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. ~

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. ~

Bar Community SG

090612 marked the long-awaited gathering of the bar and bodyweight training community here in Singapore, inspired by the videos of our counterparts all around the world.

The freestyle, free-and-easy event was held at the SUTD Dover campus, and the turnout was good. There was sharing all around on training tips, knowledge and experiences, and firm friendships were forged in the crucible of a common love for physical culture.

It was heartening to see and be around so many like-minded individuals, bonded in our passion for bodyweight training.

It was especially uplifting to see a number of younger people, who are following in the trail of those who have blazed the path before them, while leaving behind significant marks of their own.

There is huge potential to be tapped in the Singapore bodyweight and bar training circles, and I have little doubt that the Bar Community SG will soon leave a very notable imprint on the global street workout scene.

Thanks for all those who came down and shared their knowledge, experience and tips, and who offered their friendships so readily.

Special thanks to Michael Ong of SUTD Fitness and DIY Gym for helping to organise and host the event, as well as giving us demonstrations of the use and manufacture of some homemade exercise equipment.

It is my fondest hope for the bodyweight and bar training culture here to continue to grow and blossom, drawing more bright sparks to the fledgling flame of the Singapore street workout community.

Keep the good work coming, and spread the word far and wide: Bar Community SG – it’s all about keeping fit, getting stronger, and having one hell of a good time while doing it. 🙂 

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

The Psychology Of Injury

I’ve written a previous post on active recovery and active healing for sports injuries, but this one is going to be slightly different.

Today, we’ll be examining what goes on in the mind of an athlete when injury hits.

Paul Wade wrote a section that covers, among other things, the psychology of getting injured in his superb book Convict Conditioning 2, which echoes my own experiences after 8 years of athletic training.

I’ve been a school track athlete for 6 years, and I used to do the 400m and the javelin. An odd combination to most, but I’ve always been a jack of all trades when it comes to athletics. I can do most sports relatively well, but I’ve never managed to really excel at any of them. Perhaps it’s cos I’ve never really fallen in love with any sport in particular, until now of course.

Although I’ve never mounted the podium in my days as a school athlete, I’ve had my fair share of experiences from all the training that I’ve gone through. 

By experiences I mean injuries, of course.

I’ve torn my left hamstring, and picked up a wide assortment of other strains and sprains that are almost inevitable for an athlete.

So what goes through the mind of an athlete when he’s struck by a particularly debilitating injury?

I’d say it’s a whole cocktail of negative emotions, which can be collectively described as depression.

There’ll be waves of sadness when you find yourself unable to perform movements that you take for granted all the time.

There’ll be anger that comes from frustration, when the injury isn’t healing nearly as quickly or as well as you might desire.

There’ll be periods of time when you may simply space out, as your mind attempts to take a break from the potent soup of negativity that’s been churning in your skull all day long.

Sometimes you may be distracted by things, maybe when you are watching TV or playing your favourite computer game. But as soon as the blissful hours are over, you’ll probably be moping over your injury again.

So how should one deal with the psychology of injury?

First things first, you need to kick-start the rational part of your brain.

Successful people are often the ones who can compartmentalise their emotions, and separate their decision-making process from emotional influences. So we can all take a page from their book when we are fighting our psychological battles against our injuries.

Identify your negative emotions and isolate them. I know I know, easier said then done, right? That’s why we need to supply the logical and rational parts of your brain with more ammunition so that they can do their work.

You need to know that in alot of ways, your rate of recovery and the quality of your recovery is dependent upon your mood.

Check this out:

“A positive attitude releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that aids relaxation while boosting energy levels; perfect recovery fuel. Positivity stimulates the immune system and releases beta-endorphins which provide pain relief. Recent research even indicates that a good mood can increase circulating human growth hormone — one of the most powerful anabolic healing agents in the body.

There is a very real biology of faith. Tap into it!”

That’s from Convict Conditioning 2, in case you were wondering. I think Paul Wade sums it up pretty good. Faith that you will recover from your injury can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the flip side, if you don’t believe that you’ll ever mend, chances are that you won’t.

The mind is an extremely powerful organ in terms of its influence on our actions. Afte all, every conscious action is a result of conscious thought. Let me show you an example:

If you are convinced that there’s no chance that you’re going to pass the upcoming exams, you’ll probably just give up studying, slack off, and end up flunking spectacularly at the end of the day.

On the other hand, if you’re certain that there’s a chance for you to ace the same exams, odds are you’ll work hard for it, and you’ll probably pass with flying colours.

