The Gym…Again

After the holiday I’m told I’ve gained weight. Good thing we don’t have the girther movement here.

Of course I disagree and I’m prepared to defend myself against such malicious allegations. Though, if truth be told, I’ve had one too many beers and other unhealthy stuff- but that was just me cultivating mass. Bulking up, so to speak.

Who doesn’t want to bulk up?

But, just in case there’s a shred of truth in the allegations, I’ll be going to the gym again tomorrow. Blame the holidays, resolutions blah blah. Perhaps this time I’ll last.

 

Or perhaps I should just follow Tim Ferris’ experiments advice in The Four Hour Chef and get quick results. Either way changes are coming- again.

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Fitness and all that

Around February I rejoined the gym and then stopped going soon afterwards. For some reason I never stick to my fitness goals.

And then today I noticed I’ve gained some weight, which made me panic a little. So I decided, for the umpteenth time, to start working out again.

I know, of course, that eating well is better than exercise for losing weight so I will have to make some adjustments in my eating habits. I think now is a good time to cut down on carbs and try one the in vogue diets like Keto, Paleo or the Slow Carb popularised by the maverick Tim Ferris in his book The Four Hour Diet.

A good diet is the best hope I have of losing a few kilos in the shortest possible time but exercise still has plenty of other benefits. So I have to start working out again

The challenge is that I’ve recently moved and there doesn’t seem to be a gym close to where I now stay. Which means I will have to take up calisthenics. Also I’ve realised I don’t like gyms anyway, and even if I move to where there are gyms close by, hopefully soon, I don’t think I’ll ever go to a gym again. My plan is to just buy my own weights, rack, benches and bars and workout at home.

Or I might take up running again. Last time I did I tried running I went from only managing a minute to running five km by following the Couch to 5k program.

Either way, I have new fitness goals.

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StrongLifts 5×5 : Two Week Review

So today I hit the gym for the sixth time and completed week two of the StrongLifts 5×5 Program. I know I haven’t done much but I think I’ve learnt a few things about the program, here they are:

 

1.Stick to the Program

The program is simple. This is possibly its greatest strength. It is easy to concentrate on only 3 exercises instead of countless different ones each workout. Stick to it, unless you really really know what you’re doing.

2. Start Light

It’s important to start with really light weights. I started with the empty bar and I recommend everyone who follows this program to do the same. There are some reasons for this even though at the beginning you may feel that you are not doing anything.

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   A chart showing my two week progress

Firstly by starting with an empty bar you learn correct form. This is important when the weights get really heavy. With poor form heavy weights can lead to injury. In fact I saw a guy injure himself doing squats this morning.

Secondly, starting light and gradually increasing weights builds strength. This is very important. I’ve seen people jump to weights randomly before building the required strength. This leads to injuries and slower progress. Though I  started with very low weights and haven’t reached a stage where you feel like you are actually lifting real weights, I am much stronger than I was two weeks ago.

3. Use the App

I advise using a Stronglifts app. For IPhone and Android users just use the official ones. For Windows Phone there are several poor options. I recommend Simply Stronglifts for Windows Phone users.

Data from the app
                  Data from the app

The app shows you the day’s weights and other cool data. This is useful because after even a few weeks keeping track of each workout’s weights is going to be difficult. Additionally the apps show your progress in graphical form and also show rest timers and other cool features.

The Iphone and Android ones also allow you to backup your progress. You could probably get away with tracking the weights in your head but you’re likely to make a mistake. Besides, it’s the 21st century and there are plenty of tools to simplify life. Use them.

4. Beware the Overhead Press

When I started doing the program I thought the Overhead Press is a simple exercise. Turns out it’s the hardest and the one most people first stall on. The Overhead Press is deceptively simple but it’s very difficult- possibly because our shoulders are weak or something. Whatever the reason, be warned.

The Overhead Press
                                       The Overhead Press

5. You’ll Squat Like Crazy

Now this program is built around the Squat and this is one exercise you’ll come to love and hate. Believe me when you squat 75 times a week ( More than 100 times with warm-ups) you will soon develop a special relationship with Squats. And they will hurt like hell at first, you will dread the stairs and won’t walk properly for days. Then the pain will disappear- except when doing them. You’ll want to cry.

6. The strength will come fast

This is a strength training program for beginners and it works. Adding 2.5 kgs to an exercise each time- or about 3 kgs every week- is no joke. You will quickly get stronger provided you are eating well.

