#WorkoutHack: Explosive Power For Triathletes Using A Heavy Bag

Disclaimer: I am not a certified fitness professional.  Please consult one or a medical professional before undertaking any new forms of exercise – you are at your own risk.  I present these exercises only as a way to exchange ideas and inspire others to be creative in their methods for attaining their fitness goals.

I’m now into the “Pre-Competitive 1” Phase (weeks 13-16) of my Half-Iron training (from Gale Bernhardt’s Training Plans for Multisport Athletes), and strength training is only once per week and the workouts are meant to be for “strength maintenance”.  For the preceding “Specific Preparation 3” phase (weeks 9-12), my strength workouts were coded as being “Power Endurance” (PE).

“The PE strength training phase is intended to combine strength with velocity.  Making fast movements with weights, however, is controversial.  At least one study has shown that when lifters were asked to move a weight as quickly as possible while maintaining contact with the weight bar, power actually decreased….”

So Gale Bernhardt wants me to lift the weight explosively, but is concerned I won’t get the most bang for my buck if I have to control where it goes?  I’m more concerned about whether I can handle the weight coming back down on the negative phase, and what that’s going to do to my body….

“One of the best options for a hip extension exercise with fast movements is a leg press machine that allows you to explosively jump off the platform with a load and return to the start position at a moderate speed.”

So if I understand it correctly, most of the PE movements should have an explosive lift, and ideally not carry any extra weight on the way back down.  I’m not sure my gym wants me dropping weights on the floor like that, but luckily, I’m good at finding ways to improvise…

Enter the Heavy Bag.  This thing has been hiding in my mother’s basement from the halcyon days of the late 90s when I took kickboxing and other martial arts.  It weighs 70 lbs, and that’s a lot less than the weight I dead-lift or squat, yet somehow carrying it out of her basement (and subsequently into/out of mine) is a workout unto itself.  Once I did, though, I found a way to get some great, explosive strength workout, and get a little Vitamin D in my own backyard.
Have a look.

Friday Five: February Goals

I was inspired by Krysten over at Darwinian Fail to write up a series of fitness goals for February (and also, though not as recently, Robyn Baldwin’s Winter Bucket List).  I guess I’m really feeling the flow fitness wise.  Let’s see if I can round this out to the standard Five for Friday, though I expect some inter-dependence in these, if not out-right recursion (that’s a reference for any programming geeks out there).

  • Start implementing the structure of my Half-Iron training plan.  Though I haven’t thoroughly outlined it in this space yet, you might have caught a glimpse of the training plan last weekend.  In the early stages, I’m allowed 30-60 minute spin classes for bike rides (even when more in specified) and some workouts are marked with an asterisk which means I can cross-train in other activities instead of biking or running.  The important thing for me before the official plan kicks off in March, is getting used to the logistics of over an hour of strength training on Mondays and Wednesdays, as well as making Tuesdays and Thursdays both Swim and Run days.

  • Snowshoe.  Not only is this a valid form of cross-training mentioned above, but having bought a pair of snowshoes last year, it’s a return on investment.  I’m hoping to do the Tubbs Romp To Stomp this weekend.  I wanted to continue my commute series by snowshoeing to work after the last snowstorm, but it was too cold.  Still, with some initiative, I should be able to fit some snowshoeing in.  (Update: I did 20 minutes worth on Thursday morning… it’s exhausting, especially if you’re doing it on unbroken fresh snow).

  • Combine Weight-lifting and Yoga for Strength.  One of the things I’ve noticed about the training plan is that there’s no room for yoga, and the other is that strength workouts are timed for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  I rarely lift weights for more than an hour – in my defence, I tend to structure whole body workouts and execute them in circuits.  Maybe I could learn to space out the sets, do more sets, and make bigger gains, but the truth is I also get bored.  I figure if I stay close to my basic structure which includes split squats, deadlifts, lat pull-downs and bench presses (or my dumbbell doubles time-saver) and vary things by throwing in some extra exercises that I see here and there, especially functional ones like pistol squat modifications, negative phase pull-ups, and handstands, I’ll get good variability and gains.  And of course, I’ll cap the workout off with some yoga flows that will include strength/balance work (crow pose is one I’d like to master).

