12 Week Fitness Challenge!
The aim of my racing project is to demonstrate that ’50-Somethings’ can still compete! As part of my preparation for a move into professional kart racing, I have to get myself back as close as I can to the level of fitness I had decades ago when I was a double grand prix motorcycle champion.
At 54 years old, I know I have a mountain to climb before I’m close to being fit enough to commence a grueling racing test schedule. I’m used to training but I have to step it up and deliver a lot more stamina combined with top-end strength.
I’ve always enjoyed cross-training, using different sporting activities to deliver specific results but this time I wanted to try something a little different. A unique blend of dance-based exercise for my cardio, combined with weights in the gym. I still have a liking for the occasional game of football, basketball and a stint or two on a Nordictrack eliptical machine, so my schedule needs to stay flexible to keep things interesting.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with BodyJam, it’s a fusion of dance and exercise that can have you doing a hiphop routine one moment and a sleek jazz routine the next. Years ago, I discovered dance training was the perfect way to stay fit and coordinated for racing. Decades later, BodyJam is a slightly more accessible form that has classes in most gyms and gives you a very thorough cardio workout. For the record, I have tried every gym class going, have taught aerobics (again, years ago) and coached athletics and football. What I’ve always found with dance training is that the focus on finishing each move and staying on the beat masks the effort involved. In fact, I did some tests when I was training for two wheeled motorsport years ago and found that dance training beat every other form of cardio that I was doing. Make it sharp and on the beat and 60 minutes of BodyJam is as good as it gets.
I have a reasonably healthy lifestyle, eating healthily and walking between three and four miles a day, every day. Even so, the weight has gradually crept on, although I can’t say I feel particularly unfit. As a twist to this programme, I’ve already done a twelve weeks weight loss phase using my week 1 schedule but with the addition of 2×30 minutes on a Nordictrack eliptical trainer three times per week. During this initial phase, I’ve dropped exactly 12lbs in 12 weeks, from 12st 12lbs to 12st. I’m 6ft, so no particular issues with my weight… as long as it stays off! I stayed on my usual mulit-vitamin / multi-mineral and Omega 3+6+9 supplements. I’ve taken no sports supplements during this period and have no previous experience of them whatever.
So, to work. I’ve set myself the challenge of getting to race fitness in twelve weeks. There are plenty of training programmes that can give you an infinite analysis of performance, so I’m just going to publish my training schedule with photographs at four week intervals that hopefully (gulp!) will show some kind of progress. The one significant addition that I’m going to make to my training schedule for the next twelve weeks is the use of a range of protein supplements. As someone who has never used a training supplement, I want to see just how much difference modern sports nutrition can make in the next 12 weeks.
Start date: 21.01.13 Weight 12st – I’ve put together my own dumbbell routine for this challenge. You can see the basics of it in my training diary. It’s designed with five basic exercises which are run one set at a time as a circuit. I have only a brief recovery period between each set and I do three circuits. Three circuits takes about 30 minutes. During the 12 week preparatory weight loss phase, I’ve stuck at 14kg dumbbells but now I want to raise the stakes a little. I’m going to allow myself the first week at 14kg but then I need to ramp up the weight a bit at a time. I’ve added a pec deck routine and some tricep dips which takes my total workout time to 45 minutes.
Our BodyJam class has not long started a fresh new routine and it’s a beaut! Really dancey and plenty of room to express yourself whilst working you VERY hard. There are other classes that are good alternatives but I personally find dance-based exercise more mentally demanding and more satisfying to boot. My best guestimate is that I’m getting a 600+ calorie burn combined with a real full body workout too. Technically, there’s a big advantage to training in a way that combines coordination and visualisation with extreme physical duress. Part of my own successful motorsport technique is to treat a race circuit like a dance routine so that I think in terms of an holistic image that includes sight, sound, smell and pre-programme my brain so that everything is done on auto-pilot. For those who are interested, as well as spending six years as senior Superbike racing instructor at Donington Park, I also run Head4Sport and have had a number of professional sportsmen as customers, as well as a well known aerobatics team.
