Anita Extreme Sports Bra

For obvious reasons I am a big fan of companies that produce clothes for the larger sportswoman. Nike have recently launched a plus size range of clobber that I am overjoyed with and Anita have been making bras in a wide range of sizes for ages. 

Anita sent me a sample of their extreme control sports bra to test recently and so I’ve put it through its paces so you don’t have to. 

This is a soft bra without underwire which is a bonus for weight training as there is no risk of being skewered in the armpit when you reach depth in the squat. 

The disadvantage of a non-wired bra is the mono-boob, which I am modelling for you here. No discernable cleavage, just a shelf. 

Deep squat without underwire

It’s billed as an extreme control bra and did fair well at more dynamic crossfit sessions. It’s hard to challenge a bra more than skipping, running and burpees and in all cases the bra functioned well. 

All in all, it’s proved to be comfortable and is still my go to bra when exercising. However, I can regularly be spotted rearranging myself due to the mono-boob effect and don’t tend to hang around in it long after my training for the same reason. 

A Renaissance Diet and IIFYM Calculator

I’ve started working with a new coach who as well as writing me a powerlifting program, has started to delve into the obvious problems with my nutritional approach. He came up with a ferociously tricky program for me to follow which was based heavily on the recommendations from the Renaissance Diet Book.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading around these ideas and then drawing up an IIFYM and Renaissance Diet calculator (link to spreadsheet) that will determine both my macros for any given goal and also churn out the macros per meal as recommended by the Renaissance Diet. I thought I would save you the bother of having to recreate, or worse still, buy your own calculator by sharing the workbook and instructions here and on the warriorwoman Resources page.

I will provide enough of an overview of the Renaissance Diet for you to be able to use the calculator but I won’t delve into the scientific background or some of the minutiae of the method. For that you will have to stump up and pay the exorbitant fee for the original book.

What is the Renaissance Diet

It’s a diet program designed by a group of smart exercise scientists (they have PhDs) who are clearly very experienced in strength sports and physical transformation. They use a program called Renaissance Periodisation where your macronutrients and calorie target are based on your weight, goals and training volume. These targets are then split into individual meal targets with the composition varying around your training program.

So for example, on a training day with 6 meals in total, your protein would be split equally across all meals as the aim is to maintain a steady supply of protein, fat would be omitted from your mid-training meal as its slower to digest and your carbs would be heavily weighted to the meals pre, during and post-workout.

In terms of food composition they provide a pick list of lean protein sources, veg, healthy fats and carbs.

What do I think of the Renaissance Diet?

Well, I like elements of it and hate others.

The macro composition targets seem robust and are based on per lb of bodyweight goals – we all know as strength athletes that we could probably afford to squeeze some more protein into our diets. Splitting these goals down per day is just about manageable but splitting down to individual meal targets is a right royal pain in the ass! I don’t know how people do it. In my Renaissance Diet workbook I do provide a meal calculator so you can follow along to the rigid guidelines if desired. I would be very interested to see how you manage each meal though. I’ve tried to draw up a few meal ideas that work but I have to call upon foodstuffs with single macronutrient contents in order to make it work.

The food composition causes me some difficulties too. The protein sources are all lean cuts of meat and include the abomination that is egg whites. I absolutely cannot countenance throwing away a nutritious egg yolk in order to reconstitute a meal with an egg white and some other form of healthy fat, eg. avocado or nut butter.

Renaissance DietAll is not lost though. The guys who designed the Renaissance Diet have already prioritized each of their principles and as I am long way from the performance end of the scale where marginal gains are the name of the game, I am more than happy to abide by the first two principles which should get me about 80% of the rewards.

Principles in order of priority:

  1. Calorie consumption
  2. Macro composition
  3. Meal Timing
  4. Food composition
  5. Supplements

If It Fits Your Macros – IIFYM

IIFYM is a popular movement with crossfitters and other strength athletes. It follows the belief that macro composition and calorie balance is the key to achieving your body goals. In that respect they have a lot in common with the Renaissance Diet guys. 

Doughnuts and DeadliftsWhere they differ is in food composition. IIFYM don’t give two hoots about food composition, a carb is a carb as far as they are concerned. If you want a doughnut and you need a shed load of carbs to meet your macronutrient targets then go ahead – have the doughnut.

It’s the inspiration for my favourite brand of t-shirts: Deadlifts and Doughnuts.

