The nine day challenge that didn’t end

By the end of my last six weeks with no no-drinking rules I felt decidedly disgusting. I was bloated and lethargic and exercise had somehow crept right off my agenda. Sure, I move around at a moderate pace for most of my waking hours, and I train with my clients, but that’s at an intensity that’s right for them, not me. Plus, my last drinking day had been a doozie – Baileys, red wine and white wine all in one day. I needed to snap myself out of my stupor; a physical challenge was in order!

I’ve talked about Mike Chang’s workouts before, they’re fairly high intensity, 20 minute sessions made up of a variety of bodyweight resistance exercises, something that anyone can fit into an already busy schedule and do in the comfort of their own homes. You watch the video and you do what you’re told – easy. The first one is a fitness test where you do a series of six exercises, each for 45 seconds, for a maximum number of reps. Watch this video for the demonstrations. The next eight workouts alternate between working the upper body and lower body, and once you’ve made your way through them all you do the fitness test again.

Unexpected things started happening once I adopted a daily exercise habit. I thought it would be a real drag fitting the workouts in, especially on the three days where I work from 7:00 AM until 3 or 4:00PM, but I found myself diligently getting up at 4:44 AM (because it looked cooler than 4:45) and getting them done early. Within a few days it felt more normal to do them than not to do them – which is all a habit is really. Then I found myself wanting to do more exercise; it is only 20 minutes a day after all. One day I went for a run, another I went to Mum’s yoga class, and then the other morning I found myself casually picking up my kettle bell and giving it 50 swings in between my sun salutes and spinal rolls.

But this is the best part: once I got through all the workouts and did the fitness test for the second time (results are in the table below) it seemed silly to stop, so I just kept going. In the last 15 days I’ve only missed one day – I was tired and in need of a break so I met a friend at the beach instead of being a slave to my workouts.

Exercise 05/02/14 13/02/14 24/02/14
Push ups 22 37 33
Jumping squats 27 33 40
Mountain climbers 75 90 96
Burpees 13 13 16
Butterfly 23 31 31
Prone knee to elbow 20 28 38

I’ll keep going until it’s time to do the fitness test a third time, then I’ll decide if I want to carry on. This is what my back looks like at the moment, the light is in my favour, but the muscles are all mine.

I did the fitness test for the third time this morning – a pretty good result. I would’ve liked to have done more push ups but my triceps were still sore from doing a Muay Thai session with teenage boys a few days ago. At least I improved on the blasted burpees!

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230 reps

The other evening I was browsing the internet when I happened across a YouTube video of Mike Chang doing one of his workouts. I don’t really get off on guys with no armpit hair doing lots of pull-ups but there were several things that appealed to me about what he was doing. Firstly, he’d chosen several different exercises to do, and the number of repetitions he wanted to do of each exercise without really knowing how it would pan out. Secondly, he didn’t know beforehand how long it was going to take or how many reps of each exercise he’d do each time.

I like this because it introduces an element of unpredictability to a workout. Usually, when I do interval training I’ll set my timer for my work time and rest time, and stop working when the timer tells me to. I like the idea of going until my body tells me to stop, rather than relying on an external influence telling me what to do.

So I thought I’d give it a crack. I chose four exercises: kettle bell swings, kettle bell clean and presses, dumb-bell press-ups, and Swiss ball crunches. Here’s a video I made demonstrating exactly what I was doing.

DSCN2389

I’ve gone through this workout a couple of times now, and the breakdown of reps has been pretty similar each time. Both times, the exercise I’ve found the hardest is the dumb-bell press-up, which is not what I expected. Turns out I can swing a kettle bell until the cows come home, but a modified press up is a real challenge. I guess that’s because the kettle bell swing is all about glutes and quads which are big strong muscle groups, whereas the press-up uses smaller upper body muscles – the pecs, triceps, and front shoulder. Being of the fairer sex, these muscles don’t get strong unless you put in a lot of work.

The first time round I wasn’t really concerned about my time, I was focusing more on good technique. Plus I had no time to try and beat. The second time round I was hoping to do it quicker but I was also trying to compare how I felt exercising in the morning before eating with exercising in the afternoon after a good lunch.

There’s so much scope to play around with this style of workout, the options are pretty much endless!

How I Exercise

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?