar? Worse still, why land yourself in a state where you are just resigned to failing the IPPT year after year, and automatically signing yourself up for weeks and weeks of remedial training, just because you can’t meet the mark that you used to be capable of when you were younger or fitter?

In my blunt and straightforward opinion, all these are a bloody waste of your time. You could be doing so much more and enjoying yourself, rather than spending unnecessary time back in camp. An hour a day, for two to three times a week is all that it takes to keep yourself fighting fit. And you will go for your annual IPPT with a smile on your face, thinking how good it is that our government is actually paying you for a workout session.

Our government is probably one of the few, if not the only one, in the world that pays you money to keep fit and stay healthy. Call it generous, or maybe it is just a measure of desperation, to try and get people motivated to do what is only good for themselves. I feel kinda sad when I go back for my IPPT and see those guys driving their posh cars into camp day after day just for RT. Somehow they just don’t look as intimidating stripped out of their thousand-dollar suits and shirts and ties and leather footwear, in exchange for a humble set of T-shirts and shorts and running shoes.

I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

But hey, they are the only ones to blame for their own plight.

I know it’s tough to find time for yourself, if you are a high-powered executive and stuff in some big-time MNC. I’m a law student, and I probably have the smallest inkling of what it feels like to be squeezed for time. But hey, I still find time to work, work out and write these posts, at the expense of revising for my mid-terms (which I really should be studying for, like now).

Saying that I feel stressed out sometimes is probably a gross understatement. But then I take a step back and set things back in their proper perspective – I’d rather scrape through my law school years, barely passing everything, and have my health, than to ace everything with flying colours, and end up flunking at my next health check, or my next IPPT.

Health is wealth and movement is medicine. I don’t want to be a pale, sickly dude who’s a genius up there in his head, which I am not anyway, but who winds up earning money to pay for the doctor’s bills. I know, I know, I exaggerate, but you get the idea, right?

Fellas, let’s get our acts together and put the doctors out of a job.

The day the world doesn’t need doctors is the day that we are all physically free, as much as we can ever be.

Imagine yourself being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to, wherever you are, with your mind and body. (Of course, flying is out of the question, unless you really are Superman.)

Don’t let yourself walk this earth with a hunched back and a sagging gut, dragging your feet.

Walk proud and tall, and look to the skies, knowing that that, is your only limit.

Physical freedom – TAKE IT, IT’S YOURS!!!

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Mind, Body, Spirit

It is a widely-recognised metaphysical idea that Man is composed of 3 parts – mind, body and spirit.

The mind houses our intellect, the body houses our capacity for physical action, and the spirit houses our emotions.

The will springs from the spirit, which drives our thoughts, which in turn drives our actions.

Our will comprises of our desires as couched in emotive states.

So why am I talking about the mind and the spirit, on a blog so obviously dedicated to physical culture?

This is because Man is a metaphysical trinity of interrelated spheres of being, two of which being the mind and the spirit, are intangible but for their expression through our physical actions.

The fact that they can’t be seen doesn’t mean that they’re not there, however, as most people will readily testify.

Physical culture should be viewed in its rightful place as one part of a whole – as a component within a larger framework of conscious attribute cultivation.

The body is the vessel of the mind, and the mind is the vessel of the spirit.

Strengthen the body and the mind shall benefit. Hone the mind and the spirit shall prosper.

Often we neglect one or more of these 3 inextricably linked aspects which make up for the totality of human form and essence.

In my view, physical culture is not an end in itself. It is not merely a cultivation of physical attributes and qualities. Rather, physical culture should be a means to an end of improving the human condition, by elevating the state of the flesh and thus providing buoyance for intellectual development and spiritual refinement.

Many of the old time strongmen were accomplished writers, artists, musicians, poets and students of philosophy in addition to their formidable physical prowess. They were noted for their intellect, and a good number were also known to be brilliant speakers and conversationalists. Some even ran highly successful businesses during their storied lifetimes.

Strength and phsyical culture is evidently not the be-all and end-all, even for those amongst its folds who were of great and enduring eminence.

Physical culture should be pursued not as a standalone effort, but rather as an exertion to scale loftier heights in the journey of life in which physical achievements count for only one part of three, the other two parts being intellectual development and emotional mastery.

So view the cultivation of your might and muscle as a cog in a larger wheel, and pursue a holistic life experience, for a truly fruitful and fulfilling voyage throughout the years that you will spend on this earth.

Here’s wishing all of you out there a good life, and good training.🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

100

Hello everyone, I’m back (finally!) with a new post for y’all.

Before I cut to the chase, let me start this off by accounting for the inconsistency with the blog posts recently. Official college education has kicked in for me since a few weeks back, and man, is it one hell of a bitch.