The IIFYM and Renaissance Diet Workbook

This IIFYM and Renaissance Diet calculator (link to spreadsheet) workbook should work for you whether you want to determine daily macronutrient goals for IIFYM or the meal specific macros for the Renaissance Diet. It should also work for those who want to lose weight like me or those who are seeking bodyweight gains.

Macro Calculator

Start in the macro calculator tab and enter your personal details in the orange boxes, some of these are drop down selections to restrict your answers. Please note that I have not protected this spreadsheet in anyway, which means you are free to amend to suit your own needs but also means you can mess the whole thing up if you overwrite a formula. 

The calculator used the Harris-Benedict formula to calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate) it then adjusts this based on your weight loss / gain goals and then applies a multiplier based on your activity level.

The macros are then split in the following priority order:

  1. Protein based on 0.8 – 1.2 times bodyweight in pounds regardless of activity levels
  2. Carbs are split based on activity levels from 0.5 – 2 times bodyweight in pounds
  3. Fat consumes the remaining calories. It isn’t allowed to drop below 10% (grams) of your bodyweight in lbs e.g. Min fat consumption for a 200lb person is 20g. The balance is then extracted from the carb target.

The area in the blue box reveals your target macronutrient targets based on your training volume. For rest days and light workouts use the LIGHT section. You can use MODERATE or HIGH where your strength routines become more intense – see the guide next to the blue box.

IIFYM and Renaissance diet Macronutrient Calculator
If you try this for a couple of weeks and your weight isn’t going in the right direction then alter the calorie adjustment number in the appropriate direction and re-test. Although this looks like a precision exercise the formula for calculating BMR is based on averages of average people and we are anything but average!

That’s all you need for IIFYM go forth armed with these macro proportions, download MyFitnessPal and start recording. For a while I imagine you will get to the end of the day either needing a pure protein meal (try Quark) or pure carbs (an easier predicament), but as you get more experienced you’ll probably be able to balance out your days.

RP Meal Calculator

If you want to rule your gut with an iron rod then you can delve into the RP Meal Calculator tab

you must first complete the macro calculator described above and then your only action on the new tab is to choose the number of meals you want to go for – either 5 or 6 in my workbook although I think you can go as high as 8 in the full program.

The table in the blue box then reveals your per meal macronutrient targets in grams. You can move each meal number around according to when you exercise. It is initial set up to reflect a morning workout routine.

Renaissance Diet Meal Plan
Let me know how you get on.

Following the Ice Man – 10 Weeks with Wim Hof

I’ve been aware of Wim Hof, the crazy Ice Man, for a few years now but have become increasingly interested in his methods since I adopted my own fascination with the cold.

So far, my highlight of the year has been hacking our thermostatic shower so that it ceased to kick out any warmth. I think the teenagers in the house might call that “Breaking the Shower” but I’m happy. It means that I am now able to stand under icy torrents and disturb the household by squealing behind the locked bathroom door. It also meant I could finally sign up for the 10 week course in the Wim Hof Method, which requires a commitment to strange breathing and daily cold showers – squealing optional.

Wim Hof uses breathing techniques, really a controlled form of hyperventilation, along with cold exposure to exert control of his autonomic nervous system. Benefits cited are improved immunity levels, reduction in automimmune symptoms and improved healing. I’m happy to accept all those benefits but was particularly interested in what might be considered the side effects of the practice, such as cold adaptation, increased breath hold capacity, possible fat loss via BAT (Brown Adipose Tissue) activation and improved mental well being.

I’ve just started week 4 of the Wim Hof breathing course and thought it was time to give a brief review of my experience so far.

Week 1
Immediately you are required to adopt the daily practice starting with 3 hyperventilation and breath hold sequences to be followed by a cold shower. The cold showers start off gently, starting and ending with warm water with a 30 second cold interlude.

Despite regularly swimming in 2-8’C water, I found the showers to be a shock and the squealing did continue for a couple of weeks of the practice.

The breathing cycle is a bit odd. I don’t really like the experience of hyperventilation and associated tingling and light-headedness. I do quite like the challenge of breath holding though and by the end of week 1 I was very excited to have held my breath for just over 2 minutes. Before this point I felt I would burst after 40 seconds. If you don’t think this sounds like a long time just try it now, hold you breath and time it. I bet you won’t get anywhere near 2 mins.

In the associated video Wim also take you through some stretching exercises but I have to confess to not taking this bit very seriously.

