The Magic of the EMOM – and keeping fit after 40

Don-t-count-the-minutes-make-every-minute-countI’m 44 years old and still like to think of myself as young and strong (I have a beautiful daughter and still need to be young and strong!). And that is hopefully the case for most of us 40+’ers still keen on being fit and healthy.

It’s not always easy though, to tailor whatever advice is out there to your specific needs. Take high-intensity training for example. For the last couple of years high-intensity training was and probably still is, the preferred training method for getting the best results in the shortest period of time. The advantage of going flat-out is well documented and of particular interest is the fact that it burns a lot of calories quickly.

There are a few pitfalls to consider before embarking on a high-intensity training regime and the first is your level of fitness and your ability to master the fundamental movements. If you’re unfit (overweight) and have poor mobility, you should sacrifice intensity and prioritize form. In other words, don’t ramp up the intensity if your form is going to go for a ball of crap. You’ll likely end up hurting yourself.

Secondly, there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to fitness and health. Just because high-intensity worked for someone else, following that exact same regime is not necessarily going to work for you. Your body will respond differently to high intensity training than a 20 year-old for example. You’ll require different recovery protocols than an elite athlete and you’ll probably need to ease into it gently.

A third thing to consider is that high-intensity training is not only physically demanding, it also takes its toll mentally. Pushing yourself into that ‘deep, dark place’ during every workout will drain away your motivation to get up and repeat the process. If workouts are no longer fun odds are that you’re going to quit sooner rather than later.

Enter the EMOM – an abbreviation for every minute on the minute. It is a CrossFit staple and something I find more and more useful every day. It works like this. At the start of each minute you perform a set number of repetitions of a particular exercise and after that you rest for the remainder of that minute and so on…

EMOMs allow you to be creative in a number of ways. Firstly you can choose a time domain suitable to your level of fitness. Just starting out you can for example kick off with a short and sweet six minute EMOM of 8 air squats and 8 sit-ups. By the end of six minutes you would have banked 48 reps (24 squats and 24 sit-ups), meaning you just lapped the guy on the couch.

You control the intensity. Say you’ve breezed through your 6 minute EMOM, the next time you could up the reps and up the minutes. Going for say, an 8 minute EMOM of 12 air squats and 12 sit-ups. Equating to double the number of reps (96) of your previous workout, taking you only two more minutes. You get the idea.

You can easily keep tab on your progress. Making progress is a great motivator for sustaining effort. By adding minutes and reps you’ll be able to get more and more work done in a measurable period of time. You can always add weight and keep reps and time the same for exercises performed with ‘objects’. EMOMs make it easy to measure things such as reps performed, training time, weight etc. Again, you get the idea.

And then there’s the mental side. Compare having to do 50 pull-ups followed by 50 burpees for time, with having to do a 10 minute EMOM of 10 pull-ups (odds) and 10 burpees (evens). Most people can’t do 20 unbroken pull-ups let alone 50. Nobody will be licking their lips for having to grind through 50 burpees. To put it bluntly, workout 1 sucks while workout 2 seems doable. Doable because its broken up into bite-size chunks. I’ll jump up for 10 pull-ups knowing that it’ll probably take me 20 seconds thereby rewarding me with 40 seconds of rest before having to do it again. I’ll be much less enthusiastic about jumping up for 50 pull-ups knowing full well that I’ll probably fatigue by rep 20, fall down from the bar, not likely to be jumping up to complete the reps anytime soon. Go ask any guru how to eat an elephant and they’ll tell you ‘one bite at a time’. EMOMs make a seemingly impossible task seem manageable and if you perceive something to be manageable you’ll be up for it.

Truth be told, the possibilities are endless. You can do a different exercise every minute (on the minute), or you can do the same exercise for every minute. You can take a 5 minute breather between EMOMs and do a couple of EMOMs thereby burning a significant number of calories in a relatively short period of time. Training in, or with EMOMs are highly productive and from an injury perspective much safer than just going for it until you drop. It’s even fun.

