Diary of a Gym Monkey #2

Well, it’s been a while since my last gym-related post, and as I’ve been cracking on with it for just over a month now, I though an update was in order!

It’s still working really well, and I’m getting into the swing of the exercises much more now. Also, I’ve hit upon the right weights, and am getting to the stage where I’m considering upping them for certain exercises, which is fantastic. This can be seen in my weight gain- I’ve put on about 4lbs since starting the programme, increasing my weight from 11st 1lb, to 11st 5lbs. That’s about 72kg or 159lbs. This is the heaviest I have been in a while, and I’m really pleased to be seeing results. Previously, I had been hitting a barrier at about 11st 3lbs, and not being able to go beyond it. Breaking this plateau is a real achievement for me, and I’m very pleased with the progress. I’m not yet sure how much more weight I want to gain… depends if I can keep the gains lean. If I start losing definition, I’ll probably stop trying to gain the weight.

The only other major news in my exercise regime is that I have been much better with my cardio than in the early weeks of the progamme. I am much more committed to getting one cardio session for every three workouts (using the ratio of 2 ab sessions: 1 cardio session after each workout). I have been doing interval sprints on the treadmill, for 25 minutes per cardio session. this breaks down into 3 minutes 30 seconds of slow jogging/walking uphill on a steep incline, followed by 1 minute 30 of sprinting, on a flat incline. The advantages of this cardio approach are:

  1. it doesn’t take up too much time
  2. it compliments the intense nature of the workouts that precedes them
  3. it is well-suited to me if I wanted to get back into football, as it keeps my sprint speed up (if not my endurance…)
  4. it’s awesome for trimming any excess fat!

I have noticed the difference, feeling fitter and getting leaner too. Moreover, I have recently acquired a secondhand road bike, which will encourage me to get out and about even more, improving my cardio further.

I have used it a couple of times, and am keen to persist with it as I am still getting used to the drop-handles. It’s much lighter than my other bike, which is still a very decent mountain bike, but this is more suitable for the road and longer distances. The only problems I’ve had, due to my inexperience on road bikes, is that I’m not yet used to the way you lean forwards more, and tilt your head upwards. Currently it’s causing me a bit of neck pain, but as I become more accustomed to the different riding style, I’m sure that will go away. I cycled to the gym this morning, and did the 5 minutes drive in about 10-12 minutes, which I was pretty chuffed with! That’s probably faster than my Nan would drive it…!

So, all in all, things are still going strong! If you’re reading this and starting a new exercise regime, or have decided to bring fitness into your life too, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know how your project is going too!

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Diary of a Gym Monkey #1

It’s the eve of Latitude, so I thought I’d make a quick update on progress with the Blast WorkoutThat’s the name of my new summer gym programme, shown to me by a friend who works at my local gym. He’s not only my trainer as such, but he’s also using the same programme. This is good as we can compare notes; and he can offer me advice if certain parts don’t work, or alternative approaches are better etc. In a way, it’s also satisfying to know that someone else is suffering just as much as I am on it!!

This first week (or so) has been very challenging, and the programme is VERY demanding. It’s an approach that I’ve never used before. Rather than being high weight and low repetitions, or the opposite, low weight and high reps, this actually takes elements of both. One of the main characteristics of the programme is starting lighter on higher reps, warming the muscles, but ensuring that you increase the weight and still hit comparatively high reps. For example one exercise on the chest workout goes as follows:

Decline Chest Press

Reps: 12     10     8     6     8     10     12

This is based on pyramid training. You increase the weight with every set up until the set of 6 reps, then work back down again. The difficult part is, if you select a challenging weight to begin with, by the time your on the 6 reps, you’re strength is fading, and lowering the weight back down again is breaking into endurance training.

Effectively, you’re exercising the muscles, then just pushing them above and beyond fatigue.What’s more, each workout tends to have 5-6 exercises, but the penultimate or last exercise is just a HUGE amount of reps, done in as many sets as it takes you. But boy oh boy, you HAVE to hit those reps. These can be as high as 150 reps of a certain exercise. At the end of such an exhausting workout, when your muscles are trembling and you can hardly pick yourself up off the bench, forcing yourself to hit 150 reps, eventually chipping away at it with 4 or 5 reps a time, is hell. So overall, it’s a bit of a killer really.