Well, I’m underway and looking forward to seeing the results. Make sure you bookmark this page to follow my progress!
Week 2 (ending) Sunday 03.02.13 Weight 12st 2lbs – Is it just me or is there a rash of people inhabiting gyms who pump the odd weight or two before taking up space to sit texting all night? I can’t quite get my head around why you would spend money on a gym membership just to sit and pose. It seems like it’s the older guys, as well as the girls, that are putting in the work. Maybe it’s a sign of a generation that has gone though school without the fantastic sports opportunities that my age group had.
Anyways, to my report: This is taking me by surprise! Second week in and already I can feel a difference which I think points to the protein shakes. I’m used to feeling sore the day after a weights session but now I’m finding my recovery time is faster than at any time in my forty year sporting career. For years, I’ve been happy using 14kg dumbbells and didn’t feel as though I would want anything heavier. Now, I’m having to hold myself back in these early stages. I’ve increased the weight to 16kg, as you can see from my training diary but I’ve come up with a basic rule of thumb for the future: as soon as I can do eight reps on my standing press I’m going up a weight. Initial target will be four reps on the heavier weight and so on, until I can do eight reps, when the weight will go up again.
On the down side, I’ve put on a couple of pounds but having just come out of a weight loss phase, I know that this build stage will inevitably gain me a few pounds, so I’m not going to fight it… yet. I’m planning to counter this with a strip phase for the last four weeks. Honest!
Week 3 (ending) Sunday 10.02.13 Weight 12st 4lbs – A good week this week with real gains particularly in strength. I started this week with an increase to 18kg dumbbells and ended up with 20kg. That’s a 50% increase in just three weeks after my starting point of 14kg dumbbells! I picked up a slight shoulder pull early in the week and was fully prepared to back off a bit to let it heal but within three days it was good to go. This has to be the protein supplement. I’ve never healed this quickly in my life! I am honestly shocked.
Bump was back in the weights area again this week. I call him ‘Bump’ because he’s so busy looking at himself in the mirror as he struts around that he’s always bumping into things and people! Bump is a well-toned lad who appears to use builder’s mastic as hair gel and comes complete with orange tan and Johnny Bravo vest top, “Check out the Pecs…hut, hut!” It takes all sorts…
Back to my programme: recovery time since I’ve been taking a protein supplement is insane! I make sure that I don’t do heavy weights on consecutive days but I do try to make sure that exercises give a workout to a range of muscles that you would want to work together in the real world. With the exception of abs, I do not try to isolate an individual muscle group in a given day’s workout. They might be isolated in a single exercise but not in a circuit of sets. At the end of the day, I’m a sportsman first and foremost and I need muscles that are used to working together.
BodyJam is still providing my cardio three times a week and I’m now familiar enough with it to start improvising a little within the standard routine. Keeping the brain not just focused but active in my training is absolutely fundamental. I can tell you that when you’re in a long race in motorsport, it’s the people who trained their brain to work under severe physical duress that will make it to the winner’s circle.
Week 4 (ending) Sunday 17.02.13 Weight 12st 6lbs – I’m a bad, bad boy! I was out on Saturday night and in party animal mode. I never drink to excess but I didn’t get to bed until 7am so Sunday training was just not going to happen. But wait! Actually, I built my regime to accommodate exactly that eventuality so, after ‘resting’ on Sunday, I did Sunday’s weights session on Monday at lunchtime and completed the day with 1 hour of BodyJam and my abs session in the evening. Back on track! I may even try that again because I seemed to train better for the extra day’s rest. Any excuse…
Whilst the week may have started on a ill-disciplined note, Friday was the opposite. I really didn’t feel like training at all. It reminded me of being at Mallory Park on a grand prix bike, decades ago, on a cold, wet miserable day, with flu and a broken collar bone, beaten up from a mid-week practice crash and really not wanting to race. In qualifying, it just hurt sooo bad every time I moved on the bike and braking with the g-force piled on my upper body was a matter of trying to stay conscious through the pain. But I stuck with it and, as often happens in the heat of a race, I can honestly say I didn’t feel a thing. I was on auto-pilot, completely dialled in. The race win was never on but two solid points scoring positions protected my championship lead. I threw up afterwards but I got the job done. And so it was on Friday. I turned ‘not wanting to train at all’ into a mega-session of brain training. It ended up being one of my best weights sessions ever! It’s just mind over matter.
