Archive for January, 2014

Living A Younger Life

Posted: January 29, 2014 in General, Motivation

For the past couple of years I’ve been unable to come up with a suitable description for what I want to achieve with my lifestyle. A big part of it has been me being unable to quantify what I want to achieve. Be fitter, healthier, better, more active physically and mentally. It’s all a bit vague. Fitter than what? Better than what? I’ve ben unable to convey in anything but the most general terms what my aim is.

This morning I had an ‘Eureka’ moment. I was just browsing the net and somehow I came across a website for Drenched Fitness in California. So not exactly local to me. However it looks an attractive site so I had a look around and came across this page. And there was exactly the description I’ve been looking for – ‘Living A Younger Life‘ – this sums up exactly what I’ve been trying to achieve. They may not be the first people to use the phrase, but its the first time I have seen it, so I’m giving them the credit for it.

Anyone reading that expression knows exactly what is intended. My mistake when trying to describe what I wanted to convey was too much analysis. Looking for things to compare to so I could describe a clear message. All I ended up doing was cluttering up the idea. The sheer simplicity of this statement is what makes it more effective. A classic case of when less is more.

Working it back into what I had though about originally and it becomes clearer. I’ll be fitter than the average person my age, I’ll have the fitness level of a younger person, same for healthier and being more active. I can’t turn back the clock, but how I am as I get older is down to me. Physically and mentally I intend to live a younger life.

How young? I don’t see why I can’t be as fit, healthy and active as just about anyone 10 years younger than me. In fact looking around at people going about their daily business I’m already there for a large percentage.

So that’s the overall goal, clearly defined. Live a younger life. And big thanks to Drenched Fitness for having the expression in the first place for me to use.

Overall another good week.

Positives:

  • Made gym five times (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Especially pleased with Wednesday as I was away from home due to work, but still managed to squeeze in a workout.
  • Weight staying steady and still under 79kg.
  • Sleeping well and awaking refreshed – not to be underestimated.
  • Bought some new bedding and not only does it look good it feels good too. The cats have already tested this particular aspect and have given a thumbs/paws up.
  • Spent a lot of time clearing up my music on my PC and sorting it out into folders, not exactly exciting but it was long overdue.
  • Mood remains pretty positive
  • Have started logging workouts at Fitocracy – I’ve even levelled up!

Neutrals:

  • Work could do with being busier. Plenty to do but could do with with the sales being higher than current.
  • Current book is taking longer to read than I had expected.

Negatives:

  • The fair one has developed a stinking cold and is suffering a bit as a result.

Kettlebell Complex

Posted: January 26, 2014 in Fitness, workouts

I always assumed that as I got fitter doing things at the gym would become easier, the exercises I struggled with in the past would become easier and therefore I’d have an easier time as my fitness improved. In fact there would come a time when I could cruise through a gym workout whilst barely breaking sweat. Great theory, but nothing like reality! Once you can just about do something its time to move onto something else more challenging.

Now my trainer introduced me to kettle bells, which to those of you who have been spared such things look just like this:

kettlebellsThere are all sorts of exercises you can do with these things and as you can see they come in a range of sizes. So the permutations are endless. I’ve used them in the past as part of a workout, but my trainer ‘kindly’ showed me how to do a complex with these things for “a quick full body work out.” Oh its quick all right, I go from fresh-faced to exhausted in about 4 minutes flat. The complex is a series of exercises performed one after the other with two kettlebells. In my case:

  • Press up
  • Stiff leg deadlift
  • Row
  • Swing
  • Clean
  • Reverse lunge
  • Push press

I start off with one of each, then two, then three, then two and then one.

If you think I must be doing this with the big purple kettlebells at the end, I have to disappoint you. Instead I’m using two of those little yellow ones (12 kg each). My workout has 3-4 sets of the complex. I probably spend longer sitting on my ass between sets than it takes to do the set in the first place. Today I managed four sets although I was hardly a thing of beautiful motion towards the end of the last set.

