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

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. ~

Acing The IPPT

Foreword

This post is written in a surge of energy. This is something that I have hoped to address for quite some time, and it is something long-overdue. I feel that this article cannot wait to be posted, so please bear with the lack of pictures for now. I’ll be taking photos of my own training to better illustrate the stuff that I will be mentioning in the rest of this post.

Thanks for your patience and understanding!

And on to the real stuff…   

IPPT – short for Individual Physical Proficiency Test, is a term that conjures nightmares for some. Specifically, it is a terror to those who struggle to meet the passing standards, and those who are failing the cut dismally. The fact that IPPT is mandatory for all combat-fit servicemen in the army, as well as for all combat-fit and NS-liable men in Singapore, makes it a common fear that is shared by many.

In my days of National Service I was a platoon commander on the sunny island of Tekong, and one of my responsibilities as an instructor to the newly-enlisted recruits was to conduct training for the IPPT. Hence, I have developed some good practices that generate results for improving the type of fitness that is required for one to ace the IPPT, which I am going to share with you in the rest of this post.

First things first, before I launch into the details of how to train to ace the IPPT, I must say that to really be able to excel at it, to the point where the mandatory yearly tests will no longer feel like a hassle, and start feeling more like a paid workout session (there are monetary incentives for NSmen, to encourage the maintenance of individual fitness), you have to throw the mindset of merely wanting to pass, right out of the figurative window.

This is because there is the tendency for there to exist a correlation between the effort level that is put in with the aims towards which this effort is dedicated. If you’re looking only just to pass, chances are you’ll only be working so hard. But if you’re gunning for gold, odds are you’ll be busting your ass in training a whole lot more as compared to your compatriots who’re aiming to just scrape through on a mixture of minimal effort and a healthy dose of luck.

So if you’re reading this because you don’t want the IPPT to be a perennial worry at the back of your mind, I advise you to set your sights high, and aim to attain the gold standards. There’s always a margin of error for anything, and physical training, while being technical in nature, is not an exact science. Even ballistic missiles have their CEP (circular error probable). So if you’re aiming just to pass, there’s a very good chance that you may actually end up failing. But if you’re going for gold, the odds are high that even if you fail to meet the required standards, you will still end up getting a silver or a pass. In other words, buffer yourself against the prospect of failure, by working to achieve a much higher set of standards than the minimally accepted one.

Okay, that’s enough talk and foreplay.

Let us examine the aspects of fitness that is being tested in the IPPT, and the problems that most people are facing.

The 5 stations of the IPPT are:

1. Pull Up

2. Sit Up

3. Shuttle Run

4. Standing Broad Jump

5. 2.4km Run

In my time as a PC on Tekong I’ve had access to the statistics for the passing rate and standards achieved by my recruits in the IPPT, and the 3 main problem areas are the pull up, the standing broad jump, and the 2.4km run, in descending order as measured by the failure rate, and the persistence of the failure rate.

When the recruits are newly-enlisted there will be a significant number who are having issues with the 3 aforementioned stations. However, as time passes and the army training kicks in, the 2.4km run will be greatly-diminished in terms of it being a problem station. This is because the army physical training involves alot of running, for cardiovascular capacity is the cornerstone of military fitness. The recruits are doing runs every other day, sometimes even every single day, and so most will be more than able to cope with the standards that are required for the 2.4km run after 3 – 4 weeks of training in the army.

The standing broad jump will also see some improvement in terms of its passing rate, for all the running will have strengthened the leg muscles, and those recruits who used to fail the jump because of inadequate leg power will be better-equipped to pass the station. However, due to the higher element of technique that is required for the standing broad jump as compared to simple running, there will still exist a small handful of those who are unable to pass the station even at the end of BMT (Basic Military Training) – these are the trainees who are as-yet incapable of executing sufficient portions of the jumping technique in order to pass the station.

