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Incredible Balance and Strength Video

Check out the muscles on his shoulders and back.

I would guess that he doesn’t do any standard “pumping iron” gym workouts and that his physique is a result of his bodyweight training.

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Choose Steak – the Healthy Option

Image by michael.newman

Image by michael.newman

Harvard School of Public Health study looked at the risk of heart disease and diabetes for people who ate processed and unprocessed meat.

…processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. In contrast, the researchers did not find any higher risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat, such as from beef, pork, or lamb.

This study addresses a criticism that I’ve had of many studies looking at the health effects of eating meat – they typically categorise red and processed meat together. Why would you assume that a diet that includes grass fed beef is the same as one that has nitrate and salt filled processed meat. It would be like putting fresh vegetables and fried chips together – they’re both vegetables right?

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How to live to be 100+

By<br /> acbo

Photo by acbo

What does the Nuoro province in Sardina, Okinawa island in Japan and the Seventh Day Adventists in California have in common?

They are all what are termed “blue zones” areas where people regularly live to 100 and beyond.

In a talk at TED, Dan Buettner, an explorer and a writer for national geographic, discusses the blue zones, where people regularly live to 100 and beyond.  He looks at the similarities between the three groups above and what lessons we can draw from them.

An interesting point was that none of these groups participate in any formal exercise – however they all enjoy regular low intensity activity through the day. It’s certainly a change from the compartmentalised, structured activity that most of us hope will stave off the depredations of old age.

I’ve also added the word “ikigai” to my vocabulary which, roughly translated, means “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”

What’s your ikigai?

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Tango and the Core

By zabara_tangoBy zabara_tango

Over the last 3 weeks Paola and I have been attending tango classes at Tango Brujo. They offer a variety of classes from advanced to total novice. Although we’re not complete novices, it would be fair to class us as beginners (let’s say we won’t be winning competitions any time soon).

Last week we took a technique class by Adriana Duré, which we both enjoyed tremendously. She is a talented and enthusiastic teacher, who has a real joy for both teaching and tango.

One thing is noticed at the last tango class, is that the teaching prompts are very similar to those used at the gym: Lift up your chest; look ahead; don’t arch your back; keep a posture like you’re being pulled up by a piece of string.  These are all classic posture prompts. The other common piece of advice is to maintain a strong core.

Yes indeed – maintain a strong core.

This is a message that came across time and time again – maintain a strong core. It helps with the pivots and turns that are an integral part of tango, as well as the posture.

So if you want to improve your tango, start with a focus on your core strength and body awareness.  I will explain how to improve core strength in a future post.

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Notes on Buenos Aires

Tomb in Recoleta Cemetery

Tomb in Recoleta Cemetery

Here’s a few things I’ve noticed in the last few weeks of living in Buenos Aires.

  1. There is a shortage of coins and people guard their change jealously. You won’t make many friends by giving a large note for a small purchase.
  2. The Subte (subway) is a bargain at AR$1.1 per trip (about 20p).
  3. I still don’t know why the same people who push you out of the way to get off the Subte can’t walk on the escalators. And there’s no ‘fast lane’ like the London tube.
  4. The menu ejectivo (at lunch) is normally the best value meal of the day.
  5. The per-capita consumption of fizzy drinks (gaseosas) must be astronomical. Many people will go through a 2l bottle at lunchtime by themselves.
  6. Taxi drivers are in a race with everyone. All the time. At least you can’t accuse them of spinning out the journey.
  7. Why would you do your own washing when you can get a basket of clothes washed and dried for AR$8?
  8. By European standards meat is amazingly cheap. And excellent quality.
  9. Local chocolate is awful. Imported chocolate is expensive.
  10. Plain yogurt (of any variety) is pretty much impossible to get. Everything is flavoured. The closest to plain is ‘natural’ yogurt – with added sugar.
  11. Service at cafes and restaurants is usually slow. It’s fine when you want to spend all afternoon there, but that’s not always the case. And is it too much to ask to have dirty plates cleared from the table?
  12. Be prepared to queue. And queue. And queue. Standing in a supermarket line can bring you to tears.

