Virtus-Strength Blog

Last month I took on a challenge to do 10000 kettlebell swings in a month. This was something I had seen posted by coach Dan John. I fancied something different for a few weeks, and this definitely fit the bill. It proved to be a fun and challenging four weeks. 20 workouts over 27 days (plus a few extras), 500 swings a time. I did week one with a 24kg bell, 2-3 with the 32kg and the last with the 40kg My aim was to include as much volume as possible with plenty of hypertrophy/strength endurance type work, with a good dose of heavier strength work thrown in too. There were also plenty of correctives, as Dan would call them thrown in too. (Plenty of single leg and shoulder prehab work) I finished slightly bigger, leaner, hit personal bests in my back squat twice, front squat, barbell Turkish get up three times, fat grip trap bar deadlift and my ass is solid! So I'd say I definitely got something positive out of that four weeks…. I was asked during the final week if I thought this was a good thing to do, and what results did I see. From a programming stand point, I wouldn't exactly say including 500x KB swings a day 5 days a week for 4 weeks is sensible programming, but it is definitely beneficial to take on challenges that stretch you and make you step outside of your comfort zone. At times getting through the swings, especially with some of the combinations and high level of volume I threw together, became every bit a psychological test as much a physical one. I liked that about it. A strong body requires a strong mind. What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve. That works in reverse also. From a physical standpoint, the high volume of work for the posterior chain definitely had a carry over to other lifts. Those squat PB's hit during the challenge I'd say came largely down to stronger and more active glutes. My midline stability is also a lot stronger. Two areas that don't always get enough focus in a training program. I honestly didn’t find the swings themselves that challenging, hence upping the weight of the bell used as the weeks went along. The limiting factor at any point was grip. I found no issues with the lower back or glutes, as long as mobility was kept on top of. Work capacity feels like it has improved after a lot of work, so it will be interesting to see how this carries over when I get back to rowing and all the other myriad of ‘fun’ I like to put myself through. If you never test yourself, you'll never truly know what you're capable of. There is a time and a place for comfort zones, but the real achievements, progress and magic happens when you push your boundaries. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Hard work and effort wins at the end of the day in my book. If you're looking for something different to do, and fancy a challenge for four weeks, then you could maybe think about giving this a go. Caveat, if you’re not proficient at the hinge and kettlebell swing, you’re probably not ready to be attempting to throw a heavy weight between your legs 10000 times in a month. If you do indeed give this a go, be as simple or creative as you like with how you get the swings in and push your limits, relative to your training age and experience level. Also pay close attention to recovery. Soft tissue work, mobility, plenty of food, water and sleep all as important as the work itself.
Interval Weight Training was developed by Pat O’Shea in 1969. An IWT is an intense type of interval work utilising a combination of athletic lifts and free aerobic exercise. The cross training of athletic type lifting for full range strength and free exercise for anaerobic power, has a major impact on developing explosive power endurance, and can also be great for torching some unwanted body fat. This type of work utilises a greater percentage of the body’s muscle mass, both slow and fast twitch fibres. The high intensity work places added energy demands on the respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems, meaning that more fat and glycogen is burned to support the increased energy demands before, during, and after exercise. The post exercise oxygen consumption of this type of exercise will leave your metabolism revved up and burning calories long after the session has finished. A standard IWT comes in three phases. Part 1 begins with an athletic lift. This should be an explosive lift such as a power clean, hang clean, snatch high pull etc. for 8-12 reps. O’Shea originally prescribed that this should be around 70% of your 3RM for the lift, but different loads and reps can be used to achieve different outcomes. This is then chased with 2-4 minutes of free aerobic exercise at 90-95% MHR, meaning this effort should be intense. This is then followed by a two-minute rest period, and repeated for three rounds. You then should have earned yourself a needed five-minute intermission. Part 2 follows a similar structure to part 1, but the athletic lift this time is a less technical, more slow and grinding lift such as a front or back squat, still 8-12 reps for three rounds with two minutes of rest between. You then get a second five-minute intermission. Part 3 is then usually a complementary circuit to round off the workout. These are often bodyweight movements, for 6-12 reps, and 3-5 sets with minimal rest between, no more than one minute. You have many options for part 3; it can be anything supplementary you want to do to round off the workout. Here are some examples below: Standard IWT Part 1  10x clean high pull @70% 1RM + 2 min Row @90-95% MHR 3 rounds, rest 2 min between - 5 min intermission (including 3rd 2 min rest period above) - Part 2 10x front squat @60% 1RM + 2 min SkiErg @90-95% MHR 3 rounds, rest 2 min between - 5 min intermission (including 3rd 2 min rest period above) - Part 3  8x pull up + 8x dip + 8x sit up + 8x push up + 8x KB swing 3 rounds, rest 1 min between Strength/Power IWT Part 1 5x power clean @80% 1RM + 90 sec row @90-95% MHR 3 rounds, rest 3 min between - 5 min intermission (including 3rd 3 min rest period above) - Part 2 5x front squat @80% 1RM + 90 sec run on treadmill @90-95% MHR 3 rounds, rest 3 min between - 5 min intermission (including 3rd 3 min rest period above) - Part 3 7x15m weighted bear crawl @24kg KBS Points to note here with this variation are that everything is inversely related. As the weight and percentage of maximum being lifted is higher, the reps and the duration of the cardiovascular effort should be less. You will also require longer between rounds to allow for your CNS to recover more fully allowing you to continue lifting at a higher intensity. Endurance IWT Part 1 10x KB clean and press @24-40kg KBS + 4 min row @85-90% MHR 3-4 rounds, rest 1 min between - 5 min intermission (including last 1 min rest period above) - Part 2 15x goblet squat @24-40kg KB + 4 min run on treadmill @85-90% MHR 3-4 rounds, rest 1 min between - 5 min intermission (including last 1 min rest period above) - Part 3 300 sec FLR There is a far greater emphasis on the breathing work here, with a shorter rest period between rounds also. For this reason, the lifts are also far less technical, as technique will drop off quickly in this variation. So there you have the run down of Interval Weight Training. If you have never tried one of these workouts, prepare yourself; they can (and should) be brutal. Enjoy.