  • Continue with the Doctor’s Diet I still haven’t written up a comprehensive review of this yet.  Since I’d like to continue the weight loss, I’ll be alternating between the STAT and RESTORE plans which are similar, but the RESTORE is more permissive in its list of fruits and has more (complex, not simple) carbs.  The longer we stick with this the more natural it becomes to adapt our lifestyle to it.  We still lean heavily on the meal plans, but we’ve had (and will continue to have) on the fly substitutions when we’re out and about.  

  • Enjoy the outdoors as a family  I think I can give us an ‘A’ grade on this for the winter season so far, we’ve gone cross-country skiing, I’ve taken Shark Boy skating, and the boys have even fooled around in the snow while I shovel the driveway (they even help shovel for a few minutes before a better offer comes along in the form of the neighbours’ snowbanks).   Not only do I want to keep it up though,  I also want to do even better than we have done.  So far there have been 2 factors that keep us from enjoying the winter outdoors on some days: 1.) No snow.  Snow is what makes winter fun especially for kids; we need it for cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, tobogganing, snowmen, and general fooling around.  There’s not a lot we can do about the actual weather, which brings me to factor number 2.) The cold.  While we do have to think safety first, and some of the days have simply been too cold to avoid frostbite or hypothermia, there have been days where the kids are seemingly fine, but the adults give up the ghost first? Why? Simple, we just put on coats, hats and gloves, whereas the kids have long underwear and more importantly snow-pants on.  Obviously, the answer is for us to put on snow-pants and get down to their level; we’ll probably be warmer playing along than standing there supervising anyway.  We can use our ski-pants, but I’m curious if they have snow-pants for adults…
Do you have any goals for February? Are you getting the most out of winter so far?

Tri-ed It Tuesday: My Experience With Hot Yoga at Infinite Yoga

I’m participating in Lakeshore Runner‘s Tri-ed It Tuesday Link-up.  Head over there to check out other great posts about new experiences!

The cold weather, a somewhat lighter schedule, and the off-season (from triathlon training) made me want to try Hot Yoga either at the end of 2014 or at the beginning of 2015.  For some, it is really the ultimate workout (an actual quote I heard at the office).  The heat makes it easier to get deeper into the stretches, and you sweat more, releasing toxins from your body.  I figured I’d be OK as long as I pre-hydrated and kept a water bottle nearby.

Infinite Yoga had a great introductory offer of $25 for a week’s unlimited classes.  I spoke to the director Karla, and she told me about the water they had available (no charge) to fill your bottle that is clean, but room temperature.  She compared drinking ice cold water in hot yoga to throwing water on a cooking grease fire.  I’m glad I listened, as the water felt cool when I drank it in class, and it was refreshing enough.

I managed to fit in 4 classes in the 7 days, all from the Signature Hot Series.  Here are a few notes I took:

  1. Day 1: Evening of Tuesday January 13th – Started off in corpse pose, then moved forward with core warm-up (variations on leg raises) into a fairly standard Yoga flow.  Lots of downward dog.
  2. Day 2: Noon of Thursday January 15th – More challenging.  My shoulder was bothering me, and the instructor did well to get us to engage our lats on many poses as well as stretch the shoulders out with eagle arms in various pose variations.  The instructor was very hands on and had great ways to make me aware of which muscles could and should be engaged on all the movements.  I struggle to keep my palms upward when lying in corpse pose – it doesn’t feel comfortable – but she managed some kind of adjustment that made it so much easier? Who’d have thought that I can’t do “lying down like a dead body” properly.  Still, the discomfort of the heat made it difficult to find the peace and stillness that you want at the meditative part of the end of the lesson.  (Wore a Hoorag as a headband for the first half).
  3. Day 3: Noon of Friday January 16th. I struggled with side planks and had to keep a knee on the ground.  I use the blocks a lot and generally adopt the easiest, most beginner friendly pose variations just to get by.  
  4. Day 4: Noon of Monday January 19th.  Warrior II pose into a side bend.  Many, many Vinyasas (plank to upward dog or cobra, back to downward facing dog), even as a rest/restoration pose.  Shoulders felt very sore, even during simple things like the Warrior II pose.  My legs seemed to hold up better in poses like chair, and the Warrior poses when I’d load my weight onto the front leg, which is odd considering they were tired from cross-country skiing and running on the weekend.

Overall, I came across three different kinds of challenges:

  • New Poses like the inverted (downward) dog, which were unfamiliar and I needed to get used to.
  • Old poses that I had to enter from new positions/angles/situations e.g. Dancers pose starting from being bent over rather than standing.
  • Heat effects on the ability to hold a pose (a question of muscular endurance, or mental endurance?) and breathing. I needed blocks on poses I didn’t think I would. I couldn’t hold poses as long as I expected, and my shoulders or hamstrings would start to quiver well before I thought they should.