Despite all the gains I’ve made in my fitness, I’m still astounded just how tiring a workout can be and in this case so quickly too. Apparently the trainer wants me to aim for a complex of 1,2,3,4,3,2,1 as opposed to the current 1,2,3,2,1. I have to say that looks like a life-time away. But then again, it wasn’t that long ago I thought I’d never be able to pull ups either.

Currently I have yet to see anything in the gym that exhausts me quite as quickly as kettlebells. So when time is in short supply and you still want a serious work out I have to recommend you reach for the kettlebells, but don’t say I didn’t warn you first about how tough it can be.

These days there is an online community for anything and everything, fitness and health are no exceptions. I’ll periodically publish my thoughts on these organisations. The first one I ever found was Sparkpeople

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You can find it here

According to Twitter it has 50k+ followers and a 126k+ followers on Google+. Overall it’s what looks like nice side of the fitness industry. Its full of bright colours and made up of people who cheer on your every success no matter how small. While it does have some sections about exercise the focus in mostly about weight reduction through diet. It has various challenges and lots of groups for different things.

Sign up and you will get daily emails full of general advice and recipes for low-calorie meals (e.g. 10 creative ways to use bagged greens’). Fitness advice like how to do an 11 minute cardio workout while sitting down. There is always the healthy thought of the day and an allegedly funny cartoon.

One feature is how you can get Spark Points for achievements. These are for just about anything and tend to be far more about trying than achieving. There are members blogs where the faithful can let you know how well they are doing and more commonly all the reasons behind the changes they are about to make to their lives. There are motivational comments aplenty. It’s really quite commendable, and yet… and yet… it drives me nuts!

Firstly, its loaded with adverts, it might be dressed up as a health and fitness community but it’s also a means of driving traffic to the adverts. I also find the people who contribute just too mumsy for me. A  large number of the community members seem to be overweight female middle-aged types just desperate to discuss their weight with each other and what they are planning to do about it. Less so what they are doing. Its like the Women’s Institute for diet and fitness. There are also lots of religious quotes given to people in the way of praise for doing well.  Or even just the ‘God bless’ routine for anything and everything. I know its meant well, but whenever they get together cheering for each other with the religious connotations I just wish someone would post ‘Fucking A, you nailed that motherfucker!’ Even if just for a bit of variety.

Perhaps I have got the wrong end of the stick, but it seems like so many of them are seriously obese. This isn’t where fit people go to talk about maintaining their fitness. It’s where really overweight people go to talk about what they are going to do to get fit and how they are doing really well because they walked to the bus stop today. In true Sparkpeople style that would have about 30 people saying how well the writer had done in making those first steps on their own to the bus stop. There are so many posts about ‘how this time its going to be different’ or about how their weight yo-yo’s all the time. Yet they then continue to do the same as last time and wonder why the results are the same too. There seems to be a lot of people talking about plans to change or how they have just started to change and far fewer saying ‘already good and keeping it that way’.

Overall Sparkpeople to me has a load of very genuinely unhappy people all trying to make changes while the people who operate the site must make a fortune in the advertising from the traffic. It’s hard for me not to be cynical about it. They must have their success stories, and they don’t promise anyone results, yet to me it still feels manipulative. There isn’t anything wrong in what they do, there are no lies or false promises. Instead its a community where a lot of unfortunate people can suffer/struggle together. That bit is fine with me, but someone is definitely making money out of them at the same time and that’s the bit that doesn’t sit so well.

Major plus point – feel good about yourself by being with others of a similar condition. The community spirit is one of support.

Down side – I suspect the success rates are poor. If you are serious about improving your fitness then this is not the place.

Mid Life Comforts – the quality pen.

Posted: January 23, 2014 in Musings

If there is one thing that typifies being middle-aged, it’s the desire for creature comforts that in your younger years would have been dismissed with a sneer.

I remember when I thought I’d never tire of going to gigs and how it didn’t matter what I wore or what I owned. The idea of possessions being important  to me just didn’t register. Thirty years later its a different story. I can justify it to myself in so many ways – the household appliances make my life easier or seeing as I really enjoy watching movies then a good HD TV makes perfect sense (and oh yes, I do love that Sony Bravia 50 inch piece of engineering brilliance). Most people could understand those, but one thing less easy to explain is how I am a sucker for is a nice pen.