So you see, thinking that things aren’t going to work out will never help, cos it shuts down all positive action. Similarly, if you have faith in a good outcome, you’ll probably conduct yourself in such a way as to facilitate the coming of the bright future that you foresee. So I guess this is where the term “self-fulfilling prophecy” comes from.

Before you do anything else, set your mind right. Straighten out your thinking, and know that the depressed feeling and all of that negativity is a natural by-product of you being injured. But also know that they won’t help you recover in any way, so stay happy and positive, and be optimistic about your chances of recovery. At the very least, do your very best to maintain a good mood and high spirits, it’ll do your healing process (both mental and physical) a whole world of good.

Getting injured is also a part of an athlete’s learning process. There is always something to be learnt from an injury.

As soon as you get injured, you need to stop whatever it is that you’re doing. Don’t be gung-ho and try and complete the set, if you’re in the middle of one. Stop. And start thinking.

Most of the time, aside from freak accidents (which demonstrate the unpredictability of life, and fate), training-related injuries are a result of some strength or structural imbalance, or poor technique, or excessive fatigue levels. 

Strength or structural imbalances in the body often cause either acute or chronic injury on the stronger side, or the side that ends up carrying significantly more of the load during a movement or an exercise. This is because the “better” side overcompensates while the weaker half slacks off. 

Poor technique can end up hurting you as well. Some common problems are overarching of the lower back when carrying heavy weights, and slamming your feet into the ground when running or jumping. 

When you’re worn out but persist in your exercise routine, injuries can occur as fatigued muscles give out under mechanical stress; a lapse in your concentration can also result in disastrous consequences.

 

Identify the cause of your injury, and if it is not a random event or a freak accident, then it’s time to review the way you work. Imbalances need to be ironed out, poor form and technique must be corrected, and your workload must be moderated when you are reaching dangerous levels of fatigue either mentally or physically, or both.

Working out the cause of your injury is the first step to becoming better at what you do, assuming that the injury isn’t permanent, or crippling. When you have rectified the problem that your injury has uncovered for you, you’ll be able to take your game to a whole new level.

So in that sense, an injury can in fact be a blessing in disguise. Not only can it potentially help you solve problems that may have gone unnoticed previously, and improving your athletic performance as a result, getting an acute but non-crippling injury early on could also save you from graver calamities in the future, when you are working with much greater loads and mechanical stresses, all of which can cause damage on a scale that is far more serious than what you are currently suffering from.

In the aftermath of your injury, try to keep yourself physically active, as much as you can safely manage. Moving around will keep your mind and spirit preoccupied, and make you feel loads better as compared to just lying around on the bed or the couch. If your injury is keeping you immobile, do your best to keep yourself mentally active, by reading your favourite book, surfing the net, talking to people, or even playing a simple game of chess with a friend or a family member.

Take your time to work your way back to strength and health. Don’t rush, but let yourself feel excited about every bit of progress that you make. Enjoy the journey back to reaching your original capacity. Sometimes, we get so obsessed with our training (for those of us nutcases) that we neglect other important parts of our life. Don’t let your training consume you. You have a whole life to live and a huge array of other stuff that are worth exploring. So an injury could be a timely reminder for those of us who are losing ourselves in what we love to do, which can be a bad thing.

Find a few hobbies, and your life will feel much more vibrant. I like to read and write and doodle and take pictures with my newly-acquired camera (actually a hand-me-down from my sister hehe), and these are the things that balance out my physical training. Most things in excess become poison, but things in balance become pleasant and harmonious.

So that’s all from me on this topic, just know that everyone falls now and then, just keep your head up, and keep going, and you will soon see the light. 🙂

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

Rings Training

Rings training has been around for a long time, since the 1800s.

Today, it has evolved into a formal apparatus and discipline in the sport of artistic gymnastics practised predominantly by male athletes, due to the staggering strength requirements of a typical competitive rings routine.

We have all seen it before on TV when the Olympics are being aired – heavily-muscled men with cannonballs for deltoids, bulging biceps and huge lats that resemble meaty wings, performing breathtaking routines that include spectacular swings and brutal strength elements.

Most of what we get to see of the rings discipline is pitched at such an advanced level that the average fitness enthusiast will tend to shy away from it, thinking that rings training is something reserved solely for the elite and the professional sportsperson.

However, while it is true that rings training is tough – the need for the practitioner to stabilise the freely-moving apparatus places a much greater demand on both muscle and joint strength as compared to the use of a static bar, anyone who’s in reasonably good shape can incorporate rings training into his or her fitness and exercise programme.