Some may be alarmed at the steady increase in my body weight. Don’t be! Remember I’m on a twelve week programme, the first eight weeks of which is focused on improving strength and building muscle. Well, you can’t build muscle by starving yourself so, for now, I’m happy to let the weight increase in the certain knowledge (please, Lord!) that when I get to the ‘cut’ section of my programme it will drop off, leaving me lean and mean. The new picture tells its own story and I’m really happy with that after just four weeks. My strength has improved steadily throughout and the muscle mass increase is clear to see.
Week 5 (ending) Sunday 24.02.13 Weight 12st 8lbs – When is my strength going to stop improving at this rate? I’m now onto 24kg dumbbells! Remember, I started with 14kg just four weeks ago! There will come a point where, for the direction in which I’m headed with motorsport, I have to say “enough” but I am truly staggered at the rate of improvement. I’m lucky in that I can compare this to 40 years of training without protein supplements, so I can categorically state that I know exactly where the improvement is coming from. There’s also some new research that suggests that middle-aged men (oh dear, is that really me?) need twice the normal recommended amount of protein per day to avoid muscle wastage. I think the supplement industry is missing a BIG trick in their marketing here!
I said I wanted to mix it up a bit in the training, so I treated myself to a master class from some of the world’s best breakdancers! Derby-based Trinity Warriors shot to fame on TV and are now established as one of the world’s best crews. When they announced that they’d be running an academy at Derby Uni, I was straight in there. “At your age?”, I can hear you say. Well, since it’s part and parcel of my racing campaign to prove that 50-somethings can still hack it, why not?
What breakdancing has done for me is highlight areas of my core strength that I need to work on. Getting into some of the ‘freezes’ has worked my abs a treat! We had a session on Saturday stood in a circle ‘battling’ and I looked around the room, looked at some of the skills that were there and just had to pinch myself. These guys are a class act – total respect!
Preparations are now underway for kart testing and I’m hoping for some good news on that front because professional karting needs a proper budget. I’ve also started to learn the old Nürburgring circuit using a Playstation. With visualisation being an important part of a sportsman’s armoury, I know that this stuff helps to train the brain. It also teaches the finer points of chassis set up which will help in karts too. Anyways, I’m not doing to badly as in the Peugeot 908 Le Mans car I’m the current lap record holder! It’s been quite an education to understand that a modern sports car needs to be on a trailed brake right into the corner to avoid the dreaded understeer. That’s a technique that I’ve used on a superbike before where you can un-weight the back end and steer with a controlled slide into the corner but it’s not something that works too well on a grand prix bike, which needs a more delicate touch and a greater degree of finesse.
I’m just keeping a weather-eye on my size at the moment. I planned an eight week ‘build’ period within my twelve week challenge but I may review that after next week. I don’t want to be too big! In the meantime, if there’s anyone who can give me some track time in seven weeks, I’ll be ready to roll!
Week 6 (ending) Sunday 03.03.13 Weight 12st 10lbs – This week started well with a move to 26kg dumbbells but I got to Sunday afternoon and couldn’t resist trying 28kg. Result? I smashed it! That’s a whopping 100% increase in just 6 weeks! Cue: big cheesy grin and lots of whooping!