That last one sums up Hot Yoga for me. If you went running with a 40 pound backpack on your back, you would burn more calories and get stronger as a runner for the same time spent running, no question. The problem isn’t just that it would be uncomfortable, it’s also that it would be frustrating to not be able to run as fast or as far, due to the fact that you’ve purposely made it harder for yourself. I found every session to be a struggle, and I guess I figured it would get easier. I have to admit not needing blocks on the last day might have been a good sign. Though it was humbling to have to practice Yoga at a level lower than I would expect for myself given prior experience, Yoga is forgiving that way – it isn’t competitive, and it makes it easy to accept whatever circumstances you happen to be in on a given day.

I do think that I put some good strength work into my shoulders and legs that should help them stay injury proof and help with endurance and stability. Fitting Yoga into a triathlon training schedule is advisable, but difficult; at least Hot Yoga gives you the best bang for your buck in terms of time (and sweat!) spent.
I took this picture in stealth mode, I figured photograpy might be frowned upon.

Infinite Yoga is a simple and clean facility. Nothing too fancy in the change-rooms (lockers would have been nice), though there are showers and a filtration machine on the water tap.

The hot room is large and spacious with adjustable lighting, so they can dim for the meditative beginning and ending to each session. The lobby has a warm, welcoming atmosphere that gets you in the right mood for yoga.

Where’s Your Head At?

I have been struggling, struggling, struggling with being able to focus lately –  in most areas of my life, but fitness and training especially.  I have had too much trouble deciding where and what I want to spend time on, so not only is my training all over the place, but I’m not in headspace to set goals, and as for blogging about it… well…

I’ll try to give you an illustration of the fitness/training part of my brain lately:

This probably plays fast and loose with the laws of the Venn diagram, but it’s the best I can do to sort through the jumble.  Let’s break this down some more:

  • Triathlon, comprised of Swim, Bike and Run.  This is still my biggest love, still a priority.  The temptation to let things slide due to the “off-season” is there, but there are also arguments that there shouldn’t be an off-season (Tridot calls it “Out-Season”) especially if you haven’t had a heavy “On-Season”.  On the other hand, maybe it’s the time of year to work on strength, like say through…

  • Crossfit.  Confessions first: with only a few months left in the year, I realized I’m in danger of the sessions I bought back in January expiring.  I’ve been even worse than sporadic up until that point, but I did manage to step it up in the last month or so, still falling short of the twice a week I wanted. What I like most is that I’m often addressing muscles in the posterior chain; easy to neglect, but very important muscles. 

    Big workouts have given me Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which for me always sets in 2 days after the workout, which really throws off the idea of getting back in there for a WOD (workout of the day) 2 days later.
Besides that, the other problem I have is that it’s time consuming, which is a weird thing to say given that I’ve seen WODs that are 10 minutes long.  Still, I have to drive there (it’s short, but that’s still more than using the in-house corporate gym or my basement or running.  There’s the warm-up and skills portion (which I’m grateful for), yet they start when everybody is ready and there, not just when I want to get things moving along.  There’s no shower at the box, so after I drive back, I still have to shower and change.  The truth is, where there’s a will there’s a way, so these kinds of excuses shouldn’t be an obstacle if I really love doing it, but I guess I don’t.  I’d love to improve in some of the skills (pull-ups, dead-lifts, pistol squats and handstand push-ups come to mind), but I don’t get to pick what comes up in the WOD.  I recently tried (again) snatches, but I didn’t do so great with them; it just feels like flirting with injury.  Forty-somethings need to play it safe sometimes, which brings us to…

  • Parkour*.  The asterisk is for the fact that I’m forty (did I mention that already) and I don’t have the tolerance for risk that doing head-over-heels flips would entail, but I do like working on jumps, balancing and climbing during Burbathlon. What I’d really like to achieve is the Kong Vault (or at least the Monkey Vault). I just think it might come in handy, especially if I ever try an Obstacle Course race again. What I’ve been working on is getting my legs through with my hands on the ground (or any surface really). It’s an exercise in flexibility and discipline, really.

