When it boils down to it, it’s you vs you.

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If you aren’t trying your hardest, only you will know and it’s ultimately only yourself you’re letting down. Leave it all in the gym, on the track, trail, court or pitch. Don’t come away thinking ‘I could of…’ or ‘I should of…’ Give every workout, run and game everything you have every time. Once you do that, getting bigger, faster, stronger and better is the easy part.

Diet Hard 2: Diet Harder?

Its been bugging me for the last week or so that while I am feeling much fitter and think I am noticeably packing on some muscle, I’m not exactly burning the fat like I had hoped.

I’m six weeks into my plan now, leaving only just short of a month to go and I don’t feel like I’ve burned off any fat at all. My waistline is still the same measurement and I’ve put on weight, the good sort of weight – muscle, but my belly persists. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m doing something wrong. I don’t like to think it’s my training, that seems to be going pretty well. I generally train 5 days a week with a variety of crossfit, circuit training, boxing circuits and intense cardio sessions. The only thing that I have dropped from my training since Tough Mudder is distance running. All other areas of my training are intense and push me, so I’m not entirely sure the absence of low intensity steady cardio once, maybe twice a week is the detrimental.

I held the belief that my diet was pretty good since I began this program. I’ve probably only had 2-3 cheat meals since beginning and apart from one occasion I haven’t had an alcoholic drink. Currently my diet/nutrition/supplement plan looks like this on a typical day:

Breakfast:
Smoothie consisting of; oats, banana, blueberries, peanut butter, honey to sweeten, and skimmed milk. I take with this a scoop of whey protein, creatine monohydrate and a CLA capsule.

Snack:
Large handful of: Nuts, seeds, dried fruit

Lunch: Spicy chicken, peppers & onions in a seeded/wholemeal wrap
1 CLA capsule

Afternoon snack: Apple or other fruit

Pre-workout: RAZE prework out, iBCAA from The Protein Works

Post Workout: iBCAA, creatine & Whey

Tea: Chicken/turkey with tomatoes, black beans, courgette and peppers and brown rice. 1 CLA capsule.

Supper: Scoop of Whey with Almond Milk

I’m not exactly cutting the calories back as I need fuel to train and to be honest I have decent energy levels at the moment. I consider that I’m taking in good calories too, which along with the supplements is aiding my recover and allowing me to train five consecutive days a week.

All that being said though, I’m still not seeing the fat loss results I had hoped for at this stage. So, I need to identify the weak link(s) in my plan.

– Could I possibly be overtraining? (I don’t like to think so)
– Is my diet wrong? (am I missing something? Eating too much of something or not enough of another?)
– Do I need more/less supplements? Or different supplements?

I’ve been looking online for some diet ideas, but the problem is incorporating them in to an affordable and manageable daily routine. While I appreciate the many benefits let’s say of the Palaeo or Caveman diet, I’d fall into the same problem I did when I tired vegetarianism last year – I would end up having to cook separate meals for myself, my wife and my children. Not only is this time consuming, but it’s bloody expensive and beyond my means at the moment. Some more exotic but healthy foodstuffs may be great for these diets, but they aren’t always affordable. Plus with a full time shift-working job, children and training regime, I don’t really want to give up any more time shopping around health food stores. It all seems like excuses, but to me a diet isn’t something that should be temporary, it should be something you can integrate into your life and live with. I don’t really believe in crash diets or fad diets, what I want is something I can stick with. The minute it becomes too expensive, complicated or leaves me starving, I’ll ditch it then I’m back at square one.

I can live with making changes and I can over time train myself to enjoy foods that are good for me I have previously shunned (like Kale for example). What I really struggle with though is going hungry. I like to be full; I generally don’t care what of. I just want to be able to eat a lot of something until my body says; ‘Yeah, that’s enough, you’re belly’s full now mate!’.

I need to find a compromise between healthy eating/nutrition, convenience and economy. So, anyone got any ideas?

Depression and Exercise

If there’s one thing that has been a constant help to my state of mind in the last 12 months since being diagnosed as depressed, its exercise. One of the recurring things that my GP, counsellor and the literature I have read about treating depression have stated is that exercise is good for tackling depression. Now, I kind of took this advice from my GP with a pinch of salt, as they probably encourage exercise across the board as lets face it, nearly everyone could benefit from a little more exercise.

The media has published quite a few stories in the last year or so about studies into the benefits (or lack thereof) of exercise for persons suffering with depression. The BBC published findings of a report by the BMJ that stated patients receiving treatment for depression did not benefit any more from exercise than those receiving treatment who did not exercise. This caused a bit of a social media storm with many depression sufferers chipping in how exercise is vital to their treatment or management of their condition. Various view points and opinions have been published since and the BMJ report does not necessarily superseded previous reports such as once completed by Harvard Health Publications. The NHS still advocate exercise as a mean to treat and manage depression as does leading mental health charities such as Mind (though Mind have also published articles taking a balanced view from both sides of the fence).