So, here I am, about to come to the end of an era, with the best part of a decade serving as a musician in the British Army.

On April 1st this year, I pushed the button and made the decision to sign off.
I am proud of everything I have achieved in my Army career, from best recruit in basic training, Household Division Musician of the year in 2007, every Cenotaph and Queens Birthday Parade, countless other great parades, to the PTI Course, and most of all just everyday I’ve put that bearskin on my head and marched out onto parade with some great friends and fine musicians.

I’m going to walk away with some great memories, from both my time in the Band of the Welsh Guards, and formerly the Band of the Scots Guards, that will stay with me for a lifetime.

All that said, the time is right for me to prepare to move onto pastures new, and throw myself into another passion of mine, fitness, which is the basis for this blog post, revealing where I will be going next.

It has been a whirlwind year so far, with so much to think about and prepare for.
Its been a fun year of education for a start as I prepare for the change and the new challenges ahead, from PICP level 1 and 2 in February, to Gym Jones Level 1 in March, then onto CrossFit Level 1 in July, and coming up the next couple of months I have CrossFit Strongman, CrossFit Weightlifting, and then Gym Jones Level 2.

So many different sources of knowledge to pull from, with some excellent coaches and people met along the way that will help mold me into the coach that I want to be.
I still have a lot to learn, and I am sure I will make many mistakes, but I am confident I have laid the foundations this year upon which to build and become a successful coach.

So, where I am going next?