  • Nordic Skiing. This one is marked as being outside the benefit zone of triathlon, but according to what I’ve written before, maybe it shouldn’t be. At any rate, Nordic skiing is one of my favourite forms of exercise, and as they say on Game of Thrones, Winter is Coming. I got lucky finding a pair of roller-skis at a ski swap, and knowing that the snow hasn’t been reliable in recent years, I snagged them. When I get a chance to practice with them for more than 10 minutes, I’ll write up a little review, but based on my current experience, I won’t feel safe using them to commute to work any time soon.

  • Martial Arts. For reasons I can’t quite understand that myself looking through local places that offer Kung Fu like Wing Chun, and/or San Shou. I also have nostalgia for Jiu-Jitsu. The problem is I’m still in position where I can’t leave the house in the evenings. Most things that I have seen after work are right during the time when I’m helping the kids to bed, and they’re still not really putting themselves to sleep so that stuff it’s probably going to have to wait.
If I take a look at my accomplishments in October (for example) the calendar looks like this:
The Little Standing man is for Circuit Training = Crossfit WOD or Tabata Bootcamp

That could be worse. Some swims, some bikes… too few runs. At the very least, I joined a Govember Bike Challenge hosted by Jamie at From Couch to Ironwoman, and it’s gotten me on the trainer.

Are you madly off in all directions like this? Do you have “Fitness ADD” too?

Introducing… Roguees!

As I mentioned back in June, I developed my own little body-weight strength exercise that can be done without equipment.  It targets the whole body like a burpee, but it gets more oblique core work and stabilizers, and it’s lower impact.  It probably won’t quite spike your heart rate as high either.  It’s taken me until now to get good video together, but without further ado, I give you… Roguees!

From standing, you do a forward bend.
Step 1

Walk your hands forward, keeping your core engaged until you’re in a plank position (on hands, not elbows).

Step 2
The next few steps involve isolating one leg for the exercise.  The Scorpion push-up has you lift the leg (my right leg, in this example) and lift it behind you toward your left hip, as best as you can.  Do this as you drop to a push-up; you’ll feel a bigger load on your left chest and shoulder than the right, but your right hip will get a nice opening stretch.  Your obliques will engage to keep the whole thing together.

Step 3
After you come back up from the push-up, your foot can either return back to the floor while you centre yourself, or immediately shoot it forward between your hands.  Either way, your next step is to come up into a lunge.
Step 4
Press up from the floor with the front foot (right foot in my case) – the same foot that was in the air during the Scorpion push-up phase.  Come up into standing on that foot and raise the opposite (left in my case) knee to complete a Runner’s lunge.  If you’re incline to extend the leg into a front snap kick… who am I to stop you?

Now do everything in reverse: the raised knee goes back so  you’re in a lunge position, the front foot joins it in a momentary plank, Scorpion push-up, then walk the hands back into the forward bend, and straighten into standing.  Now do it again on the other leg.

If you’re still not clear, the video can show you it all in succession, once on each side.

I’d love to see people play with this, so if you do get a chance, please leave a comment here or on Youtube.  Better yet, get a picture or video of yourself doing Roguees and put it on Twitter or Instagram; tag me (@apkussma) and use the hashtag #Roguees.

(I’m submitting this to Drink and Dish’s Video Challenge!)


Bracebridge will be my last triathlon of this year.  I decided I couldn’t do any more triathlons until I can make bike rides of 2 hours or more a regular part of my lifestyle.  I knew this about a week before the race, and to be honest, I found it liberating.  I love triathlon and I hope to be doing it the rest of my life, but leading up to the race, and pretty much all season long, I felt guilt about miles I wasn’t getting in (especially on the bike).

I had done a pretty good job of exercising on the whole, but when I wanted to do Yoga or Pilates or Crossfit or Burbathlon I often did, yet at the end of the week (or whenever) I’d look at my mileage on Endomondo and cringe.  I don’t want to cringe anymore, I want to have fun.

I (or I should say, we) do have a few runs and endurance races in our near future.  First is the Levac Attack back for 2013.  We’ll be running the ‘Hard Taco’ event at 11.2 km.  We’re hoping Shark Boy will bike it beside us, with the Lightning Kid in the Chariot except for the last few hundred meters where we’ll try and get him to run/walk.  It’s on September 7th; if you’d like to donate, please click here.  We’d love to have you if you’d like to run it too, registration ends August 29th.  There’ll be great t-shirts, a bouncy castle for the kids, post race food from the Pickle Barrel, you name it.