Week 2
In week 2 we add an extra breathing cycle that ends in a breath hold (after the inhalation) where you perform as many push ups as you can before breathing again. You need to set a baseline number before you start – mine was 19 incline push ups. By the end of the week I managed to increase this to 30 without any breath. I find this quite fascinating and wonder if it will translate well to my powerlifting, perhaps if I hyperventilate before a squat, I will be able to knock out a few more reps.

Showers are now following a cold/hot/cold/hot/cold sequence with each cold exposure lasting 30 secs. I’m still squealing.

Week 3
Week 3 feels like a bit of break through. Showers are now up to 60 second stints cold/hot/cold but I feel strong enough to handle 2 mins of cold only. Focussing on calm breathing I’m able to have my first silent shower and actually feel as though I am generating my own heat.

The breathing has increased to 5 cycles with the last being the push-up routine. I drifted off during the last breath hold and forgot that I was short of breath managing 2mins 6secs in total.

I haven’t managed to stick to doing all my practice on a daily basis but I try to do it as often as I can and don’t move to the next week until I’ve completed 7 sessions. I’m sure it is more effective if you can get into a consistent routine but life happens.

Wim Hof Method and Pulse Oximetry

Having read “What Doesn’t Kill Us” I decided to play around with a pulse oximeter while doing the breathing routine. I read that Wim’s trick for ensuring that his team don’t suffer from high altitude sickness during rapid ascents of Mount Kilimanjaro is to monitor blood oxygen levels regularly and practice hyperventilation to keep the levels above 95%.

This instagram video shows me at the end of my hyperventilation and shows what my spO2 levels look like during the breath hold.

Do I have to sign up and pay for the 10 week course to practice the Wim Hof Method?

Absolutely not, although I wouldn’t discourage you if you’re tempted. I think it’s quite good value as courses go. You get a PDF copy of Wim’s first book, a course guide and workbook and permanent access to 10 hour long videos by the charismatic guy himself. 

If you don’t have the money I would recommend spending £3.99 on the app and following the mini video for each breathing cycle. I find myself using this on a daily basis anyway and just watch the video once a week as a spur to action.

There are enough blog reviews that explain week by week what the schedule is. Basically 3-4 breathing cycles and a final one for breath hold press-ups. Daily cold showers of increasing length with the occasional challenge thrown in such as 10 minute cold showers or ice bath.

The videos also include a series of yoga type exercises but I have to admit that I rarely do this element of the course.

Where can I find out more about Wim Hof?

Video about Wim Hof
This video from Vice provides an excellent introduction to the mad cap ways of the Hof.

ICEMAN – VICE

Wim Hof has used meditation to stay submerged in ice for hours, run a marathon in the desert with no water and scientifically proved that he can influence his immune system at will. In this new film, he taught us how all of this is possible.

Podcasts about Wim Hof
Wim Hof is popping up on all sorts of podcasts nowadays but these are some of my favourites:
Ben Greenfield – Conquer the Cold
Tim Ferriss – The Iceman Interview 2015

Books about Wim Hof
Wim Hof has a couple of books out himself, the most recent one, The Way of the Iceman, being the most readable.
I really enjoyed What Doesn’t Kill Us, by author Simon Carney. Simon set off with the intention of exposing Wim Hof as a false guru but ended up absorbing his method and hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro in his swimming trunks.

Blogs about the Wim Hof Method
Twenty weeks with Wim Hof – Rose works her way through two 10 week cycles of the Wim Hof Method, the first was conducted as a DIY course using materials and advice freely available and the second following along to the online video course.
I’ve really enjoyed Alan Reiner‘s discussions on the nature of the Wim Hof method and his experience with the course, particularly because he has also hooked himself up to a pulse oximeter. I’m rather jealous that his always you to record data to a csv file.

The Mind Numbing Thrill of the Cold

I’ve spent much of the last year becoming acquainted with cold water, in some cases extremely cold water, and my life has become noticeably enriched as a result.

It started back in May. I was feeling a bit aimless, in need of a new challenge. Not wanting to sign up and pay for yet another half marathon that I wouldn’t train for, I decided perhaps a swimming event would do the job. I was thinking that a mile swim in the London docks would give me the necessary spur to action.  

