Monday, 21 February 2011

Push Ups are mental!

I've just completed week 3 of the push up challenge and I've decided that push ups are mental! By mental I mean psychological. By psychological I mean that your mind controls how many you can do - or appears to...

Take yesterdays effort for instance: The first set required me to do 11 push ups. I did this but could barely have pushed a 12th out. The second set required 13 push ups. I did this and easily pushed out the 12th but could not have pushed out 14. The third and fourth sets only required 9 push ups each. I could not have pushed out more than 9 for each - my arms were literally trembling! Then for the 5th set I had to push up until I maxed out but had to do a minimum of 13. I set the target at 18 because I had achieved 16 the last time and wanted to feel I was making progress. I did 18 easily but could not have pushed out a 19th!

What's going on? It's as if my mind tells my body what it is capable of doing for each set of push ups and enables me to access the required physical resources to achieve the task but no more. It definitely feels like a case of mind over matter. My husband has experienced the same phenomenon with his push up challenge.

Is this a working example of the unification of mind, spirit and body?

I decided to apply the principle to my training this morning. Instead of doing shadow sparring I set myself the task of going through all my punching combinations. We have 6 different combinations but the format is similar for each, consisting of : start in yoi, step into zenkutsu dachi with kamae, punch 1, punch 2, kamae, step back into yoi and then repeat on the other side. I decided to set myself the target of doing each combination 10 times on each side, making a total of 120 punch combinations. I thought this would test out my endurance, particularly as I intended to do every combination with maximum vigour!

I decided that a stepped approach similar to the push up challenge was required, so I did each of the six combinations in turn, 10 times on each side and then had 60 seconds rest before starting the next combination. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes and I didn't even collapse in a heap at the end of it!

It was as if once I had set the target and a schedule for achieving it, my mind just instructed my body to get on with it and released the necessary physical resources to do it.

I think I'm learning a lot more about myself from this push up challenge than just how to do push ups.....

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Some ups and downs this week.....

The last two weeks training has gone a bit slower than planned! Unfortunately some of my training has been thwarted by illness (heavy cold) and injury (pulled deltoid muscle). Typically, the days I was unable to train because of illness or injury were the days I had the time to do it!

Last week I managed to fit in the program twice by doing different bits on different days as I felt up to it but this week I didn't do anything significant until today. I managed to get off work early so came home and spent an hour in the gym doing some fitness and weights training and some karate stuff. I feel I've made up a little bit for not training on Monday (my day off) but my left shoulder was so sore I thought I'd better rest it.

Strangely this did not stop me doing a double karate class on Monday evening (I'd have to be on my death bed to miss that). Unfortunately, Sensei had decided to dedicate the whole week to kihon training, mainly punching - which was good but very hard on my poor shoulder which was really throbbing by the end of class! We did some stretching at the end and Sensei showed my partner how to stretch out my shoulder.

Next morning I woke up expecting my shoulder to be really sore but to my amazement it felt fine. I don't know if it was the stretching or the kihon or something else but it's not bothered me much since.

The part of my training that I have consistently managed to maintain this last fortnight is the Push Up Challenge (see my left side bar for results). I am now on week 3 and have been following the program to the letter. My husband has joined me in the challenge so we can motivate each other to keep going. It is a hard challenge but I'm slowly making progress. At the end of last week (week 2) I maxed out with 16 push ups. I know this doesn't sound many but that only represents the last set of push ups out of 5 sets. You do a prescribed number of push ups for the first 4 sets with a minute rest between, then you do as many as you can in the last set - that's the number you record. However, if you add the 5 sets together I did 61 push ups - which sounds more respectable!

I have another day off tomorrow so I am hoping that now I am free of illness and injury I will be able to get up to speed with program again and have a good long session of solo training.

Happy training....

Monday, 14 February 2011

Don't forget about facial fitness as well.....

How many hours a week do you spend exercising your body? Two, five, ten, fifteen? No doubt if you are reading this you are interested in fitness or sport and spend some hours every week exercising; be it cardio training, weights, flexibility or whatever. You are probably careful about what you eat too. It's important to you; you want to be fit, toned and trim; you want to stay healthy into mid life and old age. You want to stay looking youthful for as long as possible. Am I right?

Well, what about your face then? Do you exercise that too?

Have you ever had that experience of walking behind someone (usually a woman) who looks slim and attractive, well toned and stylishly dressed, then she turns around and you recoil a bit in horror because her face is much older than you expected? Sounds horrible I know but would you like to be that woman? I wouldn't.

Don't worry, this isn't about to turn into an advert for cosmetic surgery or botox - I wouldn't advocate either. I think cosmetic surgery should be reserved for people who have genuine need i.e. facial deformity or disfigurement following an accident or burn. What I am actually advocating is a more natural remedy for staying youthful - a facial exercise program....

Here are some facts: There are around 60 muscles in the human face. The facial muscles differ from the muscles in our bodies in that they are directly attached to each other and to the skin. Many of these muscles are not frequently used and, as with somatic muscles, the 'use it or lose it' principle applies and the facial muscles can sag and atrophy as we age.

