Becoming a healthy inspiration – building a home gym

I wrote a few weeks ago about sneaking extra walking into your day as a way to get fitter. I think it’s a great way to start but eventually you will run out of extra steps you can feasibly add to your day.

To carry on making progress you will need to find another way to add a little more exercise each day. I think the simplest way to do this is to create a micro gym at home. It does not need to be complicated or expensive, the equipment you actually need to get started is minimal. You can have a very worthwhile and useful home gym with only these items:


That round thing is a kettlebell. You don’t actually need one those, just something heavy to press, row, squat and swing. To be honest a dumbbell set would probably be better, it’s just kettlebells are all I have so that’s what I took a picture of. The other bit if kit is a doorway pull up bar for hanging off and pull ups. Add push ups and you’re set.

The total investment will be around £50. That’s less than a month’s gym membership with the bonus that it’s always open and no one else sweats on the equipment.

That’s it, no more is needed for now. Use these in a sensible way a few times a week and good things will happen. Make it hard enough to count but easy enough to be able come back another day. Consistency will give you way more than beating yourself into the ground. This is an investment in your health, an easy workout done 3-4 times a week for years will pay far bigger dividends than a monster one that you can’t sustain beyond week one.

How about you, do you have any tips for busy parents wanting to keep in shape? How do you for exercise into your day?

Dad Creek

What do I mean by healthy inspiration?

It’s been a couple of weeks since I brought this blog back to life and I figured it would be worth explaining exactly what I mean by the “healthy inspiration” in this site’s tagline.

If you had stumbled across this blog a few years ago* then you could be forgiven in thinking I only cared about the physical side of health, which is actually very far from the truth. That is part of the reason I’ve started writing again, to change the content of my little bit of internet from fitness bore to a better, more well rounded, view of what I actually think.

Yes, I think healthy bodies are important, but no more so than healthy minds (no less so either).

So what does that look like?

Healthy bodies:

  • To make physical exercise a welcome and enjoyed part of daily life.
  • To desire and enjoy a diet made up predominantly of real foods.**
  • To be able to recognise real foods and prepare a variety of meals made from them.

Healthy minds:

  • To have an open mind, accept and listen to ideas different from your own.
  • To take life and the challenges in it no more seriously than is strictly necessary.
  • To treat others that share this world with decency and respect.
  • To know that fueling your body with good food is important but not worth obsessing about. A life without occasional pizza and cake is a sad one.
  • Most importantly, to laugh a lot.

* A quick review of my visitor stats suggests this is highly unlikely but I thought I’d mention it anyway.
** Basically just plants and animals.

Linking up:


Lieberman: being sedentary is pathological

Interesting article here with Daniel Lieberman, the Harvard barefoot running guy.

He talks about how society’s current level of inactivity is completely abnormal from an evolutionary perspective. We are not wired up this way.

AA: Why, in spite of our adaptations, have we gone from endurance athletes to couch potatoes?
DL: It was incredibly recently in history that a large number of humans have been freed from having to do physical activity. My argument, from an evolutionary perspective, would be that not having regular physical activity every day is pathological and abnormal. In a lot of medical studies, we compare people who are sick with controls. But who are those controls? They are relatively sedentary Westerners. I’d argue that we are comparing people who are sick to people who are abnormal and semi-pathological.

Whether you agree with his ideas about persistence hunting or not there is a lot of truth there. Even if that hunting style was a rare event, some kind of constant, low level activity has filled people’s days until very recently.

You don’t even have to back that far. It was true when people grew more of their food, didn’t all own cars and had to do more physical housework. That stuff just isn’t a part of most people’s lives anymore.

The fix?

Lieberman also gives some good, if most likely unpopular, advice. Do we really expect everyone to sort this out for themselves?

AA: What can we do about our maladaptive traits?
DL: If we want to practice preventive medicine, that means we have to eat foods that we might not prefer, and exercise when we don’t want to. The only way to do that is through some form of socially acceptable coercion. There is a reason why we require good food and exercise in school—otherwise the kids won’t get enough of it. Right now we are dropping those requirements around the world.

If we are going to solve these health problems, we have to push ourselves to act in our own self-interest. As a society, as a culture, we have to somehow agree that it’s necessary or face the consequence—which is billions of unfit, overweight people.

How to find ways to move more when at work

I think that anyone that works at a desk all day and is interested in their health and fitness probably feels they need to move more during the day – I know I do. The nature of a desk job means that, even if you put aside an hour every day to do some exercise, you still spend the bulk of your time not moving.

The average work day for a desk-bound exerciser

If we assume 8 hours sleep (lucky you!), 8 hours sat at your desk (luck you again!) and 1 hour exercise that leaves an additional 7 hours to account for. Let’s be generous and say our average desk-bound exerciser has another 3 hours of random moving during the day from walking to/from the train station and office, cooking, showering etc. We still have 4 extra hours left over, let’s be less generous with those and assume they are taken up by sitting eating, commuting and watching some tv in the evening.

So if we combine the moving, and not moving times we get: Andy’s amazing average desk-bound exerciser movement chart

Oh dear. Obviously even our super-good, super-fit, desk-bound exerciser would be better off with some extra movement in their day.

So what can you do?

As much as it would be lovely to simply reduce the work time and add in more exercise that isn’t feasible. Instead we can look at ways to break up the time spent not moving with bits of moving – genius.

Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal uses a lovely phrase for this kind of thing: movement snacks. The is exactly what we are looking for, bite-sized bits of movement throughout the day that don’t tire you out but break up the inactivity.

