The Race is Only with Yourself

I often get calls from people who’ve seen enough pictures/media about The Unit to make them curious, but are nervous as hell about the stuff we do.

One of their main concerns is “Will i be able to do any of this stuff?”. My answer is always the same. “You’re not required to do anything you cannot already do. I won’t ask you to push harder than you can. But it is supposed to be difficult and that will never change for as long as you choose to workout with us. You’ll get better at it, you might even get to a point where those pictures you once feared look like a joke, but it will be as tough 6 months from now as it was the day you walked in.”

And that is what i want to talk about today.

So many of us choose not to live out our potential because someone else is doing better. We let someone else’s talent run our show. When actually, the race is only with ourselves.

1 year from now, your goal should  be, to be better than you were today. The fact that you cannot run 100 meters as fast as Usain Bolt shouldn’t stop you from running those 100 meters anyway.. and enjoying every last meter of it.

At The Unit, in an effort to encourage people to push themselves as hard as they can, we have a whiteboard:

IMG-20130612-WA0000

 

 

 

 

 

On most days, all it has written on it, is the workout of the day. Some days, we write our scores on the board, take a photograph of it and preserve it for later. This way when we do the workout again, we know how far we’ve come in our quest for fitness. Some days I get in early, do the workout myself, put my score up on the board and encourage people to do better.

Most days though, we don’t worry about scores. All that counts is that we did our best. I do this on purpose. I use the scores to remind everyone to push as hard as they can, and do it only sporadically so that a persons’ competitive streak doesn’t get in the way of good technique.

And yet, i find that every time a score is written on the board, it inspires silliness. Heavier than safe weights are attempted(and shot down by me), people try (and fail) to get away with less than perfect technique, and some others forget to count… all in an attempt to ‘win’.

Except, there is no prize, except your own fitness. There is no glory, except for the rush you experience from finding that you are better today than you were yesterday. And the race, no matter how real it seems is ONLY with yourself.

So stop worrying about what the world is thinking. Stop asking if you CAN do an exercise.. and work at being better. Find your strengths, train your weaknesses and as always.. set no limits!

Finding time to cook healthy

To most of you, this will sound familiar:

You wake up in the morning with renewed energy and promise yourself that today will be a good day, that you will do your best to better yourself and treat your body with the respect it deserves.

By 10 am, nothing has gone to plan and you find yourself forced to skip breakfast and run behind the office bus.

12 pm and you’re now so hungry, your shoes look good enough to eat. So you rush to the canteen and eat whatever you can find.

By evening, you’re tired hungry and irritable…. anything in the fridge will do, as long as you don’t have to put any effort into making it edible. The healthy lifestyle you envisioned in the morning counts for nothing.

If you’ve had this experience, don’t beat yourself up about it, once in a while, despite your best effort, it will happen.

However, there is a lot you can do to make sure this happens as little as possible. It will take a little planning, but it will be worth it. Here are my tips to get through the week, hang on to your sanity and your health.

1) Do NOT rely on willpower

Willpower is over-rated. If you have foods that you’re extremely tempted by, don’t keep them at arms length and then proceed to fight the urge to eat it with every ounce of ‘willpower’ you have. Allow yourself the luxury of being human. Accept that there will be one day when you’re tired to care and try and make sure you have one less battle to fight.

2) Prep,cut and freeze your veggies early

Keep aside an hour or two on sunday to cut up a bucket load of veggies and then freeze them in individual serving storage containers.

When its time for dinner, sauté 2-3 of these containers in butter/ghee with garlic, salt and any other spices you like et voila.. you have veggies.

3) Protein

If you’re vegan, and dal is your only option, then pressure cook and freeze a few containers for later.

If you’re a meat/egg eater. Boil eggs/chicken and place them in the fridge. During the week, just cut up the eggs/ shred the meat and roast it with a few spices.