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Joining a Gym in Buenos Aires

Fountains in Mendoza

Fountains in Mendoza

Over the last month I feel that my fitness has been in decline. It’s due to the combination of travelling through Argentina with no real routine (and a poor diet), and the last few weeks in Edinburgh when we were doing our best to squeeze our lives into boxes. 

Although there has been lots of activity, most of it has been walking, although I have tried to fit in some strength work where I can (Paola has looked on with embarrassment at my excitement when I see a pull-up opportunity.)

However now that we’re in BAs (Buenos Aires to the rest of you), with more of a routine, I decided that I should go to a gym. Now there’s no shortage of gyms in Buenos Aires, ranging from 5 floor mega-gyms, to one room sweat boxes, so I didn’t think that I’d be that hard to find one that suited me.

I found a excellent directory to gyms in Buenos Aires which was invaluable in my search. I narrowed down my search to the Recoleta area and made a short list of the ones in the streets near our apartment.

Then I went out for a few hours to check them out. Typically the gyms I visited gave me a price for a month, and then let me free in the gym to have a look around. They all had a full class schedule, though tended to have rather dated equipment. 

I met a nice man with good English at Boa Forma (Anchorena 1536) who was keen on me joining the Taekwondo class, but in the end I went with American Sport  (Charcas 2929) since they were close and the best free weight area of the gyms I looked at. Also if you like your treadmills then they have loads – though oddly no rowing machines.

When I went back later that day in my workout kit, I was told that my first session was free, though I was surprised that no-one showed me around the equipment or made any attempt at screening. Of course it may have been that the girl at reception thought that my poor Spanish made an induction too difficult for everyone involved.

The next time I went I filled in the joining forms (with the usual notes about checking with a doctor), paid my months membership (AR$ 140), and received my membership card.

I just need to put it to good use over the next 3 weeks.

Two surprises – there are no water fountains in the gym (everyone just brings bottles), and there is a check-in room for gym kit rather than lockers.

Update: Last time I went to the gym they took my thumbprint with an electonic scanner! I’m not entirely sure why.

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Our Plan to be Homeless and Unemployed

The world

By ToastyKen

This is the plan – we become homeless and unemployed, then travel for about 10 weeks. Then we head to New Zealand, try and get a job during winter and autumn, have a month off travelling New Zealand and head back to the UK before our tickets expire in a year.

On the way we intend to spend 2 months travelling through Argentina, fly to Sydney for a few nights and visit family, fly to Brisbane and visit friends and family for a week before flying to Auckland. We will stay with family (hopefully!) for a few weeks while we organise our affairs in New Zealand and attempt to get a job in Wellington.

In Argentina we want to spend time in Patagonia, see glaciers (including Perito Moreno one of the few stable glaciers in the world) go trekking around El Chaltén and go wine tasting in Mendoza province. Then we go to Buenos Aires where we will stay in an apartment for a month, with a trip to the Iguazu falls for a few days.

That’s the plan. 

So far we’ve been through Patagonia, seen glaciers, and spent 2 days on a bus travelling Route 40 though wide empty spaces in Argentina. We trekked in Bariloche, saw crazy landscapes in Payunia, went white water rafting in San Rafael, and tasted wine in Mendoza.

Now we’re in an apartment in Buenos Aires for 4 weeks, though we want to travel to Iguazu in this time, as well as improving both our tango and Spanish too. We’ll also try and squeeze in a trip to Uruguay over the next few weeks.

Hopefully the next few weeks will be as successful as the first month was.

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Trekking in Vallecitos, Argentina

On top of Lomas Blancos

On top of Lomas Blancas

We booked a tour with the local hostel to go trekking in the high Andes with the company Campo Base. Although the walk began at 2900m it was initially described to us as a constant gentle walk. By the time we had booked and were shown the more detailed description the incline has become moderate to difficult.