Right now I’m still in the midst of settling in and making adjustments to my work and life and such, hence the irregularity of my blog posts. This is an issue that should work itself out soon enough, and all I can say for now is man, do I miss writing, and apologies and thanks to those of you out there who take the time to read my rants and rambles.

Alright, with all of that out of the way, let’s get to the heart of the matter.

So… Why 100? And what the hell is this 100 exactly?

I decided to write this after gaining several newfound insights into the subject of physical training in general, thanks to the none-too-gentle manner in which I was compelled to restructure my fitness regime to cope with the demands of law school.

Let me start things off with the popular topic of mass and strength training in the gym. I have access to a wonderfully well-equipped weights room on campus, with a wealth of both stacked-weights machines as well as free weights in the form of barbells, dumbells and weight plates.

I utilise these aforementioned facilities about once every other week, to supplement my predominantly bodyweight training with some good ‘ol free weights and barbells. Guys who hit the gym want to get big and strong and look good. I guess these are aspirations rooted in our biological makeup, but I’ll leave the exposition of the geno-biological factors underpinning the male obsession with might and muscle to the relevant authorities, and confine my discourse strictly to the training side of the equation, which I feel that I am infinitely more qualified to comment upon.

Let me use the venerable bench press as my example. The bench press holds a sacred place in the hearts of many a lover of the flesh and the iron, and it has been regarded and lauded by its many fervent adherents in the weights room as the king of all upper body exercises.

Indeed, the bench press is a compound movement that when executed properly as part of a well-structured training routine will give you pecs and shoulders of steel, not to mention enormous pressing strength and improved trunk and core stability. It is safe to say that many members of the male gender, men and boys alike, in gyms all around the world are obsessed with the bench press and its strength and muscular benefits.

The issue that I am going to discuss surrounding the bench press is one endemic to many gyms and weights room that I have seen or been to. Novice lifters, being primarily adolescents eager to develop the perceived necessary and desired characteristics of a proud manhood which almost invariably revolve around having chests and arms that resemble those found on mature silverback gorillas, are thus almost invariably drawn to perform the bench press and the bicep curl.

Most of these youngsters that I have seen and observed also almost invariably come with either huge egos, or low self-esteem, or a potent and near-lethal combination of the two. They come into the weights room, not wanting to appear weak in front of their better-developed peers and fellows. This mentality leads them to select weights which are often beyond their ability to handle in a safe and proper manner.

You see guys looking like they’re about to be crushed under the barbell more than they are working out, and guys trying to wrestle hefty dumbells aloft with terribly-arched backs, their faces and necks so engorged with blood that I fear they will burst at any mnoment and spray their vital arterial contents on my shirt if I happen to be standing close by. You also see alot of helpful “spotters” who urge their friends on to do “one more!” and to “stick it!” and to not give up, and sometimes these fellas even look like they’re the ones who are doing most of the work for their buddies.

Perhaps I exaggerate, as is my wont, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Last night a good friend of mine whom I had a long talk with told me that he wanted to get strong and bulk up by going to the gym and lifting weights. And that’s when I crystallised the idea for this post, which had previously been but a seed of a thought germinating in the semi-conscious parts of my mind.

I gave him some advice accordingly, which I shall now relate to you with the bench press as an example. Of course, the ideas that I am going to expound and elucidate below will work for any other weighted lifts as well.

1. Leave your ego and insecurities at the door.

Go into the gym and work for yourself, not for the approbation of others. Do what you need to do, what you want to do, and do these things safely.

2. Pick a weight that you will dare to lift without a spotter. 

Ah well, this wouldn’t be the first time that I’m putting forth something potentially contentious. I’ve always believed that the best kind of training that you can get is that which you can do alone. Reliance on spotting is a doctrine that has become entrenched in gym rules. 

Although this concept of having a spotter is in all probability formulated with the best of human intentions, it is an idea that has often been unwittingly abused to produce frustration of efforts, as well as the risks of injury. With a strong spotter, some people are lifting weights that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to, and more often than not with poor form to boot.

What I am advocating here may create no small amount of controversy, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway. Pick a weight that you will dare to lift without a spotter. I feel that this will be a surer guarantee for safety, much more than a helpful spotter can ever be. You will tend to have less confidence in yourself than in a strong friend, so odds are you wouldn’t pick a weight on your own that is so heavy for you it becomes unsafe.  

Safety should be of paramount concern to every single lifter, cos you can’t lift when you’re injured.

3. Perform 100 reps.

Of course, this is not a rigid prescription. The number 100 is just there to get your attention. Here, I am using the number 100 to illustrate a point, the point being that practice makes perfect, so if you want to get good at something you better be doing it over and over again, repeatedly.

So you want a bigger chest. Fine. You need to do the bench press. So it follows logically that the better you get at this lift, the bigger and stronger your chest will become. Of course, you must understand that I am speaking from a practical point of view. I will describe myself as a realist.

