Fast Exercise for Janathon

I’ve planned a lazy day so my exercise needs to be over and done with quickly today. Time to call on Fast Exercise, which is the term coined by Dr Mosley, of Intermittent Fasting fame, to describe a variety of High Intensity Training routines.

The book is all the rage at the moment but I’m not actually going to call upon it for todays routine, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier review of Fast Exercise, the book is a bit dull and gives very uninspiring HIT sessions.

It offers a grounding in the fundamentals of Interval training and some beginner level routines. The routines themselves are so basic though, that anyone who has ever stepped on a treadmill or read a running magazine will be able to conjure up more imaginative or challenging routines.

Today I will be calling upon the fastest of fast exercises – Tabata training. A session that will come closer to killing me than any other but which requires a mere 2.5 mins of real effort. It’s amazing how gruelling those 2 and a bit minutes can be though.

20140105-185724.jpgThe Tabata routine requires you to put out 20-second intervals of maximal effort interspersed with 10-second rests. You then repeat this cycle between 6 and 8 times for a sweaty 4 minute workout.

This style of 20/10 maximal effort interval training is best suited (but not limited) to cardio exercising such as stationary bike or treadmill. Due to the rapid cycling of all out effort I find that when on a treadmill you need to get used to jumping on off – the speed controls will not react quickly enough for Tabata.

For me that means setting the treadmill to 15kph, hitting the start button on my Tabata timer and then jumping on and off as instructed. A crazy routine but it’s over in 6 minutes including a 2 minute warm up to prepare my body for the shock.

I’ve just completed the session and it seems the warm up wasn’t sufficient to prepare my body – I’ve pulled both hamstrings but I still consider it a success that I wasn’t catapulted from the end of the treadmill.

Convict Conditioning 2 Review

Convict Conditioning 2

Convict Conditioning 2Paul “Coach” Wade is back with a second instalment of his impressive body weight calisthenics routine, Convict Conditioning 2 – from the depths of San Quentin prison

I’ve previously reviewed the original Convict Conditioning and I’m still working my way slowly through the progressions to the Big Six strength moves. I’m by no means adept at calisthenics and as I’m still at the early stage of my progressions I wasn’t sure that Convict Conditioning 2 would have anything to offer me. I feared that it would be extreme gymnastics, suitable only for Olympic ring athletes.

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Convict Conditioning 2 - The Flag progressionsAlthough it does include a chapter detailing the route towards a perfect flag, an exercise I am unlikely to ever attempt, the remainder of the book is accessible to all and is a perfect accompaniment to Convict Conditioning 1.

“Coach” Wade starts by supplementing the Big Six with a series of exercises covering the muscles at the extremities of the body. So we have exercise series for developing forearms and grip, the lateral chain (the flag) and the calves and neck.

Convict Conditioning 2 - The Hang ProgressionsForearm and hand grip strength is a prized commodity in the prison trade. Few muscles remain as visible as a big beefy pair of forearms and looking like Brutus can help keep you out of trouble in the prison courtyard.

The main exercise for strengthening grip and forearms is simply hanging. The progressions will ultimately lead you to single arm hangs from a thick length of rope, by which point you will have immensely strong grip and impressive forearms.

I won’t go in too much detail on the neck progressions, I don’t have much interest in thickening my neck. If you’re the sort who’d like a huge neck girth, perhaps to expand the canvas for suitable throat tattoo, you’d need to be working your way up to neck bridges – starting with the bridge progression shown in Convict Conditioning 1.

The calf routine is just a variation on the leg raise which most people will be familiar with.

The really interesting part of the book for me is an exercise routine known as the Convict Conditioning Triad. A trifecta of exercises recommended for the body builders who can’t or won’t relinquish the iron.

Convict Conditioning - Functional Triad
These 3 body weight exercises on their own are designed to develop supple-strength and focus on key muscles across the anterior, posterior and lateral chain. In order, the exercises are, the bridge, the L-hold and the twist.

I’m particularly interested in this routine as its simple, will oil my joints and protect my grumbling back and it will also be the ideal counterpart to my current training plan – the Starting Strength weight training program.

Convict Conditioning - Bridge ProgressionsAs with the first in the Convict Conditioning series, Paul “Coach” Wade offers a series of progressions, typically in 8 steps although I’ve only illustrated the first 6.
These are the Bridge progressions.