We’ve now withstood the January – February onslaught of the ‘New Year’s resolution gym members’ and there’s actually room to move again. You can spot the temporary newbies a mile off. If they’re female, they’re usually being towed around the gym by a personal trainer and they NEVER stop talking! As you’re forced to listen to their incessant cackle, you realise that their heads are so full of garbage that they must have difficulty concentrating on anything. The guys can be just as easily spotted as they resemble a Sports Direct sale rail of immaculate gym gear, as they wander around looking like outsized school boys. Most of these people need to address the problem inside their heads before they stand half a chance of sorting out their bodies. That’s where Head4Sport can help.
I’ve added another pic for this week to show my increase in bulk. I hinted before that I might want to review my schedule, given that I don’t want to be too big for karting. Well, the review is complete and I’ve decided to cut short my ‘build’ component by two weeks. So, what I’ll be doing from now on is my ‘cut’ component where I will aim to lean out and get down to race weight. I’m going to achieve this using a two-pronged attack: 1) I’ll add in three x 30 minute sessions per week on a Nordictrack eliptical machine; 2) I’m going to cut an average of 500 calories per day out of my diet. I’m not planning on reducing my dumbbell weights… yet.
So what’s race weight? This is where it gets tricky. I’m focused on Senior Max karts but, if I want to race against the up and coming talent, that will require a kart + driver minimum total weight of 162kg. A kart can weigh as little as 82kg which gives me a kitted-up driver weight total of 80kg. That means I have to get down to about 77kg (12st 2lbs) in my birthday suit which I’m pretty sure that I can do… if only life were so simple. The dilemma is caused by there being a ‘Masters’ class which has a kart + driver minimum total weight of 177kg, including a minimum driver weight of 85kg. Again, this is a weight that I can make without too much difficulty but with a 5kg spread between the two classes, I have a decision to make. I’m going to park it for now, start my cut phase and see where I am in six weeks time.
In the meantime, I’m looking around for someone to provide me with some track time. The plan, Stanley, is to get as much track time and testing as I can and to complete my ARKS driver test which I have to pass before I can race. My aim is to test for as long as it takes to get down to a competitive lap time. Having run test and development programmes on two wheels, I know how important it is to let the speed come naturally. I’m confident too that the final bit of lap time will come from being in a competitive situation. I’m also on the look-out for a mentor. Having spent six years as a superbike racing instructor at Donington Park, I know that the right advice can sometimes save weeks, if not months, of frustration. F1 drivers form an orderly queue!
Week 7 (ending) Sunday 10.03.13 Weight 12st 9lbs – Farting might not be the main focus of anyone’s session in the gym but it can become a distracting influence. It’s a random occurrence in my gym’s weights area and even during a BodyJam class in the studio. It’s seldom that the real culprit is discovered as the perpetrator normally has the common sense to mimic their victims by joining in with that accusing scan of the room. There’s safety in numbers.
This week, I began the transition to my ‘cut’ phase by adding in some more cardio and reducing my calorie intake. My favoured easy add-on is a NordicTrack elliptical trainer which recreates the action of cross-country skiing. The ‘tracker’ works the arms and legs simultaneously and, having used it extensively in my 12 week weight reduction programme, I know this is a great fat burner. So, 30 minutes on level 12 has been added in before my three times weekly weights sessions.
First sessions on the tracker went well and there was an almost immediate improvement in the tone of my thighs and bum. Third tracker session of the week and, after eating some couscous that lunchtime, I’m now suffering from trapped wind. I stay focused but there is the creeping realisation that a fart is likely to ensue. There’s no one on either of the trackers beside me, in fact there’s no one within 10 metres, so I should be safe. But wait! Just as I’m resigned to the deed, I spot two gorgeous girlies walking around the gym, en route to passing close by. I manage to clench and hold, waiting until they’ve passed behind me. The anticipation of the all clear builds to a crescendo as finally, I’m safe, I can let rip… just as the two babes step on to the trackers either side of me. Maybe I should try a business card next time?