So, to me at least, realistically speaking, those 3 x 10 or 3 x 12 routines are too few in number of reps for you to get good at the bench press; indeed they are too limited in quantity to produce any meaningful strength and mass. If you want a huge set of pecs that can lift long and heavy, you need sets and reps combinations like 10 x 10, 5 x 20, 4 x 25, 3 – 4 x 30, 2 x 50, 4 x 50, 1 x 100, 2 x 100, 1 x 200 etc.

My Fujian mentor used to lift in sets of 200 for all the major upper body lifts. He was an acrobatic performer of the highest calibre, with strength and mass so prodigious that he could support 3 men on a pole on his shoulder, while standing on one leg. He could clean and jerk/press well in excess of 100kg, which was well over his bodyweight.

Even now, at the age of 64, he can still perform some bodyweight strength holds that I am as-yet unable to replicate, and that after 20-odd years of laying off all serious strength work. He is a shadow of his former glory, having self-admittedly lapsed into a prolonged period of inactivity due to his being “fed up to the teeth” with physical training, which he had been compelled to perform since the tender age of 12 to support his family. But this shadow is still an undeniably formidable one.

The truth of the matter is, the key to realising ambitions of strength and mass rests in laying the foundations right. After shearing half the inner edge of my right pec clean off the bone from my huge ego, I can now truly appreciate the value of steady hard work.

So pick a weight that you can handle with moderate ease, which you should be confident enought to work with without a spotter, perform a large number of total reps. This approach will be slow, and gains will come in very small increments. Increase the weight only as you grow stronger and more confident, keeping the sets and reps at the same large quantity.

Chances are you will be stuck doing what may appear to be a very light weight for a relatively long period of time. But nothing worthwhile ever gets done overnight, save for sex. So stick with it, and be patient. In time you will find that your strength and mass are increasing slowly but steadily, and by the end of a year of such consistent work you will notice a marked difference in your overall muscular strength and development, particularly in the specific muscles targeted by the lifts that you perform.

So ditch the flashy muscle mag workouts, and get down and dirty with the brutal way of true, hardcore physical training to become a veritable monster of might and muscle in the eyes of the uninitiated. Nothing worth having ever comes by easy, unless you are one lucky bastard. But if you were, you shouldn’t even need to be reading this.

And finally…  

To sum it all up in a few short sentences, throw your ego and insecurities out of the figurative window, ditch the spotter, and do what you want to get good at many, many, many times.

And please, be safe while you’re doing so, and don’t push yourself past the point of recovery. In the beginning you may be only able to train once a week in this manner, and even when you have become a hardened veteran of the iron game I still wouldn’t recommend you to torture yourself daily with these methods.

Remember, you are breaking your body down whenever you work out. You get stronger only as your body repairs the damage and builds up your physical systems beyond their original levels of composition existing prior to your previous session of training. And to do this your body requires sufficient amounts of rest and nutrition.

So train hard and train smart. Always listen to your body and stop when in doubt.

All the best for your life and training!

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer and full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Cool Running

Barefeet running, and running with specialised footwear that closely simulates running without shoes, is fast becoming a “new” fitness craze in this modern age of rapidly passing and rising fads and fashions.

Of course, advocates and practitioners of such an au naturel style of movement would have been part of a largely unheeded minority some time back, until the sporting industry came up with a series of fancy schnazy products, along with the indispensable wave of advertising campaigns that made running as close to being barefooted as possible look cool.

Before one wonders at the revival and return to popularity of such “natural” movement, one cannot help but ponder at the magnitude of persuasive power that our planet’s commercial entities hold over the minds of the consumer multitude.

But enough of my musings, for now. Let me cut to the chase (pun intended, of course – never believe it when they tell you that it’s not), and share with you some tips and tricks from my own experience with barefoot running.

When I was younger I used to run around alot without shoes, and my feet were hardened on the sun-baked concrete of the neighbourhood street soccer court. The tough, smooth, leathery and slightly glossy look and feel that the soles of my feet developed after years of such barefeet activity used to be a great source of man-pride for me – the tougher and harder the better, isn’t it?

And then serious schooling started to get in the way of my more carefree days spent kicking a ball around a hard court almost all day long. That, coupled with a few nasty grazes I sustained when hard flesh met even harder stone as I mistimed some of my powerful left-legged strikes, left me with an enduring phobia for playing the beautiful game without proper protective footwear.

And so the flesh, covered and pampered with synthetic rather than the natural leather that used to sheath my feet like a second skin, (so tough that puny mimosa thorns would be turned aside on contact like toy cars running into a brick wall) softened, and the excess skin, which was the manifestation of the body’s defensive adaptation mechanism, slowly disappeared.

Many years later, as the craze of barefeet and pseudo-barefeet running hit the markets and the streets, I was seized with an irrational urge to rebuild my ability for running without the need for shoes.