Buoyed by the potential for new watery challenges, I unearthed my wetsuit that had been mothballing since my last mile swim and spent the next hour trying to peel it on. I got it on. Almost didn’t get it off again, then decided that a cold water swim might prove more challenging than I had hoped. 

Still somewhat lifted by optimism I headed over to Tooting Bec Lido, the largest outdoor lido in Europe, and bobbed around in the water sans wetsuit. 


By the time I got out again, maybe 4 lengths or 360m later, I had discarded my distance swim plans and replaced it with a commitment to swim through the winter at the lido. 

That first dip was so powerful and so invigorating that I never wanted it to stop. I was no longer interested in medals and publicly noted achievements. I just wanted the thrill of escaping very cold water. 

I wasn’t very aware of water temperature when I first started. It always felt bloody cold but was probably around 18′ C when I started and climbed as high as 22′ C in the summer months. Regardless, it always felt shockingly thrilling and was always followed by a buzz of zen. I often arrived at the car park feeling edgy and wired but always left feeling a sense of monastic calm. 

As Wim Hof says, in The Way of the Iceman:

“The body-shocking severity of The Cold—merciless and righteous, bitch-slaps the chattering mind into silence.”

That’s about the crux of it. 

My water temperature obsession kicked in as the lido closed to the public in October. It felt like the pool temperature plummeted as the crowds dispersed and I was nervously watching the mercury drop towards 10’C. 

cold water
At this temperature I reassessed my translation of the word shocking. It’s hard to do justice to the experience of cold water but as a recent Guardian journalist noted, cold water swimmers are finely calibrated. We gather around discussing our perceived measurements of water temperature and always deal in figures to the nearest tenth of a degree. 

I’ve now experienced every degree between 10 and 1’ C. I’ve bobbed around with ice and hope to get colder still before the winter is over and I have to deal with the inevitable climb of the mercury. In my mind, truly cold hits below 7’ C. The Lone Swimmer, in his precise open water temperature scale describes this as the door to cold, with 6’ C being “Damn, that Hurts”, 5’C being “Holy F*ck!”.


It’s hard to distinguish the pain differentials on paper but at 6 degrees my sinuses start squeal when I put my face in the water and I seem to naturally switch from swimming lengths to widths. My body obviously doubts its ability to come back from a 90m length. At 2’ C it can hardly be called swimming anymore, I’m in the water for less than 5 mins, most of which is spent trying to pick up courage to submerge myself, then I whizz through 2 widths and I am out, flailing at my goggles with my lumpen, useless hands.

The pain is exquisite, awful, enlivening and I totally recommend it.

Squat, Bench and Deadlift for 2017

I normally start the year with some form of endurance challenge to get my teeth into. Previously we’ve had half marathons and 100k hiking events but as running has slowly slipped out of favour to be replaced by strength work, it didn’t seem like the right focus for 2017. 

So I started this year with a new plan. This year I am going to enter my first powerlifting competition, where I will squat, bench and deadlift my way to glory. 

My challenge is not just to turn up and knock out a few, preferably legal lifts. Instead I need to reach a certain standard, a level of attainment that would make me feel proud to strut my stuff in a dashing powerlifting singlet. 

powerlifting singlet
Weightlifting standards don’t seem to be particularly standard and are mightily varied depending on the source. I’ve decided to nick liberally from @hiclarky who has sent himself a challenge to achieve the ‘Ninja’ standards set by his crossfit gym and become Ninja or Not in 6 months

Here are my targets. All based on multiples of my hefty bodyweight, scaled for my planned weightloss! At the moment I am targeting the standards for a 100 kg bodyweight.

Powerlifting Standards
Bodyweight is seen as an advantage in lifting sports. The heavier you are the more you are expected to be able to manhandle. This is fine when you are talking about muscle bulk and perhaps the odd power belly but there is a cut off point when extra lard on the tricep no longer provides a powerlifting advantage. 

I’m guessing that I am some way beyond that cut-off point. 

That gives me two alternate routes to achieving the lifting standards. If I want to squat 1.25 x or Deadlift 1.5 x my bodyweight, I can either knuckle down and get extremely strong or I can shift shed loads of fat until I trim down to the relevant standard. 

As it’s not a straight forward task to shift only fat and I have no desire to lose any of my existing strength, I am opting for a combo approach where I lose a few kilos and hopefully build strength at the same time. That’s an untested approach for me so far, so watch this space. 

Operation Powerlifting Comp commences.