Well, one man that has been a good influence on me the past couple of years, has been Pieter Vodden, the first fully certified Gym Jones instructor in the UK.
From the first time he stopped and asked me what I was training for a few years back in Gymbox, he has always been happy to stop and chat, offer up helpful advice, and has become a good friend. For a start, he was the man that introduced Gym Jones to me, and a philosophy and way of doing things that really rang true with me. I have learnt a lot, not least about myself following what Mark Twight, Rob, Pieter and the rest of the guys at Gym Jones do on a daily basis. Marks Sunday sermons are always a real treat of the week!

Anyone who knows Piete will have seen his announcement a few weeks ago about his new venture he will be taking up in Kuwait. Well, I can now announce myself that I will also be joining him over there as a Strength & Conditioning Coach at Circuit+ in early 2015.

I am incredibly excited for this opportunity and the challenges that will come with it. It is going to be a fun year working in a great facility, experiencing a different country and culture, and working closely with Piete and a top team of coaches that I am sure I will learn a lot from.

We will be looking to build something truly special over there. I look forward to helping people get better at whatever they need to get better at, helping to guide and push them in the right direction to achieving their goals and targets that they set for themselves.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention what an awesome other half I have, for her support of me going off for a year to have this experience. It will all be worth it going forward, thank you for your support, love you Em x

I will enjoy my last couple of months in the Army, and I am more than ready to tackle the big changes coming my way head on.

Not for the first time, I’ll leave you with a Rocky quote, going where I want to be and doing what I want to do:

“Cause if you’re willing to go through all the battling you got to go through to get where you want to get, who’s got the right to stop you? I mean maybe some of you guys got something you never finished, something you really want to do, something you never said to someone, something…and you’re told no, even after you paid your dues? Who’s got the right to tell you that, who? Nobody! It’s your right to listen to your gut, it ain’t nobody’s right to say no after you earned the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do!”

Never stand still. Never stop learning and evolving. Never give up on your dreams.

Virtus – (Latin) Excellence; Character; Worth; Courage; Bravery

If I hear someone say "I don't have time to exercise", I have one simple response, bullshit! 

There are 7 days in a week, 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, if you honestly expect me to buy that you can't exercise during any of that time, you're lying to me and yourself. 

You don't have to go to the gym for hours a week, you don't need lots of machines or equipment, if you're truly short of spare time, there is a heck of a lot you can achieve with just your own bodyweight anywhere at anytime. 

If you stood up from your desk or moved from in front of the tv just once every hour for 10 hours a day and did 10x push ups and 10x bodyweight squats, it wouldn't tire you nor take up more than a couple of minutes an hour of your time, but by the end of a day, you'd have amassed 100x push ups and 100x squats. 
Do that every day, thats 700 of each in a week and 36500 in a year! Do you think that wouldn't make any difference to you? Do you still think you don't have time to exercise at all? 

How about also putting the Oyster card away or leave the car in the driveway a couple of times a week and cycle or run or walk to work? Do you still think you don't have any time to exercise? 

The point is, there are many ways in a busy life schedule where you can make time to fit some form of exercise into your life. Make a few small changes, a few small sacrifices, a few minutes of effort every day consistently, and you could make big strides into improving your health and the quality of life you lead. 

Quit the bullshit excuses and commit to bettering yourself just a little everyday.

Its funny, i've often seen people joke the first rule of CrossFit is to tell everybody you do CrossFit, yet there seems to be far more people at the moment feeling the need to tell people they don't do CrossFit, and then waffle on about exactly why they don't do CrossFit (having never done CrossFit nor in many cases fully understanding what CrossFit is). 

I'm not really a "CrossFitter" per se, but I do enjoy the sport that it is and do enjoy challenging myself with some of their WODs. This is the point many also miss, CrossFit is competitive and is a sport, and like any other sport, it comes with a risk of injury. The training leading up to competing should be structured like training for any other sport, with a focus on strength and conditioning, building power endurance and endurance, working on imbalances and structural integrity, only poor coaches and trainees lacking in knowledge would train as if its a "game day" so to speak everyday of the week. 