Here is my guide, amounted from personal experience, for beginners who are looking to do real, barefeet running for the first time:

1. Unless you do alot of barefeet walking on rough surfaces and already have some pretty tough feet, it is best to start out by just walking on some rough surfaces such as sand, fine gravel, unpaved concrete, etc. Remember the rules of physical training – progression is the name of the game.

2. Once you feel comfortable walking barefeet on rough surfaces, it is time to ramp it up to a light jog. Manage the distance covered to something comfortable i.e. before the skin on your feet starts blistering or ripping off.

3. When you feel good about jogging without shoes, you can either go for longer distances, or run at a faster speed, or both, depending on your personal training objectives.

And now for the running technique:

1. In most cases, land using the ball of your feet. Landing on the heels when you are not wearing shoes can be painful and jarring. Your footfall should not be so heavy as to cause any pain other than the superficial wearing of the skin. You should not be feeling alot of stress or the impact from your steps travelling up your lower legs.

2. Unlike running with shoes, which changes the mechanics of the movement, I find that I tend to take smaller and quicker steps when running barefeet. This seems to feel more natural as compared to longer and slower strides with the feet reaching far forward of the hips. Of course, my strides open up when I do sprint barefooted, but I strive to stay on the ball of my feet, rather than letting my heels strike the ground first.

3. Ultimately, I believe that every individual will have a slightly different running technique which is optimal for his/her physical build. So do experiment with different stride lengths, different stride frequencies, different ways of swinging your arms etc. when you run barefoot. Only the fundamentals of running apply across the board, e.g. breathing technique, feet orientation etc.

Bottom line is, be progressive, as with all other things, and make sure that what you are doing is not hurting you, or pushing the adaptation mechanism too hard and too fast. Please don’t tear up your feet on your first attempt at shoeless running. Not only is it painful, it will take a few days at least before you can hit the road again.

And a few final pointers, mostly for safety:

1. I would advise against running on grass or other overgrown terrain near or around residential areas. I have seen twisted metal struts left over from construction works and shards of glass from broken beer bottles lying half-hidden amidst innocent-looking tall grass. So be safe rather than sorry, and avoid running where your eyes can’t see everything.

2. Building on the idea of keeping your eyes open when you run, do please keep a lookout both around you, and on the ground that you are about to tread on. If you happen to step on a nail half-hidden in the grass and dirt, I’d be sympathetic. But if you get pierced by one lying on wide open ground, I’ll still be sympathetic, but I’ll also ask you to be more careful in the future.

3. Personally I run on concrete pavement, cos alot of people walk on them, and so they are relatively free of litter and other nasty objects that can hurt me. I do about 2.4km 2 – 3 times a week, usually in the evening or at night, when the ground is cooler. Hot ground tears up the skin alot faster, so unless you are pretty confident about the toughness of your feet, I wouldn’t advise an afternoon run without your shoes.

For those of you who may have questions about pseudo-barefoot running, I’m sorry, I haven’t done any running with Vibrams or their like so far, and I don’t see myself doing that anytime in the near future, so you’ll have to look for your answers somewhere else in the meantime.

And for those of you who want to do real barefoot running, for whatever reason that you may possess, I’d say go on and give it a try. As long as you go about it sensibly barefeet running can add a new and hugely enjoyable dimension to your fitness regime. Being able to feel the ground under my feet never fails to make me feel more alive and connected with the world around me, in a very strange and maybe even a little spiritual way (though I guess it’s all down to human psychology haha).

You will learn the natural way of running by going barefoot, and move over the land the way our ancestors used to do when they hunt, work and travel. Your feet, so long cooped up inside those shoes or sneakers, will have their instincts reawakened by the contact with the ground, and you will learn to run lighter, faster and happier.

Just be prepared for your calves to ache mightily the first few times you do your running without your shoes, for they are part of a natural shock-absorbing complex that many of us have lost partially due to the use of gait-changing footwear. The ache will subside as your legs readjust to the mechanics of barefoot running, and you would have regained an essential and natural component of your body’s mechanism for stress-injury prevention.

So go forth, and hang up those running shoes once in awhile to hit the pavement with your bare feet. Just don’t sue me for anything unfortunate that happens in the process.🙂

Good luck, and good training!

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

The Theory Of Training

The Guide

Because I have a (hopefully) well-deserved reputation as the residential fitness guru in my neighbourhood, sometimes I will get people who approach me at the fitness corner when I work out, asking me for advice on their own physical training.

One common trend that I have come to realise alot of these questions share is that they tend to revolve around the request for a prescription.

What do I mean by that?

Most people just want a quick fix, as if they are visiting the pharmacy or a drug store gettin’ some pills for the cold. They ask me for the best sets and reps to achieve some physical goal in particular that they desire. They want numbers – the more exact, the better.