In two weeks I have gone from struggling with a 20kg Squat to squatting 32.5 kgs.

6. The Aesthetics (Looks) will come slow

Like I said this is a strength training program. The idea is to get stronger and then maybe do other things. Muscle size will come with stronger muscles because strong muscles are big muscles but big muscles are not necessarily strong muscles.

So don’t expect to get ripped fast from this program – at least not right away. Though I am stronger I can hardly see the physical difference yet.

7. Consistency is key

As with any plan, consistency is important. Sometimes I don’t want to wake up but I force myself. Even the best plans need execution.

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On Actually Joining a Gym

My six pack is coming- hold on there
                     My six pack is coming- soon

I’ve previously written about deciding to join a gym and actually trying to find a gym so now I got an announcement. Ladies and Gentlemen, I finally actually signed up for gym membership. Isn’t that awesome?

The Gym is called Oxygen something and it’s located in Joina City. I paid less for both membership and monthly subscription coz I’m under 25 and a “student”.

First workout is on Monday. I’m so not looking forward to this.

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A Good Gym is Hard to Find: Business Lessons From a Day of Gym Hunting

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In a big city like Harare you’d think finding a good gym is an easy thing. Turns out it’s harder than I imagined.

Yesterday I spent some time hunting for an ideal place to work out at. Ideal in this case means that the place should be in in the CBD or the Avenues. Secondly there should be standard Olympic barbells, weight plates of varying weights and a squat rack. And obviously shouldn’t be too expensive. That’s a short list, nothing fancy, should be plenty around I thought.

So I did the obvious thing- I went on the internet and searched for “gyms in Harare”. The results were poor, and the few gyms I found there didn’t appear to have any websites. Come on guys, in this day and age?

Which meant I had to resort to primitive ways i.e. going around town searching for gyms and comparing them. Started with the nearest one I knew, over at Fife Avenue shops. Fit the location requirement perfectly since it’s a few minutes’ walk from my place. “$40 a month and $10 for joining,” a short fella who I assumed to be the instructor said. I looked around the pace and wasn’t impressed. The space looked too small and the weights were in disarray. Told him I’d think about it and left.

Next was one I had found on Facebook, along Livingstone Avenue, between Fourth and Fifth streets. “$25 joining fee, $50 per month,” a bored lady at the reception told me. A well-built guy showed me around, he was refreshingly good company and he told me that students pay $35 per month. Looked a good enough place and I thought I might return there.

Later I went to the one in Joina City, called Oxygen Fitness. Located right in the CBD, housed in the city’s fanciest and newest high rise, it looked an expensive place. Fee is $20 for joining then $50 for a month. “What if I’m a student,” I asked remembering a previous encounter. “Oh, if you’re a student, and you’re below 25 you join for $15 and pay $40 every month,” I was told.

I also went to Empire Gym along Leopold Takawira, next to that shop where they sell those fancy Jaguars. A notice proudly proclaimed that they are the biggest fitness chain in the country. Like all things that used to be big in this country the gym has seen better times.

I visited more places, one recommended by a friend in downtown Harare where Harare Street and Albion intersect. Good enough place, $35 per month, no joining fee. Friendliest stuff I’d encountered. But there was a problem. The weight plates were terrible, looked like some kind of rubbery stuff and some barbells were of fixed weights.

It was quite an afternoon, I found one gym at Reylton sports club that looked like sh**, another sh**ty one at Les Brown swimming pool, several others in downtown Harare and, *surprise*, even one at Harare Central Police Station, in the basement, where they charge a dollar per session. Would’ve gone there if the equipment was adequate.

My search got me thinking about business. Reminded me of some ideas I have harboured for some years.

The best ideas, wrote Jason Fried in his short but awesome book, “Rework”, are those that solve the problems you have. This, he said, is called, “scratching your own itch”, and it often turns out to be the best way of getting entrepreneurial ideas. After all there are countless guys like me out there, facing the same problems right? (Well, actually I don’t think there are guys like me, but you get the point).

My experience was frustrating. I really felt that all the gyms I went to could and should do more to make their places more attractive. But of course these issues are not limited to gyms, they apply to most businesses in Zimbabwe.

So I thought I should point out a few things that I think will make Zimbabwean businesses better.