I remember when going through school and onto college, the sign of the well to do up-and-coming young student was that epitome of writing class, the Parker Rollerball.

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You could tell it was a class act – it even came with its own box.

Normally, the source of such an implement was the well-intentioned Xmas present from a relative who didn’t know you well enough to choose something you’d really like but wanted to play it safe while scoring points with your parents by acknowledging your Nobel-prize winning potential. I must have had about a dozen of these over my school and college years. Strangely enough I have no idea what happened to any of them, other than they never lasted long  enough to need a refill.

Working full-time thereafter I was happy in the day job using the everyday disposable biro without a second thought. Then suddenly one day I wanted a ‘good’ pen. Where did that come from? No idea. It didn’t build up on me gradually. It was bang, one day the biro’s I had been using for years without a second thought were suddenly flawed, rubbish and frankly just shit! I need a better writing implement than this. How can I expect to function to my full potential while having to use such a shoddy pen? I should explain here my job doesn’t require a lot of writing. I was a depot manager at the time and would spend more time on the PC than I would with pen and paper. So there is no real justifiable reason for this desire to upgrade my writing implement of choice. I just wanted something I perceived to be better. It was an indulgence. Well, what of it? That’s one of the advantages about being in the mid-life bracket. I want to indulge myself, so fuck it, I will!

Not knowing much about pens then (and not much more now) I quickly did some research and found a range that I not only liked but I could afford too. And this was how the Waterman pen came into my life. Gone are the rather tacky matt metallic finishes of the Parker and in come the gorgeous shiny lacquered finishes of the Waterman. And ohhhhh the weight – let me tell you about the weight. If you’ve never used a ‘good’ pen before, it’s the weight that gets you straight away. It just sits in your hand perfectly, it feels as if it belongs there. Oh yes my friends, this is writing bliss!

watPatrician-lacquerNot only do these things look great and feel great, they even write well. Once you start using a pen like this, going back to the old biro’s of the past just isn’t going to happen. Well, not without a fight anyway.

I probably write even less now than ever, but I have three Watermans – two pens and a propelling pencil. Each one is a complete indulgence and frankly I wouldn’t be without them. I had a business meeting this week where I required to take notes and its so much less of a chore with a quality pen than a biro. Want a mid-life treat? Go buy a Waterman.

The only thing even a pen this good does not help is that my handwriting still resembles the last throes of an arthritic spider that fell into an ink well staggering across a sheet of paper.

One of those less than remarkable weeks, very little of major importance happened. I guess the best way to describe it as ‘normal life’. It’s also the easy time to slip back into old and less productive routines. So I’m on my guard about that.

Positives –

  • Made the gym five times this week. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday. Didn’t always do brilliantly, but was pleased at the discipline in going and trying hard.
  • Started a new book on how the mind makes decisions, it’s not a quick read, but it has me thinking already.
  • No excessive meals so diet has been a bit better and weight has gone down as a result (78.5 at end of week). Although we did have an extremely good home-made Chilli Chicken Curry on Sunday.

chilli chicken 0114

  • Finally signed up for Dropbox and spent a load of time copying photographs and music over.
  • Had my annual appraisal at work, which went very well. There was even a small salary rise too. Felt positive after that.
  • Discovered James Clear’s blog – really enjoyed that

Negatives –  Nothing really! I’m carrying a niggling strain in my right upper arm which is holding me back slightly at the gym, hopefully it will clear up in a day or two.

Neutrals – Work still too quiet.

Next week has me away from home a couple of days due to work, so that’s likely to affect my fitness plans, but I’ll just have to plan the damage limitation.

There are a few sites which I follow so I thought I’d give a brief explanation as to why any readers of this site might be interested in checking them out.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Ken Segall was the marketing guy behind the phrase ‘Think Different’ for Apple back in the Steve Jobs days. His blog can be found here.

