You know you’re a Gym Monkey when…

  1. You have a “Gym Playlist” on your iPod.
  2. Your appetite knows no bounds and 4 meals per day is standard.
  3. Whenever people talk about Tom Hardy’s performance in Inception, you just snort and throw your copy of Warrior or Bronson at them.
  4. You know of anywhere between 5 and 25+ variations of push ups.
  5. Your response to “How much do you bench?” from some other overly-competitive member is: “With what training method?” 
  6. You have taken/are taking some form of supplement. Note- This does not guarantee Gym Monkey status, as some people just assume cramming protein shakes will let them gain weight, it’s not as simple as that. 
  7. You hate Supersets with a passion, but know they are a brilliant workout. 
  8. You have a gym notebook for writing down sets and reps as you complete them.
  9. Cardio has become to you what homework was to you throughout high school- a necessary evil that can be avoided. However, avoiding it causes more problems than it’s worth in the long run. With both homework and cardio it’s just better to bite the bullet.
  10. You have been asked by a stranger to spot for them. 

Post-Exam Freedom!

At. Last. FREEDOM! I cannot begin to tell you how good it has felt over the last couple of days to have finished all my exams. To me, it seems that the general consensus among my friends at Warwick and other students at the moment is: Relief at finishing > Concern over how well exams went. Which isn’t really a bad thing, unless you know it’s gone disastrously… and then… well… what’s done is done and there’s not much point doing yourself in over it. Finishing just feels too damn good after weeks of preparation and stress to worry too much about the results. Save that for the couple of days before your results are released, if you have to.

Also, I am now in the process of sorting out my room mate for my year abroad, at the INCREDIBLE Tropicana Del Norte, where I will be lucky enough to live next year. Giles  and I agreed to try and sort out sharing a room, but this is still unconfirmed and being worked on (for those of you who missed his previous cameo in an earlier post, he’s my course mate who’s from Warwick and also coming to UCSB next year). It seems like we may have to share with strangers as lots of people seemed to grab single spaces in double rooms very early on, so there were none left by the time we tried to sort it. However, some of these have now disappeared, so who knows.

I have to say though, now that I’ve finished exams, there are some aspects to the examination process which I think are pretty poorly administered. Take, for example, my last exam. It’s a US politics module, and it has been really enjoyable. The subject matter has given us a better understanding of the monolith that is American politics, but more importantly, the lecturer and seminar tutor have really made it easy to approach. Even for someone like myself, who had never studied politics in any shape or form prior to taking the module. Nevertheless, I was assessed in a 50/50 split, between a 3000 word essay and an exam. The essay bit I was fine with, the exam, not so much. The exam, if taken as 50% of the module like I did, is two questions in an hour and a half. 45 minutes per question, but let’s be realistic (taking planning and reading into consideration) and say that the maximum writing time per question is 40 minutes. 80 minutes to represent a year’s worth of studying. That’s all the time we have to demonstrate our knowledge on topics as complex as the political culture in the US, as massive as the US Congress, or as elusive as the impact of religion on political processes. Moreover, when you think about that exam as a percentage of our degree, it’s even more incredible. That exam constitutes 5% of my degree, assessed by 80 minutes of frantic scrawling. It may not seem like much, but 5% isn’t something to be sniffed at in the broader picture of the degree as a whole. Especially when, like I said, you’re attempting to wrestle a cogent argument on such sweeping, large and complicated topics.

On the other hand, you could argue that it forces you to be quick-thinking and responsive, and able to coherently cover the questions in a succinct manner. Or, more realistically, you try and predict what question will come up, identify likely areas, study the recurring aspects to the topics, and even go as far as having ready-prepared essay plans memorised for specific questions. How is that assessing us?! To paraphrase one bloke I overheard in a student pub, where’s the thinking involved in that? In my opinion, you could suggest that it’s testing memory, not knowledge.

Please don’t get me wrong though, I am not particularly slating that specific module, because it seems applicable to many other exams at university, not just the US politics module. Nor am I bemoaning the system, I just think that assessment needs to be tweaked so as to be more representative of the year’s work as a whole body. Perhaps we could have more frequent, lower percentage, examinations throughout the year- four 25% exams throughout the year, or a 40% essay and two 30% exams, spaced accordingly to the course topics.

Still, I’m just spitballing here, and noting this opinion as it has become apparent to me after finishing up my second year at university. Which is still a fantastic idea in itself, and the new freedom has been a blast so far. I’m sure the novelty will wear off 4-5 weeks into summer, when I’m back into a regular work routine at my little job in a beach cafe and driving my parents bonkers with erratic and excessive eating habits (I eat like a horse and I love the magically refilling fridge that comes with returning home). Well. The idea of finishing second year is fantastic… until I think that I have now completed half of my degree… and am halfway towards actually… having to… get……

…. a job.