It’s a 5 day programme, so I workout on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with the last two being rest days. It breaks down as follows:

Monday- Chest and abs

Tuesday- Back and cardio

Wednesday- Shoulders and abs

Friday- Arms and cardio

Saturday- Legs and abs

Thursday and Sunday should really, more accurately, be described as “pain days“, but that’s besides the point. I’m not going to sit and type up all of the programmes as a) it would take ages and there’s only so much flexibility with writing these blog posts, and b) it’d just bore you with all those numbers and tables that wouldn’t really mean much. Instead, I thought I’d describe some of the high/lowlights and summarise what I’ve found out on the first week or so of being on the Blast Workout.

  1. I can tell this programme works, and I apologise for being so brutally honest, as I sweat like a pig when I do it. It’s not a pretty fact, but it just goes to show that it’s challenging and it’s doing the job! Which is great as far as I’m concerned.
  2. I swear I started to feel gains and get leaner from very early on in the programme. Maybe this is to do with the fact that it’s a big change in workout style, shocking my body. Still, I’m not complaining about that! Seeing results so quickly is fantastic!
  3. Linked to the above, as it is such a different style of exercise, I’m going through a phase of “finding my feet” (or shoulders, or chest, or back or whatever… you get the point). As the reps and weight increases are so different from my previous programme, I’m still sounding out what weight I should be using at the start. It’s just a stage I have to go through, but I know my own strength, and what is a challenge and what’s just plain unachievable. So far, I usually hit on a good balance between something I can actually complete, while still facing a challenge after the second or third time of doing each workout. I haven’t gotten some exactly perfect yet, but that will come with time.
  4. It’s less frustrating to over-estimate the initial weight, rather than under-estimate. It’s a new programme and I’m still very enthusiastic about it, and this optimism carries me through exercises that are perhaps a bit too heavy. Instead, it’s when I under-estimate and find that the weight has been a bit too low that I get a bit annoyed with myself. Again, I’m sure this will be rectified with time as the weeks pass by.
  5. Exercises that are a bit different from what I’m used to are causing me a few problems. They’re hitting muscles unused to being exercised, or hitting them in ways that they aren’t used to. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s all part of a new programme, but it has screwed me over a couple of times on rest days. In particular, the leg abductor machine has left me hobbling around for the last couple of days. Imagine sitting down, back up straight, legs closed together in front of you. The machine at my gym operates as if you were to open up your legs and close them together again, but with the obvious addition of weight and resistance. It’s a strange exercise, because if you have fairly strong legs, but haven’t done leg abductors before, you can operate with pretty heavy resistance. But as it’s a very targeted exercise, and not a familiar action in everyday life, the next day you are going to know about it! A couple of days ago, I was sitting there, all smug and proud, doing these damn exercises on nearly the maximum weight on the machine, only to find myself limping around like a fool for the next two days!! I’m still feeling it three days later! Another thing to adapt to I suppose!
  6. The workouts take less time, as ideally you give yourself 30-40 seconds rest in between sets. This means that a workout can be done in 35-50 minutes time, which is very handy. This depends on how busy the gym is and how accessible equipment/ weights are at the time.

To summarise, the new exercise programme is working a treat. It’s challenging, different, showing results after a very short time, and it doesn’t take up too much time! Anyway, I should really go finish off my packing for the festival tomorrow- wish me luck!

Diary of a Gym Monkey #0

So I’m back in sunny Norfolk, and the start of the holidays have been brilliant! Since being back I have:

  1. Successfully unpacked- you would not believe the HUGE amounts of crap that I brought back from university.
  2. Extracted my 2nd year results from my department- the words “blood” and “stone” come to mind, but it was worth it, apparently hard work does pay off eventually!
  3. Gotten back into the swing of driving- after several weeks away from home, I was feeling a bit rusty, but luckily driving is a bit like riding a bike, you pick it up quickly when you get back on, so to speak.
  4. Ranked 2nd place in a pub quiz at the Buck Inn, Norwich- a group of friends and I entered their very first quiz night. It was meant to be general knowledge but the 40 questions were disproportionately nautical-based… all seems a bit fishy really (I am SO sorry for that, but it had to be done).
  5. Braved a night out in Great Yarmouth- it’s not such a bad time when you’re with the right group of people, but luckily I was with a bunch of good friends so that was enjoyable.
  6. Started another summer painting- I’m doing another oil on beach wood. It will be of Southwold Pier, for my Aunt and Uncle, and based on this photo. (it’s outside in the garden, having the base layer dried by the glorious sunshine, at this very minute).