The next week is a double-header with the Terry Fox run for the whole family on the Saturday.  We’ll probably do 5 km with both boys in a combination of Chariot and Bike, much like last year.

The next day (Sunday) I’ll be doing a trail run with the 5 Peaks series.  I had great fun with them last year, and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to fit in more of their races this year.  There’s a kid event I’m hoping I can get Shark Boy to do… maybe even the Lightning Kid, who knows?

Last but not least, Shark Boy will have a return appearance at the Kids Of Steel Duathlon run by Family Fun Fit on the weekend of September 21st.  That day has another big event, but I’m not going to talk about it in this post.

Triathlon season may be over for me, but the multi-sport fitness adventures continue!

Midweek Motivation: Seek The Hard

I wanted to get this post out for Monday as in “Motivational Monday”, but instead I’ll steal from Kovas at Midwest Multisport Life and do “Midweek Motivation”.

I was riding along during the bike leg of the Muskoka 5150.  I was somewhere around the halfway mark and had some of those nasty hills behind me, and I found myself cruising along and thinking to myself: ”This is nice…”

Then it hit me.  I found it “nice”, because it was easy (there might have been a slight decline) and this was a race, I shouldn’t find it easy, and I couldn’t afford to savour it or draw this out.  The easy, downhill or even flat parts should be over as quickly as possible, and I needed to get to the next uphill climb – I needed to Seek The Hard (part).

On that day, I tried to blast through the easy parts and get to where I was really working; on that course, in that weather, it wasn’t hard to find.

Seeking the hard in training is just as important – that’s how you get the most out of the time spent, and make yourself ready for any hard parts you face in training.

This last week, I sought the hard in my training.

On Sunday, I tried this WOD from AllAroundJoe, which combines swim intervals, burpees and sit-ups.

I completed the 5 rounds of 200m swim, 10 burpees, 10 sit-ups in 25 minutes flat, then did the 800m swim (after stopping to put on my wet-suit... doing burpees in a wet-suit on a hot summer day isn’t ‘hard’… it’s stupid… important to know the difference).

On Tuesday, I did a modified bike #WorkoutHack with less hill repeats due to the crazy heat and humidity. Check this out:

On Wednesday I tried our corporate gym’s ‘Tabata’ class. A warm-up, then 6 different Tabatas (most involved altenating whole body exercises on the 20 second work intervals). It was… intense, to say the least.

Friday was another hot day, and my weapon of choice was a Burbathlon. I’m hoping training in the heat gets my body acclimatized to it should the weather be as punishing on race day. I used this article to shape the kinds of strength work I’m trying to build into my Burbathlon workouts.

Fitness bloggers love to discuss what their mantra is; what do they repeat to themselves to keep digging deep and find the strength to keep going when they simply don’t want to anymore? Seek The Hard… I may have found mine.

What’s Yours?

Felicitous Friday: Week in Review

Another week has gone by with enough interesting developments to merit a recap post!

  • On Tuesday I did a new record for longest swim workout using the ‘Ladder’ workout from Meals And Miles’ Swim Workouts Compilation.  That was before breakfast, and I made it to a Gravity Machine class for lunch.  If I had one more workout/form of exercise, I could have called it another Trifecta Tuesday, but since I didn’t, we’ll call it a #FAIL 😉
  • Those two workouts made me a little sore for Wednesday, but it was some of the nicest weather we’d had all year, so wild horses weren’t going to keep me from doing a Burbathlon! I wasn’t too intense on upper body strength exercises, but I did fit in lunges with a park swing, box jumps on a bench, push-ups, step-ups on a stump, balance beam on a few logs, as well as jumping and (simple-)vaulting some logs and a baseball diamond fence.

    It starts with a hill and a path into the woods….
    The Big Hill to Climb
    Dips in the trail…

    This pic was taken in a colder season… but you can see the lunge with a swing.

  • That all left me too sore on Thursday to do my planned workouts, so recovery it was… especially since I neglected to wear compression or foam-roll the night before.
  • Friday is a day of excitement.  I tried out a bike workout hack that I’ve had rolling around in my head for a while, but you’ll have to wait to see it..  The rest of the weekend is jam-packed with activities and get togethers including initial planning this year’s Levac Attack and a Fitfluential Tweet-Up (or whatever we call get-togethers of online friends) to welcome Pavement Runner to Toronto, where he’ll be doing the Goodlife Toronto Marathon.

How was your week? Is your weekend full of fitness and excitement?