Some of you who have read my blog before may have realised, I’m a bit of a gym monkey, and enjoy sport (football mostly). Up until yesterday, things had been pretty low with the whole exam slog. Last night I had a terrible night sleep, and I’m almost adamant that it was to do with the fact I haven’t been exercising as regularly as I usually do. This morning, I hit the gym and BAM, my concentration was about 100 times better while revising, and it felt like I was actually absorbing the information, rather than just looking at it. Moreover, I know that I’ll sleep well tonight, which is excellent given that I have an exam tomorrow.

I have this theory that exercise is one of the best things you can make time for in your life. I know it’s not for everyone but for me, it has so many benefits:

  1. I sleep SO much better when exercising regularly, and hard.
  2. When it’s out of my system, I have so much more energy (paradoxically) and drive to be productive that day.
  3. You have to love the endorphin high after decent exercise.
  4. I love the sense of accomplishment when I know I’ve had a good workout, hit new targets, or reached established goals.

I recently saw a pretty amazing video about a guy’s body transformation over one year, and it has inspired me to get myself a new set of goals and more motivation. As much as I’ve been a gym member for about 4-5 years now, and during that time (at my most dedicated) I have gone a max of 4-5 times per week, I’ve not ever truly trained hard with some ultimate goal or whatever in mind. With the prospect of several free days between the end of my exams and going home, and a summer that would otherwise largely consist of working and saving for California, I am going to use those few weeks to really focus and work hard.

I thought this blog would be a great place to chart my progress. When I get back home to my local gym, I plan to get a new programme and fresh approach, so I would be able to record that and see if I have any noticeable gains. So this is a kind of “watch-this-space” post. My plan is follows:

  1. Record my initial weight, diet, programme and body shape after my last exam, as the initial start point.
  2. Then just use this blog as some kind of regular progress check, say every week.
  3. Hopefully I’ll be able to see improvement!

At the moment, my rough (to-be-honed) goals are:

  1. Get fitter (I have been criminally ignoring cardio recently) so I can hopefully deal with the temperature difference between here and California better, permitting me to play football and run outside more comfortably.
  2. Get a beach body suitable for Santa Barbara and California in detail. Disclaimer- In advance of any haters or trolls here, do one. I couldn’t care less if you see that as a vanity project, it’s human nature to want to look your best, deal with it. And even if you don’t see it that way, that’s your personal choice, and this is mine, so I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up.
  3. Improve my overall technique.
  4. Explore new workout approaches, techniques and exercises (timings, reps, speed etc).

It’s amazing how much the thought of this project has given me inspiration, it makes the end of the exams even more appealing! I’m excited to get under way with it, and I hope going virtual with it will give me more encouragement to keep on top of it! Bring it on.

Revision Limbo

7 days until my penultimate exam. 9 days till my last one. Or, as I prefer to see it, 10 days away from freedom. I’ll not lie though, revision is sending me a bit bonkers at the moment. Here’s my formula for revision/current life cycle:

  1. Read: sources, lecture and seminar notes, essays by friends (they’ve done the leg work already, might as well make the most of it and share the academic love, am I right?) and Wikipedia if all else fails.
  2. Write: summaries of the topics or theories, which are generally messy.
  3. Convert: into clearer mind maps or well-spaced documents.
  4. Condense: into even smaller bite-sized phrases or prompts that are easier to remember.
  5. Rinse and repeat: as many times as required.

It’s all just a process of reduction really. It works for me, but I know there are countless methods and approaches out there. However, the long and short of it is, I’m pretty fed up with it now.

Nevertheless, not all is doom and gloom or exam-induced pessimism.

The next stage of my year abroad preparation is completed: they’ve let me in!! I had my meeting at the US embassy yesterday, and my J1 visa to be an exchange student was approved. I had originally planned to write about the process, but reading about this couple whose internet antics got them barred from entry into the US, I’m not so keen any more. It seems like caution and toeing the line is the name of the game for the foreseeable future, and there are some topics best avoided. As the article says, it’s advisable to ‘never do anything to raise “concern or suspicion in any way”‘. But isn’t that sad? Even as I type, I feel paranoid about each word I write. Am I being flagged up on some distant Homeland Security system, just for typing the words “US embassy”? (*Cough* First Amendment *Cough*)Who knows. Not to sound melodramatic or overly clichéd, but Big Brother really is watching you guys. Don’t forget it.

Still, I’m relieved to have completed one of the longer, more complicated stages of my year abroad preparation. I survived the bureaucracy: California is on step closer baby!