Strike The Proper Board

Quarantine and self-isolation have had a positive effect on the Canadian population, as many people have chosen to take some of the downtime to start new hobbies, clean out their homes or begin renovation projects that they may otherwise have never considered. It’s definitely a positive thing, and has kept lumber yards, home improvement places and retail locations in the black during this whole mess.

Although I’ve been dealing with small projects like growing a lawn in my back yard and selling my car, I haven’t really tackled anything that’s taken serious effort. But since the basement of my house is damaged and the whole thing will need renovating, I’ve found myself without a workout space. Oh sure, I’ve been able to continue doing things like cycling and I even did my Marine workout in the garage, last week. But I’m losing the striking pad I had mounted on the current basement wall. I needed a solution.

Some of the materials I started with

Since I didn’t consider it safe or in anyone’s best interest for me to attempt basement renovations on my own (I’m great with a sledgehammer, that’s the limit of my renovation capabilities), I decided to construct my own makiwara board for the back yard. I’ve mentioned this training tool in previous posts, but a makiwara is a padded board typically used to condition the knuckles and strengthen your punches. It’s thought to be Okinawan in origin and is mostly used in traditional styes of karate.

Polyester cord to wrap around the makiwara as a striking surface

Most properly-constructed makiwaras can run anywhere from one to several hundred dollars in cost, especially if you factor in the shipping and handling to have it brought to you from whatever distributor you purchased it from. But if the Okinawans can build theirs from scratch, I figured “so can I.” I had several 7-foot lengths of wooden board that was left over from our house’s previous owner. I started by trimming two of these boards to an appropriate and matching length.

The free lumber was definitely a solid start and is potentially the most expensive aspect of the project. I brought my son Nathan to Home Depot, where we purchased a half dozen 6-inch iron bolts with matching nuts and washers. I also purchased a 100-foot length of polyester cord, which would be wrapped at the top of the makiwara as the striking surface. Polyester is a water-resistant material, so it would be best-suited for an outdoor training tool.

Nathan hard at work, screwing the bolts into place

Nathan and I duct-taped the two boards together so that they were flush, them I drilled 3/4-inch holes at five-inch intervals through both boards. I hammered the iron bolts through the holes and Nathan screwed the washers and nuts into place. Once all six bolts were firmly in place, we were able to remove the duct tape and move on to the striking surface.

The wrapping of the makiwara

I left the top strip of duct tape and used a staple hammer to fasten the end of cord to the board, followed by twenty minutes of fastidious wrapping and tightening of one hundred feet of cord. With the exception of Nathan complaining he wasn’t allowed to do this part (and climbing over and under the project while I worked), it went reasonably well and I used the same staple hammer to fasten the other end once the cord was all wrapped.

The completed striking surface

The makiwara was now complete. The next step would require digging a two or three foot hole in the ground, placing the post and filling the remainder with some firm, affixing soil. That was over a week ago. The entire project took a little over an hour and Nathan and I were already tired. So we decided we’d put off the installation until we were able to get some rest and start digging when we were fresh.

Our long-weekend was cut short due to unforeseen circumstances. So on Sunday, Nathan and I took two shovels and a metal bucket and started digging. I didn’t take any photos of that part of the project, since Nathan and I were up to our elbows in dirt. The soil in Regina is a clay composite, which is what’s caused the damage to my basement. It sucks (royally) but it DOES have a benefit for this particular project. Nathan and I reached about twenty-eight inches, which was adequate for the makiwara.

We lowered the post into the hole and packed the remaining space around the pole with the dug up soil. We packed it down after every few shovelfuls, and the clay soil held the post firmly in place. I followed it up with a short length of board to firm up the bracing, placed at an angle at the back. The end result came out quite well, and Nathan and I are quite proud of the job we did.

The finished product!

All said and done, a training tool that would have cost several hundreds of dollars wound up costing less than fifty dollars! Now I just have to find the motivation to get outside to use it. My neighbours have all seen the post and seem to understand the concept behind it, since I explained what it was for. But it may be interesting to see their reactions once I start striking it. There you have it! My do-it-yourself project. ☯

The Magic Mistakes

Fear of failure is a very real thing. Most people have it, whether they realize it or not. If you think carefully on your past, you’ll likely find one and/or many instances when you were afraid you wouldn’t succeed at something. Maybe it was a potential job opportunity or an important exam at school. Whatever. At some point, you would have been worried about the prospect of making a critical mistake or failing at something.