While there are many time-honoured sets and reps combination that will work wonders for strength and muscle gains, I feel that gaining an understanding behind these numbers is something far more important than getting at the numbers themselves.

If you’re really serious about your health or strength, or both, you need to drop the mindset of going to the doctor (a perceived expert) for a prescription. You need to learn to become your own doctor, and your own expert.

When I coach my clients, I try my best to imbue them with the ability to be their own coach in the future. I teach them all that I know, but more importantly, I try to show them how I arrive at what I know, and by so doing I attempt to educate my clients on the process of self-coaching, and self-programming with regards to their own physical training.

If you have to rely exclusively on a trainer for your whole life, you’ll always be mediocre. Some of you will be fine with that, but I’m betting that there’s also an equal, if not larger number of you out there who want to be able to make it on your own eventually. This is human nature, pure and simple. You don’t want to go to school your whole life, do you? There will come a time when you want to forge ahead on your own, and decide what you want to learn, and what you want to do.

Of course, this desire for self-determination will only be present in significant quantities if health, strength and fitness is your love and your passion, in which you hope to one day achieve something more than ordinary. So this post goes out to the guys and gals out there who have chosen to undertake the quest of self-mastery through physical training. This is by no means a detailed road map, but more of a well-meaning finger pointing you in the right direction.

The rest of this article contains the essence of my own physical training – its content, its principles and its programming. These are the things that go beyond the numbers. These are the things from which the sets and reps are derived, and by which these numbers are organised and defined. This is the good stuff that I have managed to distill from long years of training experience, most of them painful.

So, assuming that you are aiming for all-rounded physical development – a generalist, as Ido Portal puts it, combining health and strength in a holistic pursuit of the flesh and the mind, let me show you some of the overarching concepts that underpin the entirety of my training regime. I have arranged the following principles in a chronological order of pursuit by which newcomers who’re looking for a way into the game (and old dogs who feel as if they have lost their way and are trying to redefine their lives in training) can refer to, as a directional guide for your considerations as you enter the arena of dedicated physical training.

1. Know Thy Goals.

This may seem like the bleedin’ obvious, but too many good men have come up to me asking: “How do I train?” To which I must respond: “And what is it that you want to train for, my friend?” To which many of these same good fellas will look confused, and begin to ponder what they should have considered before approaching someone and asking for specific training advice.

Then I get people telling me they want to be strong. Well that’s a slightly better goal, but it is still not specific enough. Do you want to be strong all over, or do you want to focus on certain parts of your body? Do you want the brute, raw power of a lifter, or the lithe, coordinated strength of a gymnast or a tumbler? Or do you want both? Or…? You get my point.

I always tell people this: “You have to have goals, the more specific the better. Your goals give you direction, and your training should be tailored to suit your specific aims. Your goals are your destination. If they are not clear or specific, you’ll end up circling the general vicinity of your desire, but you’ll never quite get there. It’s like asking for a friend’s address and leaving out the house or block number. You’ll be driving back and forth along the same road, but in the end that’s almost as bad as getting nowhere. And in some ways it’s actually worse, cos you’ll be a good deal more frustrated.”

So… Before you embark on any systematic training, it’s best to know just exactly what you want to train for. The more specific the better, because it makes your efforts more focused, and the resultant gains more measurable. And please be realistic. Don’t tell me you want to go to the Olympics in a month when you’re just starting out on serious training. We’re talking goal-setting here, not daydreaming.

2. Progression – The Name Of The Game

After you’ve got your goals down pat, it’s time to programme your training routine. Allow me to use the front lever as an example. Let us say you want to achieve a front lever in the near future. Static bodyweight strength moves are actually pretty achievable, even if you’re self-taught, but you don’t see many normal folks outside of the gymnastics circle doing them. Why?

The reason is simple: people see only the end product most of the time, and they have absolutely no clue of the previous progressions. Sometimes, some of them don’t even know that there are actually easier variations of these mind-blowing moves. Hell, I used to be one of these people back then, before my friend asked me to check out beastskills.com.

So let’s say you want to do a front lever. Start off with the easiest progression that you can handle, and work your way upwards. The name of the game is progression. Do what is manageable until it becomes easy, and then go on to do what has become manageable as a result of your training gains. And when that becomes easy, go on to do what is just within your boundaries. That’s how we keep on pushing the performance envelope ever-outwards and -upwards.

The same goes for weights. Use something that you can handle with some effort, until such time as it becomes easy. Then you add some weight until you acquire the feeling as back when you first started out working with the original amount of weights, until the new weight becomes easy to you, and so on.

Pretty straighforward, huh? I would think so. But apparently the obvious isn’t quite so obvious to some of us, or there will be more alot more strong people and alot less ineffectual grunting and moaning out there in the commercial gyms.

3. The Search For Optimality

There are a hundred roads that lead to Rome… or maybe more. The intelligent traveller will ask: so which is the fastest?