So all in all, I am LOVING being back home right now. However, I feel a bit bad that I haven’t yet gotten round to recording my newly focused exercise regime, which I mentioned in an earlier post. Now that I’m a bit more settled in, I don’t have an excuse, and will put it off no longer!

I have called this post “#0” for a reason. Basically, I have consulted with my mate who works in my local gym, and he has introduced me to a new exercise regime that I had planned to undertake. I can tell you now, it is very challenging, and completely different to any other programme I have ever done. But I want to wait a full week before I give any comments on it. Instead, this post is going to give a bit of background to the last few weeks of my exercise routine, so you can understand the base I’m building upon. This can be divided into two stages: the Pre-Exam Phase and the Summer Transition Phase.

Pre-Exam Phase

This is a pretty vague time frame, but essentially it covers the last term of my second year of university. This was a busy time for me, as during the 10 week term, I had essay deadlines and Spanish exams in the first 3-4 weeks, then the revision period (during which time I had lots of UCSB and US embassy business to sort), finishing up with my exams a couple of weeks ago. As such, I wanted to be able to exercise without eating into my revision schedule or whatever too much, because I had other more important things to prioritise.

As a result, my programmes tended to reflect this. Prior to the Pre-Exam Phase (so during the first and second terms of university), I would have 4-5 sessions per week, with muscle groups put together so the primary and secondary muscles were different. If that’s mumbo jumbo, let me explain. When you exercise one of the bigger muscle groups, like the back, you still exercise another support muscle group, in this case, the biceps. Therefore, in terms 1 and 2, when I exercised my back, I would also exercise my triceps (because my biceps were already being exercised by the back exercises). This would work the opposite way as well: when exercising my shoulders (with triceps as the support muscle group), then I would work the biceps as well. Moreover, as you are hitting separate, unrelated groups, you can make effective  use of the time because even after a heavy exercise on the main muscle group (the back), your triceps will have been resting and so you can still work the secondary muscle group efficiently (in theory). This is a pretty standard workout configuration, but as you focus on 1 or 2 individual muscle groups, this requires more visits to the gym. A typical workout could be the following:

  1. Chest Press
  2. Hammer Curls
  3. Flys
  4. 21s
  5. Dumbbell Pullover
  6. Reverse Bicep Curls

This wasn’t really suitable for the Pre-Exam Phase because I had other priorities, like I said. During this phase, I was aiming to make fewer visits to the gym, about 3-4 (4 at the most), but instead, do workouts that encompassed much more compound moves and attempt to hit nearly all the main muscle groups in every workout. Therefore, I would normally start with a compound move that worked several muscles (like squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, press-ups etc) then do some exercises that worked around them. Moreover, I tended to do fewer exercises but do them in a manner that made them challenging. For example, by reducing the rest time between sets, or emphasising the negative action of an exercise (this just means being slower on the lowering phase than the lifting phase). Moreover, I would finish each workout with a cardio or ab session, alternating between the two with every session. The aim of this type of workout was not to make gains as such, rather I just wanted to keep my fitness levels, tone, weight and size at a similar level. Whilst I was fairly successful in achieving this, it is a bit frustrating not to make any real progress in terms of physical appearance or strength gains. Still, it was interesting to use so many compound moves, some of which I’d never really incorporated into my workouts (notably squats and deadlifts had never featured in any of my workouts before!) A typical workout might be the following:

