Be humble in learning

What is the best way to go about getting better at a certain skill? Do you get better by attending classes, getting advice by others or something completely different. Or does the way in which you go about learning, not matter as much as the mindset you bring to the table? My experience would incline me to put my money on the latter.

I have been taking classes and instructions from a lot of different people the last couple of years. Both individually and in groups. And taught both groups and individuals. What I have started to notice, is the difference in how people go about learning. The teacher/instructor, is of course a big piece of the puzzle, but in this post I will focus on the student/pupil. 

I will make the bold statement, that from a single hour of a hard, let’s say gymnastics class, you can determine which pupils are going to show the least improvement over time. These people might be among the best, which as I will describe later – they often are, but they will not improve as fast as they could or maybe improve at all. This goes for pshysical activities as for mentally demanding classes.

Although there are similarities among them, I will start by dividing them into two groups: beginners and good performers.

Beginners

Beginners with this anti-improvement-mindset will think that by signing up for a class, they will be given the key to improvement. They will attend a class and look for a quick-fix to up their abilities. Once the reality hits them, that they have to work for it, the excuses almost fight a rumble-in-the-jungle-worthy fight to get out of their mouth. These people will have the worst ever attitude towards the instructor – “oh why the hell do I have to do this” – “this is not fun” – etc. etc. Their entire body language just screams, in the most easily understood universal language, – “GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE”. 

But why the hell did you go here in the first place then. The instructor knows a lot of things you do not. That is why he is – yes you’ve guessed it – the INSTRUCTOR. Shut up – listen and learn.

Good performers

Good performers are a little bit different in their reasoning, but it amounts to just about the same final result. They know they are good, but feel even better or are afraid of showing any sign of weakness, that would challenge others perceptions of them as being better. As long as the instructor keeps them doing things inside their comfortzone, they will play along with an okay attitude, not good – but okay. Once the instructor starts challenging them, in ways where they start showing signs of weaknesses; or maybe not weakness but just levels the playingfield – then they will, even more overtly than the beginner, show their disapprovement towards the instructor. And going even further, the good performer, is also the one who could let their discontent towards the instructor, spread among the other pupils and thereby ”spreading” their bad attitude.

The link

Then, as you might have guessed, the link between these two types, is the lack of humble attitude towards the instructor and the willingness to put in hard work. If you attend a class in computer programming, and you feel that your abilities, as a programmer, is as good as the instructors, do not see it as your call to question all his decisions, thereby ruining it for everybody else. Put in your work, be humble and sit through the class; you might learn something or you might not – but either way, unless the instructor is telling you to do something that will hurt you, which is kind of hard in a programming class – then just try the best you can to sit through the class and atleast let the other pupils get their share of knowledge. And if you are a beginner, then even though you may have seen people do amazing things on youtube, you are still a beginner, you still attend this class to learn something; or atleast you should. The instructor does know far more than you; again if it does not hurt you, as in rips your arm of, then just suck it up and do it. Afterwards you can call all your friends and moan about your hard or bad experience. But while you are there – suck it up!

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Pancakes for athletes

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Saw a recipe for some alternative pancakes the other day. Something a little more appropriate for an athlete or fitness enthusiast. The perfect “gift” to my self the day before my crossfit competition. They just seemed to lack a few ingredients, and I wanted to swap a few things. So this is my recipe and approach to pancakes:

  • 4-5 whole eggs
  • 1 dl buckwheat flakes
  • 30 ml coconut milk
  • 60 grams of protein powder(Choc)
  • 2 tsp peanutbutter
  • 2 tsp(topped) vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Everything is simply poured into a bowl, and mixed together. You can skip an egg or two, and add a little more coconut milk, if you like. The final amount of coconut milk, is largely dependant on how thick you want the final mixture. As we are aiming for rather thick pancakes, the mixture should be mixed to reflect this.

Baking the thicker pancakes, we do not want the heat of the pan to be to high, as this will burn the one side of the pancake, before the mixture has settled enough, to enable us to turn it around and bake the other side. I use just above medium heat.

As the picture shows I have a fine little crepe pan, and the amount of mixture I pour onto each pancake is aprox. 1,5-2 dl. The hardest part with these pancakes, are without a doubt, turning them around. They tend to become rather brittle, so make sure you use as large and wide a palette knife as possible, when trying to turn them around. It took me quite some time before I was able to turn them around without breaking one of the edges. Luckely this only hurts your pride and not the taste.

As general note on how to perfect them. Do not overcook, rather have the heat a little on the low side and have some patience. Cooked perfectly they will, when you cut through them, they will me slightly softer on the inside than the cooked surfaces. Cooked to much they can become a little dry.

I just eat them as they are without anything on them. But only your imagination sets the boundaries. Some blue- and  raspberries could add a nice fresh touch.

Enjoy your pancakes!