And now the pull up – this is easily the single greatest “killer” station, with up to hundreds of recruits failing it at the start of their BMT, and by the end of their time on Tekong, there will still be more than a handful who seem to find passing this dreaded station nigh-on impossible. This is probably because it requires a painful amount of exertion to be able to pull one’s full bodyweight by the strength of the arms and the back for the first time, and an equally painful amount of effort to build up the strength for multiple repetitions. So the less-motivated trainees will tend to slack off during pull up training, until it is far too late for them to improve enough to pass towards the end of their stay on Tekong.

By looking at the 3 stations of the IPPT that present most with the greatest problems, we can identify a few aspects of fitness from which most of the failures stem. For the pull up, it is the strength endurance in the arms and back. For the standing broad jump, the explosive power of the legs, and the technique of jumping. For the 2.4km run, it is the speed endurance that is the most sorely tested.

The meat of the training.

Now I’ll go into the programming of the type of training that will allow you to bust free of your weaknesses in the IPPT.

Firstly, for the pull up:

Zero Fighters

If you cannot even perform a single repetition of the pull up, go back to the inclined pull up. Perform 3 – 5 sets of inclined pull ups every single day, gripping the bar tight (imagine the bar is a wet sponge and you’re trying to squeeze it dry), and pulling up as high and smooth as you can, no jerking or excessive use of body momentum. Start off with as many repetitions as you can handle in the sets, gradually working your way up to the point where you can crank out 3 – 5 sets of 25 – 30 reps per set. Maintaining a 1 second isometric “squeeze” at the top of every pull will help you develop your strength more quickly.

Also incorporate some hanging work on the bar with your full bodyweight. Again, remember always to grip tight, and hang for as long as you can manage on the pull up bar. Do this after your inclined pull ups. If you drop, hop back on and hang again, for as many sets as is required, until you hit a total of 1 minute hang-time. Work your way up to the point where you can hang for 1 minute straight without dropping. As you grow stronger pull your shoulders in and keep them tight when you are hanging. This pulling in and “locking” of the shoulders is essential for safe and strong pulling.

You will know when you are strong enough to do a full pull up. Until then, focus on building up your strength and grip. 

One to Fiver

If you fall within this range, (6 is the minimum passing standard) or if you have just worked your way up to this range of pull up reps, here’s a guide for you: perform 3 – 5 sets of as many pull ups as you can every day. Grip tight, pull yourself up smoothly, and utilise the 1 second isometric pause at the top of every pull as mentioned earlier for the inclined row.

Continue to perform your hanging grip work after you have finished all of your reps. You may want to work your way up to 2 minutes (or longer), or hang off a towel to further strengthen and challenge your grip.

Gunning for Gold

If you’re already passing the pull up and aiming to hit 12 reps or more for the full 5 station points, you need to ramp up your strength endurance. Stick to 3 – 5 sets for most of your training sessions, but push yourself once in awhile with as many as 10 sets, or go for a single set of maximum repetitions. The former will add up to longer total time spent on the bar, and the latter will force you to stay on the bar for far longer at a single stretch. All this will dramatically improve your strength endurance and go towards making the 12 reps happen, and maybe even make them feel like a breeze.

Continue to perform your hanging grip work once in awhile. If you can do 5 minutes without coming off the bar, you pretty much have the grip of a vice, which will make pull ups feel about as easy as a stroll in the neighbourhood park, at least for the first 10 or 20 reps. Alternatively you can also work the hanging into your training sets. Hang for 10 – 20 seconds before commencing each pull up set, or end off each pull up set with half a minute of hanging, or hang for some time in between some of your reps, or even in between all of your reps.

Or, if you’re enough of a stud, you can do all of the aforementioned, plus throw in some isometric freezes at different points of your pull ups for some of the repetitions, and experiment with different pulling speeds. This will truly make you a master of the pull up, and you’ll walk towards the bar with a not-so-secret smile on your face during every IPPT.    

Training Programming

Of course, the ideal scenario is one in which you can perform a structured training session i.e. 3 – 5 work sets + hanging grip work every day, or every other day. If you are a recruit you can do this at night if you have admin time, or for those of you fanatics out there, you can wake up early to hit the bars, which was what I used to do. 