We were picked up from the B&B around 8:30 by a rather decrepit minibus and met our companions for the day. Our guide Roger was from Buenos Aires originally, but had been guiding for a while and was also a guide on Aconcagua. During the journey to the start of the walk he asked us whether we had any experience of walking at altitude. After we both replied ‘no’ he simply grinned.

Also on the bus was another guide from Campo Base, a guide from another company, a German (Steffan) and 2 other Argentinians.

The walk started at the ski resort of Vallecitos, about 2 1/2 hours from Mendoza. Unfortunately it took us about 3 hours to get to the resort, since the minibus struggled to get up anything more than a gentle incline (and the trip to Vallecitos was much much more than a gentle incline. Not only that but the road up to the resort proved too much for the minibus, which stopped working, resulting in an unplanned 10 minute repair stop.

The walk itself started next to the ski lift, but soon moved away from the lift onto more scenic territory. Roger kept the pace slow (his favoutite phrase was ‘tranquilo’) and encouraged us to keep drinking water and eating.

Although the inital walk was fairly steep, it was manageable, though Paola found the later stages challenged her vertigo since the adjacent slope was steep and the footing uncertain. Fortunately Roger didn’t rush us or make anyone feel that they were holding up the group.

When we got to the top of the peak (Lomas Blancas) we had fantastic views of the high mountain range behind, with peaks over 5000m and of the country around. The weather which had seemed so threatening earlier in the day, was now sunny and we looked down on fluffy clouds from 3850m.

On the trip down we saw guanacos and condors, and the treacherous footing soon gave way to an easy walk.

As my first experience of walking at altitude, I found it more challenging than usual, but manageable. At times we found that our hearts were racing, more than would we expected from our ‘tranquilo’ level of exersion. Paola also experienced a headache during the walk.

The walk was more difficult than we were originally told, although the detail that we were shown (after we paid) was more accurate. That said, I enjoyed myself (Paola rather less so) in our last day in the Andes before our trip to Buenos Aires.

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Trekking and Trail Running in El Chaltén


Fitz Roy

I spent four fabulous days in El Chaltén, in Southern Patagonia. This is the trekking capital of Argentina, with the awe inspiring peak of the Fitz Roy massif dominating the surrounding area.

One of the best things about being based in El Chaltén is that many of the walks start from the village, which means that your walking for the day begins as soon as you leave the door of your accommodation. It also means that when you finish the walk, the local bars are ready at hand for a post walk drink!

Lago Torre

Paola and I took one of these walks through to Lago Torre, which is the lake in front of Glaciar Grande. It is about a 6 hour round trip to the lake, though if you have the time and inclination you can continue the walk around the lake to viewpoints next to the glacier.

It was a worthwhile trek, with views from early on in the walk, the sight of condors above and the sounds of parrots in the forest.

Fitz Roy

The other major walk directly from the village is the Fitz Roy trail that takes you to the base of Fitz Roy. On the way it passes Lago Capri and numerous viewpoints, providing a constantly improving view of Fitz Roy. If you only have time for one walk in El Chaltén make it this one.

It was a beautiful sunny day but unfortunately Paola was ill in bed. I put my walking boots aside, put on my trail shoes and went for a run.

Compared to hiking it means that you carry less weight on your back, and go further in less time. Basically in the time a hiker gets to their campsite, you’ve passed them, got to their campsite, looked around, passed them on the way back, had a shower and on your second pint by the time they get around to pitching their tent.

The run reminded me of why I like trail running so much. It has has so much more to offer compared to mindlessly running on a treadmill, or pounding out miles on city streets. You are not as prone to the overuse injuries that plague road runners, you strengthen arms and core and improve balance and coordination. The view is normally better too. In this case much better.

Even if you’re not running the trail is well worth it for the views of Fitz Roy. In fact the next day Paola and I hiked up to the first lookout, and went back to El Chaltén by way of Lago Capri.

We didn’t have the opportunity to walk on any other trails in the area, but a keen walker would be kept busy for many more days, though for some of the walks they would have to either make multiday treks or get transport to the starting points.