Firstly the staff who deal with people in Zimbabwean companies are generally a lazy, uninterested, bored and, perhaps, unqualified lot. In all the places I went- except the Reylton one where the owner was around- no one tried to encourage me to sign up, either verbally or by offering incentives. I mean when you’re a receptionist in a gym or fitness centre you ought to appear engaged and look happy to be doing your job instead of looking bored and not giving a fuck whether I sign up or not. This is prevalent in almost every sector, except where people are paid on commission. But again what do you expect when people just employ their friends daughters, or aunts or someone from church or an uncle’s baby momma?

Also you need to incentivise, for example if a prospective client complains about the price, why not reduce it by even five dollars. In a business like a gym where the costs are fixed such moves will make you much, much more money in the long run. Perhaps this is down to the owners who do not give their employees room to do such things. Or maybe the employees themselves are not paid enough to care. These guys could really learn a thing or two from the guys who sell phones at the ZimPost mall. Those guys really want you to buy and they often succeed too. And you wonder why those guys drive Mercs while fancy shops go bust.

Thirdly people really need to take their businesses online. Seriously, a basic website costs less than $200. You can get one done for $50 even. A simple two or three page site that lists the services offered, the prices and contact information will go a long way. Imagine the number of potential clients who miss your services because you’re invisible. Facebook and Twitter are fine but nothing beats the good old website for visibility, clarity and credibility. It really boggles my mind why people don’t get this. After investing tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands in a business, what’s another $200 for a website?

Businesses should also get the basics right. I mean it doesn’t matter that you have fancy treadmills and other equipment that no one knows how to use when you don’t have toilets or showers. In one gym they had pretty expensive stuff but no barbells, they simply got the basics wrong. At another they had the equipment you’d expect in a home gym. Come on comrades.

Lastly I think appearances are important in some business sectors. There’s nothing worse than seeing a potbellied fella giving fitness lessons and extolling the virtues of working out. Or overweight, lazy looking receptionists. I mean I have nothing against people’s weights but you can’t be a certain weight and work in a gym, just as you can’t be a certain height and work in the army, for example.

Some fellas need reminders that it’s the 21st Century. Come on makomuredhi. Even Baba Tencen is making money online.

 

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On Deciding to Join a Gym

It's a robbery
                                                                It’s a robbery

I have decided, against my better judgement, to join a gym. There are many reasons why I would rather not but, alas, the current state of my body leaves me no choice.

According to my friends I have gained a bit of weight and my waistline has extended a bit. My friends- particularly female ones- are starting to notice and, even worse, mention it. That’s a sign of trouble if there ever was. Not good for someone my age, not good at all.

So I did a bit of Googling and decided to follow a program called StrongLifts 5 x 5 because the exercises are really simple and don’t take too long to complete. 3 different exercises, 5 sets of 5 repetitions 3 times a week. No machines, no dumbbells, no fancy moves, just a barbell and the basics. Seems simple enough- can’t be too bad.

I’m really apprehensive about this decision though. Last time I decided to join a gym was two years ago, and a year before that. On both times I lasted less than two weeks and never really worked out. I hated the environment and couldn’t be bothered to continue.

But that was back when I was really fit and it didn’t matter. Since then things have changed, as I’ve pointed out, and it’s now a matter of necessity. Doesn’t help too that one of my best friends recently joined a crossfit gym, there’s absolutely no way I’m going to be that fat guy in the group.

Still it’s not easy giving up some certain foods like pizza and beer other carb rich stuff.

On the plus side I’ll meet some hot women hopefully get back in shape and, who knows, I might even come to like it.

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Updates

So much has happened in the past few weeks. I’ve been very quiet, not because I did not have anything to say but because I was a bit busy and sometimes I couldn’t put my thoughts to paper (or rather keyboard) in the exact way I wanted.

Here’s what’s been going on, I completed week 9 of the Couch to 5K programme some weeks ago. It was an exciting journey where I learnt a lot and gained much.

I also started reading some economics texts, mostly because I felt Economics was the one subject where I was truly lacking. Economics is exciting- almost and exciting as Engineering and Physics. More importantly it helps one understand what’s really happening in the world and also to give reasonable prognoses of what’s coming.

I’ve been reading Sowell’s Basic Economics, The Armchair Economist, Why Nations Fail and a few other books to better understand why we are the economic situation we are in, why we are poor, and how we can be richer. It’s been good and enlightening reading.