However, reality is often less than ideal. So if you don’t have enough time at a stretch for a dedicated training session, you can perform a set every time you get a break from school or work, or anytime you happen to pass by a pull up bar. This will keep you fresh because you have plenty of time during the day to recover before your next break and your next set, and you may find yourself accumulating quite a respectable number of total reps done throughout the day. 

Remember, pull up is strength-based, so if you feel excessively sore or fatigued from your school or work or training, do take a break, or have a rest day or two in between your training days. Keep yourself fresh, and the reps will keep on coming for sure. Push too hard and too fast, and you may end up overtraining and under-recovering, which will set back your progress, and may even put you at risk of sustaining training-related injuries. 

You can warm up for pull ups using inclined pull ups, or even by simulating the pulling motion by flexing and bending your arms. The idea is to warm up with a similar motion under a lighter workload, which will prep your muscles and joints and prevent nasty injuries from occuring. In my time on Tekong I have borne witness to shoulders ripped or dislocated on the pull up bar, so do take care of yourself. The bar is meant to build you up, not to break you down.

Cool down with some basic stretches. All that pulling can accumulate excessive muscular tension in your shoulders and back, which will hinder your progress in the long run, and inhibit your mobility. My personal favourite is one in which you interlace the fingers of your hands together, pulms facing the ground, and bring them overhead so that your palms end up facing the sky with straight arms. Once your hands are overhead, reach upwards, and stretch out the muscles around your armpit region, which have a tendency to become very tight from strength training.

Another good stretch post-pull ups involves grasping one hand with the other, and twisting your body towards the side opposite of the hand that is being gripped. Spread the muscles across the broad of your back outwards as you do so, and you should feel a nice stretch in your upper to mid-back.

Train hard, and train smart. The road to stardom, or rather the road to 12 or more pull ups, is longer than you hope, but definitely not as long as you fear.

And now for the standing broad jump:

The standing broad jump requires explosive leg power and sound technique.

Let us first examine how to train for the explosive leg power that is necessary for a good jump.

The Fundamentals

Your usual running isn’t going to help much, because your legs aren’t moving fast or explosive enough. You need to do sprints. My SBJ was a respectable 256cm when I was in Sec 1, and I would have hit the coveted 3m mark if not for a torn hamstring in Sec 2. Since then progress has been slow, but I still managed 281cm on the SBJ in my JC days. I was a school sprinter from Sec 1 to JC 2, and all the high-speed, explosive work that I did during my track training did my jumping ability a whole world of good.

The focus here is to build power, not just strength. No matter how strong your legs are, if they can’t move fast, you can’t jump far. I recommend 30m sprints, for 3 – 5 sets, every other day. Don’t do this everyday unless you’re a recovery machine. High intensity work burns up a heck of a lot of energy, and overdoing it past the point of recovery will only end up making you feel very sorry for yourself. And yes, when I say sprint, I mean sprint. Go all out as if there’s a tiger on your heels. Run as fast as you can. Speed is of paramount importance here.

Supplement the sprints with some actual jump work to use the power that you have developed in the specific way that is required of the standing broad jump. Jump for distance and height. Most people tend to exhibit a very flat trajectory in their jumps, which will not make them go very far. That’s why artillery cannons shelling the enemy from kilometres away need to have their barrels elevated at an angle, and that’s why good javelin throwers also cast their spears at the same angle.

The ideal angle at takeoff is about 25 – 30 degrees for the SBJ. Practice jumping up and forward, onto stable elevated platforms for multiple reps. I use these flat wooden tables at a local park for my practice. Stand some distance away, as far away as you can, and then leap up onto the target platform with the same arm swing and double-legged method as the standing broad jump. Do not do a run up, cos that’s a whole different kind of jumping that may not translate very well into improved SBJ performance.