Convict Conditioning L-Hold Progressions

Here are the L-Hold progressions. At the moment I find it difficult to imagine ever being able to lift myself from the floor like this. My arms are pretty extended when I place the hands flat by my side so there isn’t a lot of room to perform a lift. I’ve started at the beginning though and can just about lift myself from the chair arms – very briefly.

Convict Conditioning - Twist Progressions

Here are the twist progressions. A series that I feel relatively comfortable with as I still have a bit of muscle memory from my yoga days.

Getting a full twisted stretch is going to take some time to develop though.

That covers just over half of the book. The latter section is more philosophical and includes sections on “Wisdom from Cell Block G”.

In Convict Conditioning 1, there was very little reference to prison life but in the sequel “Coach” Wade spends quite a lot of time discussing the perils, pitfalls and survival tips from inside a hardcore American state prison.

He isn’t glorifying prison in any way but he does include advice on staying clean, staying sane, and maintaining a healthy eating plan, drawing parallels between life on the inside and outside.

I’ve been really impressed with both books in the Convict Conditioning series. Together they offer you the complete body weight routine for developing huge functional strength and bullet proofing your body through the trifecta supple-strength routine.

Highly recommended.

Resources and links for Convict Conditioning

The Paleo Diet and Mindful Eating for Weightloss

As a large runner I spend quite a lot of time focusing on food and diet. My aim is to establish a diet that makes it easy for me to maintain an acceptable weight, feel satisfied and still provides sufficient levels of energy for me to live my life with abandon.

My dietary program has been heavily influenced by three excellent books that have a similar theme of simplifying food and eating.

My first recommendation is Savor, a Buddhist guide to mindful eating. This book attempts to fuse nutritional advice with the Buddhist concept of mindfulness through the discussion of the four noble truths and a series of exercises or meditations that encourage a focus on the present.

The eating messages I’ve taken home are:

  • Eat at the table
  • Avoid multitasking – so no TV, work or magazines
  • Appreciate your food by use of all the senses
  • Chew and take it slowly
  • Quality not quantity

I’ve turned to Michael Pollen for the sort of down to earth advice succinctly wrapped up with the maxim: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. Homespun advice that would make your mum and grandmother nod their heads in appreciation.

In Defense of Food, contains Michael Pollen’s manifesto for eating and attempts to find the common sense lost in the nutritional world that has become hijacked by commerce and the food industry.

In addition to the Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants advice you’ll find tips such as:

  • Only eat food your great grandmother would recognise as food
  • Avoid products with unpronounceable ingredients or more than 5 ingredients
  • Avoid food with health claims

Both of these books suggest a common sense approach to eating and food, but slightly more prescriptive advice can be found in the next book which advocates the diet of our ancestors.

The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain

In a nut shell The Paleo Diet asks us to consider our food choices from the perspective of our early ancestors.

From an evolutionary time frame our digestive systems remain as they were in paleolithic times. The agricultural revolution has brought about many changes in our eating habits but our bodies have not yet had time to catch up.

By reverting to our ancestral food types we can achieve many health benefits and reduce a number of inflammatory or allergic reactions that are associated with modern foods such as wheat and highly processed foods. I mentioned in passing recently that I’ve had a lot of success treating plantar fasciitis with the paleo diet.

Acceptable Paleo foods


  • All low starch vegetables (so potatoes are excluded but you can substitute with sweet potato)
  • Meat (preferably lean) and fish
  • Eggs
  • Olive Oil
  • Nuts (not peanuts which are legumes)
  • Berries and fruit
  • Red Wine (some would argue)

The Paleo Avoidance List – No Grains, No Sugar, No Processed Food


  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Processed foods
  • Potato
  • Rice and grains (and flour products)
  • Bread
  • Pasta

The Paleo Diet really is a very easy diet to follow. I’ve already listed out the rules in the space of two paragraphs. That’s all there is to it. I find it a very acceptable way to live, I may have to plan ahead sometimes but Paleo food is quite accessible – just stick to the edges of the supermarket where you’ll find the fresh produce aisles, then snack on fruit, nuts and cooked meats.

Because it’s an easy way to live, that’s the way I see it – a way of life. That enables me to let myself off the hook from time to time. Some may call it cheating but it does mean that if I visit friends for dinner, I can join them without feeling the need to educate them on my current eating habits. I just return to Paleo tomorrow.

Many Paleo advocates call this the 80:20 rule – get it right 80% of the time and you’ll be alright. Julia Buckley would say “Mostly good, most of the time”.