This phenomenon is very prominent in martial arts circles, especially given the strict discipline and structured requirements that come with traditional martial arts. I even remember myself, three decades ago, standing at the back of the class trying to move through my techniques without error and trying to avoid Sensei’s gaze. It didn’t matter if I was screwing it up, I was just afraid of doing it wrong. This effect wore off as the years melted away and I increased in skill.

People are afraid of making mistakes. For some folks, it’s about pride. Some people are too proud to admit that they can make a mistake. Others are afraid they may cause disappointment in others, parents, instructors or otherwise. Some are afraid of the windfall that comes from failure and facing the potential consequences. For myself, I was mostly afraid of people seeing me do it improperly.

Whether you’re a newcomer to martial arts or even if you’re experienced, or maybe you have some other endeavours that you’re tempted to try out, I’ll let you in on a little secret: mistakes are an important part of the lesson. The only way you’ll learn is by making mistakes and having them corrected. We all start from the same place; the beginning. And like anything else in life, you need to make the mistakes in order to learn the skills.

It’s like learning to ride a bike. You may fall off a couple of times, you may even get skinned knees. But the important thing is to climb back on and keep peddling. The same can be said of any skill, martial arts or otherwise you may be trying to learn. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Don’t be afraid of being corrected or asking for help. It’s the only way you’ll learn. And grow. ☯

I Gotta HAND It To You…🥋

The martial arts style I’ve trained in the most is karate. This is the one I’ve studied all my life, and its lessons have carried me far in life. Even to this day, I train consistently and have often joined my local karate schools so that I can enjoy the training dynamic that one can only find by working out within a dojo. But Karate Do (or Karate, as it’s known in the western world) translates as “way of the empty hand” because the art primarily uses empty-hand techniques. This means that a significant amount of conditioning needs to go into the hands.

When people work out, they tend to focus on the major muscle groups that show the best results, like biceps, triceps, chest and shoulders. There’s been a running joke for decades about how people tend to skip leg days, and with good reason. People like to focus on what shows, which is why many professional weightlifters look like they have chicken legs. All of this is a pretty broad generalization, but the truth of the matter is that one of the most overlooked aspects of working out happens to be grip strength.

Grip strength is exceptionally important in all martial arts, regardless of style. You can have ripped arms and legs but if you have no strength in your grip, your fighting skills will be greatly lacking. Think about it; if you study Judo or other grappling styles, you need your grip to, well… grapple! Having the grip strength to grab on to your opponent’s gi, clothing, flesh, whatever, in order to flip and/or throw them is critical. In normal striking arts, grip strength is critical for the proper execution of pressure points and grabbing/holding your opponent in order to execute techniques. Grip strength is even important for weapons styles, since it’s kind of important to have enough grip strength to hold your baton, staff or sword.

There are plenty of ways to increase your grip strength, including grip strengtheners you can buy at your local retail or fitness location, to rubber expander rings that you can squeeze and stretch. I used to keep one of the former at my desk at work and flex whichever hand was free as I’d work. Even those so-called “stress balls” can be handy, although the amount of resistance they provide is pretty limited.

Okinawan Gripping Jar, known as Nigiri Game

You can also use a more traditional training tool called Okinawan Gripping Jars. This involves clay jars that have a thick lip at the opening. The jar could be filled with water or sand and gripped at the lip and carried in order to strengthen the hands. Beginners would usually start by carrying them while empty and work their way up from there. If you happen NOT to live in Okinawa and have no skill with a potter’s wheel or a kiln, you can make your own “do it yourself” gripping jars by taking large, glass mason jars and filling them with stones or water. Once the lid is properly secured, the jar is narrow enough to grip at the top.

Hand strength in general is an important aspect of martial arts, and there are many ways to increase that strength. Knuckle push-ups are one of my favourite, as they toughen up the knuckles and strengthen the wrists. Installing a makiwara board in your backyard is also ideal, since it allows you to work on wrist strength and finger strength by working your knife hands, finger thrusts and punches.