You can do the aforementioned as often as you can, and focus more on the quality of the jumps, rather than the quantity of the jumps. A few good jumps is better than a dozen sloppy, halfhearted ones. You can do this throughout the day as you come across suitable training material. 10 – 12 jumps at a time will suffice, please don’t burn yourself out – remember, we’re training for explosive power here, not strength endurance. And please make sure the platform that you use is stable. The last thing I want is for some well-intentioned fella to break an arm or a leg with this training.

Supplementary Work

Some other stuff that works are tuck jumps and squat jumps. In the former, jump up and bring your knees to your chest, and not the other way round. I see too many people hunching and bending their body in all sorts of funny ways when they are doing their tuck jumps, in an effort to touch their knees to their chests. Touching your knees to your chest is not a requirement here, but keeping your body more or less upright and brining your knees up as far as they can go is.

For squat jumps, perform a full squat, and leap vertically upwards from the bottom of the squat position. As you land, cushion the impact by flexing and bending at the knees to return to the original full squat position, and then repeat the same motion.

For both the tuck jump and the squat jump, perform 2 – 3 sets of 10 – 12 reps in one training session. Minimise the time of contact between your feet and the ground in between all your reps. This places greater emphasis on reactive jumping, which will develop explosive power in the legs far more effectively than if you were to hop on the spot for a couple of times before launching into your next repetition. Remember, touch and go.

Training Programming

A SBJ training session can look like this:

Warm up with a light 2 – 3 minute jog.

Do 3 – 5 sets of 30m sprints.

Do 10 – 12 platform jumps.

Do 2 – 3 sets of 10 – 12 tuck jumps or squat jumps. Do not do 2 – 3 sets of both unless you are very strong, or very crazy.

Cool down by walking around and shaking off your legs, like how you would shake off your arms after a pull up set.

If you don’t have enough time to do all of the above in a single training session, do just the sprints, and save the jumps for when you have breaks during the day. Coffee break? 10 tuck jumps! Lunch break? Another 10 tuck jumps! Before you eat, of course. Unless the food sucked and you are wishing to puke it out.

Some final words on this: when jumping, especially for the tuck and the squat jumps, land lightly. I cannot possibly over-emphasise this. Most people I see land like dancing elephants, and the ground shakes. Literally. When you sprint, land lightly as well. Your footfalls should be barely audible, if not altogether silent. When your feet are landing loudly, it means that you are landing hard. If you are landing harder than you should repeatedly over sustained periods of time, your joints are going to pay the price. That’s why you get so many recruits with ankle and knee complaints.

Jump like a tiger, land like a feather. Pretty nifty saying, eh? You may not believe it, but I came up with it on my own.

Moving on to the 2.4km run:

I have a friend who is an avid marathon-runner, but he could not manage a consistent IPPT gold because of his 2.4km timing. This is because the 2.4km run requires speed endurance if you were to hit the sub-9:45 timing that is required for the gold standard. You need to run fast over a fairly long distance, so it may not suffice if you are used to running at a slower pace, even if it’s over a much longer distance.

The Facts

Let’s break it down:

2.4km, when done on a standard 400m running track, gives you 6 laps around the red road. To hit the gold timing comfortably, I suggest you give yourself a buffer time of 14 seconds, which means you need to be able to complete the entire run in 9 minutes and 30 seconds. This means that if you were to maintain a constant pace throughout the run, you need to be able to do 1 minute and 35 seconds per 400m lap. This is a pace that can be quite daunting to most people who have not undergone the specific training that is required to develop such speed endurance.

So how to train your speed endurance? For those of you who are in the army, no worries. The AGR (Ability Group Run) and the Speed Training sessions are an excellent combination for you to develop your cardiovascular capacity and your speed endurance. Put in your best effort during training, and I assure you that the 2.4km run will not pose a problem to you.

Training Programming

For those of us who have left the regimented training, I suggest the following mode of training, which I feel is the most effective and time-efficient:

You don’t have to run everyday, especially if you already have a solid foundation, and are looking just to maintain it.