The same is true for training. Let us re-examine the example of the front lever.

You can train for this position by manipulating the variable of leverage. Tuck your legs and you’re effectively under less resistance. Extend your legs more and the corresponding load increases. So this is one way to train for the front lever – increase the leverage to something that you can work with and gradually reduce it as you grow stronger, until the day comes when you can hold the position with your legs together and fully straightened.

Now here’s another way to train for the front lever: start out with your legs together and fully straightened in a dead hang, and attempt to pull through to the final position with arms straight and locked at the elbows. Chances are you will be able to move, if only for a few inches… or a few centimetres. But this can be made progressive – you can endeavour to hold a semblance of the final position at whatever is your current limit, and as you grow stronger you will be able to pull your body increasingly parallel to the ground.

And yet another way to train for the front lever: this is the reverse of the previous method. Go into an inverted hang on the bar (if you can), and slowly attempt to lower yourself into the front lever from this easier position (easier in terms of leverage). Lower only as far as your current strength permits, and then hold for time. As you grow stronger you will be able to lower your body increasingly parallel to the ground, and one day you will be able to lower yourself down from an inverted hang to a front lever.

I have presented you with 3 possible ways, all of them progressive, of training for the front lever. So which one would you pick?

Of course, you will pick the one which you think is the easiest in terms of time-investment. To put it simply, you will pick what you believe to be the fastest route.

And now I ask you this: can you do all 3?

Of course, I don’t have the same answer for everyone when it comes to training programming, because we each have our own unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and different people respond differently to the same type of training.

The intelligent trainee will always seek to optimalise his approach, and the process of his training, to get him where he wants to be, within the shortest possible time, and with the least amount of effort. This is pretty much like investment – you want to get good returns for what you’re putting in.

Training? It’s an investment. Optimalise it.

4. The Great Balancing Act

I’m betting that most of you reading this aren’t professional athletes. Chances are you’re someone gunning for a better-than-average health, mind and body with the life of an average man or woman, with the full complement of demands and stresses, both mental and physical, that accompany your work or study.

Odds are, you don’t get a guaranteed amount of sleep each night. Projects and presentations may force you to stay up late, and screw with your recovery when you’re in the midst of serious training. The same odds say that you may not be able to exercise such fine control over your diet as you may desire, and you may be stuck on the shitty menu at your school tuckshop, or workplace canteen.

You’re worried about the bills all the time, you’re worried about your kids, you’re worried about the rising prices of food and necessities that’s making your everyday gorcery shopping feel like episodes of daylight robbery. There are at least a hundred and one worries on your mind that stay with you throughout the day, everyday, and this feeling of constant anxiety haunt your subconscious like a restless ghost, even as you sleep.

Well, we all live in the real world, and the real world is a real cruel place for the most of us.

That is the reason why simple body maintenance has taken a backseat for so many of us – we are so burnt out from the perpetual rat-race that defines and dictates our lives that we have precious little time and energy for anything else. We don’t want to work out after a long, gruelling day at school or work. We just want to get home, get on a bed or a couch, and wind down by hypnotising our minds and spirits with the numbing salve of comfort food, music or TV programmes.

And nobody has a right to despise you for that.

But I’m also guessing that you are somebody who deserves better. You deserve to look your best and feel your best, and be on top of your game, everytime, all the time. And these are things that physical training can give you. I’m not talking about some 8-hours a day, everyday kind of hellish regime that only a professional athlete has the time for. I’m talking 20 – 30 minutes a day, 2 – 3 times a week, just to keep you in shape and keep you sharp for the challenges that your life’s gonna want to throw at you.

You owe it to yourself to keep yourself fighting fit, so that you can take on your life with the strength and vigour of a stubborn battlefield veteran. When your body is in good shape, that’s one less thing you have to worry about. It won’t be as easy for you to fall sick and wind up forking out money at your local clinic on top of your daily expenses. You will also manage stress better, and get things done faster and more decisively with your strength and energy.

A life in balance is a life well-lived. Don’t train past the point of recovery, and keep your training programme in context, making adjustments as is necessary to help you cope with the other demands on your life. Training is meant to help you along with life’s many burdens, not become a burden in and as of itself.

Keep things balanced.

5. The Only Sensible Rule Is to Have No Rules

You may be wondering why I am quoting the Joker. When it comes to physical training, I believe that the only sensible rule is to have no rules. Now, don’t get me wrong on this. You’ve got to have a set of sound principles upon which your training regime is founded, but don’t get yourself tied down with the useless nitty-gritty.

This links back to the idea of people looking for prescriptions. Take strength training, for example. The principle that anchors the entire concept of strength training is the gradual and progressive increase of the resistance, or load, that is being carried or worked against over time as the body adapts and becomes stronger. Every set and rep combination that has been derived to that effect stems from this simple idea of progressive increase.