BodyJam continues to bring the funk on down for my regular cardio but lately breakdancing with Trinity Warriors has been really refreshing. There’s a certain freedom in trying something that you’re really crap at! But a little perseverance has paid off and some of the moves are starting to come. This week saw me actually getting into a pencil freeze which I’m properly chuffed about as I couldn’t get near it six weeks ago. There’s life in the old dog yet!
As a youth, I was a pretty useful 800 metre runner (1m 58.6s @ 16 yrs). The long hours of winter training taught me a thing or two but it was still a surprise to find that once back on the tracker, I instinctively started to use a technique called ‘ripple breathing’ that I had learned decades ago as a runner. Instead of breathing naturally, ripple breathing slows the whole process down so that you inhale over the space of three or four strides, before exhaling slowly. It becomes part of your rhythm. What was interesting to watch was that, as I started to ripple breathe, my work rate increased by about 10%, seemingly without effort. You think that’s bizarre? If I do visualised laps of a motorsports race track in my head whilst on the tracker, I can reduce my pulse rate by 10%! More on visualisation soon but that’s freaky, huh?
Week 8 (ending) Sunday 17.03.13 Weight 12st 6lbs – BANG! Everything was going so well! So, as well as suffering from trapped wind last week, I also developed a problem with a trapped nerve. Painful though it was, I noted that it had zero impact on my training but, being a sensible chap, I thought I’d give myself an extended rest at the beginning of Week 8. So Monday and Tuesday were taken as rest days during which the pain from the trapped nerve became considerably worse. Since training had previously loosened off everything, I returned to my 28kg dumbbells on Wednesday, up to my chest, ready to press out and… nothing. That weight was going nowhere. I took the weight down to 22kg and struggled to press 4 reps with a right arm that seemed to belong to someone else. All of my other dumbbell exercises were fine – no problem at all with the full 28kg weight. It felt as though the trapped nerve had selectively withered part of my right tricep. Let’s prove the point with some tricep dips… “Houston, we have a problem!” I struggled to knock out ten when three days before I had done thirty suspended with full bodyweight.
Whenever you’re involved in competitive sports, something will always come out of the blue. It’s about how you react that counts. So, what can I do? Lay off the weights for a few days and hit the Nordictrack elliptical. Four straight days on the Nordic loosened everything off whilst I tried to manipulate the trapped nerve out from under a vertebrae. Whilst some might advise against DIY chiro, when you’ve spent 20+ years racing that included being pitched over the handlebars at well over 100 mph and landing head and shoulder first on tarmac, you quickly learn a trick or two to deal with the resultant skeletal soup. Sunday morning arrives and I’m sitting at the kitchen table with the gentlest of head rotations going on and ‘CLUNK’… that’ll do it!
Off to the gym before my photo session and whilst my strength is a little down, all of the stability is back. Relief! Except that it quickly becomes apparent that the trapped nerve had also been masking a slight shoulder injury… so gently does it!
The Week 8 pic is outwardly not much different to Week 6 but it hides a number of things:
I’m 4lbs lighter, I’m carrying more muscle on my legs but my upper body muscle tone has softened because of nearly a week off the weights. So, chin up! I have four weeks to go and need to really focus now to lean out. I’m going to be helped by my secret recipes that I’ve developed over the years that I know will help to burn fat but still provide the carbo and protein that I need. Oh, and if any bodybuilder tells you not to use cardio to lean out, remind them that some of us actually use our bodies for things other than just looking at…
Week 9 (ending) Sunday 24.03.13 Weight 12st 7lbs – We had our very own ‘When Harry met Sally’ moment in the gym this week. MLP (My Little Ponytail), as I call her, is a very curvy, very girlie athlete who isn’t averse to knocking out a hard core weights session. Whenever I’ve seen her before, she’s been pushing weights whilst upright but last week she was pressing on a bench. Not that that is in any way remarkable in my gym, it was what came next that stopped everyone in their tracks. Obviously, someone was upping the weight on her bar but any previous signs of effort were forgotten as the entire gym was treated to the loudest girlie grunting, heaving explosion of orgasmic sound effects for a full six reps. MLP, no doubt focused hard on some imaginary spot on the ceiling, was oblivious to the fact that every guy had stopped what they were doing to savour the experience of a female athlete ‘exerting’ herself! Even Billy Crystal would have blushed… If you haven’t seen the film, here’s a clip!