4) The Curry

For all those who NEED their curry, i’ve found that the fastest way to cook one in a hurry is to pressure cook tomatoes with curry powder, salt and coconut milk. Give it 10 minutes in the pressure cooker, take it off the stove and blend well. Add the chicken/egg, that you just boiled and roasted, to it and you have curry

Make a meal out of all the above components. Add a little rice or one potato, if you’d like some starch, and you have a nutritious filling meal that usual takes no more than 20 minutes to cook(which is far less than the time it takes for a pizza or a meal from a restaurant to be delivered/bought).

Are frozen veggies the BEST way to eat your greens… no.. fresh is always better. But its a heck of a load healthier than eating junk. And in the long run, if eating frozen veggies is what helps you stay on track… you will be healthier than if you tried the all or nothing approach and waited on that perfect time when your life suddenly clears up and lets you cook the perfect meal.

Stupid ways to get yourself Injured

And yes, before you ask, I‘ll agree, there isn’t a smart way to get yourself injured. Injuries, however, do happen. When you are tired, when you are playing a sport and you are too caught up in it to realise what you’re actually doing and sometimes, when it is inflicted upon us by the people we play sport with… knowingly or unknowingly.

Yet, these are not the types of injuries I’m talking about. Those happen, and yes, if we’re extremely careful ALL the time we can, in theory avoid them, but we are human and we make mistakes.

Today’s post is about a different kind of injury. The kind thats a 100% possible to avoid, if only we used common sense. I’ve listed them here. If you fit into any of these categories, please, for the love of all things holy, be conscious of what you do.

Group 1: The Deadlift Hipocrites

They walk around claiming to have mastered one of the hardest, but most functional of moves known to the exercise world. They pick up ma-hoo-sive weights with nary a rounded back in sight, and they’ve got glutes of steel to show for it.

And then…. when they’re done, they put their weight away… with backs so rounded, it makes my eyes water.

Now why on earth would you master a move thats designed to help you learn to ‘correctly’ pick things off the floor, and then proceed to throw away everything you’ve learnt the very second you have to pick up something thats not neatly shaped like a canon ball?? Why?

Whether its a keychain, a can of water or a barbell, keep your chest out, shoulders pulled back and BACK FLAT! Thank you.

Group 2: The Squat Rack Silliness

These ones can squat a 100 kilos with their chest upright. Their hips track backwards, Their knees are well behind their toes and they power up the weight like it means nothing to them.

They do the recommended number of reps perfectly and proceed to rack it, how? By tilting forward, allowing their back to round and letting their knees come way forward.

Because performing one last squat to place the weight on the rack would be too much to ask for. Its just one squat too many.

Hopefully they won’t miss their knees too much when they grow old.

Group 3: Stretching is for Sissies

You’ve all seen this bunch. They grunt, they groan, they beat their chests, they lift big. They are so strong they cannot scratch their own backs…. their bulging biceps get in the way.

Their quadriceps(front of the thigh) are so well developed(tight) their knees ache. And their hamstrings so taut that a full squat is a distant dream. Any sudden movement, can cause injury.

There’s two ways out of this.

1) Stretch and work on your mobility.

2) Pray to the heavens that you’ll never have to face the toilets of an Indian train alone.

(I prefer option 1… for obvious reasons)

So there you have it, the top 3 reasons people get injured. Try to avoid them will you? Oh, and stretch!

Exercising through Knee Pain(Not Injury)

Knee pain is one of the most common reasons for people giving up exercise altogether. It can be caused by overuse, trauma and in todays’ world, by postural imbalances created by working at a desk job.

I’ve written about how the human body was designed to move, and how, in the absence of movement, it deteriorates. And yet, most of us have jobs that require us to sit still for long hours, often crouched in front of a computer.

Those of us who exercise have witnessed first hand, the human body’s ability to compensate/adapt to accommodate the demands we place on it. The human body is a master compensator, it will find the easiest, most efficient way to survive the conditions we hand it.