I’ve had great successes on the Paleo Diet, I lost 6lbs in the first week, 3-stone in the first year and I have been on a steady decline since then. It could be considered a boring diet but it has the great effect of reducing my cravings. So while I may feel hunger I’m actually not that bothered by the feeling, it can rumble away for a while before I need to satisfy the pangs. That is incredibly unusual for me, before the Paleo diet I would say I practically lived in fear of hunger, I would anticipate the feeling and ward off the onset with fairly regular snacking.

The Paleo diet has a lot of similarities with the GI diet, they don’t necessarily recommend the same food types, as the GI diet includes whole grains which would be avoided on the Paleo diet, but they both impact on and stabilize insulin levels in the body. I think it is this that stops the cravings and the emotional highs and lows with traditional dieting.

If you’d like to kick start your Paleo lifestyle I can highly recommend the Whole 30 challenge which is a 30-day uber strict paleo diet challenge. It’s a great way to detox and determine if you have any food intolerances but its also a useful way to familiarise yourself with real foods again.

The Whole 30 food list is even simpler than the Paleo one from Loren Cordain’s book:

  • NO milk
  • NO alcohol
  • NO bread
  • NO sugar
  • NO pasta
  • NO grains
  • NO pulses
  • NO flour

It may feel strange to avoid grains which have for a long time been touted as a health food pillars but they are relatively recent intruders into our diet. If you look at the Paleo Diet with its lean meats and fish, its abundance of veg, salad and the delights of fruits, nuts and berries, you can rest assured that you are eating healthy and nutrient laden food.

Christmas Gift Ideas for Runners

I regularly review and recommend high value running gadgets such as GPS watches and the latest release running shoes but I spotted a load of low priced items at the Running Show last weekend and thought I should put together a Christmas gift guide to help you treat the runner in your life without breaking the bank.


Socks may appear to be an unexciting xmas fall back, but a good pair of running socks can make a heck of a difference to the state of your feet when you start building up the distance of your runs. I’ve been through a load of different brands but am now happy that I’ve found the sock that suits my needs.

X-Socks. I’ve built up such a fondness for these socks that I’m almost superstitious and would struggle to run an event without wearing the grey and orange version. These are easily my favourite running sock.

CompresSport Running Socks. I received a free pair of these at the running show and have been extremely happy with them. They are another expensive pair of socks at £15 but are remarkably comfortable and ooze quality.


I’ve been through many pairs of running headphones trying to find the perfect pair – headphones that will stay in place, deliver decent sound quality and preferably allow me to control my iPhone remotely.

Sennheiser PMX680 – These are my current headphones and are near-perfect for running. The neckband style headphones are very stable and never fall off but they can be inconvenient if you wear hats or glasses.

Yurbuds – I tried these out at the Running Show and would love to take them on a proper test.
They twist and lock into your ear so that you can tug on the cables and they stay in place. They have a number of models, one with a tangle free cable option and another with the microphone and remote control option that I’m so fond of. You need to get these sized to ensure they will lock into place so they aren’t the easiest gift option.

Injury Prevention

It won’t be long before the runner in your life starts to make those tell-tale groans that indicate an urgent massage is required. The next best thing to an on-site masseuse is a massage tool:

The Stick – a slightly flexible plastic stick around which a set of plastic spindles can independently rotate. It is these spindles that work on your muscles to ease out knots and release tension.

The Rumble Roller – If you have a cruel streak and a big wallet, you might consider the rumble roller. It’s an implement of torture and an expensive one at that but still remarkably effective at loosening tight knots. Its extremely hard to use without screaming a bit though.

Headbands, Visors and Hats

Halo Visor and Headband – I bought both of these items at the Running Show. I’d practically blinded myself at the gym the night before as the sweat was pouring off my forehead and the guys from Halo had an excellent display model demonstrating the effectiveness of the sweatbands with their unique sweatblock seal.

Jack Rabbit Caps – These are lovely running caps that you can customise with a logo, slogan or name.

Bags and Armbands

Workplay Fleetfoot II – This is great little running pack. The shape is designed to accommodate the curvature of a woman’s hips. I’ve previously written a more comprehensive review of the Workplay Fleetfoot II bumbag.

Y-Fumble – This is a stretch arm pocket that will grow to accomodate most of your carrying needs – keys, cash or phone and at only £6 it makes a great stocking filler or secret Santa gift.