Information awareness – the unconscious choice

When searching for information, are you aware of your own bias? Are you aware of the mechanics inside yourself, that makes you like or dislike the information that you consume?

In our day and age, we are flooded with information. Because of this, we tend to speed up the decision making on whether we find it interesting or not. This starts as soon as we read the headline of an article, if it does not catch our attention, then we move on. The content could be a priceless treasure, written by a genius writer, that just so happened to be, a not so good marketeer – we would never read it.

If we are caught by the headline, and not in too much of a hurry, we may start reading. Whether we actually finish the article, in large part depends on the statements presented. A lot of times, the decision is based, not on the factual information nor correctness of the content, but more a subjective measuring, that determines if this piece, fits our current puzzle.

The puzzle we try to match this piece into, is our current beliefs. Does this piece actually help build the picture we already have begun constructing, or will the piece, being factual correct or not, shatter our beautiful image. The thought that the piece itself is correct, but does not fit because the puzzle we are trying to solve is incorrect, does not appear to us, or we are at the very least, not that inclined to draw this conclusion.

As a recent example, I was looking for a HIIT sprint protocol. There are an incredible amount of those available all over the internet, some are bad, but a whole lot of them are actually backed with more or less scientific testing. I just kept skipping almost every one of them, until I finally settled on one. But why did I settle for this specific protocol? Because I already had a picture in my head as to what it should look like. When someone confirmed my belief, I found my match. Not necessarily the objectively best, but a match, because deep inside I was not looking for the best, or the most effective. I was looking for confirmation of my current belief.

Now I am not advocating, that you should always challenge your beliefs, and go for something that does not fit your current puzzle or weigh every piece of information, to form your own little information-bureaucracy-monster. But being aware of the fact, that we tend to weigh information instinctively, makes us able to claim back the power of decision.

There are times for pieces of the puzzle that fit, and times where odd-shaped-pieces are your best bet. If you in any way, are trying to spark a creative process, I will suggest consuming a lot of odd-shaped-pieces, but that will be a topic of a later post.

For now, just try going through your day, with information awareness. If you really like or dislike some of the facts you encounter during your day, try to take a step back and observe why it sparked that reaction. Become a little more aware of your choices and reclaim control.

The Front Squat Tabata

I have signed myself up to compete in the Danish Crossfit Open, which is being held on the 23 of this month. Therefore I have not been super active writing blog-posts, as work and training has claimed almost all of my time. But I am still getting lots of ideas, as to what I could write about, both thoughts, tips and advices. So this lapse in updates, is in no way a sign of me signing off.

Today I will give a few tips on one of the best HIIT exercises available. My guess is that most people have heard of Tabata in one way or the other. If not I will give a very short summary.

The basics

The Tabata protocol is a product of Professor Izumi Tabata’s research. He put some Olympic Speedskaters on a training protocol consisting of something as simple as 4 minutes workout(3min 50sec) 4 times a week, and as wikipedia explains it:

 …obtained gains similar to a group of athletes who did steady state (70% VO2max) training 5 times per week. The steady state group had a higher VO2max at the end (from 52 to 57 ml/kg/min), but the Tabata group had started lower and gained more overall (from 48 to 55 ml/kg/min). Also, only the Tabata group had gained anaerobic capacity benefits.

The 4 minute workout consists of 8×20 sec. absolutely all-out work intervals, and 8×10 sec. rest. So 20 sec. work 10 sec. rest for 8 rounds and a total of 4 minutes.

How to implement

The key to unlocking the full potential of this protocol, is selecting either one or a selection of exercises that enable you to go absolutely all-out. I have seen lots of really stupid Tabata workouts, where people use it with exercises that does not activate enough muscles, or are to technical to reap the full benefits. You should NOT be able to do anything once you are finished. If you can do two Tabata’s in a row, then the first just was not hard enough.

The Front Squat Tabata

One of the best ways to implement the Tabata protocol is doing frontsquats. I have done them freestanding with some success, but actually this is a exercise, where you can get good results, from using the hated smith machine. Doing them in the smith, enables you to rack and unrack much quicker and not worry about balance or anything else.

Before starting I would recommend that you test a few times, to find the optimal stance for your feet. You will most likely feel like you lean a bit backwards, when fully extended at the top, but this makes the bottom position much better. Experiment, and once you have found the optimal stance, then make some marks on the floor, in order for you to quickly reposition your feet if you, during the sets, have to move them to catch your breath and relieve some uncomfort – which I suspect will be needed.

How much weight you should put on of course totally depends on your strength. I would aim for something that gives around 15-17 reps, on the first 20 sec round.

Then this is basicly it. I would recommend using a timer-app of some kind, that beeps for every rest- and work-set. But of course it is possible to do this, by only looking at a watch.

I will later share a few other good ways to implement the Tabata protocol, but this is by my opinion the absolute best.