For me, I get away with running only once a week most of the time. I alternate between longer distance runs (up to 5 or 6 kilometres) at a constant pace which is one that is as fast as I can manage throughout, and shorter distance runs (about 2 – 3km), in which I will either maintain a constant speed that is as fast as I can handle, or alternate between fast and slow intervals (about 150m jog, followed by 150m fast run, followed by 150m jog, and so on until the full distance has been covered).

Note that I wouldn’t recommend an all-out sprint during the fast portions of your interval runs – this will make you very tired very quickly, and unless you are an elite athlete in tip-top shape, you probably wouldn’t survive the experience, let alone be able to benefit from it. Instead, I suggest running at about 70 – 80% of your top speed – open up your strides and maintain a steady cadence that you can feel pushing you into the anaerobic threshold. This is what we call “striding” in track circles. By pushing the anaerobic threshold I refer to the feeling when you know you are incurring an oxygen debt, when your lungs can’t quite keep up with the intensity at which your body is being exerted. Push this threshold, but don’t go overboard, or you may very well just collapse and require resuscitation.

In my opinion, running 2 – 3 times a week is good enough. If you’re training for the 2.4km run, keep your running distance between 2 – 5km, and cycle the different types of run – go fast and constant at times to simulate the actual test, and go at alternating fast and slow intervals at other times to hit the speed endurance from all angles. You may want to go for a longer and slower run occasionally to break the monotony and work on the cardiovascular system in a different way. I recommend a minimum of 1 rest day in between your runs, because most of us have work or school which makes us more tired, and demands more recovery time.

Warm up for your runs by starting out at a slower pace, and picking up the speed only when you feel your circulation quicken in response to the heightened physical activity. Cool down by walking and doing deep breathing. You may want to stretch out the leg muscles as well after your training.

Mixing It Up

It is also a good idea to run on different surfaces and even different gradients. Parks are excellent places to run in, with natural terrain and slopes which will force you to work harder and become faster and stronger as a result. Running on uneven terrain makes you learn your footing and positioning, and strengthens your joints, making them more injury-proof. Don’t fall into the trap of exercise linearity, mix it up with different types of running to improve your all-round performance. Cycle between different types of work to keep things fresh, and to keep the progress coming.

You can supplement your running with some leg strengtheners. Some of my all-time favourites are bodyweight squats, one- or two-legged, walking front and rear lunges, and standing calf raises, one- or two-legged. These few exercises will build great strength in your leg muscles, and make running more of a breeze. For these exercises, you can do them after your runs (psychos will do them before and after their runs), or just on their own, in a session or throughout the day in single or multiple sets, depending on the availability of time and space.

For the leg strengtheners, I recommend 20 – 25 repetitions, for 2 – 3 sets on a light day and 3 – 5 sets on a heavy day. The resultant soreness will take time to dissipate, so it’s a good idea to keep a rest day in between your leg training, unless you have a fetish for the feeling that microtrauma to the muscles causes (don’t laugh, I have friends like that). Of course, for the one-legged variations of the aforementioned exercises, cut the reps by about half, unless you are that much of a stud. Sometimes it can be fun to blast your legs with a single high-rep set, e.g. one set of 100 bodyweight squats. This challenges and develops strength endurance in the legs, which is needed for the 2.4km run. But don’t overdo this, unless you are looking to turn your legs into piston-driven bionics, or unless you have built yourself up to the level where a few sets of 20 – 25 repetitions of leg work is no more strenuous than picking your nose.

Okay, and what of the sit up and the shuttle run?

Don’t worry, sit ups tend not to be an issue, except for a very few select individuals, who have either moved very little in their lives, or who suffer from some medical disorder. The most of the rest of us should be able to ace the sit up station without much dedicated training. I haven’t done a single sit up in years, except when I was forced to (and man did I hate it), and still I can easily break 50 reps in the 1 minute time frame given during the test. Your abs should already be getting a good workout everytime you run or do your pull ups (where they tense to keep your body from swinging), and for most of us I don’t think there is a very real need to be doing endless sit ups to prep for the IPPT, unless you are specifically gunning for the sit up record, which I think stands at about 80-odd a minute.