As the muscles in our faces sag they drag down the skin with them giving the classic ageing signs of eye bags, loose skin on the upper eye lids, jowls, turkey necks.....   As the muscles continue to atrophy and thin our eyes and cheeks get that sunken appearance and our skin no longer 'fits' onto the shrunken frame causing folds and wrinkles to appear. Of course this will all be compounded if we ill treat our skin by exposing it to ultra-violet light and/or smoking causing it to lose it's elasticity as the collagen fibres break down. If you are a runner the news just gets worse.....jogger's faces tend to age more quickly than others because of the constant jarring of the face with each step, pulling the muscles down. People doing outdoors sports also tend to get more exposure to sunlight.

If we neglected our bodies as much as we neglect our faces we would hardly be able to walk! But we don't neglect our bodies in this way so why do it to our faces - the one part of us we really would like to keep looking good?

Have I convinced you that you need to exercise your facial muscles as well as your body?

I started a facial exercise program about 2 years ago and think that my face has definitely benefited from it. This is no miracle cure or quick fix, like any exercise program it takes a while to see results and you have to keep it up - for ever! The effects on my face are subtle but noticeable. The eye bags I was starting to develop have gone. I don't really have any lines across my forehead, the skin on my face is smooth and taut and my jawline is clearly defined. Don't get me wrong - I don't exactly look 21 any more but most people don't think I look my 48 years either. I don't feel I've rewound the clock a great deal but hopefully I'm stopping it from ticking forward too quickly!

The program I'm following is Eva Fraser's - check out her website, but there are other programs available as well.

Here's some pictures of Eva. She was born in 1928 and was 79 when these pictures were taken! She has had no cosmetic surgery.

The exercises are structured and address individual muscle groups in the face. They are not merely about pulling faces in the mirror. They start off without the use of resistance whilst you learn to find and isolate specific muscles. Once you can find the muscles and control them you move onto the advanced phase which involves exercising the muscles against resistance - just like you would your body. Once you get the hang of it the program takes about 10-15 minutes a day and eventually tails off to 10 minutes 3 times a week as a maintenance program.

Why not add facial exercises to your fitness routine and have the complete health and fitness look?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Week 5 - progress report

This is the beginning of the fifth week of my pre shodan training programme - just 18 more to go, eek, scary!
So, how is it going?

Endurance and speed training: I have focused pre-dominantly on shadow sparring and various kicking drills for my endurance training. I started to get on better with the shadow sparring once I had developed a set of sparring combinations to work on. This way I can get some combinations really drilled into my head whilst working on my stamina - kill two birds with one stone I say! The kicking drills do the same thing - they enable me to improve my kicking techniques and leg strength whilst getting my heart rate up at the same time. I do some of the shadow sparring hitting the air and some hitting the bag. I haven't managed to do as many endurance workouts as I wanted, just one or two sessions a week (I'd aimed for 3) but time is limited. However I'm going to aim for 2 sessions this week. This morning I did 15 minutes solid of shadow sparring so I was pretty pleased with that.

I know a lot of martial artists like to go running as a way of improving cardio fitness and stamina. In fact, I know some have to do a timed running test as part of their black belt grading. But does running build the right sort of endurance for martial arts? Martial arts usually requires short bursts of intense activity, particularly for sparring. A kata performance can be very energetic but it only last for a couple of minutes at most. I could understand sprint training as a good form of endurance training for martial arts, but jogging a few miles? I've never been a runner so I accept that I could be completely wrong on this issue - what's your view?

Weights and conditioning: I'm not aiming for big bulging muscles here, just improved tone and strength. I read recently on Fitness Black Book, that to improve muscle size you need to exercise the muscle to failure - the number of reps or weight used is irrelevant, it's the effort that counts. If you don't want your muscles to get overly large but just stronger and toned then don't exercise the muscle to failure. This presents me with a dilemma! I don't particularly want big muscles (not that women's muscles get that big anyway) but the hundred push-up challenge that I'm doing requires me, in the last set of reps, to do push  ups until I 'max out', i.e. exercise to failure. Not wanting to do the challenge half hearted I'm 'maxing out' on the push ups but I'm watching those muscles don't get too big!

Flexibility and balance training: I love doing the flexibility training. I find doing the long, slow stretches very relaxing - a good counter balance to the endurance and weights training. I tend to do the stretching exercises on the in between days (i.e the days I'm not doing the other stuff). I generally do the balance exercises first and maybe a bit of kata and then spend half an hour stretching. I've even tried adding 5 or 10 minutes of meditation onto the end of it when I'm feeling at my most relaxed. I'm really working on the hips at present. My instructor told me that my shiko dachi (horse stance) is not low enough when I'm doing seienchin kata so I think being able to open up my hips more will help with this.

I'm also working on various karate techniques, mainly basic kihon stuff but I'll talk about the benefits of doing that in a later post.