Speaking of finger strength, did you know that your fingers are part of your hands? And you should strengthen THOSE as well? No? Well, step right on over for some education. There is supplemental strength training for the hands in the martial arts, known as jari bako. This involves filling a bowl or a bucket with sand, gravel or small stones. The exercise involves thrusting one’s fingers into the bowl or bucket, which results in the strengthening of the fingers and fingertips.

The receptacle would occasionally be filled with hot water as well, especially if you were a naughty student who acted out in class and required some additional motivation to behave. Not that I’m speaking from experience, of course. But the science behind this technique is that the trauma caused to the musculature causes an increase in finger strength, much like any other physical exercise.

As usual, extra care and starting slowly is required when working the hands and fingers as they contain small bones that can be easily injured. This is one of those times when I tend to disagree with the Okinawan masters of old, in that it isn’t necessary to traumatize and disfigure your knuckles or hands in order to increase your striking and grip strength.

My two foreknuckles on both hands are slightly increased in size but aren’t disfigured. That should be the extent of the damage. Anything more is unnecessary and may cause long term problems without necessarily increasing strength. If in doubt, seek instruction from someone experienced teacher or instructor who’s been there and done that! ☯

Life Isn’t A Spectator Sport

It can be pretty tough finding the motivation to get moving. Light knows, it takes me several minutes for the signal to go from my brain to getting a response from my body when it comes to waking up in the morning. And if I didn’t start my day with a pinch of caffeine, I believe that the world would be in genuine danger. Which is likely a problem, since being that dependent on coffee can’t be a good thing, but I’ll tackle that problem some other day.

My point is, it usually feels “easier” to sit still than to get going. This is a natural inclination, much like choosing to go through a tunnel as opposed to climbing over the hill. But all things in life require a balance, and sitting still can be as harmful on the body as pushing yourself too far. This is why frequent and even daily physical activity is an important part of daily life, whether you have Diabetes or not.

According to an article posted by the Mayo Clinic (one of my favourite websites), a person should aim to achieve 150 minutes of moderate exercise or at least 75 minutes of intense exercise, with about two workouts a week contributed to strength training. I like how the article describes mowing the lawn as a moderate aerobic exercise. I’ll definitely start adding those sessions to my training log.

But those are American sources and since I’m in Canada, it would be nice to lean on a source from my home turf. An exercise guideline chart posted by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology outlines pretty much the same basic requirement of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week in adults, with at least two days contributed to some sort of strength training. Although the “minimum” should include 10 to 20 minutes of physical activity or more, you should aim at hitting that 30-minute mark in order to reap the greater benefits.

So what happens if you don’t get enough exercise? The reality is that with everyone working from home and even before the pandemic, the average person finds themselves sitting far too much for far too long. This can have a number of nasty side effects on your heart, your weight, your back and even your mental health. But with all of us cooped up in our homes, many are tempted to flop down on the couch and binge-watch their favourite streaming services for days on end. This doesn’t just lead to the above-mentioned complications, but will also undo any physical conditioning you may have been doing prior to that.

Balance, people! Find the happy medium. If you’re doing work, especially in front of a computer screen, it’s important to get up out of your seat, stretch and move around. You should be doing this a minimum of at least once every hour. Although I wasn’t able to find a source for that interval, this is what has always been suggested to me. And if you have a boss that gives you hell because you’re getting up from your seat too often, check with your HR department on what your organization’s health policies allow you to do.

Since this is related to your health, your boss may be required to provide certain little benefits like a stand-up desk, floor padding or an ergonomic office chair in order to help alleviate any complications of sitting all day. And moving away from your computer screen to allow your eyes to adjust and focus on something else can also be very important. But I’m getting off topic, here. We’re talking about physical fitness…

From a Diabetes standpoint, maintaining your physical fitness will have a number of measurable benefits, including but not limited to better blood sugar control, improved insulin resistance and better blood circulation. Combine that with a reasonably healthy diet and most of the “pain in the ass” symptoms become manageable instead of lethal.

I can attest to that one myself, since insulin resistance was the main issue threatening my life when I was a child. Increased physical activity is what got me through. This would have been right around the time I joined the martial arts. Granted, even though this worked for me doesn’t necessarily mean it would work for everyone. But maintaining some level of physical fitness can lend nothing but benefits, if done properly.