In my personal experience, exercise has been and is vital to me managing my anxiety and depression. I have been fairly serious about going to the gym and exercising for around 4 years now (and when I was younger, but the long gap in between kind of makes that irrelevant!), so I was no stranger to physical activity when I was diagnosed with depression. However, since my diagnosis I have become a lot more focused and diligent about my exercise as I recognise it as an important tool for coping with my depression.

There are physical benefits of exercise for depression sufferers (other than the obvious physical benefits of getting fitter, building muscle, increasing heart and lung strength etc.) in that exercise releases endorphins which increase immunity, decrease the perception of pain and can naturally lift one’s mood. Exercise is also thought to produce the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which also lifts mood. Beyond these chemical changes, regular exercise makes you fitter, feel better, reduces the risk of other illnesses and can boost self-esteem, all of which are good for combating depression and anxiety.

I now exercise between 4-6 times a week in some form or another. People probably think I’m obsessed, but I’m not really. The benefits I get from it make it worth the time and effort; sometimes I like to think of it as physiotherapy for my brain! Last year I took up distance running for the first time since school and spent most of spring, summer and autumn running every week and training for various 5 & 10K races I competed in. I found running was a great way to wind down, stop my mind racing and helped me clear my thoughts. Spending 30 min to and hour hitting the trails with some good tunes on my iPod was actually a great way to relax and I was always in a better mood after a run than before. Having races to train for also gave me focus and goals to aim for. I like to have some structure and a timetable and this suited me great. I don’t think it was a coincidence that after my last competitive run in 2012 my mood took a serious down turn which eventually led to me seeking help from my GP.

One of the things that helped me get out of this slump was signing up to do the Tough Mudder. This gave me a goal to train for, an achievement to accomplish and challenge to overcome. I loved training for it and I loved completing it, the sense of achievement was incredible. In training for Tough Mudder, I have made some new friends (which is rare for me as I can be a real unsociable git at times), began training in a whole new way and have become fitter than ever. Mentally, I think I am fitter than I have been in a long time too. Although I still have some bad days, I have far more good. I can deal with things in life now that 12 months ago, things that would have previously sent me into melt down. I put this in no small part down to exercise. The previous counselling I have had and skills I acquired from it help massively, as does medication I am sure, but working out is one thing I can do myself that I know improves my mood. Bad day at work? Go work out, feel better afterwards, arguments with the family? go work out, feel better afterwards, stressed or generally anxious? Go work out, feel better afterwards, feeling low and depressed? Go work out, feel better afterwards.

I suppose exercise to me is something I can control. I can’t always control how I feel as much as I want, but through exercise I can control how I physically am. I obviously need to have some sort of control in my life and this is the thing I can control and manage. I know it’s a reversal of the old adage, but I subscribe to; ‘healthy body, healthy mind’. If I exercise, it makes me feel good, if I feel good my mood lifts and then the world seems a better place. I sometimes feel a bit selfish for devoting 4-5 hours a week to the gym/running/fitness when I have a family at home and I also work full time. Of course I’d rather have more time with them, but I think if I didn’t have this time to work out, the time I did have with my family wouldn’t be as good quality. All the benefits of exercise I’ve written about basically boil down to making me a happier and easier to live with person. When I’m happy and on an even keel, I feel able to be a much better husband and father. (Of course it goes without saying I probably have the most supportive and patient wife in the world.)

I think like a lot of treatments for depression and anxiety, exercise depends on the severity of your condition and your preferences. Of course exercise will almost always benefit anyone but if the thought of it causes your further stress and anxiety, it’s perhaps not the right thing for you. I can and will whole-heartedly recommend it, but its about finding the right balance and avenue for your own circumstances. I hope you found this interesting and/or helpful, below are some links I’ve referred to from sites with much more information:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Exercise-and-Depression-report-excerpt.htm

http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/7980_understanding_depression?gclid=CKS7p8m6rLoCFXDItAoday0A9g
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/Exercise-for-depression.aspx

http://www.mind.org.uk/blog/6949_the_myths_of_exercise_and_depression

http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8111_tips_physical_activity

New Week, New Workouts

So after a real fat bastard of a weekend, with beer, cakes, pastries, curry and takeaway, I figured I had better get back ‘on it’ big style. Obviously this meant getting up at the crack of dawn to hit the ‘Zoo at 0700 hrs for a speed and agility session. Although when my alarm went off I could have happily hit off and gone back to bed, but I soldiered on and in the end was glad I did. I really enjoyed my early morning blast and it set me up for the day nicely.