So how does it compensate to help us sit for long hours without pain?

-> It shortens the distance between the hip and the front of your leg(in lay mans terms) so that the seated position where the knee makes right angles with the leg is easier to maintain, causing tight hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves.

-> Your chest will tighten in an effort to help you sit hunching forward, and your neck will follow.

-> Your upper back, as a result of being constantly stretched forward will weaken and eventually not be able to do its job properly.

What does all this translate to? The entire anterior chain(front) of your body tightening/tilting forward(little by little) so that the crouching position needed to sit long hours is easy to maintain.

There are several problems that arise from these imbalances, but we will address only the knee pain that(usually) comes with these imbalances.

Pain in the knee can occur either, just above the kneecap, just below or to the side.

Above the kneecap: Usually brought on by quadriceps so tight, your knee caps are being pulled upwards. Can also be brought on by poor squatting form(allowing knees to go past your toes).

Below the kneecap: the source of pain is the patellar tendon, which connects the knee cap to the top of the lower leg.

Under the knee cap – pain from excessive compression of the knee cap and from arthritic changes underneath the knee cap. Long distance runners will be familiar with this one.

Outside your knee cap : Often from a tight iliotibial (IT) band. It also can be due to ligament strain.

So what can you do to prevent these pains/if you already have them, to ease it up a little bit?

Giving up exercise is not the answer. Foam Rolling, stretching the tight muscles out and strengthening the opposing, weak muscles are what will help you live pain free.

Postural correction also helps. Learn to fire the glutes(not the quadriceps) when you walk/climb the stairs. Do not walk on your toes. Perform corrective exercises to help you restore function to your largest muscles. Learn to squat correctly. Switch exercises out the second you feel pain. And STRETCH.

Most importantly, remember, im not a doctor. If the pain persists, get your butt over to one. Sometimes a simple regimen of stretching and myofascial release is all you need to make a world of difference. Other times you may need more intervention. Don’t use this blog in the place of good old common sense.

 

Putting it all together Part 2: Exercise

So you’ve figured that all that cardio isn’t good for you. What next? Running/walking/the elliptical is what you know how to do best and you’ve never done anything else. How do you go about setting up an exercise schedule thats do-able and sustainable? And what are the elements you need to add in to make sure it works?

1) LIFT HEAVY

If you have a gym membership, this should be easy. All you have to do is step away from those fat traps designed to look like cardio machines, and venture into new territory… the weight room. Ask a trainer to help you learn some basic moves or try and incorporate the following moves into your routine:

-Squat: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-f5dj6A07nc

-Press: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJFjYyA40ss

-Pull: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQa7iV9sE_w

-Balance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mG-Stc3c7N0

If you don’t have a gym membership, invest in a basic set of dumbells and try the exercises above at home. Always remember to keep your shoulders pulled back, and to never hunch forward with your back.

2) SPRINT

Once a week, go out there and sprint. Run as fast as you can over a short distance(100 -150 meters) and recover by taking a break thats 2-3 times longer than the time you took to sprint that distance.

3) SHORT, INTENSE CARDIO

Once or twice a week, perform full body moves at the highest intensity you can safely manage. If you can keep a conversation going during the workout, your intensity is too low. If you feel like your heart is going to pop out your chest, its too high.

Time these workouts, so that you can look back and measure your progress. A sample workout looks like this:

In 15 minutes perform as many rounds as possible of the following exercise:

5 Burpees

10 Sit ups

15 squats.

4) REST

Take at least one day off for every 3 days you work out. This will prevent overtrained muscles that are prone to injury.

More than anything else, remember, if losing inches/fat is your goal, then exercise is only 30% of the solution. The other 70% is nutrition. You cannot out run/out train a bad diet. Eat in moderation, exercise sensibly and hold on to your sanity.