Trekz Aftershokz Titanium Bone Conducting Headphones

Lord Sugar might have been impressed with the Aftershokz bone conduction headphones but the Apprentices didn’t do a good job trying to sell their chosen cycle gadgetry on the show last week. Their one-track, safety-first mantra and lacklustre crowdfunding attempts led them straight back into the board room.

They did manage to tweak my interest though.

While I’m not too fussed about music, I have really missed listening to podcasts and audiobooks since I’ve started cycling into work again. There’s no way I would risk a London cycle commute with my usual in-ear plugs but something that keeps your ears open to the hustle and bustle of city life could offer a significant enhancement to my journey.

I got a pair and set off for my commute with the next audiobook on my list.

The first thing I noticed was that the fit was odd. They sit over your ears but then flip and flop around as you move your head, it’s particularly problematic if you have a hood or a collar.

Trekz Aftershokz Bone Conduction HeadphonesI checked some reviews and there has been a suggestion that the fit can be uncomfortably tight – not mine! I’m either wearing them wrong or I have a tiny head.

The headphones do come with a couple of elastic bands called fitbands that seem to serve zero purpose in improving the fit. I think I’ve put them on as described but will flip them around next week and see if there’s any improvement.

The sound quality is pretty good, you can get a reasonable volume and I could hear the narrator for most of the journey, she was obscured as I crossed Oxford Street with a dustbin truck to my right but the rush hour experience was generally impressive and most importantly I felt totally aware of what was going on a round me.

A review from ibtimes said:

It’s as if somebody is playing music through a speaker nearby, rather than listening to the music in your ears.

That’s exactly what it’s like and I can’t help thinking the bone conducting technology is just a big bluff. If I hold the headphones just slightly off my skin it doesn’t make any difference to the sound I hear or in fact to the sound my neighbour hears. It sounds likes its coming out of a little speaker because it is coming out of a little speaker.

Aftershokz by TrekzWhen the headphones are at full volume I do feel a vibration on my left cheek but it’s quite unpleasant actually, feeling like a static irritant.

I wouldn’t wear these in close proximity to others as there isn’t a great deal of privacy to be had and I prefer it if people next to me can’t tell what I’m listening to. Davina McCall was top of my audible playlist last week and I didn’t particularly want the world to know it.

The Bluetooth connection to my iPhone 6 was faultless, the battery apparently lasts an age and the controls on the headphones themselves are excellent. I love the big button on the left ear piece that does pause, fast forward, answer etc and can be controlled while wearing massive winter gloves. It’s perfect.

Overall I think the headphones are pretty good, the fit is shoddy and I don’t think there’s any sound enhancing bone conduction going on, but as a pair of near ear speakers that have brought the spoken word back into morning commute, I think they are excellent. That is 2 hours a day where I can multi task again – exercise, commute and read. That is something to be grateful for, and perhaps if I grew a ponytail the fit wouldn’t be so bad either.

How to Set up the Home Garden Gym

The Home Gym is a perfect solution for people who are self-motivated and happy to workout alone. The at-home convenience means you can prep a family dinner between sets and you never need to worry whether the squat rack will occupied by a big fella.

For the price of an annual gym membership you can build up a pretty snazzy home gym. You don’t need to buy it all at once though. Most of the gear in my garden gym has been acquired piecemeal and while I can’t resist the lure of new clobber, you don’t need it all to start making significant strength gains. I’ve made some suggestions at the end of the article about how you might want to amend your home gym setup, depending on your budget.

Garden Gym vs Home or Garage Gym

The considerations here relate to the weather and the terrible toll it can take on your kit. My home gym is a garden gym and I don’t have any cover to protect my weight plates or indeed any of my kit. After a year of exposure to the elements they are showing signs of significant decay.

The most important piece of kit I have is the power rack and as this ensures my safety while training alone I can’t accept any rust related failures and have therefore had this galvanised. It still looks as good as the day I bought it.

Everything else is in a slow decline and I have accepted that my bar and plates will need replacing eventually, in the meantime I spray regularly with WD40, like I used to do with my motorbike stuck outside in all weathers.

I have noticed quite a difference in the way my different plates stand up to the weather and will make sure every new plate I buy is plastic coated. These rubber tri-grip weight plates are excellent, the grip style is really convenient for carrying and they seem very durable so far.


You might also be concerned about the effect that the weather has on your ability to train but as strength athletes I reckon we are made of stern stuff and enjoy the challenge of inclement weather!