As for the shuttle run, the sprinting that you should be doing for your SBJ will cover the speed that you need. For the turning and the coordination, just practise the actual thing now and then, and you should be more than fine for this particular station.

My Way

Let me end off by sharing with you my own training routine with regards to the IPPT:

Monday

About 30 pull ups in total, split among 3 to 5 sets.

2 – 3km run, fast and constant pace, or intervals.  

Tuesday

About 30 pull ups in total, split among 3 to 5 sets.  

Wednesday

About 30 pull ups in total, split among 3 to 5 sets.  

Thursday

About 30 pull ups in total, split among 3 to 5 sets.  

Friday

About 30 pull ups in total, split among 3 to 5 sets. 

5 – 6km run, fast and constant pace. 

Saturday

About 30 pull ups in total, split among 3 to 5 sets.  

Sunday

About 30 pull ups in total, split among 3 to 5 sets. 

Of course, I train other things as well, which carries over to my IPPT performance to some extent. Those of you who know me or have seen me will know that my pull ups will come at the end of a front lever set, and I’ll be doing stuff like handstands and tuck planches as well. I rarely hit my legs nowadays outside of my 1 – 2 runs a week; I don’t feel as if they need that much work for what I want to achieve. Sometimes I’ll throw in some squats and lunges and calf raises and jumps, but that’s pretty much about it.

I know this has been a long post, but I hope to cover as much as I can on so crucial a topic. For those of you out there who are not so sure how exactly to go about training for your IPPT on your own, this can be a starting point for you. Train hard, train smart, and above all, train safe.

All the best for your IPPT!

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

China Acrobatic Training (2)

Today, I’d like to share with you a glimpse into the Chinese methods of strength and weights training, as described to me and practised 40-odd years ago by my Fujian mentor, Ling Qing Hu.

My mentor told me that he used to be a scrawny boy, and retained his slight build and lanky frame even into his early 20s. Then, some people in the trade pissed him off by mocking his physqiue and claiming that he’ll never be able to grow much bigger or stronger.

And thus the determined young acrobat embarked on a course to prove his doubters wrong.

When describing the strength and weights training that he employed (translated, of course):

“I used to train intensively every night, a strength and weightlifting session that lasted for about 1 – 2 hours. I’d start off with a single set of 200 shoulder presses with a 60-kilo barbell, and go on to another set of 200 shoulder presses with the same weight, this time pressing the barbell from behind the neck. Then I’d hit a set of 200 bench presses, same weight used as in the shoulder presses. After that I’d perform a set of 200 biceps curl, this time dropping the weight by half to about 30 kilos on a barbell. And then I’d stop the weights and finish off with a single set of 200 parallel bar dips.

I did this every night, sometimes with a few other training partners. One of us would work the weights or the parallel bars while the rest of us rested in between our sets. So it was like a rotational system, the barbell and the parallel bars were never free, and we rested until the previous guy came off the weights or the bar, whereupon one of us would pick up where we left off. It was extremely intense, the muscles being worked will feel hot and swollen after the session.

It was an extremely effective routine. I went from a skinny 50-odd kilos to about 80 kilos in a few short years, and my muscular development was such that my old friends and colleagues who had not seen me for some time could not recognise me from the back, and were shocked by my newly-acquired strength and muscular build.”

Oh and by the way, my mentor is about 165cm in height.

I would have been skeptical, if not for the formidable forearm development, the broad and well-defined muscles of the chest, and the very-visible overhang of the latissimus dorsi that my mentor still exhibits. And this, at an age of 64 years, and after having discontinued any structured physical training for about 20-odd years.

I used to laugh when my mentor recounted the hot summer days of his hometown, when he would be afflicted by rashes in the underarm region due to the sweat-slicked, abrasive contact that the inside of his upper arms made with the top of his massive lats everytime he moved his arms close to his body. The old man used to grumble good-naturedly that even something as innocuous as the natural swinging motion the arms made when he walked caused him much irritation, and on several occasions he recalled how he could never keep his arms down by his side due to his oversized lats.