When it comes to fitness, the sky’s the limit and I can almost guarantee that everyone can find SOMETHING that they enjoy doing that constitutes exercise. And at only 10 to 30 minutes per session, there’s little reason or excuse to claim you can’t find the time. I know a lot of people at work who would take walks over lunch, hit the gym and even meditate! Anything you can do to, as they say, get the blood flowing is a good idea and will help to eliminate or lessen unnecessary complications down the road. ☯

Dance Your Way Fit

You all know I enjoy writing about different fitness routines and how they came about. I especially enjoy trying these fitness routines, as it’s important to experience a healthy variety in order to keep yourself motivated. Sometimes, a good workout routine can be something completely unexpected and happen by accident. As long as you’re willing to keep an open mind, you might even find something you enjoy and would start doing regularly.

This is where Zumba comes into the picture. Zumba is a fitness program that combines dance and aerobics and was created in the late 1990’s when a Colombian fitness instructor forgot the music for the class he was teaching. He popped in some of the salsa music he had in his bag instead, and danced his way through the fitness class. It didn’t take long for the fitness craze to catch on and as of recent years, there are millions of videos, apps and classes all over the world.

I was first introduced to Zumba back on 2014. I owned an XBox 360 and had just purchased the Kinect adaptor, which is a sensor bar that allows you to play games using body movement as opposed to a controller. One of the games we got with the Kinect was called “Zumba Fitness.” Since we lived in a small town with effectively nothing to do at the time and I used to make my wife suffer through many of my workouts, she had me try the game out with her. Even if it was just a video game, it didn’t take me long to work up a sweat.

I love dance and I admire anyone who studies it for fitness or as a lifestyle. In fact, something that few people know about me is that I actually took professional dance lessons when I lived in Ottawa. Karate was definitely helpful in keeping my balance and remembering the structured routines required for some of the dances I was taught. Zumba is kind of up that alley, mixing dance with increase aerobic movements.

What I can appreciate about Zumba is its different approach to fitness and the fact that it keeps things interesting. It only took a few moments for me to be completely drenched in sweat when I tried Zumba, and I was taken aback by how challenging it was. The concept involves a set of specific core movements, but their combination and use can vary greatly with each class you participate in. You can do it in the privacy of your own home by purchasing DVD’s or enjoy the group dynamic by participating in classes. And classes have a crazy variety, as well. There are routines for all age groups, routines done in water or swimming pools, routines done WHILE performing HIIT or circuit exercises and even some programs to help with eating habits.

If you’re looking for something different to change up your routine, something that can get that heart rate up, burn calories and tone you up, Zumba may be for you. Listen to me, I sound like a damn infomercial! But in seriousness, variety is the spice of life so don’t be scared to try out different fitness routines. Hell, the creator of Zumba invented it by accident! So who knows what you might discover if you keep things varied? ☯

There Are No Cookie-Cutters In This Dojo…

I remember the first week that I opened my karate school’s kid’s class as a junior instructor. Boys, was I nervous! I’m not really sure why; I was qualified, well-trained and they were kids. I was in my late 20’s and there was nobody in the class older than 13 years old. But there was something particular about teaching the first class in “my” school. It only took a couple of weeks to find a groove and begin feeling comfortable with classes. And only a couple of months AFTER that for me to realize that teaching karate is not all it’s cracked up to be…

There’s a certain prestige that comes with being able to teach something to someone else, especially in the martial arts. After all, if you’re teaching someone else it probably means that you’ve learn said skill to a sufficient level that it allows you to pass on that knowledge to someone else. I had been a been a black belt for a few years at this point, and already accustomed to leading the class whenever Sensei would request it. But this would be my first foray into being the focus of attention if/when students or parents would be displeased about something.

Now, don’t get me wrong! I can deal with complaints with the best of ’em. After all, I’ve got years of management experience in retail, food service and public sectors so dealing with customer complaints is no problem. But karate is particular, because it’s personal. It’s not a job, it’s a part of my lifestyle that I not only study but thoroughly enjoy. And I’m not well-known for my ability to put up with other people’s bullshit. Enter: the league of disgruntled parents…

By the time the kid’s class had been up and running for six months, a few of my students had graduated a yellow stripe or two. My particular system has a LOT of yellow stripes for kids prior to testing for yellow belt, which is a good way to keep them focused and motivated. One of the disadvantages of opening a school from scratch, is that everybody starts off as a white belt and there’s no established belt hierarchy in place. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s good in the sense that you don’t have to worry about branching off your teaching to accommodate the different ranks. It’s bad in the sense that the first people to promote usually set off alarm bells in others.

