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Keeping Fit in Isolation, or “How Not to Become an Epic, Depressed Slob”

Exercise is a pain in the arse – figuratively and often literally. But for a large proportion of the world, the change in mentality you get from leaving the house and entering a gym is enough to provide encouragement to get a sweat on. Take that mechanism away, though, and it is all too easy to become very lethargic, very quickly. As anyone who does any amount of exercise knows, it’s a cruel bastard; 6 months training can be utterly obliterated in the space of one. So, if you’re used to a certain level of fitness, recent restrictions on life can be pretty stressful.

For me, personally, my mental health suffers enormously if I don’t work out. I need those sweet, sweet endorphins. Plus, I like being able to pretend I’m a human dustbin without it turning me into a weird human-orca hybrid. Having WFH (see my previous post for details) for over 2 years, I’d say I’m quite well versed in the types of workout you’d term as getting prison fit. Ok, fine, I like my weights, I like my running, and I like to be somewhat extreme with my exercise time. The good news is, you don’t need weights, a treadmill or any more than 20-30 minutes per day. Here are a few ideas, all equipment-free. Give them a go – I’ve put together a couple of suggested circuits at the bottom, too.

Tip: Before you do this, put your gym gear on. It goes some way towards providing that mental, almost Pavlovian trigger. It’s exercise time.

Lower Body

Stairs

This one’s simple. Unless you live in a bungalow, you’ve got a ready-made step master at home. I tend to do this with a backpack on, filled with weights. No weights? Baked beans are heavy…  so is wine. Focus on keeping your feet pointing straight as you walk up the stairs to get the maximum benefit for your thighs. Your stairs at home will be 8-10 inches high. We have 20 in our house, so 172 times up and down equals 2300 feet (or Pen y Ghent – who needs the Yorkshire 3 Peaks?)

Squats

The key here (well, with all exercises, to be honest) is to do this in slow, controlled movements. Down for three seconds, hold for three seconds, up for three seconds (3/3/3) – if you do this properly, you won’t need weights. 100 squats with 9-second arcs like this will break most people. Get your feet just a touch more than hip width apart, don’t lean forward (do this against a wall to help with form) and don’t bounce as you switch between down and up.

Suggestion: 4 sets of however many you can manage, with a 1-minute break in between each set.

Lunges

Using the same 3/3/3 timing as above, keep your shoulders back and your back straight – don’t lean over your front leg. Pick a point on the wall (or TV) and look at it. The pitfall here is looking down, which causes you to lean. Get a 90-degree angle with both legs, ideally.

Suggestion: Hold a shopping bag in each hand, evenly weighted (that’s if unweighted lunges don’t make you swear to begin with).

Wall Sits

This is an absolute bitch. Get your back against the wall and slide down until you are “sitting” with your legs at 45-degree angles. How long can you last? Add 10 seconds each time you do this. You think planking is hard? This will mess you up.

Belly

Sit-ups

The key here is a bit of variation. Your common or garden sit-up is feet on the floor, knees up so you make a triangle shape, hands on temples, slow and controlled up and down. This is great, but 1) boring and 2) only focuses on one section of your stomach. Add in crunches (start lying flat, then draw your knees into your chest and raise your feet at the same time as you perform an upper body sit-up) and leg lifts (lie flat on your back and raise your legs, then return in a 3/3/3 pattern).

Suggestion: Using the three variations above, go 10/10/10, then a 60-second break. Four sets. Increase this by 2 per type each time you do it.

Plank

Everyone knows what this is. How long can you do it for, though? Remember to keep your back straight, don’t drop your hips, and don’t stop until you’re shaking like a shitting dog. Managed 5 minutes? That’s pretty good. The world record is just over 8 hours, though…

Upper Body

Triceps dips

Three good ways to do this and as always, alternation is your friend. I go with wearing a weighted backpack, then putting both feet up on a table and dipping to the floor. Again, 3/3/3. I’ll be honest, though: I’m finding these really fucking hard to describe. So, we’re going to use Google, as follows:
“Tricep dips chair”
“Tricep dips one leg up”
“Tricep dips feet elevated”

Piss off. I know.