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Personal Training Diploma – Ante & Post Natal Course

By Arwen Abendstern

By Arwen Abendstern

Another week, another flight. This time it’s a flight to London to attend the Lifetime Ante/Post Natal course. This is one of the two elective elements in the Personal Training Diploma, and I chose it for two reasons.

One – I suspect that my future clientele will contain more mothers than elderly people. I don’t know this for certain but it’s my current guess.

Second – It was on at the right time. I’m away travelling in March and I wanted to finish my diploma by then. This course was on before I left and uniquely for Lifetime this is a weekend course.

Day One

The venue was Nuffield Health Fitness & Wellbeing in Bloomsbury which is a decent gym. However the lecture room is a basement room next door which is very basic compared to the other venues I’ve attended in Birmingham and Edinburgh.

The tutor, Alison Merry, started as a midwife before becoming a Personal Trainer, so she is ideally placed to teach this course. She started out telling us that midwifes are taught nothing about training in pregnancy, nor are doctors, which surprised me.

We discussed the benefits of training during pregnancy, which included among others, a reduction in stress, positive benefits for the baby, reduction in the ‘symptoms’ of pregnancy, and an easier labour. Alison noted that the final one was a major selling point!

We then covered some of the myths and concerns about exercise during pregnancy including :

  • Increased risk of miscarriage – no studies conclusive either way though expectant mothers are advised not to start an exercise programme during the first trimester. However women who already exercise should have no fear of continuing the exercise they are already doing – with various caveats covered later in the course.
  • The foetus will overheat – extremely unlikely. The mother’s body undergoes significant changes to improve temperature regulation. However these changes may also make the mother feel like she is overheating!
  • Yoga and Pilates are good for pregnant women – not necessarilly. A few reasons for this: During pregnancy the hormone relaxin causes ligaments of the pelvis to relax, however it also causes all other ligaments to relax. This means that care must be taken when stretching at the end of a range of motion. Also due to the release of progesterone, maintaining static holds for a long length of time may cause blood pooling.
  • Keep heart rate below 140 – false. The foetus heart rate is about 140, but there is no good scientific basis for the mother keeping her heart rate below this.
  • Swimming is good for pregnant women – maybe. It depends on the range of motion – some strokes like breaststroke may actually cause pelvis problems.

We also covered in considerable (some would say excruciating) detail the changes to the women’s body during the various stages of pregnancy, including a number of opportunities for class discussion. In the room we had two pregnant women, as well as a number of mothers, so it was interesting to listen to the various opinions flying around. Somehow I didn’t find it quite as easy to contribute to the discussion as I normally do!

Day Two

The day started with pelvic floor exercises, and learnt about why we would want to do it and how to coach someone. The benefits include avoiding incontinence and better sex, so that should encourage most people, not just those who are pregnant to do it!

Finally we had a practical session in the gym, where we got to try different cardio machines, resistance machines and free weights – all with a heavy backpack on our front to mimic pregnancy.

It was enlightening to see how much it impeded exercising and made some of the basic exercises awkward or impossible. The best machine for cardio work seems to be the upright bike – rowing is near impossibl, running is diffcult and the knees bang against the bump when using the recumbant bike.

The sessions before and after lunch concentrated on post natal complications and exercise, the descriptions of which made most of us wince (can I just mention episiotomy?), made some of girls decide they never want to be pregnant, and made me glad I’m a man!

We finished the day with another session in the gym, concentrating on post natal exercises, and showing how we would go about testing for [rec???], before the assessment to finish off the day.

Final thoughts

I found this to be the most challenging course of the personal diploma – there was a lot of information that I’ve never covered before, and to be honest it’s not an area I was that interested in before. 

Despite this I learnt a lot and came away from it with much greater knowledge and an insight into an area of fitness training I had never really considered. It’s also an area which is poorly understood, poorly serviced, but an area where exercise could provide so much benefit.

Finally, I now have not only an understanding, but also a deep admiration for what women go through in the course of their pregnancy. Mum (and mothers everywhere)- you’re amazing.

The tutor on the course Alison Kelly provides training and programs for pregnant women through the website Blooming Fit.

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