Next time you’re dreading the prospect of completing a challenging workout, set the timer and work your way through it minute by minute and get it done.

Life in the Box

Even though I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, cycled solo across the Namib Desert and been coaching functional movement for the best part of five years, there was a time in my life when I was the last person you’d want to consult for advice on how to get fit and change your life for the better.

I was unfit, overweight and generally sucked at relationships. Climbing a flight of stairs was not something I’d do voluntarily. Let alone invest time in becoming a better dad or husband. Grabbing a beer would get preference over playing with the kids. Because of a poor physical state, I was in a poor mental state. No energy for training translated into no energy for trying (anything).

And then came CrossFit, and the ‘Box’. The merits of this seemingly crazy fitness phenomena are not under discussion. You either love it or you hate it (or, like me, you adapt it). CrossFit jargon is descriptive and even funny. The ‘box’ is the place where you workout. WOD is the workout of the day and an AMRAP is as many reps or rounds as possible, to name but a few.

There’s also an uncanny similarity between life itself and what happens in the Box. I doubt whether Greg Glassman, CrossFit’s founder, did it intentionally but I’d like to give him credit for it anyway.

A CrossFit class starts with a warm-up. It is a period where you ease into things under the watchful eye of someone who cares about you. You are taught the basics. Like an air-squat for example. The simple act of squatting down and standing up. A movement underpinning most of the more daunting movements you’ll encounter on your journey towards physical well-being. You are required to do it over and over and over again until you can perform it with your eyes closed not even thinking about it anymore. Like wiping your butt.

The warm-up is a period of anticipation, anxiety and giggles. It’s a period spend in your comfort zone. Unless you’re new to CrossFit in which case the warm-up will feel like the workout. During the warm-up there’s time for idle chatter but there’s also that lingering feeling that some time very soon the shit will hit the fan…

The warm-up is usually followed by a skill- or strength session. After you showed proficiency in the basics, mastered the fundamentals, you progress to a session where you can test yourself. This session is specifically designed to equip you with for what is to follow. It is where you realize that you’re not as strong or as flexible or as accurate as you thought you were. It is a session during which doubt is a constant. It is also during this session where it dawns on you that you probably need expert coaching for certain movements. Like marriage counseling for example.

Then, before you can say Rich Froning, the buzzer sounds ‘3..2..1..Go!’ and you’re into the workout proper. Every man for himself. You dive in head first, and go as fast as you can. You sense that you’re falling behind. The Joneses already started round 2 and you’re still renting an apartment. The pace is frantic and unsustainable. You feel tired and alone. Where’s the coach? Can’t he see that some are cheating?

You adjust your pace. You even adjust some of the movements. Self-preservation becomes the focus. Life will beat the crap out of you, stupid to be doing it to yourself. You look around and see people of all shapes and sizes battling the same demons. You realize that you’re not alone. Inspiration comes from where you least expected it. There’s a guy with only one arm doing kettlebell thrusters. Your problem suddenly becomes insignificant. If he can do it, so can you.

Then, just as you are about to throw in the towel the buzzer sounds again, signalling the end of the workout. You collapse into a heap on the floor. You’re not quite sure what just hit you but you’re breathing and you’re alive. You survived. Again. You realize that the suffering you just endured made you stronger than what you were before. And as the smoke slowly rise from the ashes, so does a new opportunity. You look up at the white board relishing in the fact that you just completed something which only a short while ago seemed impossible to do.

The coach walks over and gives you a high-five, he was there watching all along. Bring on tomorrow!

The Inevitable By-Product and Burpees.

Burpees can make you happy. Really. First you need to know what a burpee is, and secondly you must comprehend what it means to be happy. The foremost is a complex four-stage physical movement, the latter a simple feeling.

“burpee” is defined as “a physical exercise consisting of a squat thrust made from and ending in a standing position.” A burpee is not something that happens to you. It’s something you physically do.