So, my recuperation routine took the place of what was supposed to be a completed transition to my cut phase. I was very lucky to recognise early on the need to maintain at least some work on the withered right triceps. Regular medical advice would have been to rest up completely which I’m pretty sure would have resulted in a completely atrophied muscle. When the nerve begins to lose touch, it seems that keeping up even limited communication with the muscle group prevents it from withering completely. A high protein diet helps too. Wednesday saw a strict adherence to the 22kg dumbbells but, whilst I struggled with the standing press, everything else was easy, so I went for speed, with no more than 30 seconds between reps. In the next two weights sessions, I gradually introduced more weight and by Sunday all sets were at 24kg as a full-on HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session and using 38kg dumbbells for my shoulder hunches. My other HIIT training included multiple 30 second rowing machine sprints and multiple 30 second sets of half-bodyweight squats. Knocking out 1 squat per second is relatively easy early on but it’s a real gasper come the fourth set!
A few of you were asking about last week’s reference to my high speed crashes whilst racing grand prix bikes. Let me explain: a ‘low side’ crash is where the wheels slide out from underneath you. The chances are that this is going to happen mid-corner, so a rider will already be very close to the ground. Generally, it will drop you on your back and you skate merrily down the tarmac hoping that no one runs over you. Here, speed can be your friend as it will flatten your trajectory and get you to the outside of the track, out of harm’s way. The head and shoulder landing scenario is caused by a ‘high side’ crash. In this case, the back wheel alone slides out until it gets to 90 degrees of the direction of travel, at which point it stops and flicks the bike upright with the rider usually being propelled skywards at great speed (as per the pic). In a high side, the higher the speed, the more altitude you gain before coming down. It can be quite uncomfortable and can often result in feeling the necessity to lie down for a little while…
Much as I want to blitz it in the last few weeks, I know that nerve damage needs to be treated with respect so I’m going to stay very disciplined, focus on HIIT training and keep the weight relatively low.
Week 10 (ending) Sunday 31.03.13 Weight 12st 5lbs – Mothballs? I was on the tracker (NordicTrack elliptical) this week and was joined alongside by an elderly gentleman who had a particularly noxious aroma about him. Having survived the reflex mid-session gag, I tried to work out just what on earth the smell was. I was nearly finished when it dawned on me: mothballs!
This week has been focused on accommodating the shoulder injury which turns out to include another trapped nerve that was being masked by the original one that I freed up. I know that medical advice would usually be to rest but I have some information to impart on this that I want to at least log here, in case it’s useful to others. The wasting that I suffered on my right long triceps from the original trapped nerve occurred very quickly during a period where I assumed I ought to rest. (see the Week 8 report for the background)
Conclusion? Resting was the worst thing that I could have done. I’ve since accommodated my injury with a planned shift to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), I’ve reduced the weights and massively reduced the recovery time. Not only is this providing blessed relief from the persistent pain of the trapped nerve but it also seems to be doing something else that’s quite interesting. Experience tells me that I will fix the subluxation in my spine and free up the nerve with a combination of relaxation exercises and stretching / manipulation but I wasn’t prepared for what’s now happening as I continue training. It feels as though the neural pathways are re-routing to accommodate the trapped nerve and that control is being regained via a different neural pathway. This could be important. The protein in my diet probably helps. Resting could quite possibly be the very worst thing that you could do in circumstances where a moderate training regime prevents muscle atrophy and re-routes the neural pathways. Apologies if my description is not technically on the nail from a medical perspective but I hope it conveys my conclusions to date.