Fair weather squatter. #squateveryday #janathon

A post shared by 💪 @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on

 

Much as I  enjoy exercising in the fresh air and there’s a certain romance about bench pressing while looking up at the stars, if I had the option I probably would set my gym up under cover. A garage gym would be ideal. You could take some of the kit outdoors to warm up on a fine day without worrying that your kit will disintegrate between seasons.

Home Gym for £1000+

  • garden gymFull power rack – for safety and flexibility – £400+. As mine sits outside I had it galvanised which adds about £500 to the price.
  • Barbell, collars and weights – you can spend almost limitless amounts here but you can get a selection from £200-£250
  • Bench – £50+
  • Kettlebells – £20+
  • Slam ball – £30 for a 15kg version
  • Truck tyre and sledgehammer – we found the tyre in a skip and everyone has a sledgehammer in the shed. Great warm-up activity and who doesn’t feel great after flipping a tyre
  • Olympic lifting platform – for protecting the patio when deadlifting or trying olympic lifts. If you buy a proper one you will soon blow your budget. I made my own from plywood and rubber horse stall matting that I found on eBay.
  • Weightlifting app – free

The power rack forms the staple of my garden gym. It means I can squat and bench without the need for a spotter but I can also practice pull-ups and suspend no end of gadgetry from it to enhance my options. I have olympic rings, a trx style suspension trainer and a punch bag that I found on the street. It’s all a bit overkill but its fun if you have a short attention span.

I’ve tried a number of apps.

  • Stronglifts 5×5 is clean app and is a great program for beginners
  • Big Lifts 2 is my current favourite as it allows you to switch programs and its the best I’ve found for Weider 531 training
  • Freeletics Gym is a fun way to bring crossfit style routines into your home gym but it often calls for the use of a rowing machine as well as a barbell

Home Gym for £500

  • Half Cage Squat Rack – deals abound but the Bodymax squat rack usually goes for £250
  • Barbell, collars and weights – £200-£250
  • Bench or step – £50 I happen to have a Reebok Step lying around so use this for bench press. Probably not ideal if you are benching huge weights.

You are not as safe with a half rack as the full powerrack so you may still need a spotter. You can adjust the supports so it is fit for squats and bench press. Most also have chin bars and you can easily anchor stuff like TRX suspension trainers or Olympic rings.

Home Gym for Less than £50

I am so impressed with the Freeletics option, they have 3 versions of the app, running, bodyweight and gym. You need weightlifting equipment for the gym version but you don’t need anything beyond a mat for the other two. It is seriously hardcore – crossfit for the home and you can get transformed by following the program. The coach option is pricey but now allows you to use all 3 apps on a single subscription but you can use it without, you just need to be more disciplined in choosing the workouts and sticking to them.

Entering the Box

crossfitI’ve been a wannabe crossfitter since 2012 when I read Inside the Box by TJ Murphy. I’m embarrassed to say that nerves and convenience have delayed my initiation until this week, almost 4 years later.

This week though, I entered the Box.

I’ve been to crossfit 3 times now and although it seems to be a remarkably friendly place, I’m still rather nervous. We started with 2 foundation sessions, the first was barbell work which falls right into my comfort zone, the second, pithily titled Gymnastics, did not.

On gymnastics day I entered the Box (as part of the in-crowd I will now forever more refer to the crossfit gym as the Box) and found myself pinned in the doorway as a backflipping session was underway, stretching the full length of the gym.

Feeling uncomfortably like a voyeur I watched as folk rolled backwards and up into a handstand and then flip. There were a lot of fails, some more painful than others. Watching one chap face plant into the rubber matting and pop back up with immediate burn marks to his face was not an entirely comforting start to our beginners session. It’s rather like arriving early for your dental appointment only to sit listening to the screams of the ones that went before.

Anyway, the beginners session was fine, it just required an awful lot of scaling to get my body off the ground. Scaling just means altering the workout to make it easier while still generating the benefits of the prescribed movement. So for the handstand, I ended up walking backwards up a wall. For the ring dips, I used a sturdy elastic band between the rings so that I could use my knees and reduce the weight enough to allow full motion. For pullups I would crouch under a racked barbell and focus on keeping my feet light on the floor while going through the pullup motion.

No backward flips or rubber burns required for Day 1 of Gymnastics.

My third session was an actual wod = workout of the day.

