Things that you appreciate more at the end of an Undergraduate Degree

I feel bad that I’ve gone through another 6 month blogging hiatus. However, in that time I have written 18,000 words of assessed essays, sat 3 exams constituting 20% of my degree within 3 days… and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Warwick. Cut me some slack! Still, I wanted to get back on the blogging wagon, so here I am, even if it has taken me a few weeks of hitting the reset switch since my final exam to get around to doing it. This post is all about things which I have come to appreciate more now that my undergraduate degree is over. They are either things I missed because I was away at university, or, long for now that I am back home in Norfolk and removed from The Bubble. Personally, I have been glad to have certain things back in my life. But, simultaneously, I feel there are things I enjoyed at university, perhaps without realising it, that I am missing already. As I said, they are all things I appreciate more at the end of my degree. Things I appreciate having back

  • Reading for pleasure 

When you’re in the study zone, revising for hours of the day, trudging through notes and scribbling onto flashcards indefinitely, is it surprising when reading for pleasure takes a backseat? For me it certainly did. I’d been pouring over words all day, I didn’t want to add more onto my plate for these past few months! Moreover, it isn’t just the weariness of reading all day that put me off the pursuit of fiction in my spare time… it’s the way you think about what you read which put me off as well. Studying for humanities essays and exams, you critically analyse sources as a fundamental part of your higher education. At the end of my exams, I tried reading to wind down soon after. But I found no enjoyment or relaxation therein. I was over-thinking and critically interpreting the novels. My brain hadn’t switched back from exam/essay mode. And it sucked. It killed the reading experience for me. Gradually reading for pleasure came back to me. I don’t know what triggered it, but it probably came with activities which helped put a distance between me and my exams: watching crap TV, heading to the pub, going on long bike rides and eagerly returning to exercise. Since the end of my exams I have read hungrily, and it has felt amazing to read for pleasure once again.

  • Access to a dishwasher

Living with 12 people and sharing a kitchen with them hasn’t changed much since first year (I lived in the same campus accommodation in final year as I did as a fresher… made for some very strange deja vu moments). People don’t clean up after themselves, leave dirty dishes in the sink for days on end, and shared spaces deteriorate very quickly with only 2/3 inconsiderate people in a group of 12. As a bit of a clean freak, I found this particularly hard. But whatever- it’s over now, and I feel that I kept myself (relatively) in check… Although some of my housemates may disagree. Borderline psychotic Facebook group posts aside… I think I kept it together pretty well! Anyway, getting back home and having access to that magical machine known as a dishwasher was fantastic. No dreading the end of a meal because you have to stand and wash all the utensils, pots and pans. Honestly, they make life so much simpler and it’s easy to take this everyday appliance for granted.

  • Being back in the countryside

This is a matter of personal taste, of course. But as a guy from the sticks, I certainly missed big open spaces, rural quiet, and being so close to the beach. I know rural life isn’t for everyone, and living nearer to urban areas has its benefits as well… But at several times during my final year at Warwick I longed for the big skies, fresh air, scenery, and quiet that comes with living in rural East Norfolk. Even in Norwich, you’re never more than 10-15 minutes from fields and countryside! Best of both worlds if you ask me. And the beaches. Seriously, Norfolk’s beaches are so underrated. Holkham, Wells, Winterton, Sea Palling all have golden soft sand, beautiful dunes and all the makings of a sterling beach holiday destination. I think coming back from uni after my final exams made me appreciate home even more. Side note: The Telegraph recently named Noroflk the classiest county to live in! I’m glad my home county is being taken a bit more seriously, and receiving more positive, balanced press. I may be biased but I think it’s deserved!

  • Access to a car

When studying at Warwick, it was impractical and unnecessary for me to have a car. I share my Mum’s car anyway (haven’t needed my own, so never saw the point in buying one for the sake of it), so couldn’t bring it even if I desperately wanted to. However, linked to the above point about being back in the countryside, you certainly need a vehicle here to get around and enjoy things. But the ability to head off and visit friends, places or the city, in private transport, on your own time, is great to have back. I don’t really mind buses, but you have to plan your time better, and it isn’t as flexible. Moreover, especially in Noroflk, there are just some places you cannot get to because there are no public transport options which reach them! Or, they exist, but they’re so convoluted and time-consuming the impracticality makes them nigh on impossible anyway.

Things I miss having 

  • Omnipresent coffee vendors

Instant coffee does a job. But then again, so does ITV’s coverage of the World Cup… But it’s not the real mccoy. Give me coffees based on espressos and the glory of the BBC any day of the week. On campus, I was never more than a 5 minute walk from a cafe which sold proper coffee. In the foray of dissertation writing and exam revision, I came to depend slightly on the boost a strong cup of coffee in one form or another. Still, I took it for granted. Now I am back home, in a village with no coffee shops of any description, and there is an espresso cup-shaped hole in my life. Admittedly, where there’s a will there’s a way, and some of the nearby pubs or cafes must serve proper coffee. But, with the ease and low cost of campus coffee, they don’t really compare.

  • Gym access

I need fitness in my life in one form or another, and the gym is my preferred outlet for physical exercise by a long stretch. On campus I lived within sight of a very decent gym facility, had access at an extremely reasonable student rate, and enjoyed a diverse range of equipment and free weights to support whatever fitness regime I chose. Now I am back home, I do so miss the equipment required for squats, deadlifts, bench presses and so on. I looked into gym membership here but I balked at £25-40 monthly membership fees, limited equipment, and up to 40 minute drives to even reach them. I most definitely took the university gym for granted, and miss having access to it. The silver lining is I have altered my workout routine, and I am focusing on classic bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups and dips. It’s very beneficial to change it up with exercise routines every few weeks, so in a way the lack of a gym has forced my hand here, but to my own benefit. I will be writing a separate post all about this shortly, because I really have felt the bodyweight shift has been a positive change.

  • Student Immersion

I love my family and friends back home, and the following does not detract from that at all. BUT, as a student you get used to living and working on campus, surrounded by thousands of people who are working towards similar goals as you, that are like-minded and approach life in comparable ways to you. This is not to say that there are not people like this back home, of course there are. There just isn’t a comparable concentration or volume of these people. Again, this is possibly due to living in the sticks. But as a student, I love being surrounded by other students. Being able to drift unexpectedly to a pub on a Tuesday afternoon, and for it to still have a decent amount of people and hubub going on despite the random timing makes the experience that much better. Bumping into a classmate in Tesco’s and nattering as you do your grocery shopping makes the essential but dull activity much more bearable. I’m ever so grateful to be home, but I do miss the student community.

All is not lost…. Overall, there are several things that I have come to appreciate more now that I have finished my undergraduate degree. I’m sure there are many more that I could talk about, but these were the things which came to my mind first. But, as to the things I miss having as part of student life… I’m not losing them completely, just because I’m done at Warwick. Since my last blog post I applied for post graduate study and funding in the USA. I am very pleased and excited to be undertaking an MA in Public History at New Mexico State University! This is subject to a Visa meeting at the US embassy but hopefully that will go smoothly. Otherwise everything else is pretty much in place! I cannot wait to undertake this next step, further my education, get to know a new area and new people, and study abroad all over again.

Prepare yourself USA, the Wandering Canary is coming back!

(^ Visa pending, haha!!!)

Advertisements

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!

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!