Until next time comrades!

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Week 2: Couch to 5k Chronicles

As I mentioned last week, I don’t like running. And after two weeks of doing it i still don’t like running. However I’ve gotten better at it, or so I believe, after all I completed week 2 of the Couch to 5k program.

Day 1:

Day 1 was a Monday and as you all know Mondays are just shitty boring days. weekend hangovers, work and all.

Despite all this I braved the morning chill and hit the pavement just after 5. As usual the program began with a 5 minute warm up walk whch was followed by a running time of 90 seconds (increased from last week’s minute). To be honest it wasn’t as taxing as I had imagined.

The walking interval also increases to two minutes in week 2, which gave me ample time to recover. Walked, ran, walked and ran again for some twenty minutes and went home pleased with myself.

The first day of week 2 was refreshingly better than the whole of week one.

Day 2:

My map for Weeek 2,Day 2
My map for Weeek 2,Day 2

I think I might just enjoy this. Completed the run with energy to spare. Never winded, though my calfs were a bit sore. The body is probably wondering what the heck is going on.

 

Day 3:

I love Fridays. So I went out and ran. I was feeling pleased with myself because I was about to complete 2, TWO, whole weeks of running. Never did this before.

And (proudly) I never walked during the running intervals.

Whilst running is hardly enjoyable, I could at least get used to it. Bring on week 3 please!

 

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Week 1: Couch to 5K Chronicles

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ll be following a program for runners called Couch to 5K, which helps transform couch potatoes into fit, hot people who can run 5 kilometers.

The program assumes that anyone can alternatively walk and run for 30 minutes. So you begin with a five minute warm up walk followed by a minute of running then you walk for 90 seconds and then run for another minute and so forth.

That can’t be too hard I thought. After all how hard can it be to run for a minute. Everyone can do that right?

Wrong.

Running for a minute can be pretty exhausting if you’re out of shape or if, like me, you just hate running. As a kid I played soccer often but I hated running and always stayed up the pitch where I did the least amount of running possible. The problem was that I quickly got winded, and though I was very good at sprinting I was never able to continuously run for any distance longer than 500 metres.

Even as I got older and worked out I never ran, always preferring push ups and other calisthenics. At some point I could do more than 50 push ups but still couldn’t run. When I played (and play) football in the village it’s always midfield positions where I just pass the ball around with minimum running. I had just resigned myself to the fact that i have a weak chest or something.

But after I decided to improve my health and did a lot of reading on the web I thought I’d try the Couch to 5K program.

As I said, the program involves alternative periods of running and walking, allowing you to recover during walking times.

Every week the running interval increases and the walking time also changes, gradually conditioning the body by increasing endurance and building muscle. This is done 3 times a week, every other day with recovery days in between and a rest day.

After nine weeks you should be able to run for thirty minutes(roughly 5 Kilometres). Of course if you can’t walk for 30 minutes it becomes a bit complicated.

After deciding to follow the plan and choosing Monday, Wednesday and Friday as the days for the sessions I then downloaded an app for my Windows Phone which helps keep track of the running and walking intervals. The app I got notifies me when it’s time to run and when to walk. It even pauses my music to issue the commands and resumes soon after.

Then on Monday I put on a pair of sneakers, tracksuit and went out just after 5 am. Here’s how the week went:

Day 1:
I hadn’t exercised for sometime, but I was not too terribly out of shape. The first two running intervals were ok but things got harder. I didn’t think I would be able to run the last minute.

Thankfully the walking intervals allowed me to recover just enough to run again. It was torture but I made it.

Day 2:
Woke up and hit the road at exactly 5. Tried to control my breathing and running slower. I had read that when running you shouldn’t be winded. The trick is to breathe deeply and run slowly.

Was a better experience than the first and my confidence grew. If I keep at this I may run for five continuous minutes.

Day 3:
Despite the rest days I feel a bit of soreness in my hamstrings and calves. Like the previous two days I hit the road at 5 and it’s more enjoyable than the first two days.

I’m now breathing better and when I complete the program I’m hardly tired. I could have done another ten minutes.

Conclusion
Running is not fun but it’s good for keeping in shape and general health. It’s also cheap, besides good shoes there’s no other cost.

However it’s painful and frustrating. I’m still getting started but I already feel I made a very good decision. Wish me luck.

The images are maps of how I ran generated by the Couch to 5K app

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