 

Putting it all together: Part 1-Nutrition

So you’ve read about exercise and nutrition and you’ve nodded your head in agreement. You would now like to get into the specifics of how exactly this comes together. Lets start with a few simple rules. These rules should be what you fall back on when you find yourself in a situation you haven’t planned for.

1) Food is generally grown, farmed or cultivated. If it was processed, moulded like plasticine and forced into pretty colourful packets.. its not food.

2) If a grain has to be chosen, make it rice… white rice.

3) If fried is your only option, try and ask if you can get it sauteed in butter/ghee/virgin coconut oil. If these options don’t exist, try and make sure that at the very least, its not breaded AND fried(think KFC..ugh!)

4) Muesli is NOT a health food. Not the store bought variety anyway.

5) Always read the ingredients.. and when in doubt, refer to rule number 1 to decide whether its actually a food. If you cannot pronounce the ingredients, its probably NOT food.

6) At every meal, try to e ata vegetable or fruit.

7) At every meal, try and eat a lean, clean source of protein(eggs, dairy,lentils,meat)

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, lets get into specifics. Here’s a sample diet:

Breakfast:

Option 1: Almost Muesli(but not quite)

Add 1/4th cup of coconut milk to a cup of fruits, a teaspoon of almonds. Vegetarians can add a scoop of protein powder to the mix. Otherwise, serve with an egg for some protein.

Option 2:

2 egg omelet, made with loads of veggies. Veggies that work well in omelettes include peppers, mushrooms, spinach(add a handful at the end and scramble) and baby corn.

Add a dosa or an idli to this, and you have a nice filling breakfast.

LUNCH

Make the base of this meal, veggies and not rice. Poriyal can be used to mimic the texture of rice.

Add lentils(sambhar) or a curry(meat) made with little or no oil and some rice/1 sweet potato.

Yogurt is another great add in for extra protein.

Eat till you feel satisfied(not so full you’re going to burst)

SNACKS

Nuts, seeds, home-made protein bars(recipe coming soon), fruits (See rule no.1 at the top of the post).

Dinner should be about the same as lunch.

Try to eat as healthy as possible 90% of the time. Add in 1-2 cheat meals a week, so you don’t feel deprived and savour the taste of everything you eat.

Add this to a sensible exercise regime and you’ll be well on your way to a healthier life.

 

Getting enough Protein If you’re vegetarian

If you’ve been vegetarian long enough, you’ve probably heard this one before. If you’re vegetarian and you workout. You’ve probably heard this even more.

I was Vegetarian for 11 years, and i tried veganism for 6 months. I gave it up, when it got difficult to plan my meals outside, and spend time with family that had no idea how to conjure a tasty dish that contained no meat.

That being said, vegetarianism/veganism itself is not the problem. If you’re dilligent about your diet, you can get enough protein to support a helluva workout. Key word: Dilligent.

So as a vegetarian/vegan. What do you need to look out for?

1) PROTEIN

If you’re vegetarian, eggs are an excellent source of protein which also contains micronutrients like B vitamins and choline that just aren’t found in plant foods. If you can, try and get at least one egg in(with the yolk) everyday.

If you’re vegetarian but you cannot stomach the thought of eating eggs. Dairy is another good source of protein, provided you’re not lactose intolerant. If you usually react to dairy, it might help to try fermented, home made yogurt, as the process of fermentation destroys most of the lactose anyway.

Goats milk, if you can get your hands on it, is another excellent alternative to traditional dairy.

If you’re vegan, Legumes and pseudograins (which include fancy grains buckwheat and quinoa) are both good sources of protein – as long as they’re prepared correctly.

The problem with this category of food is that they contain:

  • Phytic acid: a chemical compound that binds to nutrients in the food and makes   them unavailable for your own body
  • Lectins: A type of protein that can irritate the gut; and
  • Saponins and protease inhibitors, which are designed to protect the seed from being broken down in the digestive system, which can, again, irritate the gut.