Have fun – atleast afterwards, they are no fun doing – but they will give you a cardiovascular hit like no other. Implement them on a regular basis and be prepared to see the fat peel of and your overall fitness level skyrocket.

Mobility, animals vs. humans

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Last night, while visiting my parents and playing with their dog, it suddenly struck me. Are people one of the only animals that does not have a inner drive to keep their mobility. Everytime my parents dog has slept or been laying for any longer period of time, the first thing it does upon getting up is stretching. This dog is over 9 years old and still has, what looks like 100% mobility, compared to when it was a puppy.

Why aren’t humans doing the same? Upon standing from a meal, one can once in a while get the urge to stretch, but through social conditioning, we are taught that this is rude, and therefore abandons this behavior. But why are we not more persistent in keeping mobility? Or are we simply evolving and only keeping the bare minimum needed to go through our day?

There probably is no denying that, chairs and a rapid change in the way we work, has a huge influence on this matter. But it still seems a little counterintuitive to me, that we are not, ourselves, more driven to keep our mobility and thereby a big part of our health in check.

Be the best you!

 I often come across the statement among people, that they consider start doing some kind of exercise, because they want to look like the athletes from that sport. They have seen some of the top athletes in TV and makes the, perhaps natural, assumption, that if I do what he does, then I will become like him. Probably the most referred sport of all in this context is swimming.

I have started swimming because I want the wide muscular frame of a swimmer.

 Not to take anything away from swimming. But you should be carefull with the assumption, that because an elite athlete looks the way he does, you will be able to look the same, if you train as he does. If you attend a swimmeet, you will most likely see all sorts of bodycompositions among the lower ranked swimmers, as the day progresses and the competition sharpens, the body types will start to align. If you look at the starting grid of elite swimmers, you will see almost identical body types, which of course can lead to the assumption: “swimming will make me look like that”. And to a point this may be true, but the looks are far more an expression of what the ideal body type and genetics is, for competitive swimming. 

 I am not saying that you will not improve your physique, or that you will not develop wide back and shoulders by swimming, because you of course use those muscles quite a lot. But do not make your choice of exercise, based on the physique of the elite performers of that specific sport. They look like that because of 10.000’s of hours of training and they are at the top of the pack because their genetic expression is favorable to that sport, and then of course because they are highly motivated to be the best. 

 Do not train to look like someone else, train to be the best YOU! Train to be the best genetic expression of you! Whether that involves bodybuilding, swimming, Crossfit, Football or whatever is totally up to you.

 

Recreational running

Running always kinds of splits the waters for people trying to gain muscle mass. Some swear by running for fat loss, others can’t seem to scream muscle loss fast enough. I kind of like running. You won’t see me running marathons or anything close – that would just be detrimental to my goals. But sprints and short recreational trips – I am all in! You will not se me doing Power Walks either, if I for some reason were not able to run 3-5 km, then I would have missed my target goals by a continent. 

For this post I will focus on recreational running, as I will call these “short” runs. I am even more in love with sprints, but they are a totally different beast and will be covered in another post later on.

My current work and training scheme, has meant that this little weapon of mine, has been left unused, for the better part of this year. But as my daily work will completely turn upside down in 2013, I plan on bringing them back. Now how do I go about “recreational running”

The layout

I do these runs the day after a hard workout in the gym. I train then entire body 2-3 times a week, so the day after a good fullbody workout I would strap on running shoes and go for a short trip. The goal of this trip is in no way to improve your all-out 3 or 5 km times, they are as the name suggests, pure recreational. Run in a easy steady pace and return feeling only slightly tired. You should not be chasing your breath or feel like you had to fight the last k. 

I have found 3-5k to be around the sweet spot for me, but you could be completely different and may need more or less. I would shoot for anywhere between 15-25 minutes of light jogging. If you cannot run for 15 minutes straight – please stop reading and start fixing that! (If you do not know how, please say so, and I will point you in the right direction.)

Efficiency tip

There is a little tip, that was once given to me by a friend in the military, for running without losing your breath and making it, by my experience, more fluent. What you do is, you divide your in-breath into two, each matching a step by alternating feet. Then you do a long out-breath, spanning minimum the same as the two in-breaths and again match your two in-breaths as each foot hits the ground after your out-breath. This can get you into a very fluent rhythm – totally perfect for the recreational trip.

Short – Short – Loooong – Short – Short – Loooong.

My experience

What I have found when doing this recreational running, is that it helps my recovery, keeps my bodyfat levels in check and actually seems to help gain/retain muscle mass. Every time I use these, my conditioning just seem to dial in. It does wonders to my mid-section, that not by any means is a problem area for me, but using fitness/bodybuilding terms, it just kind of makes me look full and polished at the same time. And I haven’t even touched on the psychological upsides of running..

If you are looking to improve your conditioning, give it a try. But remember not to overdo it. It is active restitution – not HIIT!