Sensei and I had agreed from the very beginning that as a junior instructor, I would teach the class while he tested for stripes. I would assist him with belt tests, but until I developed my teaching legs, he would deal with pulling out the students who were progressing and issue the stripes as required. That was an easy agreement. But as a few of the students climbed in rank, the ones who didn’t began to question why they didn’t. This concern was obviously passed on to their parents who apparently felt this meant their kids were being ignored. Can you guess what happened next?

I began receiving phone calls and having parents confront me in the dojo, questioning my audacity in promoting other students but not their kid, especially when everyone had started at the same level. These were some of the same parents that would often bring food or drinks into my dojo, take phone calls or carry on conversations at the back while I’d be trying to teach. I believe in picking one’s battles, but these are issues I had to discuss with them on previous occasions.

I tried explaining to these parents that every child is different and that every child learns in a different way and at a different pace (a lesson the public schools should no doubt adopt) and that stripes would NOT be issued if a particular student had not reach the required skill and knowledge level associated with it. This was like throwing gasoline on a campfire and caused further indignation from parents. Although we were still a few years before the true advent of the snowflake and parents who believe their kids can do no wrong, these parents were clearly adamant that the promoted students were no better skilled than their kids and that it wasn’t fair of me to promote some and not others.

I closed out the argument by explaining to the parents that karate was not a generic skill and that there were things the students could do on their own time in order to improve and help ensure promotion when the time came, but that it wasn’t fair to the students or my school, in fact, for me to issue a promotion someone hadn’t earned. This led to all sorts of threats about pulling their students out and enrolling them elsewhere, to contacting the parents of students who had promoted and a score of other idle threats to ludicrous to repeat.

Between these issues, which unbelievably never really went away, and the fact that I moved to Ottawa about six months later led me to close the doors of my kid’s school. That’s one of the benefits of not doing it for a living; you can close your doors without destructive repercussions. It was unfortunate for the kids more than anyone else, but it was also a sad mix of behaviour on the parents’ behalf, who should have been supporting the growth instead of trying to influence it. Some of the kids transitioned into the regular class and continued to train, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Folks, karate is not a cookie-cutter art. What this means is that if ten people started karate at the white belt rank today, you will see ten different people at ten different skill levels and likely ten different ranks. This is because each and every person is different and every person learns and absorbs information in a different way. if you’re studying the martial arts, it’s important to remember that even if someone progresses to a higher rank than you, it doesn’t mean they’re “better” than you, it simply means that you need to grow in your way. Every person’s martial arts journey is their own. ☯

An Attack Is Only As Good As The Result

I’m a bit of a weird contradiction when it comes to action movies. The guy in me absolutely loves the action, the plots and the effects. But the martial artist in me usually hates how a fight is actually portrayed on shows and movies. You know how it is… The protagonist and the antagonist square off, maybe circle each other for several minutes minutes exchanging sarcastic quips about who will kick whose ass… Then they spend the last twenty minutes of the movie locked in a heated exchange of strike after strike to each other’s head and body, most of which would have crippled a normal human being after the first or second strike.

Yes, a good action movie is fun and all. But the reality is that a fight will not only NEVER last as long as they’re portrayed, but if someone spin kicks you to the head, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll just whip your head to the side, wipe the dribble o blood off your chin and keep fighting! The safe bet is that you’ll drop like a bag of sand, unconscious or stunned beyond the ability to continue. THAT’S reality. But actual full-contact fighting will also cause injuries to the person doing the striking.

I’ve written about this before, but let’s take a good old fashion punch to the head as our example. If you strike someone to the head with your fist, you’ll injure your hand. Notice that I didn’t say “might.” You WILL injure your hand in some way, shape or form. On the milder side of it, your knuckles will get inflamed and possibly swell. At worst, you may sprain your wrist, fracture some carpals or flat out break your hand. And that’s if you’re lucky. Most people have a hard head. A fist is comparatively smaller. Maybe go for an elbow strike instead. Yes, you’ll have to get in closer but you’ll also increase your chances of preventing injury.

