Cultural Observations #1

So, I’ve spent exactly a week in California, and I am having the most fantastic time. I will do another post on my first seven days, but first of all I just wanted to note down the most glaring cultural differences between here and back home:

  1. Drivers are so much more cautious of pedestrians around Isla Vista (IV). Combined with the willingness of students here to just mosey along the street, cars often will just crawl along the streets or come to complete stops. In England, if you want to wander along the streets and cross the roads as casually as they do here, good luck to you.
  2. In contrast, if you try to cycle along a main road, out of town, you become an inconvenience and really have to have your wits about you. It’s technically illegal in California to cycle with headphones in, and it has quickly become apparent that this is with good reason. I never used to do it anyway, but you’d be silly to attempt it here.
  3. Medical marijuana cards. Completely alien. The idea you can go into a doctor’s surgery, and quite readily get one of these (if you say the right symptoms, which are quite well-known) ; then go into a special chemist and walk out with weed, is crazy.
  4. Handles” of spirits. Bottles of spirits that are so big they need a handle. 1.75 litres often sells for $19.99, or about £12.40.Crazy, right?!?! This has an impact on the drinking culture, and while I’d still say that UK student drinking culture is more of a binge drinking culture, the way you do shots from sober over here is weird. And pretty grim to be honest.
  5. The weather. Knocks the spots off miserable the typical September gloom in the UK. That’s a pretty obvious one, but is so enjoyable, I still think it deserved a mention. This isn’t a cultural observation per se, but there are obviously implications that come with better weather- more tanned people, different clothing is worn, it’s not so frowned upon for guys to walk around shirtless etc.
  6. Increased prevalence of joggers. While Warwick is a pretty athletic university, and many people go to the gym/take part in sports or are in sports clubs, there seem to be a higher proportion of people who will go jogging in this area. But with coastline rails and mountain views like ours, who wouldn’t?!
  7. SO many skateboarders. It’s like a constant Avril Lavigne video or something.
  8. Socks and sandals are morally acceptable, as are socks and flip flops (?!?!) The former is wrong, and the latter seems ridiculous and impractical at best, but I have witnessed both on several occasions. Moreover, high sport socks and shorts are also fair game. These are cultural anomalies that I just can’t swallow.
  9. Group involvement. Being involved in a sports team, or a member of some kind of club, is strongly emphasised here. In England, if you don’t want to be in a society at university, or play for a sports team, that’s all cool and your personal choice. However, so far at UCSB, I’m pretty sure I haven’t met one person who isn’t involved in some kind of club/sports team/extra activity. There must be some UCSB students who don’t get involved, but I have yet to meet them.
  10. Alcohol provision at parties. The attitude here seems to be that if you put on a house party, you buy a significant amount of booze for your guests. The idea being that the favour is returned to you when you stumble into the next random party along Del Playa (DP). In England, you bring your own, and safeguard your stash like a fiend. There are times when hosts will provide booze in England, but in terms of the general behaviour of students, I would say the feeling that we are so broke, you should look out for yourself is stronger.
  11. You don’t address your lecturers by their first names. Giles, my room mate, found this out the awkward way, and actually received an email where the professor corrected him on this pretty thoroughly. At Warwick, we always use first names with our seminar tutors, lecturers or other university employees. I think this is good because it shows a mutual respect. Here it feels a bit… like I’m back in  primary school or something. I realise that there should be respect for your teachers, elders, adults, whatever; but this seems a bit petty to me.
  12. Freshman’s entry into UCSB is vastly different to Freshers entering Warwick. At Warwick, it was abundantly clear that our first two weeks were what I’d call “alco-centric”: largely focused on getting wasted. Here, due to the lower drinking age (which, I feel, warrants a whole separate post, it’s infuriating), the activities available for Freshman are geared away from this. Obviously this does not stop Freshman walking down to DP and getting munted there. It just means that there are no organised equivalents of a Student Union night out, or society socials that entail mass consumption of booze on a grand scale.

That’s all I can think of so far, and none of them have been particularly jarring (except the socks and sandals perhaps). I’ll be writing in more detail about my first week soon, but I just wanted to get these down first. I start classes tomorrow, the first of which begins at 8am. This seems obscenely early, but I guess it shouldn’t. The earliest class I have had at Warwick was 9am, and that felt unpleasant. But the absurd thing is, I’m quite willing to get my butt out of bed and down they gym by 7am…. ironic huh? So, wish me luck with my early start tomorrow, I’m sure it won’t be so bad!

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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!

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. 

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.