Curls

For these, Google “Will Ferrell bicep curls Anchorman.” What form! What grace! Anyway, if you don’t have weights, use wine bottles or absurdly enormous bags of panic-bought toilet roll. What else is heavy? Lamps? I don’t know. Use 3/3/3 if you can’t find anything heavy. Your average wine bottle weighs about 1.3kg (full). I tend to do 4 sets of 20 using 25kg dumbbell sets, so my maths tell me I could do 4 sets of 500 using wine bottles and I’d have lifted the same amount… but much more deliciously.

Tip: Lifting with your palms facing up exercises a different set of muscles to lifting with your palms facing in, towards each other. Alternate.

Presses

Lie on your back with your trusty box of 9,000 eggs (none for the rest of you, you fuckers) on your chest, then extend and lock out your arms upwards. With a bench press, as you return the weight to your chest, your elbows tend to sink below where the floor is, but that doesn’t matter too much in this context. If you can’t find anything heavy enough to make 3/3/3 difficult, upgrade to 5/5/5. Children are great for using as weights for this one.

Press-ups

As with sit-ups, press-ups are better with variation, which comes with how far apart your hands are. Start with them shoulder-width-apart, then try wider, then narrower. My favourite/least favourite press-ups are done with my hands on top of each other, directly below my face. They’re an absolute bastard.

Tip: Can’t manage a press-up? Put your knees on the ground. Not a problem.

Full Body / Cardio

Standing Jumps

Feet together, bend your knees, jump up as high as you can and land with your knees bent (important), ready to go again.

Star Jumps

Yep, really. These are great for getting the heart rate up.

High Knees

Running on the spot but getting your knees as high as you can in front of you.

Squat Jumps

Jumping up in the air and landing in a wide, deep squat position. This one is a real killer.

Swings

This is where you hold something heavy in two hands then go into a squat position so it’s between your legs, before swinging it up and above your head, then back down. In a gym, you’d use a kettlebell. Again, not bouncing or using a jerking motion is key; you need to have control. You can do this with a large bag of rice or flour, or a weighted backpack. 4 sets of 20.

Burpees

Just the word makes me want to vomit. A standing jump, with your arms in the air. Then crouch and put your hands on the floor, jumping both your legs back so you’re in a plank position. Then, one press-up, jump your legs back to the crouching position and jump up in the air with your arms in the air. Keep the cycle going. I have been doing these for years, but they still hurt, and they can be scaled up to any level of fitness. 100 in 6 minutes is enough to make me want to cry.

Workout Plans

There are two keys to making the most of your home workout.

1. Variation

2. Keeping your heart rate up

Sitting still and doing some weights with a rest to check your phone in between will improve your muscle definition but do absolutely nothing for fat burning. Because of this, the best home circuits alternate between muscle and cardio.

Here is an example of an easy workout – you can do this with any of the above exercises really. Choose either upper body, lower body or belly, along with one or two cardio exercises.

For each block, go through the cycle 4 time (a “set”)

Block One
Upper Body Exercise 1
30 seconds break
Cardio Exercise 1
30 seconds break

1-minute break after 4th set

Block Two
Upper Body Exercise 2
30 seconds break
Cardio Exercise 2
30 seconds break

1-minute break after 4th set

Block 3
Upper Body Exercise 3
30 seconds break
Cardio Exercise 1
30 seconds break

I would always advise that each exercise you do is for a minimum of 10 reps.

Getting Serious

Sound too easy? Here are two examples of quite serious workouts that I like to do. If you find these difficult, you can reduce the number of sets to 2 or 3, or up the recovery time. You could also reduce the amount of workout blocks from 3 to 2. Oh, and the backpack isn’t necessary, obviously. These can also be scaled up a bit if you’re fitter than me, or loads and loads if you’re an absolute nutcase. These do me fine though.