That’s just one example, but this concept applies to just about any attack you use on another person. Unlike the movies, getting punched to the head will put you down. But you’ll also get hurt in the process. Unless your wrists are wrapped and you’re wearing padded gloves, the chances are slim that you’ll get multiples hits in without injury. Throwing a proper strike takes technique and precision, which can only be achieved through drills and practice. This is why we do form and work out in a dojo, so that muscle memory kicks in and your strike will be effective.

True self-defence isn’t about a long, drawn out battle or fancy techniques that look like they belong on the big screen. This is one of the reasons why there are so many videos circulating about people exposing “why martial arts don’t work.” It’s not that they don’t work; it’s that people have a skewed misconception about how martial arts would actually be used in a real fight. Self-defence is about protecting yourself and others, and being the one who walks away. ☯

It’s a HIIT…

It’s no secret that I love a little variety in my fitness routines. I’m pretty sure that I’ve tried it all… Cardio, Zumba, Tai Chi, Weightlifting, Cross-fit and many others… I’ve never been afraid of trying anything new and/or different when it comes to my fitness. After all, one could potentially discover a new fitness routine that’s loaded with fun, health and fitness benefits.

Enter: the HIIT workout. For those of you NOT in the know, HIIT stands for High-intensy Interval Training and features (as the name suggests) intense intervals of cardiovascular exercise mixed with short rest periods. These workouts usually let about half an hour, although some of them have been known to last a bit longer, depending on one’s endurance and fitness levels.

HIIT workouts can have a number of benefits, including fat burning, muscle gain and improved blood sugars. But I’m going to focus on 7 benefits of High-intensity interval training as discussed in an article posted by Heathline.com:

  1. You can burn calories quickly in a short period of time: This is one that’s come up in most of the articles I’ve read on the subject. And the general consensus is that you can burn more calories in less time during a HIIT workout than you would with something traditional like cycling or weight lifting;
  2. Your metabolic rate remains high for hours afterwards: an increased metabolism will lend a score of benefits that I won’t bother covering in this post, but a HIIT workout will do it for you. In fact, it will do it more effectively than other traditional workouts;
  3. The fat-burning benefits: Okay, I’ll be the first one to admit that fat-burning is not only one of the most sought-after benefits of any fitness regiment, I’ve often written about how no matter what “gimmick” workout you may doing, there is only one way to effectively burn fat: to burn more calories than you take in. However, a study named in the article I linked above showed a 17% reduction in visceral fat, or the disease-promoting fat surrounding your internal organs, when doing HIIT workouts;
  4. You could gain muscle: Alright, I won’t touch on this too much because the reality is that any consistent and intense workout regiment will help you gain muscle. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. And a “high-intensity” workout would be no different…;
  5. It could improve your oxygen consumption: In this regard, they’re referring to the fact that HIIT workouts will help your muscles to use oxygen more effectively, and will do so in half the time of a traditional workout;
  6. It can reduce heart rate and blood pressure: This has been shown to be prominent mostly in overweight and obese individuals, but it’s an important health benefit nonetheless;
  7. It can help reduce your blood sugar: Seriously?! Woohoo to that! being a Type-1 Diabetic, I’d rather have to consume carbs than burn them. Research has shown that HIIT workouts can not only be extremely beneficial to those with Type-2 Diabetes but can help to improve insulin-resistance.

The good thing about HIIT workouts is that it allows you to reap the benefits of most standard workouts in only half the time. Like any workout, you should consult your medical practitioner before starting ANY fitness regiment, and pay close attention to how a change in fitness routine affects your blood sugars. After all, variety may be the spice of life, but Diabetes will keep you seasoned with complications. ☯

The Next Milestone…

So after using yesterday’s post to bitch, whine and complain about Mother Nature’s unending use of the Prairie Provinces as her personal whipping ground with the non-stop wind, I got an e-mail from my RunKeeper app yesterday indicating that I’ve apparently hit 1000 kilometres this year!

I had some recent issues with my workouts not syncing up to my RunKeeper account, so even if I’ve been counting the number of workouts I’ve been doing per week, none of the statistical stuff has been uploading. I sent in a message to their support link and got a solution the same day. Once I cleared the syncing error and all the workouts synced, I got a batch of emails. One of them was the image you see above.