A large part of this can be corrected if the food is prepared correctly. Soaking and sprouting these foods reduces the phytic acid content significantly. Fermentation can almost entirely eliminate it. Cooking breaks down most of the lectins and pressure cooking can eliminate them completely.

Traditional methods of cooking like adding aniseed to dal before pressure cooking can also help break down the Oligosaccharides that produce gas.

2) NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES

Vegetarians/vegans cannot get away with being lazy with their diet like the meat eaters do. Eating meat automatically ensures a supply of B12, Iron and other trace minerals that veggies cannot take for granted.

Vitamin B12 which is necessary for energy, mood, and mental health (among other things) is usually found in meat. For those of us who cannot eat meat, B12 can either come in the form of a supplement or Marmite.

marmite

 

 

 

 

 

 

Available at nuts and spices, a 4 g serving provides you with 40% Of the RDA for B12. Smear it on to some sweet potato, slather with coconut oil and enjoy.

Another micronutrient that vegetarians and vegans might need to supplement is iron. It’s true that many vegetables do contain iron, But the iron found in vegetables, eggs, and dairy is much less bioavailable than the iron found in meat. Vegetarians will therefore, will need to consume more iron than recommended in the RDA, and eat iron sources alongside foods rich in Vitamin C, which increases the absorption of iron.

If you’re vegetarian, you also need to consume 30% more protein than your meat eating counterparts to get the same amount nutrition from them.

Conclusion:

Being a veggie workout addict is hard, but not impossible. Stay the course, watch your diet, and you’ll be just fine.

Massive respect to all those that stay true to their beliefs despite the easy availability of mass produced meat products. You guys amaze me.

 

The Big Fat Indian Buffet

Let me start this post by saying its always better to order a la carte. That way you get exactly what you want and you can ask the waiter to change it mildly to suit your needs without upsetting every diner in the room.

Having said that there are still the unavoidable wedding/party buffets that are thrust upon you. If the person hosting this is close enough to you, there is almost no point trying to get out of it. There’s two ways to handing this:

1) Make it your cheat meal of the week and go right back to eating healthy… not tomorrow, not on Monday, but right away. As soon as the plate has been cleared.

2) Pick the healthiest options available to you.

How do you do this? Easy

-> Eat a little snack ahead of time. This way you aren’t viewing the buffet through the eyes of an extremely starved Indian cow (Plastic? No problem).

-> If you see suspicious looking liquids with a thick layer of oil floating on top, masquerading as ‘curry’ step away.

->Eat the veggies. Most buffets have a salad counter with cucumber, carrots and a customary fruit salad in the name of starters. Make that one part of your main course. Tandoori style grilled veggies are also a great option

->There is also, almost always a dal option. Use it.

-> if you see a chicken/meat/paneer curry, try and pick out the pieces with only as much curry as you need, and pair that with a small portion of rice/dry roti.

-> Give the dessert section a miss. Unless you plan to eat the fruits with no ice cream, there is almost nothing you can do right here.

-> Choose one dish you really really want to indulge in, and savour a portion of it… slowly.

-> Eat only if you are hungry and stop when you are full. Don’t eat because there is food or because random family came up to you inquisitively and coddled you into eating.

-> If you hear the sentences “Diet ah?” (Said disdainfully) or “Just this one time won’t hurt”. Respectfully say nothing (smiling like a maniac also works). You don’t owe anyone an explanation for what you choose to put into your insides. No, really, you don’t.

Most importantly though, don’t expect life to be perfect. There will be a cake at a dear friends wedding that you cannot miss. A family member or sibling whose wedding is worth more to you than numbers on a scale. When that happens, enjoy every moment. Don’t be the person that sniffed the food and stepped away because there was one calorie too many.

You can always get right back to eating healthy the very next minute. In the long run its not the minor setbacks that matter. In the long run what matters is that you stayed the course despite the setbacks.