This is what a burpee looks like:

The term ‘burpee’ originated in the 1930’s. Named after Royal H. Burpee, a Ph. D. candidate in physiology at Columbia University. The man was dedicated to figuring out a seemingly straight forward concept: How to determine a person’s physical fitness. In order to measure physical capacity he made his subjects perform a simple four-step exercise (the burpee) and timed them. The army was particularly fond of the movement and added a push-up and a jump to Mr Royal’s original version. Today the burpee is firmly entrenched in fitness vernacular although dreaded, even feared by most.

Wikipedia lists no less than 20 different (sadistic) versions of this legendary movement and it has become the embodiment of physical exertion. There’s even something called ‘the burpee mile’ in which you do a burpee and a standing broad jump over and over for 1 600 meters. It takes over two hours to complete and is rather insane!

Happiness on the other hand is not nearly as complex as the burpee. It does however seem to be elusive (but now that you know how to do a burpee it shouldn’t be).

“happiness” is simply defined as “the state of being happy” while “happy” is defined as “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” A feeling is a fickle thing. It comes and goes. If you don’t keep on doing that something that gave you the feeling in the first place, it’ll go away.

Happiness therefore is always a work in progress. It is not a constant state, you have to work for it. You have to do something to experience it. Happiness is a form of action, same as a burpee. You’re not going to find it behind the wheel of a sports car or waiting for you in a three-story house, or in the arms of Stormy Daniels. It didn’t work for Donald Trump and it won’t work for you. If he rather did burpees instead of Stormy his fitness, albeit for office, would not constantly be doubted.

Ever wondered why a mother of two would want to get up at 05h30 in the morning to do burpees? Or asked yourself why a 40+ year-old dad would want to wake up at 4 am on a Saturday morning to go ride his bike in freezing temperatures?

I asked them, and here’s their answers:

Mother of two on waking up at 4h45 to go and workout:

” One should think that I exercise because of peer pressure – constantly being bombarded by images of ‘the perfect body’, the world’s message being that unless you look like this, you won’t be happy. But no, I exercise because it makes me feel good. I’m certain that being physically fit makes me a better version of myself. My work’s stressful. Raising two young kids is stressful. Going to the Box (that’s where CrossFitters do their stuff) is me escaping from all of that. It’s where I forget about my problems. It’s where I focus on myself. It makes me feel good about myself and because of that, I’m a better wife for my husband, a better mom for my kids. It is easier to give more of myself when I’m feeling good about myself. It enables me to be a better ‘me’ for those around me.”

You see, nothing to do with losing weight or looking good in a bikini.

The ‘cycling-dad’:

‘Exercising, training, whatever you like to call it, makes me feel good. Being out there on my bicycle gives me time think. Makes me realize what’s important and what’s not. Being fit gives me energy to say ‘yes’ to my son when he wants me to go kick a ball with him. It  makes me a better dad. Being a better dad makes me happy.’

Again, nothing about becoming leaner or having a lower resting heart-rate.

Back in the day Mr Royal H. Burpee might have created a yardstick for measuring physical capacity but he also unearthed a recipe for feeling happy. And it’s a simple one. Fall down, get up, repeat. Whatever your burpee looks like, go do it – get that feeling.









Losing 8 kilograms in 80 days, eating right 80% of the time


First let me start by saying this: A scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. It cannot measure fitness, beauty, purpose, talent, possibility or strength. The number staring back at you should never be an excuse for you to be miserable. My latest mission, to lose 8 kilograms in 80 days, eating right 80% of the time, comes from me not feeling “well”, a fact coincidentally confirmed by a bathroom scale.

A two-pronged plan

Losing weight starts in the kitchen and not wherever it is that you get sweaty. You can’t out-train a bad diet. It’s simply not possible. I’ve tried really hard and failed – every time. Besides, going for a run with a hangover is not fun. So, step 1 would be to clean up your diet.