It was a hot day and I had the misfortune of starting with a running wod. I knew it was going to be bad when we were instructed to run 600m round the block for a warmup. As I didn’t know the route I was forced to run quite a lot faster than I would like, just to keep the others in view. I arrived back considerably hotter than warm and concerningly wheezy. Throughout the next round of kettlebell swings, rows and planks I was coughing fluid from my lungs. The main workout was ground to overhead with plates (an imitation of the barbell snatch) and box jumps, cycled for 4 sets and then finished of with a re-run of the 600m run.

The main crossfit set only took 8 minutes but it nearly finished me off for the afternoon. I cycled home and had to have a bit of a rest as I felt like I’d given myself heatstroke.

Let’s see what next week brings, I’m hoping for less running and no backflips please.

Building a Canoe from Scratch

Last week we built our own Canadian canoe. How cool is that?

We went on a 4 day course in the lake district run by Orca Adventures and came away with an astoundingly good-looking vessel that we were able to drop onto the water the very next day.

It was a tough few days, with the first full day of sawing being particularly shocking for the normally deskbound amongst us. We started with thin sheets of cedar ply wood and gradually pulled these together with thread and the occasional zip tie, into an ever more ship-shape canoe.

  • After Day 1 we had a fairly floppy shell of a canoe.
  • By Day 2 we had applied some rigidity by adding the gunwales and firmed everything with fibre glass tape along all the seams.
  • For Day 3 we waterproofed the lot with a coating of epoxy resin and started on the woodworking – handles, jigs and seats.
  • On the final Day we cursed a lot while we fitted the stubborn seats and then set too with liberal applications of paint. In the afternoon we watched it dry, for hours.

When we finally drove away, I don’t think either of us could believe what we’d achieved. We had no idea what to expect and certainly did not think we’d be able to turn our hands to such craftmanship. Neither did ‘we’ think it would be quite so flipping big! Finding room for a 15 foot canoe, in a terraced house without a garage is going to prove interesting, and may get me into trouble again for having bright ideas.

Sailing a Handbuilt Canadian Canoe

With a newly built canoe sitting atop our car, it proved hard to resist the lure of the water. We were in the Lake District after all so it felt rude not to.

My parents joined us for the momentous occasion as we dipped its (soon to be named Bob’s) toes into the River Eamont by Pooley Bridge. We took it in turns to be whipped round by the current until we fought rather limply to stay bobbing in more or less one spot, a sort of treadmill action for canoes.

We have some paddling skills to develop before I fancy going into deeper river water. I took much security from the knowledge that I could easily step overboard and push us back to shore in this ankle-deep torrent.

Our next trip out was to Derwent water, a much deeper yet more tranquil site to practice our skills. I could get used to this way of life, especially if we remember to pack a drybag next time, stocked with fizz and picnic delights. With those preparations I could quite happily pull in the paddles and see where the lake took us.

GPS Activity Trackers – Surge vs Vivoactive HR

I’ve always been a fan of fitness gadgets and during my running life I have followed closely the Garmin Forerunner evolutionary path, seeking ever more specialist and techy running gear. This culminated with the world-class triathlete standard, Forerunner 910XT.

Forerunner Evolution
Forerunner 305, 405, FR60, 310XT, 920XT.

Now, as extremely loyal followers would know, way back in 2007 I competed in a pool based sprint triathlon and am therefore entitled to call myself a triathlete. I have however, begun to face facts relating to my world-class status in the sport and it has led me to question the need for such focus on multisport functionality. Even with running as my mainstay, I couldn’t really find a use for my stride length and vertical oscillation stats.

Besides, what all these watches lacked was 24/7 heart rate monitoring and that is of course essential in this day and age. I could have looked to the new range of wrist based HR mounted forerunners such as the Forerunner 735XT but it is still a world-class triathlete watch at heart. Feeling more comfortable with my amateur athlete status I looked to the activity tracking world where a few devices have been emerging with GPS functionality on the side.

Fitbit SurgeThe Fitbit Surge

Although its been around for a while now, the Fitbit Surge stood out from the crowd.

It’s a neat wrist watch that doesn’t draw attention to itself, includes a GPS unit and is built on the Fitbit infrastructure which is truly outstanding for activity and sleep tracking as well as social interaction.

The Fitbit Surge does feel a little bit dated now, it is black and white (or black and grey) and it takes a little getting used to the low contrast screen but the watch just works as its supposed to.