So, the idea of progressive increase is the principle. Abandon it at your own peril. The sets and reps being bandied about by many self-professed fitness authorities are the rules. And most of the time, these rules are meant to be broken.

What do I mean by that?

I don’t ever prescribe someone a specific combination of sets and reps for an exercise. I prefer to give a range which has been proven for the most part to be effective, leaving alot of wriggle-room for the individual trainee to customise the programming to his own unique needs. Everyone is born and built differently, and no two individuals will respond in the exact same way to the exact same training method or routine. Throw in contextual differences and it should be obvious that no two individuals should be doing the exact same training, at least if we were keen on preserving the interests of optimality.

That is why I have a strong personal dislike for group trainings where everyone does the same things mindlessly, without any thought or effort directed towards the minute, personalised adjustments that can mean the difference between a good training, and a great training.

Typically to the aspiring bodyweight strength trainee I will advise 3 – 5 sets of an exercise, for a comfortable rep range that can be sustained over the working sets. And the uninitiated will ask me this: “So do I do 3, 4 or 5 sets?” 

To which my reply will be: “3 on a bad day, 4 on an okay day, and 5 on a good day. And if you’re feeling really sharp, don’t let this hold you back. Do 10 or even 20 sets if you feel like it. But if you’re feeling off, take a break and maybe do something else entirely.”

Now one of the guiding tenets of my training philosophy is “train by feel”.

Once you’ve reached a certain point in your physical development, you would have become more in tune with your body, and you will be able to feel its needs. I know when I need to train, when I need to rest, when I need to eat, and when I need to fast. All these will come to you in time, if it hasn’t already done so. Listen to your body, and don’t bog it down with a load of useless rules. Live and train by a sensible set of principles, and don’t weigh yourself down with the fetters of rules that don’t do you any good.

In the words of Bruce Lee: “It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

Keep only what works, and don’t be afraid to throw what doesn’t right out of the window. Your mind and your body will thank you for it.

And then some…  

Here are my final words to you in this post:

“Have faith, and keep on moving forward.”

All the best for your training.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

An Analysis Of Rep Speed And Rhythm

Have you ever wondered why the speed and rhythm of your reps on a given exercise experience changes over time, and even within a single set? Here are some of my thoughts and analysis of the rep speed and rhythm – an oft-underlooked set of indicators in both strength and skill training amongst amateurs and self-taught individuals.

Rep Speed And Rhythm As An Indicator

The speed and rhythm at which you complete repetitions of a given exercise can be an indicator of your mastery of the particular drill, as well as your prevailing strength levels.

Strength-Intensive Drills

When we are talking about exercises which taxes your strength more than your skill e.g. classic strength-builders such as pull ups, incline pull ups, push ups and dips, drills in which the skill component should not present a challenge equal to that of the strength component, here is how you can interpret your rep speed and rhythm:

If you have been training with the given exercise regularly for some time, you may notice that the first few reps that you do in a set experience a sort of a “bounce”. This is because you have built up more than sufficient strength to do multiple repetitions, and when you are fresh your strength shows – the excess amount that is being exerted causes you to “bounce” on the first few reps.

After this initial stage when you are fresh and raring to go, you should settle into a quick and easy rhythm. This is because your body is instinctively efficient, and “bouncing” on your reps represent a waste of your strength and energy. Thus the body will settle into a steady rhythm for the rep range in which you have acquired sufficient strength through your training. This is the part of the set when the reps feel “smooth” and relatively effortless – strength-wise, this is your comfort zone.

As you progress further through your set you will find your rhythm on the reps starting to slow. This is because you are approaching a strength endurance threshold. This is where you have the strength to keep going, but what strength you have left is insufficient to maintain the smooth and steady rhythm that your body prefers. As you push the set to failure you will notice your range of motion on your reps diminishing as your strength flags and finally fails. Your bodyline may start to get broken up towards the last few reps, or half-reps e.g. piking at the hips in a pull up and sagging at the lower back in a push up.

Take note that when your rhythm starts to slow, your rep speed may or may not do the same. Your rep speed will only slow most noticeably when you feel that your range of motion is being taxed i.e. when you feel that it is increasingly difficult to maintain the original range of motion in your reps that your started the set with.

Skill-Intensive Drills

When we are talking about exercises which taxes your skill (tension and coordination) more than your strength e.g. things involving an element of balance such as handstand push ups, drills in which the skill component presents a greater challenge than the strength component, here is how you can interpret your rep speed:

When you are starting out on a new drill such as the classic handstand push ups, your reps may be fast and relatively uncontrolled, and you may “speed” your way through the skill using a combination of momentum and luck. The use of force from kicking the legs and/or jerking of the torso may be evident as you are struggling to coordinate the exertion of your strength in the demanding position.