Considering I reached the 500k mark back in late May, I’m somewhat surprised that I got here this quickly. But either way, it feels nice to be up in the thousands. It will be interesting to see how many more kilometres I can rack up before the colder season kicks in and the snow hits the ground! ☯

Push Without Moving

There’s certainly no lack of different exercises and fitness routines out there. And I usually like to try them all. I’m not saying I stick with everything I try, but variety is the spice of life and what successfully works for one person may not be effective or successful for another. This is why it’s so important to keep an open mind and try different things. This is why the focus of today’s post is an exercise method used by one of the world’s most well-known martial artists: Bruce Lee.

Even if you’re not into martial arts, the safe bet is that you’ve at least HEARD of Bruce Lee, who can be recognized for his speed and martial arts prowess as well as his lean, muscular physique. Lee was a practitioner with very much the same mind set as my own, that the martial arts is a fluid and evolving thing and one needs to keep an open mind and try different things. One of his preferred methods of exercising, besides all the extra stuff he did, was isometric exercises.

In case you’re unfamiliar, isometric exercises are exercises that are performed by contracting muscle groups without moving the specified body part. And example of this would be to place your closed fist against a solid wall and pushing hard. The muscles on your arms will contract and flex without any full movement of the arms (unless your wall caves in, in which you’ve got bigger problems to worry about than fitness!)

Isometrics is an interesting concept, especially if you want to do some strength training but don’t have the room in your home for a weight gym and/or can’t afford a commercial fitness centre’s outrageous monthly fees. For myself, I especially like certain isometric exercises, because they allow me to get some rudimentary strength training in, considering my propensity for selling and/or eliminating all my belongings.

But like everything else in life, there are pros and cons to isometrics, and that’s what I’d like to cover today. I’ll start with the pros, since it’s always more fun to start with the positive:

  1. You can strength train with minimal space: Like I mentioned above, isometric exercises allow you to flex and contract your muscle groups without moving your body. You can do this with the majority of your body’s muscle groups, and you can easily find a batch by searching Google for “isometric exercises”;
  2. It strengthens your muscles rapidly: Isometrics essentially forces you to keep your muscles contracted for a longer period of time than a traditional weight exercise. This means that your muscle is providing a maximum effort for a longer period, which is what causes the muscle damage needed to increase strength. You may only have a second or two of “max effort” during a traditional exercise, but if you hold the pressure during the isometric equivalent for 8 to 12 seconds (which is what’s suggested on Bruce Lee’s workout website) you increase that max effort tenfold;
  3. Isometrics can be done while injured: Now, take this one with grain of salt… I often mention that I’m not a doctor, and I am NOT advocating that you work out while you are injured. But given the nature of this type of exercise, it can be performed without any movement, thereby ensuring you don’t aggravate the injury while continuing your strength training.

Now that I’ve covered off some of the pros, let’s look at some of the cons behind isometric training. I found most of this on the Mayo Clinic’s website, with some of my own thrown in as well.

  1. Isometric training provides limited strength range. Because your limb is sitting in only one position, it’s only strengthened in that one position. One would need to perform isometric exercises in various positions with the same limb in order to improve your strength throughout its full range;
  2. Isometric exercises ONLY improve strength. According to the Mayo Clinic article, “since isometric exercises are done in a static position, they won’t help improve speed or athletic performance.” This means that it’s extremely important to include other types of physical exertion in order to ensure you gain the full benefits of working out;
  3. Isometric exercises can raise your blood pressure. Isometric exercises can increase your blood pressure, and can cause a dramatic increase if you already have high blood pressure issues. So you either need to exercise at a lower level of intensity or check with your medical practitioner before getting too deeply into it. Of course, you should consult your doctor before starting ANY radical change in your workout routine.

There you have it; some good and some bad. A balance, if you will. As should be the case with all things in life. Isometrics looks pretty interesting, and I look forward to trying it out in conjunction with my other stuff. It’s particularly good for people who work at a desk over long hours. It’s super easy to tense, hold and release your abs, gluten, arms and legs while sitting at one’s desk.

The arms might be a bit problematic, especially if you have to, you know, consistently type and stuff… One of the best aspects about fitness is that there’s always something new to learn and try. Everyone is different, so it’s important to find something suited to your likes and needs. ☯