Blood, Sweat and Tears – I downloaded this to my kindle last week and it has rapidly worked its way up to the top of my running books chart. It is easily the most enjoyable running book I’ve read to date. Moire is a fascinating character and I’ve really enjoyed following her exploits across the Wicklow Mountains. If you are ever so slightly inspired by crazy feats, gruelling multi-day mountain adventures and relentless doggedness you are going to enjoy this book. I’m already hoping for a sequel.

Ultramarathon Man – I’ve been recommending this for a long time. It was my first ultrarunning read and has started an obsession and a whole shelf of my bookcase has now been given over to the genre.

Born to Run – This book filled me with excitement and has obviously had the same affect on many others as it’s often cited as having inspired the worlds obsession with barefoot running. In parts it’s a hugely exciting tale of ultrarunning adventure, in others it’s an evangelical barefoot bible.

Running the Rift – it’s unusual to find a novel where running forms the major theme. This book tells the poignant story of Jean Patrick, a young Tutsi who has set himself the target of running for Rwanda in the Olympics.

Winter Gear

IceSpikes – I was quite excited by these. They are bolt like gadgets with sharp screw ends. You just screw them into the sole of your shoe and hey presto, you have an ice friendly outsole. They’re about £20 and come with a few spares and the tool for screwing them in. I’m going to turn one of my old pairs of running shoes into my standby ice runners and can’t wait to try them out.

Let me know if you think I’ve missed the perfect gift and I may be able to add it to Santa’s list.

Convict Conditioning

I’ve long held the fantasy that the only thing between me and a perfectly honed physique was a long stint in solitary confinement.

I was obviously inspired by prison movies in my youth and still have images in my head of physical transformations behind bars.

I’ve been tempted to buy Bronson’s Solitary Fitness book before but having skim read it I found it a bit too brutal and couldn’t bring myself to support him. Paul “Coach” Wade’s book, Convict Conditioning, is different, I haven’t a clue what he was incarcerated for as he doesn’t mention it. Given his long spells in high security establishments and his focus on survival strength, the author is clearly no stranger to violence but it’s refreshing to see that this book is about exercise only.

The point about Convict Conditioning is that it’s old school. Trapped within the four walls of worldwide penitentiaries is an underground body of experts passing on the skills of progressive calisthenics. It’s an arena that remains isolated from the fads coming out of the swanky gyms in LA and where money hasn’t been lavished on high-tech equipment. It is a place where physical fitness and strength matters and where a commitment to progressive body weight exercising can either save your life or at the very least, your dignity.

It’s a simple book based on 6 key exercises that are all you need to achieve phenomenal functional strength: pushups, squats, pull ups, leg raises, bridges and handstand pushups.

20120730-093710.jpgI’m far too weedy for pull ups, cripple myself with attempts at a full squat and lord knows what would happen if I attempted a handstand, however the book is all about progression. Each exercise set has ten progressions leading to the ultimate body weight exercise:

One Arm Pushups
One Leg Squats
One Arm Pullups
Hanging Leg Raises
Stand-to-Stand Bridges
One Arm Handstand Pushups

So for one arm pushups I get to start with incline pushups against a wall.
I can do those.
I’m not yet at the 3 sets of 50 required to progress to the next stage but that’s all part of the program – slow progressions give my strength chance to build so that maybe, one day, I can wow the world with a one arm press up.

Here are the 6 starting exercises:

I can just about to make it to the bottom rung of each but the shoulder stand requires a lot of refining and I may have to find a fat person’s intro to the head stand as I’m too scared for that but who knows where I may be after a few months of Convict Conditioning.

Online Convict Conditioning resources and links

Blogs: Al Kavadlo – to see an expert in action. A Convict Conditioning Journey by Nell Bednar.
Video technique: YouTube channel dedicated to convict conditioning.
The book: Not easily available in the UK – try Amazon for used copies or go direct to Dragon Door publishing
The kindle version: Convict Conditioning: How to Bust Free of All Weakness-Using the Lost Secrets of Supreme Survival Strength
Kindle version of Convict Conditioning 2: Convict Conditioning 2: Advanced Prison Training Tactics for Muscle Gain, Fat Loss and Bulletproof Joints: Advanced Prison Training Tactics for Muscle Gain, Fat Loss, and Bulletproof Joints

**UPDATE** The sequel is now available and I have posted my in depth Convict Conditioning 2 review.

Dean Karnazes – Runabout

I read Dean Karnazes’ new book the other week, “50 50 Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days”.

I’ve already flogged it on ebay so you can be sure that I am not going to recommend this as a good running read. It’s full of trite running tips that you all know already, stuff along the lines of never do anything new on race day.