The GPS picks up quickly and the runs are recorded without fuss, the default running screen doesn’t tell me my vertical oscillation or position against a virtual running partner but I find I don’t use any of that stuff anyway. Nowadays I just press start, run, press stop, stop and I’m done. The Surge does that extremely well and then it syncs in seconds and if I like, it’s up there on Strava before I’ve caught my breath.

Activity tracking is of course brilliant with the Fitbit Surge and you don’t even need to tell the watch you are doing something. I use my eBike to get into work, it’s a pedelec which means I have to pedal and my Fitbit therefore recognises it as an outdoor bike ride, my heart rate shows this to be a relatively relaxed bike ride (due to the assistance) but it recognises the activity nonetheless. It does the same for my badminton sessions although it marks these as Other activity type for me to amend at a later date.

To be honest, if you gave me a splash of colour and a brighter screen, the Surge would almost be my favourite fitness watch ever.

Tooting Bec LidoBut then I took up swimming again!

For some reason I ventured into the Lido at Tooting and was completely hooked. The thrill of the cold plunge has given me an addictive buzz and a new activity to track which revealed a flaw in the Surge make-up.

It is not waterproof and will therefore not track swimming activities.

So, I could stick with the Surge and get a swim only watch (I’m ignoring the low tech option of manually recording my swims), or I could see what was available in the market for GPS activity trackers with swim functionality.

Enter the Garmin Vivoactive HR.

The Garmin Vivoactive HR

Garmin Vivoactive HRIt claimed to do everything that the Fitbit Surge had to offer but with so much more: detailed graphical outputs on the watch display – in full crisp colour, automatic activity detection, sleep tracking, golf and ski tracking (like I care) and the big one, Swim functionality.

DC Rainmaker seems to love the Garmin Vivoactive HR and quite neatly points out the disparity in features available:

Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit Surge: On a pure feature basis, there’s really no competition here.  While both units are priced the same, the Vivoactive HR has approximately 3,283 more features than the Fitbit Surge.  Ok, maybe just like 80 extra features.

It’s true, you can do stacks of stuff with the Vivoactive HR and you can do it all so beautifully. The watch is a miniaturised version of the Garmin Connect app and provided you have your specs on you can see weekly charts of all your main stats. It’s almost glorious.

But only almost.

When it comes down to the battle of GPS activity trackers, with the aged Fitbit Surge vs Garmin Vivoactive HR, the young flashy whipper snapper should win hands down. But Garmin is not getting my vote this time. In fact after 3 weeks trialling it, I’ve packed the Vivoactive HR into its box and sent it back to Amazon as a bad job.

Problems with the Garmin Vivoactive HR

It’s not a great activity tracker for one and the auto exercise detection didn’t work for me once. You may say that e-biking isn’t real cycling and while I wouldn’t agree, Garmin obviously would. Despite the wrist unit registering my heart rate hovering around 120 bpm for the duration of my 40 minute ride into work, I arrived at my desk at about 9:30 am to find no exercise recorded and as a further slap in the face, the vivoactive HR was declaring me to be still soundly asleep. I think that’s pretty pants on both the activity and sleep tracking front.

Its next major failing and the nail in the coffin for my short life with the vivoactive HR was its swim tracking functionality. Firstly, its not very good at counting laps so I still had to keep count in my head. If you jostle during a length, perhaps to grab a wayward noseclip, or to sight the end of the pool, the watch records a new length regardless of whether that would generate a world record lap or not. I find that quite inconvenient although it seems to be a flaw shared by all the swim watches and one that Garmin make particularly tricky to correct post swim. In fact they don’t make it possible at all but you can use third-party apps such as the brilliant swimmingwatchtools to correct.

Secondly, the touch screen functionality of the Vivoactive HR makes it particularly unsuitable for swimming. I’ve managed to delete no end of swims, mid-swim, by unintentional screen swipes. I’ve pressed the button to pause the swim during a rest at the end of the length and then adjusted my goggles or swim cap only to find that the action has deleted the entire activity. Hopping mad doesn’t come close!

Surge vs Vivoactive HR

Surge vs Vivoactive HRAs a result I have deemed the Vivoactive HR to be wholly unacceptable for swim recording and therefore why would I not go back to the Fitbit Surge with its flawless execution, its superb app and its world domination of my friends list?

I can’t help looking for a fitness watch that would do it all and do it well though…….

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