Thursday, December 11, 2014

"Getting Fit" - Which Direction?

Just to continue on from the final thought in my previous blog post:

Usually when asked by friends what piece of gym equipment they should buy to "get fit" at home, a kettlebell (and Pavel's book) is my first recommendation.

Let's partly ignore the "what to buy for home" part and focus on the "get fit" part. See, here's the thing: I enjoy reading about all different ways to train. It's fun, but it's also a gigantic pain in the ass, because when someone asks me for advice on how and where to get started, I'm overwhelmed with so many thoughts, so many training philosophies and so many articles and books by so many coaches and athletes that I don't actually know what advice to give!

It goes without saying that fixing up your diet is the most important thing, and if it wasn't obvious before, it should be, but I'm no diet expert, so I won't give any recommendations here other than to cut out as much processed crap as you can and eat as much whole foods as you can. Your body will thank you.

Now, onto the stuff I feel like I'm in a better position to talk about...

Plain ol' bodyweight exercises? Anyone can learn to do push-ups, planks, squats and pull-ups and there are all sorts of variations to make them easier or harder, depending on where you're at. They have such a low systemic stress on the body that they can be done every day to failure and they can be done pretty much anywhere, from your own lounge room to a hotel room overseas to a patch of grass at a park. Paired with 30-60 minutes of daily walking, this is a solid starting position for a complete novice.

What about kettlebells? The great thing about having a kettlebell is the bang-for-buck factor; it takes up almost zero space, the same kettlebell can be used for years no matter how "good" you get at it and you can learn just a few movements (swing, clean+press, snatch and TGU) to strengthen and condition your entire body with a few short sessions per week in the comfort of your own home. There's a small learning curve, because there's a little bit of technique to swinging a kettlebell effectively, but, being easy to learn, it's still a very accessible option for the general population. Along with Pavel's book, Enter the Kettlebell, this is my recommendation for most people.

Basic barbell training? Squatting, benching, overhead pressing, deadlifting and rowing will get you fit and strong, whether you're a man or a woman, whether you want to get bigger or smaller, whether you have any interest in competing in strength sports or not. It really is a one-stop shop to better health and better performance and there are tons of resources to teach you how to perform each movement. I would love it if most people eventually headed in this direction, but some people just can't be convinced to get under a barbell.

Any of the above options can be paired with hill sprints to really push your conditioning (your "cardio"). Why hill sprints? Because most people can find a hill anywhere they go, there's nothing technical to learn (assuming you know how to run), it costs nothing and they work. Live in a flat area with literally no hills? Make a sled (a tire, a plank of wood to put in the middle of the tire, a rope and a few bricks or a big stone for some weight) and drag it around. Want another option? Put together a sandbag and carry it a bunch of times. Or just sprint. These are all cheap (if not free) options and all of them are super effective.

Any of those options will work if you consistently put in the hard yards. There are many options to "get fit". You don't have to walk into a gym, you don't have to buy all sorts of expensive equipment and you don't need to read tons of books about exercise and muscle physiology. Sure, having access to a gym and reading up on how your body works would be great, but you don't need to.

Most people are surprised when I suggest some of these things, usually because of how simple they are, because we're mostly made to believe that you need a personal trainer because exercise is some big complicated thing and you will hurt yourself if someone isn't watching and correcting your every move. But that's bullshit.

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