It’s sold as a “fascinating story” and how can it not be? The guy is pretty much a wonder, he ran back to back marathons and covered off most of the US in less than 2 months. He should be shot for producing such a dull account. Out of the almost 50 race reports not a single one could hold a candle to the daily reports coming from the blogs over there on my sidebar ——>

He kept going on about the “feminisation” of the marathon world which made me picture hoards of men with man boobs jiggling around the course, and then sang the praises of the AMAZING women (who were also mothers) that managed to find the time to run a marathon.

I don’t want to be too mean about the book, there were two positive things that I took away with me, the first was not to be such a baby when I get a cold – you can run with a snotty nose and the other was the concept of Runabout.

Runabout is Dean’s take on the Aboriginal Walkabout. It’s the kind of free running that he is famous for and does so well (see Ultramarathon Man which actually is a fascinating read). He’ll open his door, take the decision to head E, N, S or W and then just keep running until he can go no further, at which point he catches the train home. When he goes on runabout he may run for days before deciding he can go no further but he recommends that a similar toned down tactic might work for those in training for marathons.

So the plan is to head out running in any direction and then keep going until you need to walk, then run again and keep the cycle going til the day has gone and its time to head home. The trick is not necessarily to run the whole time but to just stay on your feet and keep moving, so if you stop to pickup drinks and food, you must eat on the go.

I’m off on Runabout today, heading in a north westerly direction. I’m hoping to pick up the Capital Ring a 75m loop of London – lets see how much I can cover before collapsing.

**There is a link to my other product reviews on sidebar. Please contact me at if you have a product you would like me to review.

Worrying Developments

I am slightly concerned about two new obsessions that seem to be gaining a foothold.

Firstly you may have noticed that a whole load of ultrarunners have suddenly gatecrashed my blogroll and therefore my regular reading list. Yesterday my new book arrived, Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes, and I stayed up til 3am to finish it.

Why would this be? A long run for me is 10k.

Can’t help feeling such an admiration for this show of endurance and ridiculous stubborness. When Karnazes finished his first 50-miler he described rather too vividly the terrible spasms and projectile vomiting that ruined his lovely new Lexus. It’s trials like this that help define who you actually are and I’m sure most of us hanker to know just how much we could actually deal with.

The second development is rather more impulsive. Last night I suddenly decided that I was going defect from MovableType and head over to This is clearly going to cause an immense weekend long headache if I go ahead with it. I had to restrain myself from giving it a go last night when the urge first grabbed me.

This is my explanation in advance for any prolonged outage of the blog, and any pattern baldness that I may concurrently develop.


Whenever I go on a new fitness buzz, I like to look around for inspiration that will keep me motivated for just a bit longer. This almost inevitably means spending money on either books or assorted gadgets, and this time round has been no exception.

So this time the book is called “Survival of the Fittest” by Mike Stroud who most famously ran with Sir Ranulph Fiennes on his 7 marathon runs, across 7 continents in 7 days. Flipping nuts!

I haven’t finished it yet but the most inspiring story so far is of a woman called Helen Klein. This woman is truly inspirational, she is a great grandmother, well into her 80’s and her motto is “I want to wear out, not rust out”. She started running when she was 55 having had a completely non sporting life. She is now a world record holding ultra distance runner.

I have taken the excerpt from a book called “Fitter after 50“, I don’t have a copy myself but I reckon its a must for anyone feeling a bit depressed about the advancing years. I provided the link if your interested.

“In 1982, at the age of 59, she entered the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon (the epic swim, bike, and run-a-marathon competition). In 1989, now a 66-year-old grandmother of 9, she completed the Grand Slam of 100-mile mountain-trail runs (the Vermont 100, the Wasatch 100, Colorado’s Leadville 100, and the Western States 100); plus one more to grow on, the Angeles Crest 100, all in just a 16-week time period. In 1995, in her prime at 72, she ran the Marathon Des Sables, a grueling 145-mile stage race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco; then just 2 weeks later (with hardly time to catch her breath), she competed in AND finished the first annual Eco Challenge, in Utah, a 370-mile multi-sport, multi-day, race (including horseback riding, canoeing, and rock climbing — 1200-foot vertical cliffs) in which over half the competitors (most just half her age) could not complete this rugged event.”

I’d really like to know more about this woman, she seems like a marvel. I’ve seen pages on the web confirm she is still running multiple marathons back to back at the age of 82!