To be fair I know very little about marketing, I come across it in my day-to-day work, but it’s always marketing on the cheap. Its pushing a product at a seasonal time and usually very localised. Nothing like the world that Ken moves in. So what’s it got to do with me and being middle-aged?

Firstly, its genuinely interesting and if you believe one should always be on the look out for new interests then this is well worth picking up on. Read his ‘Insanely Simple’ book too, it’s a fascinating insight into Apple at the time he was working with them. There has been so much written about Apple and Steve Jobs, this one at least has the kudos of someone who was there at the time and was involved in the process.

Secondly, I just can’t help it – I’m a bit of an Apple fanboy (well fan-middle-aged-guy I guess). I find their products and strategies absorbing. Granted, its more from a consumer’s point of view but that doesn’t lessen my interest. I try (with varying degrees of success) to keep up to date with consumer tech of interest to me and Apple make that easy for me. iPod, iPad, iPhone, iTunes – yep guilty on all counts.

Thirdly, its given me an appreciation of marketing which I didn’t have previously. He has a fair number of posts about Apple ads and Samsung ads and to hear how a top-level marketing exec explains them has opened my eyes. Not least to my own employer’s rather limited marketing and how the guys working there are asked to work miracles with a budget of buttons.

His recent post has been a comparison between Apple and Samsung’s holiday period adverts. The Apple one is a bit emotive, pulls at the heart-strings but I still like it. The Samsung one is shocking in so many ways. I just cringed all the way through it. It’s quite astounding that a company this size with so much revenue at their disposal for advertising manages to shoot themselves in the foot with a truly awful advert for their new smart watch. My immediate reaction to the advert is to never buy any of their products again or at least think twice before I do. Ken also manages to articulate all the things that spring to mind so well.

It’s well worth a follow for anyone interested in marketing and/or Apple. Updates tend to be every couple of weeks or so, but they are always well written and researched.

Marginal gains – all add up

Posted: January 15, 2014 in General, Musings

Recently I’ve been trying to identify what I can do to be a bit better at, well, life really. It sounds a bit dramatic doesn’t it? I’ve made some changes already in the past few years and I kind of like how they have worked out for me, so I’m still on the look out for any more I can find.

I’ve been marginally interested in the rise of Team Sky as a cycling team. I’m not a cyclist, but in the UK you can’t help but notice Team Sky due to their success and that they are British.  Being part of one of the UK’s largest media companies also helps with the promotion a tad too. For years Britain was never quite at the table of world-class cycling but in the past decade or so that’s changed. Suddenly we would appear to be the team to beat, or in most cases not beat. Lets see the stats:

Athens 2004 – 4 medals, 2 gold

Beijing 2008 – 14 medals, 8 golds

2011 World Championship – Mark Cavendish first British road racer since 1965 to win

2012 Tour de France – Bradley Wiggins first British winner

London 2012 – 12 medals, 8 golds

2013 Tour de France – Chris Froome 2nd ever British winner

These things don’t happen by accident and the person behind Team Sky is none other than the person who was in charge of the Olympic team, take a bow Sir Dave Brailsford.

His strategy, or at least what he’s making public, is about the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’. In short he looks at the detail and identifies where he can make small improvements, say 1%. He then carries the same strategy over as many areas as possible and these build up into a significant overall gain. One example I heard was he wanted Team Sky to sleep better, so he arranged for them to take the same mattresses with them when they moved around the Tour so the riders would have a more comfortable sleep at night. That way they would be less tired the following day. Just one small thing, but linked in with a bunch of others they add up. If you can improve 1% over 10 different areas, you’re looking at a 10% overall improvement.

Most people when looking at improving things in their life come up with really big ideas – I’m going to drop 3 stones, I’m going to find a new job, I’m going to buy a house, I’m going to do all of those etc. My amateur psychology outlook thinks these must be destined for failure in most cases simply because they are so daunting. Whereas if they focussed instead on losing two pounds, or focussed on updating their CV or decided to save a small amount each month – these just seem more doable and after the first couple of pounds are gone then decide to lose two more, the CV is ready well try sending out a few, got some money in the bank – keep saving and so on.