 

Waking up to exercise

The following is what happened to me everyday of the 13 years I voluntarily chose to play basketball. I loved the sport and wouldn’t give it up for anything, and yet, the alarm would ring at 5 am, and suddenly my mind would be flooded with ALL the reasons i cannot go for practice today. It was usually some variation of the following comepletely valid excuses:

1) I think i have a mild headache.. oh.. wait… thats right, there is a faint thud, thud at the back of my head that is completely real. Thats what i’ll tell coach. That I’m not well. No really. *Really* (my brain pleads)

2) OOOOH look, grey clouds, its going to rain. Can’t go in the rain now can I? Aww shucks, i totally would have. *heh*

3) OHHH thats right. I forgot, i don’t have a clean tee shirt. Aww shucks, such a shame my raging interest has been doused by the cold reality of dirty laundry. Ah well.

4) I’ll go tomorrow, because undying hope and infinite wisdom tell me that my future self is way better than my current self. Tomorrow, is also the 1st/15th/Monday/<insert good date> and tomorrow i will magically be better. I will wake up at 4 am, do 300 different exercise before my coach even yells “warm up” and only the healthiest of food shall pass through the temple that is my body. Tomorrow.

5) Me-h exercise? Who cares. Sleep is beautiful. I only just managed to find the perfect balance of warm sheets and fluffy pillow and its taken me all night. I refuse to leave it.

6) Coach says my muscles only grow if they’re given rest. I’m pretty sure I need a rest. Only for the sake of my muscles though. The thought of sleeping in does nothing for me.

So what did i do, every time the voices in my head started telling me these things? I got up, dressed up and showed up anyway. After a while you get used to it and it becomes a habit. And I’ve never, not once, regretted showing up. Not once. If anything, it was sleeping in I’ve regretted.

Sound familiar?

 

 

The many faces of body shaming 2: Alleged Wuss-itude

Most of us have been to at least one trainer in our lives. Maybe it was at a gym when you asked him/her to spot your bench press. Maybe it was just so you get some advice on nutrition, or maybe you attended a class that you thought would help you attain your goals.

Most of us then have been guilted(yeah its a word), into thinking that if we did not lose weight, its because we dint push hard enough. Or because we were too scared. Or because we’re lazy and just couldn’t find the willpower to not eat that brownie.

All this could of course be true, but, it could also be that you haven’t spent the time to figure out why YOU want to lose weight/get fit. If you’re intentions stem from an intense dislike of your body and the way its shaped, its very likely that those problems will continue to plague you long after the weight is gone.

Its ironic, but the ones most likely to lose weight AND keep it off, are the ones who actually like themselves enough to put themselves through the pain of exercise. The ones who know its hard and come back anyway because they respect their body too much to see it waste away.  It takes commitment and drive, and the self love to make the hard decisions every single day, every single time your brain tells you to take the easy route.

So how do you get to that point? You start by appreciating what you have and being perfectly happy with it. You can’t abuse something you like can you?

Let me explain: I’ve always loved to exercise, I’ve on several occasions told people who’ve asked me not to exercise(long story) that i’d rather lose my legs/face terrible consequences, than keep my legs and not be able to run with them.

I joined a class a while ago where the trainer kept yelling at us to work towards ‘changing our bodies’. He called us wusses if we were tired and also made it a point to make each one feel as miserable as he possibly could by picking on their insecurities. His intentions were pure (i think), he was hoping to shame everyone into losing weight. I, however, didn’t lose an ounce, because every time i finished class, i felt so low, i needed chocolate.

Many years and several different types of workouts later. I am back to loving exercise, just because. I appreciate what i can do, and i enjoy it, and i am stronger today than i have ever been.

Turns out i wasn’t a wuss at all. I just hadn’t found my strength yet.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re less than. Don’t believe it for a second if they do. Set no limits. Your body doesn’t have the inhibitions your mind does.