1. Upper Body Day

Block One
Burpees x 10
20 seconds break
Triceps dips x 20 (30kg backpack)
20 seconds break

(Repeat x 4)

1-minute break after 4th set

Block Two
Squat jumps x 10 (30kg backpack)
20 seconds break
Presses x 20 (50kg weights)
20 seconds break

(Repeat x 4)

1-minute break after 4th set

Block 3
Swings x 20 (32kg kettlebell)
40 seconds break
Press-ups x 20 (30kg backpack)
40 seconds break

(Repeat x 4)

Total: 40 minutes, 4-500 calories

2. Leg Day

Block One

Squats x 20 (50kg weights)
Sit-ups (10/10/10 x 2 – total 60)
1-minute break

(Repeat x 4)

Block 2

Lunges x 20 each leg (30kg backpack)
Squat jumps x 20 (20kg backpack)
1-minute break

(Repeat x 4)

Block 3

Wall Sit x 1 minute
Plank x 1 minute
30 seconds break

(Repeat x 4)

Total: 50 minutes, 700 calories

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these. I’ll tell you what, though: this is but a drop in the ocean in terms of what you can do at home. If you want to hear more ideas and more work-out plans tailored to specific sports or strengthening specific muscle groups, drop me a message. If you have your own ideas, again, get in touch – I love adding more variation and changing things up whenever I can.

In the meantime, stay active, stay healthy and try and stay happy. It will get better.

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Week 4: Derailed? Not a Bit of It

Week 3 Review:

Miles: 18.5
Miles to go: 1,979
Weight: 99kg
VO2 Max: 46
Emotional State:

It’s been a tough week. You can set out to do things with the best of intentions, but ultimately if something more important comes along, then your intentions have to be shelved. This week, unfortunately, that something was the sudden death of my grandfather. There isn’t much to say about this – we all loved him, he led an incredible, inspiring life, and his four children in particular are understandably devastated. So, I’m going to depart from the usual pattern of petty, sweary humour that is my “level” of intellect for just a second to post a nice photo of him – if you’ll indulge me.

My grandfather David and his wife Jean, with my brother James, and me – 1987

And I’m back in the room. As Flanders and Swann would say: Pee, Po, Belly, Bum, Drawers!

I’ll tell you what, though. He wouldn’t have been impressed that I departed from my running routine so that I could be sad. Oh no. And he certainly wouldn’t condone the kind of moping that would stop me from completing my training program, and the upcoming races. You see, when it comes to the stubbornness (and pedantry) that has worked its way through my entire family, David was patient zero. He was the Uber-pedant. King Stubborn. I have tried – believe me, I have tried very hard – but I still feel as if I can only aspire to hit the heights of the great man. Like so many runners will do over the next 9 months, he has left me trailing in his wake.

So, as the training gets tougher, and my shins become more swollen, I am going to use David as my inspiration. He was unbelievably tough, resilient and unwilling to admit any kind of defeat in life, and I will attempt to follow up the hills, along the paths and through the mud, all in his footsteps. And every time I feel like giving up, instead of summoning up extra courage from within myself, I’ll just imagine him giving me a look that says “Don’t even think about it”. That ought to do it. He’d probably have done all the runs in a better time too – just to prove that he could.

Anyway, this week is the final week of my “ramp-up” training. Next week, the proper marathon programme starts and I’ll be relying on him to help me keep going back to the gym when I’m in pain, or I’m tired, or I simply can’t be arsed. But then, he never let anyone down in life, so I know he won’t let me down now, even in death.

And nor I him.

In Memoriam – April 24th 1928-January 20th 2018

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Trough Physical Condition – the Start of a Long Journey

The Ruins of 2017

What a pleasant, positive post title to start 2018! And with that I’d like to welcome you to the “Ultramarathon 2018” section of my blog. Excuse the stench; I’m covered in a very specific sweat – one that smells of maple cured ham, seventeen different types of booze and an assortment of chocolate. That’s right, we’ve just had Christmas and New Year, and I’ve obviously treated my body like a wheelie bin round the back of a kebab shop. What better time than now then, to start 10 months of training that will see me complete a hill marathon, the Yorkshire three peaks and the Lakes in a Day ultramarathon, by which time I will have run 2,018 miles in 2018, with two months to spare. This is the equivalent of running from Leeds to Ankara (excluding the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam).