The sheer number of repetitions that my mentor used to perform daily in the weighted lifts and the parallel bar dips, and for a single set per exercise, is a method that I have never heard of or seen outside of the old-time strongmen material that I’ve come across in recent years. But perhaps that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, seeing as how most recreational strength trainees and bodybuilders nowadays tend to stick to the glitzy workouts detailed in the shiny pages of glossy muscle mags.

Most of these “sleeve-busting” or “power-packed” workouts prescribe 3 – 5 sets of 8 – 15 reps per exercise. And actually they would have been more effective, if more people out there are less egoistic and more hardworking in the gym. 5 sets of 15 on an exercise actually gives you a grand total of 75 reps, which is a pretty decent number that when performed religiously every day, or even every other day, could potentially jack you up beyond recognition, and make you a walking badass.

But what is actually going on out there most of the time is that despite there being alot of guys claiming that they want it (“it” being bigger guns, or bigger chests, or bigger something), most of these dudes just don’t want this “it” bad enough. They go and cheat themselves and just curl or press some half-assed weights halfheartedly, or try and lift too heavy too fast and end up getting nothing for themselves save a hefty truckload of frustration.

People ask me how to get better at something. I get a bit irritated. But I calm myself down, and tell myself that everyone’s been through that stage: when we are looking for a shortcut cos we feel lazy about doing the work.

But the people that made it? They’re the ones who have passed through that phase, and realised that there is no quick or easy way out, and that everything is actually pretty simple, although painfully so. The rest of the poor chaps who’re still runnin’ around in circles out there are the ones who’re still trying to delude themselves into thinking that there is some magic formula that’s gonna get them jacked without the need to break a sweat.  

How to get better at something? Simple. Practice more. Simple? Yes. Easy? No.

While it is a straight road to success, it’s a bleedin’ long road, and sometimes you get so shot up trying to get to the end of it all that you find yourself only able to crawl and drag yourself forward a few pitiful inches with every titanic burst of resolve and exertion. Hey, no one said that success was easy. Hell, if it were, there’ll be alot more happy people and alot less jealousy and self-pity to go around.

Talent is greatly overrated. And hard work is greatly underrated.

Find me the best at something, anything, who got there by doing nothing, and I’ll give it to him that he’s plenty talented. But odds are the best got there by working harder at what they do than everyone else who’s also doing the same thing.

My Fujian mentor liked to say “gong dao zi ran cheng”, which is Mandarin for “work begets results”. He used this phrase whenever he was referring to those accomplished handbalancers who could do spectacular feats, such as hopping up a flight of stairs on a one-arm handstand, on a cane. Without long years of dedicated effort, he said, no one can have a hope of doing such amazing things.

This is something that the old-timers understood. They lifted iron for hours on end, practising a single lift for years and years before being able to record those feats that live on today as legend. Arthur Saxon, the Iron Master, holder for the world record of the two-hands anyhow, used to say that true strength is that which can be used repeatedly for sustained periods of time, and logic follows that such strength can only be attained by repeated exertion over equally sustained periods of rime.

And indeed, when my Fujian mentor described how the young handbalancing trainees in the acrobatic troupe used to perform 100 full-range handstand pushups in 5 sets of 20 repetitions on a wooden bench, resting in between sets in the handstand position, and how handstand drills lasted for hours with the trainee transitioning between a host of different positions for 10 – 20 repetitions each, all the while maintaining the handstand, I understood why the Chinese acrobats are the best at what they do. In the West such volume and such intensity would be considered madness.

But there is a method in the madness. Practice makes perfect. And the methodical madness of Chinese acrobatic training is just plain, intelligent hard work that makes those who have the heart and the nerve to go through it the best that they can ever be.

So are you practising hard enough for what you want to achieve in your life, be it lifting iron, balancing on your hands, or academic and work success?

Chances are, not nearly hard enough.

So snap out of all the self-deluding thoughts and excuses that are in your way, and start running a winning race on the road to your success. 🙂

Intelligent and relentless hard work – the universal equation for success. Do you have what it takes?

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