To be honest, I’ve been doing bugger all exercise over winter (although my version of bugger all might be a bit different from yours). I’ve had a job that’s been physical enough that it’s left me with very little time or energy or inclination to exercise just for the sake of exercising, which, by the way, I love to do. However, I’ve managed to keep my body well within the parameters of what’s acceptable to me, mainly through the way I eat, which is cleaner now than ever before, and through short bursts of specific exercises.
I’m a fan of the minimum effective dose, which Tim Ferriss talks about in his book The 4-Hour Body. I’m not into thrashing myself or slogging it out for hours on end at the gym, not anymore anyway, and besides, I don’t think it’s necessary. If I can get the results I want through short workouts, and still have all the energy I need to make it through the day, well, it’s a no-brainer really.
Probably the most important piece of exercise equipment I have is my interval timer. I usually do 45 second rounds with a 15 second rest in between. I’ll write down a list of exercises or just make it up as I go along. I do a lot of bodyweight resistance exercises, but I also own three kettle bells, some light dumb bells, an aerobic step, a skipping rope, a rebounder (mini trampoline), and a Swiss ball.
If I can’t be bothered thinking up something to do I’ll do one of Mike Chang’s Insane Home Fat Loss workouts. I like them because they’re all bodyweight exercises (the only prop you might need is a small towel), they’re high intensity, short duration (20 minutes), and work to a 30/15 second work to rest ratio.
I’m also experimenting with Carb Back-Loading, a protocol developed by physicist John Kiefer. The basic principle is that you do your exercise without any glucose in your system, so that your body has no choice but to use fat as its energy source. You then eat simple carbohydrate foods after exercising, which causes insulin to be released, which in turn causes the glucose to be shunted preferentially into your muscle cells via the glucose transporters which have come to the surface of the muscle cells as a result of doing resistance training. Essentially it means you can get your muscle cells to fill with glucose (ready for the next workout) without your fat cells doing the same. Sounds pretty good, right?
I’ve also been practicing Muay Thai on and off for almost 10 years. If you want to truly get fit, this is what I’d recommend over and above anything else (if you just want to get in shape I’d recommend kettle bell swings and squats). Muay Thai is awesome. ‘Muay’ means ‘the way’ in Thai; so Muay Thai is ‘the Thai way’. It’s their national sport and a big part of the culture of Thailand. You may have heard of the ‘eight limbs’ of Muay Thai: two fists, two elbows, two knees, and two shins/feet. Kick boxing is the Western version of this. I love it because it’s cardio and resistance combined, it’s high intensity, it requires balance, coordination and flexibility, and you’re learning a useful skill as well. Despite it being a fairly brutal sport, the culture in Muay Thai gyms is often surprisingly welcoming and supportive.
So I do interval training, I use weights, I do Muay Thai, I’ve mentioned that I like to run. The other way that I look after my body is by stretching. A lot. My Mum took up yoga when she was pregnant with me, and I used to practise with her when I was a little kid. I haven’t done it my whole life but I have practised regularly over the last 15 years or so. Some people are naturally flexible; I’m not one of those people. I have to work at it, but the results are well worth the effort. I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your muscles supple, and to have a good range of movement around your joints, especially if you exercise a lot. Stretching is the best injury prevention I know of.
Oh and I’m currently learning the aerial silk; maybe I do a bit more exercise than I give myself credit for. The silk is comprised of two ends of fabric that hang from a high ceiling, and the object is to climb the silk and perform acrobatic tricks by winding it around yourself. After my first class, every single muscle in my arms, shoulders, and back was sore – it was awesome! I’m getting stronger already, and starting to learn some cool tricks.
I think it’s important to give your body a wide variety of exercises to do, otherwise it becomes complacent. Take running as an example: if that’s the only form of exercise you do, your body will become more and more used to it and the benefits will start to diminish because you’re not challenging your body with new and different movements. Plus it gets a bit boring doing the same thing over and over again, don’t you think? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-running, I’m just pro-variety.
How could anyone not want to exercise when you’ve got all these cool toys to play with?