  1. Squats
  2. Wide-grip pull-ups
  3. T Press-up
  4. French Press
  5. Plank

Summer Transition Phase

This was the layover time between finishing my exams and heading back home. I essentially went back to the same workout structure that I had in term 1 and 2 (in the pre-pre-exam phase!!), but changed the way I enacted the workout. I used a method called hypertrophy drop sets, which are a fantastic way to gain muscle relatively quickly. This involves doing about 4 exercises per session, 2 each for the primary and secondary groups (back and triceps / chest and biceps etc). However, what makes it a good workout is you aim for 5 sets of 8-10 reps, of a pretty high weight, but the fifth set you do straight after the fourth set, with a lower weight. Hence the “drop” sets. That last set is always challenging if you’ve been using an adequately heavy weight for the first 4 sets, but it feels great and because it’s only 4 exercises, you can be in and out of the gym in no time. Again, I was just fitting abs and cardio around the workouts, with only a slight change to my cardio. Instead of going for 30-40 minutes on the tredmill or X trainer at a steady, but medium pace; I would go for shorter more intense interval training sessions. These included 20 minute sessions, where I would alternate between 1 minute of fast sprinting, and 3 minutes of jogging to recover, 5 times, with a short warm down at the end of this for about 3-5 minutes. An example of a hypertrophy drop set workout could be the following:

  1. Chest Press / Incline Press / Decline Press (alternate)
  2. EZ Bar Curls / Standing Curls
  3. Flys / Incline Flys / Decline Flys (alternate)
  4. Hammer Curls / 21s

This felt great to be back in the game and training in a more focused and challenging way, especially as I felt myself getting stronger very quickly. It also feels good to change your exercise regime because your body has muscle memory, so it gets used to the same old exercises. Eventually the exercises no longer challenge your muscles and you plateau. This website explains it very well, and gives some tips on how to avoid it. The best way to avoid muscle memory is to change up your exercise regime every few weeks, forcing your body to adapt to new challenges.

Diet and weight

That’s where I was until a few days ago when I began my new workout regime, which I will describe to you and give my initial impressions of in the near future. The last thing I think I should mention is my weight and diet. When I say “diet”, I don’t mean a weight loss programme, in fact I’m trying to do the opposite and gain mass. I’ve always eaten relatively healthily, and have had an athletic/slim build since I was about 16, but my main vices include:

  1. ALCOHOL- cannot emphasise this enough, but alcohol is the numero uno faltering point of many peoples’ diets. Just google the calories of some of your favourite drinks, you might be a bit horrified, I warn you. especially if you go on £20-30 nights out with many many drinks, the calories tally up.  
  2. Kebabs- Linked to the above. The formula for me on a night out can be summarised like this: More Drink + Later Night = Increased chance of Kebab purchase. Again, they are SO bad for you. Large Doner kebabs have AN ENTIRE WINE GLASS OF FAT IN THEM. Just bear that in mind on your next night out, I know I will!
  3. Cheese- very fatty but so yummy.
  4. Doritos- every time my Dad and I watch a film together, we can easily get through a large bag of these. Not good. Especially with the amounts of DVDs we watch…
But this summer I plan to keep a better diet and try and reduce some of these vices. I won’t eliminate them, because I’m not trying to lose weight, and it’s good to have some treats to look forward to. Otherwise, I plan to have a lean protein based diet, with lots of tuna, chicken, turkey and other high protein/low fat meats, without completely ignoring the beneficial red meats. I will also use some basic supplements, namely the wonderfully cheap Impact Whey Protein provided by myprotein.com. I usually take this after every workout, sometimes as part of an extra meal during the day, and before I go to bed. I use this to help gain mass, but also the additional protein is used to help repair muscles more quickly, aiding recovery. I.E, I don’t want to be hobbling around like a man beyond my years, bent over double because my back still hasn’t recovered 3 days after a workout. Not cool for a guy of 20.

Luckily, I weighed myself just after my exams so I could list my starting weight  whenever I got round to this first post. After exams I was: 10 stone 13 lbs, or just under 70kgs. That’s pretty light, but I put that down to a lighter salad / oily fish / fruit and veg-based diet that I had during my exams, in an attempt to fuel my brain. As Tesco says in it’s adverts, “every little helps”! Also I wasn’t drinking very much during exams (boy-oh-boy did we sort that problem out when that last exam finished up though). I hope to gain about half a stone by the end of summer, as I have been at 11 stone 4/5lbs before when exercising properly, and want to make advances on that figure.