In conversation at the gym, many have assumed that my HIIT weights training is radically different from my tracker and BodyJam cardio. Not so. Let me explain: there seems to be an assumption that because dance related training takes place in the same studio as aerobics and step, that somehow they are all non-stop cardio forms. In fact, dance training generally follows a format where you learn a choreographed routine at a fairly low intensity and then deliver it absolutely flat out for a short period, followed by a short recovery period in a cycle of multiple repetitions. In other words, dance training is HIIT but delivered in a way that ensures that muscle groups work together. One of the big issues with an over-reliance on isolating muscle groups in training is that the moment that you want to do something practical with it you can have an inbuilt imbalance. This can make injury more likely. I remember remarking on the ‘progress’ of Michael Owen post-England debut as the so-called brains of football ushered him towards more power. It was obvious that his rapid increase in quad muscle mass was going to out-accelerate his hamstrings. Exit one world class star with a permanent hamstring problem. When the next bodybuilder tells you that cardio will deplete muscle, point them towards rugby and ballet and ask them to explain why their thighs haven’t withered!
So, it was as good a week’s training as I could have had under the circumstances. The bulk is beginning to shift and I have to say I feel all the better for being leaner and meaner. It’s quite possible that I got to where I wanted to be in the Week 4 picture which would be a little frustrating! We’ll see…
Having almost forgotten about the geriatric aroma during my tracker training, I’d completed my cool down, had a sauna and shower, got changed and was in the process of packing my kit bag. I always do a last minute scan of my locker just to check I haven’t left anything behind. I was just about to walk away when I saw something move in the dark corner of the locker. I turned back and looked closer… it was a moth!
Week 11 (ending) Sunday 07.04.13 Weight 12st 4lbs – The medical prognosis for my trapped nerve, if I’d ventured a professional opinion, would have been 12-18 months recovery but I’ve been there before. Inevitably, being involved in professional motorcycle racing led to a number of injuries that included: fractures to my neck, clavicles, ribs, wrists, every finger and thumb, tibia, ankles, and the occasional toe. Not one of them has been as nasty as the injuries received playing football which include yet more ankle fractures and the dreaded, perpetual hamstring tear. (Strong dancer’s quads out-accelerating the hamstring – does that ring a bell, Michael Owen?) In all of those fractures, not once have I had a cast. In fact, not once have I even visited a hospital for my injuries. This caused disquiet amongst many, particularly when I went skiing with a broken ankle. Ok, so first thing in the morning, it was traumatic getting into a ski boot but once it was clipped up there wasn’t a problem. By the end of the day it was a little numb but consequently easier to get out of the boot. 800mg of Ibuprofen for the evening and the job’s a good ‘un!
This might sound a little extreme but a few years later, I was in conversation with a GP who was also a keen skier. I told him of my ‘no plaster casts’ record. “I don’t blame you”, he said, “I did exactly the same with an ankle fracture. Once it’s in the ski boot, it’s going nowhere. It’s properly supported and you’re maintaining the blood flow around the injury site. We only put plaster casts on fractures in hospitals because we can’t trust patients to understand how to immobilise the injury site, so a cast cuts down the risk to them and makes it more convenient for doctors. The downside with a plaster cast is that it renders the area devoid of the blood flow needed to heal efficiently and it encourages muscle atrophy around the injury site!”
So, whilst muscle atrophy with a trapped nerve is a new experience for me, I wasn’t about to take someone else’s A&E gospel, down tools and wait 12- 18 months. In this case, the Ibuprofen has seemed to work against me, numbing the area but accelerating the neural disconnect and accelerating the muscle atrophy. Better to put up with the pain! Having listened carefully to my body, reducing the weights but carrying on training was the right move. After a nearly a month carrying this injury, I can already feel that I’m on the mend but I will delay my initial kart testing so that I don’t start my new challenge carrying an injury. The up-side is that I know that if I get an injury like this mid-championship, I have the mental training and reserves to deal with the pain.