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This seems like a good point to put this into context; I’m not currently unfit. I can currently run 5km in 20-25 minutes depending on terrain, and 10km in under 50. I could walk 50 miles tomorrow if you told me I had to. However, I haven’t run further than 12km in 2 years, and my gym trips have been mostly HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and weights. I love rugby, and have played on and off for 26 out of the 33.9 years I have been on this planet, so most of my training has revolved around keeping in shape for this. Because of the nature of the sport, I’m 5″10 and 15.8 stone (100kg). This is great for smashing people to smithereens, but not so good when you have to lug that extra weight across hills and mountains for 50 miles. As a result, I think it’s safe to say that I need to do two things:

1) Lay off the weights, give up rugby and lose 10-15kg in weight. This one is easy; my knees were recently described as “held together only by the will of the Gods”. In rugby terms, I’m old and battered. It’s time to accept my fate. Also, losing weight is going to be a given when I sneak up behind my contented stomach and metaphorically yell “SURPRISE!!!” by relentlessly running four or five times a week.

2) Significantly improve my endurance. Interval fitness is totally different. I can get my heart rate up to 200 for several minutes and go all guns blazing at the weights or the sprinting. But then I need a minute off before I do it again. This is not conducive to running for the best part of a day without stopping.

Actually, three things.

3) Stop eating pizza and drinking beer all the time (MyFitnessPal informed me that in 2017 my two most logged “foods” were wine and beer). Mmmmm… wine and beer. Not completely, mind. This isn’t a blog about going vegan or teetotal or anything else that I would genuinely rather die than do – more one that will document the struggles of running between 30 and 70 miles a week, non-stop for the next 10 months, and how it ends up affecting me both physically and mentally.

Again, a little context. Like so many people I know – and more people in the world than perhaps we all realise – I suffer from anxiety – panic attacks, insomnia, mood swings and low self-esteem. I have done so for many years, and at its worst it’s like living in a nightmare. Except not, because I can’t have nightmares if I don’t sleep. A daymare? Anyway, I can’t deny that the post-exercise feeling is a good one, and that exercise helps me sleep and feel better about myself. So absurd amounts of exercise should make me feel absurdly great, right? RIGHT? Well, I owe it to the people in my life, and to myself, to give it a go. Part of the reason for keeping a weekly blog is so that I can look back in ten months time and (hopefully) see a change for the better. I also hope that people will read this blog – other runners, people like me who want to run more and further, or who suffer from problems with anxiety.

The Charity

Over 50% of my motivation is self-improvement for sure – I’d be lying if I said otherwise – but some of it comes from the desire to do some good old-fashioned fundraising. I’m doing this with a friend of mine – he will be going through the same hell as me, at least according to our Excel training programme. Together, we’re raising money for Yorkshire Cancer Research. I doubt I could name a single person who isn’t either related to, or doesn’t know someone who has suffered or died because of cancer. It’s a horrible disease, and one that I firmly believe can be beaten. I’ve gone for YCR as opposed to Cancer Research UK partly because Yorkshire is my home, and partly because smaller, more local charities often struggle for funding, but shouldn’t be overlooked. I’d love us to raise £3000 together – after all, we’ve got a year. But who knows? Every little helps. Here are the links to my JustGiving team page and personal page if you’d like to donate / heckle us.

ycr

First Stop – January

Shit, I’ve actually got to do this now. Words come more easily than steps, weirdly. Fortunately, January is a build-up month – I’m just getting used to running further and further over the course of the month before starting a proper 16-week marathon training programme in February (16 weeks before the Calderdale marathon). Oh, and Monday is always a rest day – I’m thankful for this as I spent all of Monday January 1st feeling like I had been turned inside out by an evil robot monster made entirely out of vodka.

Here it is: WEEK 1: Tuesday 2 miles slow, Wednesday 3 miles steady, Thursday 2 miles slow, Saturday Park Run, Sunday 6 miles slow. Week total: 16 miles.

Current weight: 100kg. Resting heart rate: 58bpm. 2 miles slow: 19 minutes. Fear level for rest of year: Q*£&£YT%*W&£TY£W(TR*U!!!!O£)R*UCMC

It’s now Tuesday evening, and I’ve done my first two miles of 2018. It felt like running after consecutive days of drinking huge amounts of alcohol always feels – fucking horrible. 19 minutes of beer demons punching me in the chest. But hey! That’s two down, 2016 to go. I’ll be in Ankara before you know it (Disclaimer: this may not be remotely true in any way, shape or form).

Bring it on.

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