So there we are! That’s the base I hope my new programme will let me build upon!

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. 

Refocused

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.

Gym Etiquette

Manners cost literally nothing. This is a good starting place for any conduct in life, but just for this post, I’d like to focus on Gym Etiquette. There are a few gym practices that really make me mad. I just though I’d share some advice, based on my own experiences, about conduct in a gym. Please share any experiences you’ve had, or opinions on gym conduct below!

1) Clear your weights away! It doesn’t take two extra minutes out of your life to walk the weights back to their rack. But as soon as one member leaves their dumbbells lying on the floor, another members sees this happen and thinks they have the right to do it too. The laziness snowballs, and all of a sudden, you have one cluttered weights area. Especially at peak times, this is not only annoying, but a health hazard too.

2) Don’t monopolise equipment, benches or space. I always find going to the gym is much less stressful early in the morning: fewer people are milling around, and generally there’s less demand for equipment or space. If, however, you attend at a peak time, say after work, because it’s the only time you can go, bear in mind other people are likely to want to use the same equipment as you. Standing around waiting for equipment is maddening: your muscles cool off, you waste time and tensions mounts. An efficient response is to have backup exercises for popular machines/weighted dumbbells. This will maximise your time usage and keep the time in the gym down as much as possible. However, this can all be avoided if people don’t hang around on the same bench or machine for half an hour. It’s inconsiderate.

3) Don’t eyeball other members. I don’t think I can count the amount of times I’ve received “the glare”. This is a lingering look from a particularly aggressive gym member, who thinks they are Top Dog in the gym. There is one thing I will say to these people: there is always someone stronger, fitter, faster than you out there.

There’s a myth attached to the gym: heavier is better. This is not strictly the case. Some guy with 22 inch biceps, curling 5kg weights, may be doing it for a specific training method involving low weight and high reps. Just because you are curling 15kgs does not mean that by default you are stronger than Arnie over there with his 5kgs. And it sure as hell doesn’t give you the right to assume superiority.Superiority-complex addled minds in the gym are my BIGGEST pet hate.

4) Following on from this, the other factor I think should be considered here is that other peoples’ programmes are none of your business. Unless they ask advice, strike up conversation or are acquaintances you know personally and feel comfortable discussing it with, back off. For all you know, the member you’re smirking at may be recovering from months in physiotherapy, having just come out of a serious car crash or sports injury. It’s just plain rude.

Moreover, I don’t think anyone should play the “holier-than-thou” card when giving advice. If someone is clearly endangering themselves or others with bad form, perhaps have  a word with staff. They might then have a quiet word on the side and offer advice on their form. This is much more preferable than waltzing up to someone and telling them they’re doing it all wrong. Which will, most probably, make them think you’re an ass.

5) Don’t drop weights. Again, this has serious health and safety implications, particularly at busy times. However, it also damages the equipment and will hasten the wear and tear that will eventually necessitate replacement. If the weights too heavy for a safe exit from an exercise, it’s probably too heavy for decent form anyway. Moreover, it might startle other members, and the distraction may prove just enough for them to cause themselves injury.

6) Be aware of your surroundings. When using space- whether that be standing at the water machine, placing towels under a bench, or running on the treadmill- please remember it’s a shared, communal space.

Finally-

7) Enjoy yourself and set YOUR OWN goals. The gym is for personal use, and that should not be determined by what you see others doing. People go to gyms for various reasons: weight loss, to bulk up, improve flexibility, get fitter and socialise to name but a few. You and you alone know what you want to get out of your time spent at the gym. Setting goals can really aid your motivation: lose 5lbs in a month, be able to shoulder press 30kgs by December, or it may even be as simple as regaining the ability to touch your toes! Whatever it is, identify your goal, and seek help achieving that goal. Whether this be through advice from staff, a personal trainer, training alone with an iPod because you concentrate better, training with friends for the confidence boost: it’s up to you.