For me I need to decide what areas I can improve by one percent in. Once I’ve got those identified I can look at what I’m doing. Straight away it seems a less daunting task to improve my diet by 1% than to turn it upside down.

Find enough in the way of 1%’s and I’ll be able to total up to some significant changes. Wiggins here found enough to win Olympic Gold and the Tour de France! While its safe to say these pinnacles of performance may just (slightly!) be beyond what I can manage, it certainly makes me wonder about just how much I can achieve.

wiggins

What 1%s would you start with?

Not a title I would have chosen for myself, but it was a Xmas pressie so decided to give it a go. The book is the basis for the film Captain Phillips.  Richard Phillips was the captain of a merchant ship which was captured by Somali pirates in 2009. The book deals with the events just before, during and just after the hijack.

captainsduty

The first person narrative tone takes a bit of getting used to. It’s done in the way as if Phillips was sitting across a table from you telling what went down. That’s got its good and bad points. In some ways the words and language he chooses are very homely and to a non-American at times just plain irritating! But at the same time it also comes across as very natural. There are quite a lot of anecdotes about his life prior to the incident and again its down to the reader whether these are endearing or annoying.

To be blunt about it I found Captain Phillips as a person to be someone with whom I have nothing in common at all.  If we met in a bar we’d struggle to find common grounds for conversation.  So putting Phillips as a person to one side , what’s he like as a captain?

This was where the book really improved. I know nothing at all about merchant ships other than they are the big things on the water moving stuff about. Phillips did a superb job on conveying what was happening on the ship without being too techy, but managing to get his meaning across clearly.  I was slightly apprehensive about the ‘ship’ aspects to the book before reading it. Would I get lost in the detail and end up just giving up? No fear. It was all handled briefly and interestingly.

Phillips the captain is quite a character. He is the hero of the book, yet as he writes  he comes across as a pretty humble guy and that balances up with the homeliness of the more personal chapters. While dealing with the pirates he manages to outsmart them most of the time and it pretty obvious he’s extremely competent as a captain.

I liked that he included details of what his mistakes while dealing with the pirates were and also what he was thinking when he made those mistakes – and oh yes, he made a few. There were certainly a couple of things which seemed blindingly obvious to me which he just didn’t think of. Yet at the same time he came up with some things I’d never have thought of in a million years.

Being so clearly based on an actual incident there is no major surprise in the ending. The intriguing thing is how the journey to that end point was made.  The book is not overly detailed, it comes in at just under 300 pages with some pretty big spacing, so it’s not exactly challenging on either the eye or the brain.

Overall verdict: I’m glad I’ve read it, it was enjoyable but I can’t ever see me reading it again. Quite a page tuner but you get through it pretty quickly. Rating – 3.5/5. Good, worth reading but far from challenging. A pleasant way to spend a couple of hours but it won’t exactly change your life.

The holiday season is offically over, the Xmas tree and the decorations packed away for another year. From here on in its about trying to live up to the planning.

Positives –

  • Made the gym five times this week. I’ve pretty much decided 5 days is the optimum for training Tuesday and Thursday are rest days. If I can keep this up I’ll be delighted.
  • I’ve finished the second book of the year which I still have to do a review of.
  • The Fair One and I went out for a meal and some drinks on Satrday night, which isn’t good for the fitness regime but a good time was had nonetheless.
  • I treated myself to a rather fine leather jacket and I’m delighted with that. I also chucked out an old jacket which is too big for me now – was pleased to see that go.
  • Dead Lifts – 5 sets of 3 at 130kg – my best yet
  • Pull Ups – Managed 5 sets of 5. Last time I tried which would have been about October I could barely do one

Negatives –  Nothing really! Diet could be better but its heading in the right direction.

Neutrals – Work a bit quiet, could do with being busier.

Overall a pretty good week. Even if the weight management hasn’t been brilliant over the festive period, the strength has continued to improve. My mood remains positive and when I look over the week its definitely been about the good far outweighing the bad. Just have to keep it up.