Training has focused on HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) everything! Sprint intervals include; running, rowing and squats. My weights sessions now just have ten seconds recovery between reps (three minutes between circuits)! Can you smell the burn yet? My bodyweight has been floating up and down but I don’t regard it as much of a measure of anything other than hydration at the moment. A kilo per litre of water – go figure! However, I’m starting to lose the bloated muscle look and very definitely headed in the right direction for leanness, combined with my own particular brand of meanness! “That’s my patch of tarmac and you can decide whether or not we’re going to have a crash…”
Week 12 (ending) Sunday 14.04.13 Weight 12st 4lbs – My own measure of fitness has always been “Can I do stuff?” Yes, in the past, professional sport was the main driver but “Can you play football this weekend?” and “Fancy a game of tennis?” are not questions that I want to have to think twice about just because of fitness. Hidden within that lifestyle choice has been a complete rejection of the anti-competitive culture that ‘passive-aggressives’ try to use as a control mechanism and a life that has been fortunate enough to be able to enjoy dozens of different sports.
This final week has seen lighter nights and warmer weather, so I added cycling to and from the gym to my routine. It’s just over four miles each way with purpose-built cycle paths alongside the River Derwent, which is a real hardship. The training focus has remained on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with some amusing responses to me gasping for breath in my ten second intervals in the weights area! The cycling becomes the perfect warm up and cool down.
My recovery from the trapped nerve continues apace with the strength slowly returning to my right triceps. The nerve is still trapped but, by maintaining light / medium exercise for the affected muscle group, the neural connection appears to have started to re-route. Whatever, I now have a triceps that’s usable again five weeks after the event, compared to the 12-18 months quoted by the ‘experts’.
So, we’re at the end of my 12 Week Fitness Challenge. Big questions: Did I achieve what I set out to achieve? What did I learn? I’m undoubtedly fitter and stronger than when I started, so that has to be a tick. I already knew that constraining a programme to a twelve week target was somewhat artificial, particularly with the pressures of my campaign work. My challenge proved that any programme needs to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances but, again, no big surprises there. Once I’ve got rid of the trapped nerve, I’ll be in better shape to start my kart testing programme than I was twelve weeks ago.
- Modern sports nutrition supplements, incorporated within a structured training programme and healthy diet, can provide a significant advantage both in athletic development and in recovery. I was not expecting to have to curtail the ‘build’ segment of my programme after just six weeks. The results honestly astounded me. At 54 years old, I have never in my life before felt so fresh and ready to go the day after a weights session as I’ve done whilst using nutritional supplements.
- A trapped nerve can atrophy muscle so fast you’ll think you’re being eaten from the inside. Stop training at your peril. You will have nothing left of the affected muscle group within a matter of weeks. Listen to your body and, if you consider it safe, maintain a light training regime on the affected muscle group. It is critical that you try and maintain some kind of neural connection to the muscle.
- When you’re putting together an intensive programme, for every piece of advice from an ‘expert’, you’ll find at least another two saying the complete opposite. Be thorough in your own research, listen to your body, trust your own judgment, and take nothing for granted.
- Regardless of what they say, do not expect other people to be supportive of your diet regime. Some may regard your discipline as being over the top but that’s often driven by their own insecurities. You will have to develop a very thick skin to go with your rigid discipline, if you are to hit your goals.
- At 54, you can be measurably stronger than you were at 24.
If you’re thinking about putting a training programme together, think carefully about what you want to achieve. ‘Cover magazine’ might be good for the ego but it’s practically useless for sport. If you are involved in competitive sport, remember whatever size and physique you end up with, what matters is not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog…
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