There are a million ways you could do this, but here are a few of my favourites:

  • Take the stairs. I think this is the simplest and most worthwhile of all. I work on the 6th floor so even on a really busy day I know I will get 12 flights up and 12 flights down. Chances are I will go to meetings during the day or head out at lunchtime as well so get a fair bit of extra movement this way. It took some time to get used to but now is second nature.
  • Do some joint mobility every time you go to the toilet. Focus on the bits that get tight when you are sat down – shoulders, upper back, hips – it all helps.
  • Go and see people. I sometimes get instant messages from people that sit a few desks away. If you take the time to get up and see people you will move more, be more social, and probably use the stairs more – winner!
  • Practice squatting. Simply changing the angle your knees are stuck at for a little while has to be good for you. Your hips will be happy too.
  • Do a quick lunchtime workout. I’ve unashamedly stolen this from a post on the Dave Draper forum. It doesn’t even just have to be lunchtime but the idea is to do mini workouts throughout the day. This would be loads easier if you could hang a pull up bar somewhere, or have some weights under your desk, and even easier if you are working at home. Equipment isn’t necessary though, a quick workout that I’m doing at lunctimes is 2-3 rounds of:
      • Push ups x 5-10
      • Wall batwing* x 20-30sec
      • Squat x 5-10
      • Wall batwing* x 20-30sec
  • Sit on the floor. This more of a home than work thing, and isn’t really moving but  making time spent sitting more productive. I can’t remember which Dan John post it was from but the idea was: ‘You can watch as much TV as you want, but sit on the floor while you do’. You basically end up fidgeting and stretching the whole time – good stuff.

There are loads of other options but hopefully this gives an idea. The stairs themselves have plenty of opportunity for variety – take 2/3 at once, go up them backwards, on tip toes etc.

* This is taken from Dan John’s excellent book Intervention. You stand a foot or so away from a wall lean back into it, plank yourself, then push you elbows back into the wall hard. If you are doing it right your rhomboids will say ‘wakey wakey!’

Fitness and Health

I’ve been reading the The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Phil Maffetone recently. I have used his 180 formula when running since August of last year with some nice results, but had never read any of his books before. It’s a really great read and covers far more than simply training for races. He also explains how to improve health at the same time as increasing fitness, rather than compromise health in pursuit of performance.

I think this is an important point that is missed by a lot of people.

If you are competitive athlete, some trade-off between health and performance may be necessary (especially in a contact sport with a high risk of injury). But if you are a hobbiest racer, or average guy trying to get in shape, it starts to make less sense.

Why are we doing this stuff?

This is an important question to ask. If you are not competing in a sport*, then why are you doing this physical activity? The honest answers will be around some measure of health or to improve appearance. So, if that is the goal, why go about it in a way that makes your health worse rather than better?

That means not pushing super hard every run, it means lifting weights even if you just ‘do’ an endurance sport and it means adding some necessary variety to your training so you are fitter for life, rather than just the activity you have decided to pursue.

How do you know if you are healthy or not?

I think you can get a good idea using four measures:

  • BMI – it’s not perfect, but BMI will quickly tell 95% of folks if something is up.***
  • Resting heart rate – 60-70 is good, 50-60 is super-fit
  • Basic movement ability – the sit/stand test will work great for this
  • How often you get a cold (and how quickly you recover if you do catch one)

The first two are general fitness measures that can be screwed up by poor diet or stress, the third is a fitness-for-life test and the fourth one is the most simple measure of general health I can think of.

*Entering a race doesn’t mean you compete. By competing I mean fighting for a podium place or making significant improvements in performance** year on year.

**And by performance I mean race times going down, not distance ‘survived’ going up.

***Other option here are waist to height (waist less than half height), or bodyfat percentage (10-17% men, 18-24% women)

Simple longevity tests from Dan John

This is a nice post from Dan John.

He talks about three simple longevity tests to check “where you are”.

One of them is the sitting/standing test that got a bit of coverage recently.

I really like it as a test of basic movement. My youngest is learning to walk so is just working out the getting up portion. It’s interesting how as people get older they seem to regress back to that point.

Try it, it might be harder than you think.

Interesting stuff on BMI

Adam Glass has posted an interesting piece in defence of the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measure of health.

BMI gets a bit of a kicking in the health/fitness community because it is feasible to be overweight according to BMI through weight that is mostly muscle i.e. you could be in the healthy range for your body fat percentage but obese according to BMI. Therefore it is a useless measure, or so the argument goes.

Adam makes a good point in that, no matter what your body composition, at some point additional weight is going to cause health issues.

“I have not met a single person who is over an index score of 30 who is not heavier than they need to be. Every single person who is steroid free I have met who scored over an index of 30 could benefit from losing weight. Nearly all of the ones who roided are over weight. News flash, 260 lbs at 5’9″ is not healthy. It is still fucked if it’s 3% BF or if it’s 45% BF.”

This makes perfect sense doesn’t it? It’s really easy to hide behind the health measures that justify what you do, while ignoring those that suggest there may be a problem.

For health in the long term it makes more sense to look at the bigger picture. Three simple measures are:

  • BMI
  • Body fat
  • Resting heart rate

for a more complete view, I’d also add:

  • Basic movement ability – your ability to walk, run, get up/down off of the floor and pick stuff up
  • How often you get a cold

No matter what form of exercise you choose to pursue, I think if you have these five in check you are doing ok. If not, there may be something you should address.

Here’s the full article –