Learn all the moves/lifts properly, practice your skills and drills, work on technique until it becomes second nature to you before jumping up in weight, work on any weaknesses and imbalances you have, build a solid level of strength and conditioning and be sensible about how you structure your training, and there is no reason why you should get hurt training in CrossFit. 

Whatever path you decide to follow, commit to it, work hard, have fun, and you can achieve great results.

No training session is worthless. 

There will be times you will walk into the gym and things will just not feel right. Weight that you usually warm up with will feel twice as heavy as it should. There can be many reasons for this, you're dehydrated, under fuelled, a poor nights sleep, stressful day at work and so on. 

You then have a choice to make. In some cases, you will need to remove your head from your ass, take a little more care and attention to your warm up drills and get yourself focused. I have had some of my best and most fulfilling training sessions when I haven't felt quite right when I walked through the door of the gym, I just needed to adjust my attitude. 

However, there are then also the times where things will just not happen, and that is what I want to talk about briefly. If after a focused warm up, things still don't feel right, you need to take a step back. If you can't even get close to the weight and reps planned, then its time to rethink what you need to do for the day, and what you will get the most benefit from. If you intended to do 5x5 back squats at 80% 1RM for example, there is little point in squeezing out a few crappy sets of 1-3 reps at that weight, or dropping in weight just to get your number of reps in. Struggling your way through every set and failing reps is a fine way to demoralise yourself, drain your central nervous system without achieving anything, and is also just asking for injury. 

There are still things that can then be achieved to make the session productive. Leave the neurologically taxing strength work for another day when you feel recovered and you have the focus for it. Instead spend some time on structural work, mobility and breathing instead to still walk out of the gym feeling like you achieved something useful. 

Any session is salvageable. Be honest with yourself and listen to your body. Don't be afraid to step back and have a recovery day if things just don't feel right, adapt and overcome. At the same time, don't use it as an excuse to bail out on every session, we're talking about one off sessions here. If you're feeling weak for a prolonged period of time, then there are other factors that need to be looked at, i.e. diet. 

Sometimes though, it will just require you to have an honest look in the mirror, remove you head from your ass and get shit done.

"There is no substitution for hard work. You can have the most precision planned training program going, but it means fuck all and will achieve little without the right mindset and work ethic"   Well, here it is, my debut blog post, stand by. If you're easily offended by a little straight talking, you probably won't appreciate the way I write, so feel free to hit the exit button now. If not, read on….   I thought i'd make a start by embellishing on a few things i've written recently. The above is a quote from my Facebook page, which you can follow and like here (Shameless bit of self promotion here! ) I may as well throw in my website address too, ;-)   I see countless people walk into a gym, stroll around for an hour or more, jumping from machine to machine, attracted to the shiny bits of kit like a moth to a flame, barely break a sweat, and yet seem surprised that they aren't achieving the results they claim to desire. Reason? Because you're not fucking working hard enough! There is a far too familiar attitude I see where people think just turning up to the gym once in a while is like a magic pill that is going to get you into awesome shape. If it were that simple, then we'd all look like Hercules!   Heres another quote from my page - "Some people really do over complicate fitness. Learn to use your body, throw some heavy stuff around, breathe and always strive to be better" Training and fitness for the most part really is simple. Always train with an objective, and work fucking hard! (Do you see a pattern forming here?)   Find a program, and commit to it like your life depends on it. Get in, get shit done, and go home. Everything works, for a while, but everything needs the right level of effort and dedication. You will achieve nothing without it, and plus, in my world, anything worth having doesn't come easily. Learn to enjoy and embrace the pain of putting yourself into a deep and dark hole, because I tell you what, climbing up out of the other side knowing you've truly achieved something, that you went in hard and put in some fucking graft, feels amazing.   I'll leave you with a quote from my favourite film, Rocky IV: "You’re gonna have to go through hell, worse than any nightmare you’ve ever dreamed. But when it’s over, I know you’ll be the one standing. You know what you have to do. Do it."