The second step would be to get moving. Don’t get too hung up on a training program or fitness regimen or anything that resembles a routine. Your motivation will wane, you will miss a workout, you will start beating yourself up about it and eventually you’ll quit. New Year’s resolution down the drain. We all know the feeling. Don’t go there. Go easy on yourself.

It is not about the numbers

Forget the 8 kilograms in 80 days. That is simply my target because I know where I want to be and when I need to be there. On the other hand, keep that “80% of the time”-thought in the back of your mind.

We are not pro athletes. We are moms and dads (with social lives) that are never going to train like maniacs all the time. Even less likely is eating 100% right, 100% of the time.

My “This week vs The next week” approach

I started my “8-80-80 mission” on the 23rd of July. The week before I did zero workouts. In fact I haven’t done anything resembling a workout in more than 6 weeks (and promptly added 6 kg to my frame). On the 23rd of July my wife and I started from scratch. We did a CrossFit workout in our garage. That in itself made that week a better week than the previous one.

During the previous week (and weeks before that) we had a glass (or two or three) of wine every evening. By the time we got into bed on Thursday evening (of week 1) we haven’t had a single glass of wine and we completed three workouts. Progress.

Friday was a bit of a train smash, so much so that we did not do a workout on Saturday. On Sunday we went for a run which made us feel better about Friday night’s party. The week ended with 5 “clean days” and 6 workouts. So, compared to the previous week we made giant strides!

I recommend keeping a “little black book”. Log your meals and workouts (no great detail required). All you want to do is to measure progress. If you had a slice of cake on Monday and you don’t have one the next Monday, that’s a step in the right direction.

My Training Plan

For the duration of my eighty-day challenge I plan to move every day. In my book, a long walk counts. So if you’re not up for a rigorous workout, take your dog for walk or go kick a ball with your son.

My first two weeks looked like this:

  • Monday 23 July – Starting weight 84 kg
    • CrossFit (50 min)
  • Tuesday 24 July
    • CrossFit (50 min)
  • Wednesday 25 July
    • Walk-Run-Walk (4 Rounds of Walk 2 minutes, run 4 minutes)
  • Thursday 26 July
    • CrossFit (50 min)
  • Friday 27 July
    • Indoor rowing 7km (30 min 52 sec)
  • Saturday 28 July
    • Woke up with a monster hangover (Wife’s birthday) – did nothing
  • Sunday 29 July
    • Went for a walk-run-walk on the golf course (35 min)

Keeping in mind my “80% of the time” don’t-be-too-hard-on-yourself buffer, I was extremely happy with my week.

Week 2 (The idea is to improve on week 1) – Starting weight 82,2 kg

  • Monday 30 July
    • CrossFit (50 min) Upgraded from a 20kg kettlebell to a 24 kg bell
  • Tuesday 31 July
    • Indoor rowing 7km (29 min 55 sec) Shaved nearly a minute off the previous week’s time
  • Wednesday 1 August
    • CrossFit (50 min)
  • Thursday 2 August
    • Walk-Run-Walk Same workout as on Wed 25 Jul, went 1 km further in the same time and added 100 Kettlebell Swings
  • Friday 3 August
    • Try and behave tonight

The notes in red alert me to the areas where improvement is needed. The notes in italic is where I improved. As long as I’m not screwing up more than 80% of the time, I’m happy. Same goes for my “diet” (I hate that word, what you should be aiming for is instilling healthier habits so that it becomes a lifestyle as opposed to “following a diet”). As long as I’m eating clean 80% of the time I’m happy. By eating clean I mean eating real food as opposed to processed, packaged stuff.

Real food (a topic justifying an in-depth discussion) in short, is anything that is whole, fresh and unprocessed. Goodies that your great-grandmother would recognize as food. A chicken, a vegetable, a nut, a fruit, an egg – you get it.

I’m weighing 81,7 kg heading into the weekend…would dearly like to keep it there.

You can follow my 8-80-80 journey here and if you have any questions you can contact me via this blog.