When you get better at the drill, your reps will become slower and relatively controlled. Every part of the range of motion of your reps will be more or less under your control, and you are able to “power” your way through a rep smoothly. This is in contrast to the previous stage, where your reps may be fast, but may also suffer from jerky start-and-stops within the range of motion as you struggle with the control and coordination of the skill-intensive drill.

When you have mastered the drill to a certain level, you will find it possible to execute your reps fast and relatively controlled. Your control and coordination have reached sufficient levels such that there is nothing much inhibiting the speed of your exertion. This is the point in the handstand push up where you feel about as confident as performing the inverted pressing as you do your normal face-the-ground push ups. You will be able to go fast without fear, knowing that you are in control all the way. This is akin to the part in a strength-intensive drill where you attain a quick and easy rhythm.

Comparing The Two

If we were to compare the rep speeds in the strength-intensive and skill-intensive drills, I’d say that when these drills are performed in a single maximal set, the rep speed patterns should appear as that described for the strength-intensive drills. However, this only holds when the comparative skill-intensive drill has been practised and refined to a point where it has become no more than another strength-builder to the practitioner. Indeed, even the strength-intensive drills start out as being skill-intensive to the new learner – it’s just that the level of control and coordination that is required for these exercises can be achieved with relative ease.

The rep speed pattern that is evidenced during the course of practice and pursuit of a skill-intensive drill will appear in the reverse order of that which is exhibited in a single maximal set of strength-intensive drill. The fast and uncontrolled jerking will come first in the skill as it does at the end of a maximal training set, before settling into a smooth and steady rhythm after some practice, as in the middle of a training set. Finally the rep speed will become fast and controlled, much like the “bounce” that is often experienced at the start of a strength-training set.

Do note that for skill-intensive drills there may come a point in time when you are able to execute every rep quickly and smoothly, but when you are as-yet unable to link them all together in a similarly swift and steady rhythm. This represents the penultimate step to true mastery, which is the control over both the rhythm of the reps, as well as the rep speed.

So what can I do with this knowledge?

Nothing much for skills training, cos in that specific arena your rep speed is determined by your level of control and coordination, which is, ironically, beyond your control at each individual time-point analysis, until such time as you have mastered the skill to the extent that it becomes just another strength move.

On the other hand, when you are doing multi-set training for a strength exercise, use the rep speed as it is meant to be used – as an indicator. Be able to identify the different stages of rep speed within a single set, and you can record down the rep ranges that fall into these stages, which can be of help in measuring your training progress and for setting your training goals.

For instance, if you are aiming to do more pull ups in the future than you are currently capable of, push every training set to the point where your rep speed and rhythm start to slow. Carry on in this manner until your range of motion starts to decrease as well. Now here comes the important part – DO NOT jerk your body to retain the original range of motion. Instead, keeping your reps as smooth as you can, continue performing half-reps, going up only as high as your strength will allow. This will prevent unnecessary exposure to the risk of injury, while stressing the body’s adaptive  mechanisms into giving you more strength, more quickly.

When you are fresh in a set the reps will start off smoothly, and towards the end of the set you may feel something like a time-lapse delay before your body kick-starts every rep. This is actually what causes the rhythm to slow as your strength gets increasingly taxed. As you push the boundaries (safely!) during your training you will find that the smooth and steady rhythm at or near the start of your set gets extended over a greater rep range. This is a sure sign that you are experiencing improvements in terms of strength endurance – you are able to exert strength at the same level over a greater number of repetitions, of a given exercise, in a single set.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, unless you are already a master in the exercise, you can’t really influence your rep speed and rhythm in a skill-intensive drill.

Fortunately, you can influence your rep speed and rhythm to some extent on exercises that are strength-intensive.

For strength training (or more accurately strength endurance training), attempt to keep your rep speed constant. When you feel as if your body is “grinding” through the rep, it’s time to call it quits for that set in particular. While stressing the adaptive mechanism is good, we don’t want to stress it to the point of breakdown.

So unless you have supreme confidence in the strength and tenacity of your muscles and joints, and paramount faith in your healing and recovery abilities, please do not keep your body to the grindstone. Cut the set when you are “grinding” out the reps, and can your training for the day when you start a new set with the same “grinding”.

Similarly, do not kip or jerk unnecessarily to attain a range of motion that is swiftly getting out of the reach of your strength. Drop to half- or even quarter-reps, and keep stressing your body. Safely.

Remember, rep speed and rhythm for strength-intensive drills are first and foremost, among other things, indicators of your prevailing strength levels. Play if safe and keep everything strength-led – do not employ unnecessary momentum in your movement that may strain the muscles and joints beyond their current capacity. Use your rep speed and rhythm as a training guide, sort of like a speedometer when you’re driving a car.

So treat your training like driving. Unless you’re a lunatic, you’ll want to drive fast, but drive safely. Which means keeping everything under control. Stick to this philosophy, and your body (and your car, if you have one) will thank you for it.🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~