Starting tomorrow I’m going to get back on the circuit training/crossfit style exercises. I did a few at the end of last week and they were pretty good, so this week I’m going to try and stay in the same vein. In no particular order, here’s what I’ll be having a go at I think:

Workout 1

Circuit A:
– 2 minutes on the rower
– 1 minute rest
– 2 minutes on the rower (must beat previous distance)
– 10 x deadlift
– 10 x push press
– 1 minute rest
Circuit B
– 2 minutes on rower (beating previous distance)
– 1 minute rest
– 2 minutes on rower (beating previous distance)
– 10 x Squat
– 10 x bench press
– 1 minute rest

Workout 2

(30 second skipping between all sets and exercises)
3 x 12 Deadlift
3 x 12 Wide-grip pull ups
3 x 12 bench press
3 x 12 Clean & Jerk

Workout 3

(for time)
Barbell/Dumbbell Thrusters 21, 15, 9
Pull Ups (overhand grip) 21, 15, 9
+ cardio

Workout 4

(for time)
100 Dumbell Thrusters with 5 burpees on the minute every minute

Workout 5 (mostly body weight)

Skipping – 2 minutes
20 power squats
20 push ups
20 jumping jacks
20 crunches
20 dips
20 mountain climbers
20 step ups
20 lateral jumps
20 lateral raises
60 sec plank

Repeat.

All of them are designed to be a bit different and to be intense. Some have quite a few exercises, some are just one or two exercises but with higher volumes. I think its good to mix it up and keep my body guessing. Also it keeps me mentally engaged and stops me getting stuck in the same old routine again and again. If you fancy a go at any of these, please do and let me know what you think, or if you modify them how etc.

Big Lifts Circuits

Week 5 is just about complete which puts me half-way through my stepping it up programme. This week I have continued the circuit training/crossfit style works out that have now become the staple of my training. I have incorporated a new workout I am dubbing the ‘Big Lifts’ circuit this week. So far I have done it twice and each time it has only taken me approximately 20 minutes to complete but has proved to be intense enough that it felt like enough. It’s fairly straight forward and goes like this:

Warm up

Deadlift, 3 sets, 12 reps
(http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/BBDeadlift.html)
Wide Grip Pull Ups, 3 sets, 12 reps
(http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/LatissimusDorsi/BWPullup.html)
Bench Press, 3 sets, 12 reps
(http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/PectoralSternal/BBBenchPress.html)
Clean & Jerk, 3 sets, 12 reps
(http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/OlympicLifts/CleanAndJerk.html)

30 seconds skipping between each sets, exercise to be complete non-stop and consecutively.

I’m going to build up to doing two circuits of this, then possibly three, but this week I found it intense enough that one sufficed. As it didn’t take too long though I added some cardio afterwards, in this case 5 minutes brisk walk on the treadmill increasing the incline 1% every 30 seconds. Then five minutes jogging also increasing the incline 1% every 30 seconds, then once the maximum incline was reached (15% in this case), brisk walk at that incline for five more minutes. My legs were screaming!

Last night I was looking at some pictures to chart any progress I have made since beginning this programme. I’ll admit although I have made some ‘mirror’ gains; they are probably not as drastic as I had hoped. I’ve also put on a few pounds of weight, but this must be muscle as I’ve certainly not gone up any waist sizes or anything (he tells himself!). Maybe I was expecting too much, maybe it’s just that last bit of belly fat that’s always the hardest to shift, maybe I’m missing something. I’m still motivated and my fitness level is certainly improving, so if nothing else my conditioning is improving. I’m not resting on any laurels though, I’m still only half way there and I want to start ramping it up more for the second half of this programme. I’m determined now to start breaking some PBs, increasing the intensity and frequency of my circuits and shredding some more body fat. At the end of the day, I’m only competing against myself, but I’m my own greatest rival, my own biggest challenger and my only barrier to glory.

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I’m back at the ‘Zoo this afternoon for Cpt. Crofts’ ‘Zoo Core’ workout, which I initially thought would be one of his more ‘easier’ sessions, but if experience has taught me anything, Crofty does not do easy in any way, shape or form. Can’t wait…

In other news, I’d like to point you towards this excellent website: http://www.exrx.net/WeightTraining/Instructions.html

I’ve used it for a few years now and I’ve not found a better website for explaining the many different weight training exercises and their variants. Its definitely worth a look if you’re beginning weight/resistance training, wanting to try some new exercises or simply want to check you form.