Sure, it will probably take you 6 – 7 years of training for 6 – 8 hours a day, 6 – 7 days a week to achieve the level of skill and proficiency that is exhibited by an Olympic rings gymnast, but you can still achieve plenty with 1/2 hour sessions on the rings, 2 – 3 times a week.

I have just gotten my own set of wooden rings along with a few like-minded friends about 2 weeks back, and I have been blown away by the sheer versatility of this ancient apparatus.

I know I’ll be raising hairs on some people by saying this, but if you’re serious about building some real strength and muscle, forget about all the new-age fancy stuff like your TRXes and your suspension trainers. The rings are a piece of time-honoured equipment that has been in use by athletes for more than 100 years, and it has helped build some of the strongest and most impressive human physiques that our planet has ever seen.

The unique challenge that is presented by the circular shape of the apparatus develops enormous grip and forearm strength when handled correctly. While it is entirely possible to use a normal finger grip on the rings, if your aim is to eventually perform more than just simple hangs and pull ups with the apparatus, you will have to learn how to do the false grip.

A false grip simply involves you gripping the rings with the meat of your palm, with your wrists flexed powerfully downwards, so that your hands and forearms resemble a pair of muscular hooks. This grip allows you to bring your torso above the level of the rings, so that you can transit into a huge variety of moves (when you become strong enough).

Another important aspect of rings training is the massive strain that it places on all of your upper body joints – the wrists, elbows and shoulders must be kept tight for you to even have a hope of stabilising yourself in basic positions. Rings gymnasts owe their prodigious physical development to the sheer amount of straight-arm strength that they employ – think iron crosses, maltese crosses, planches and inverted crosses.

Ease into rings training by practising simple supports to get your upper body joints, especially the elbows, used to the type of straight-arm strength that will be needed for you to progress to the more advanced moves on the apparatus. Over time proper training with rings will give you joints and tendons of steel.

Although rings has been the traditional realm of male athletes, there are women who have accomplished amazing feats on the apparatus. Lillian Leitzel, a circus performer in the early 1900s, could reportedly perform 27 one-arm pull ups on a suspended ring, along with a series of one arm holds and levers.

CrossFit has brought rings training back to the fitness community at large in a big way, and the Internet abounds with videos of lady CrossFitters banging out dozens of consecutive muscle ups on the apparatus. During the Ido Portal upper body strength coaching certification course I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing such a specimen of the fairer sex in action for myself – a female CrossFit Asian Games champion, making ring muscle ups look like a piece of cake.

If you were to get your own rings, I’d suggest wooden ones for better feel and grip as compared to their plastic or metal counterparts. This eliminates the need for wraps or chalk on most movements, and hence cuts alot of hassle. My own set of rings come from Rogue Fitness, which offers a huge array of sporting equipment and is the official equipment supplier for the CrossFit Games.

Easy to set up, easy to use, and easily portable. The rings ship in a cardboard box, and the whole set consists of a pair of rings (duh!), a pair of heavy duty nylon straps with sturdy metal buckles for securing and adjusting the length of the set-up.

For now I’m limited to performing a very basic rings routine which I’m sure a 10 year-old gymnast could pull off with ease and aplomb. But hey, I’m not a professional, and I’m just getting started. 🙂

My routine consists of a muscle up to a L-support, and then a drop to inverted hang, and lower to straddle front lever, before pulling out of the front lever back into a muscle up. I’m also training to lower myself from a support position to the coveted iron cross, and I’m making some progress and getting stronger in that respect.

If you are new to rings training, start out with whatever you can do, and build yourself up progressively as with all other forms of training. I’d say it’s wise to master the straight-arm support and the muscle up first, before you move on to stuff like planches, levers and crosses.

I know rings training may seem like a pretty intimidating prospect for those of you who’re thinking about incorporating it into your routines, but do not worry or fret. No one’s born a gymnast – gymnasts can do what they do simply because they train. So can I. And so can you.

So for those of you out there who’re serious about your strength training, and are looking to add a new dimension to your trunk and upper body work, look no further. Rings training will build you a great deal of strength, and because you’re working with your bodyweight the ladies will not need to worry about looking like He-Man or the Hulk from working the rings.

If you’re not chemically-aided or drug-assisted in any way, your body will retain its ideal proportions from bodyweight strength work. That’s the reason why gymnasts have such aesthetically-pleasing physiques – slender and supple for the gals and lithe and muscular for the guys.

Would you like to have the strength and physique of a gymnast, and master a host of cool skills to boot? Rings training is the perfect, age-old answer for the well-informed modern-day fitness enthusiast. 

What would you call a hundred bucks, give or take a little, for something this awesome?

Me? I’d call that a good investment. 🙂

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