Category Archives: Swimming

7 Steps to a Fast Body

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From the concept of creating a FAST (Flexible Agile Strong Toned) body to deliver all-around athleticism, there are seven elements that should make up any training session in order to achieve your goal of total and complete fitness.

By following these simple guidelines, broken up into 7 easy steps, you will achieve what most programs promise you after 90 days without a realistic plan on how to continue beyond that. While it takes about 3 weeks to create a habit and about 3 months to keep one, too many of the advertised programs out there are short-sighted in the sense that their promise ends when the programs ends; you wind up usually too beat up from the intensity to even want to look at another set of jumping jacks or killer crunches. And that’s where the problem lies: sustainability.

Nothing else in your life works is encapsulated with finality into a short term period: it takes years to raise your kids, to get an education (and stay current). Your job is a great example too: for most of us, we have to stay and remain employed in order to live. I haven’t seen any get rich quick scheme that promises you to achieve all your dreams after only 3 months, followed up by a super early retirement!

“Anything worth doing is worth repeating”

So, just like your job, you have daily tasks that you do on any given day, which yield results and lead to the next day, week or month, giving you a sense of accomplishment, of progress, even if you know there is still more to do. The daily reward comes from the work, not from the results as they may not be near.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

 Chasing the end goal or results can be the downfall of any journey, as it makes you focus so much on it, you can lose faith in the process. I have had many weight loss clients who, after having lost 30, 40 even 50 pounds, still had another 50+ pounds to lose. To someone who didn’t know them, they were still overweight, they still hadn’t achieved their ultimate goal, but they were reaping the physiological and psychological benefits of better health and considence every day because they trusted the process!

 There is no secret, and there is nothing new. Just like an old family recipe, or a trade secret, what stands the test of time is the key to true success. It is no different in fitness, and here are your 7 steps to total fitness!

STEP 1: FUNDAMENTAL EXERCISES

Fundamental exercises

As their name indicates, the fundamental exercises, also called basic educational exercises lay down the foundation for all your work. Not just a warm-up to get the blood flowing and the joints loosened up, they also comprise movement in all angles used for every aspect of your workout, as well as for the ultimate goal of playing sports, being conditioned for physical labor, or simply enjoy a healthy life where you may have to resort to tapping into that “fitness insurance”!

Using the rules of 7, we have:

  • 7 major joints: neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips knees and ankles.
  • 7 major arm positions: hands at hips, hands at shoulders, hands at chest, arms extended out, hands behind the head, one arm up & one arm down, both arms overhead.

Using the 7 joints guideline, we then use the 7 hand positions to perform movements that engage the joints. The simple placement of the hands takes care of joints 3 (wrists, elbows, shoulders) and by performing deep knee bends, squats or lunges, as well as single leg balancing exercises, we take care of the hips, knees and ankles.

The neck is taken care of through tilting, twisting, rolling, flexion and extension.

Another area to add to the mix is the spine, which can be worked the same way as the neck (even simultaneously): back extension, back flexion, lateral bending, twisting. The neck simply needs to follow the motions of the spine, e.g. if you bend sideways to the left, the neck, as an extension of the spine, also bends to the left.

STEP 2: KICKING AND PUNCHING

High Side Kick

Punching and kicking drills are both an extension of the fundamentals, as they simultaneously move the body in all planes and angles of movement and engage all the muscles and joints, with the added benefit of developing the skills of balance and coordination, toning up the muscles and promoting cardiovascular endurance.

STEP 3: WEIGHT LIFTING

Barbell Military Press

Keep it simple and pick ONE (1) lift per day. Yes, you read correctly! Only 1 exercise for weight lifting! How can this be?

Remember what we said about trusting the process? It may not make sense right now, so wait until you reached the 7th step of this guide J

However, I don’t want to keep you guessing: the 7 steps cover all areas of your fitness, for a full workout and complete integral development of your body.

By picking just one lift per day that you perform for a week, you get to practice it the same way you would practice a song on the guitar or piano, before moving on to the next piece or exercise. Like the song, the exercise will “play” more fluidly, strongly and then you can take a break from it and return to it more easily and strongly at any time.

STEP 4: JUMPING

Jumping over obstacle

Just like step 3, pick ONE type of jumping and work on it for a week, perfecting it, improving it by adding to it, be it distance, height, repetitions, etc.

Jumping is an important element of fitness because as we age, we lose our “spring”. It’s also a phenomenal “power” move because it forces you to generate a lot of power at once, recruiting several muscles, which can lead to better performance in other activities (including the ability to lift a heavier weight in Step 3).

People often think that because of issues in their joints, they shouldn’t jump, e.g. like bad knees or a bad hip. It’s the very weakness in those joints, when not addressed, that becomes the issue. Avoidance doesn’t mean acceptance, it’s only negligence. You don’t need to jump high or far, even with a full range of motion, to strengthen the bones and soft tissue used in jumping.

Remember, we are in this for the long haul. A one-inch jump on a soft surface, like grass, sand, dirt a wooden floor or a gym mat is still a jump. And it’s fun too!

STEP 5: CLIMBING

Straight rope climbing

Climbing can be anything from getting up on a stool to change a light bulb all the way to climbing rocks. It’s agility, balance, coordination and strength all at once. Whether it’s with the use of your hands only, a combination of hands and feet, or feet alone, the movement skill of climbing is quite useful and functional at all ages and in all circumstances and situations.

STEP 6: THROWING

Partner throwing exercises

A very underrated aspect of fitness, yet used more frequently than you think in your daily life. From tossing your keys to someone off the balcony (or to a person higher up), to lifting (lifting, yes) a trash bag and tossing it into a dumpster, throwing (light or heavy objects, with one or both hands) requires power, agility, coordination and can turn into a full body movement, depending on the weight of the object or the distance to throw it, with assistance from the legs (which got stronger from Step 4 and Step 5).

STEP 7: WALKING AND RUNNING

Any form of displacement is essential because, well, that’s how we get places (disregard cars and modes of transportation, those are not built-in to our body)!

Walking, a.k.a. marching helps you cover long distances efficiently and is a great fat burner, is sustainable and gets you outside!

By adjusting the speed, you adjust the effort and get a slew of other benefits.

Jogging is next and eventually sprinting.

The best part about Step 7 is that it’s the most readily available, aside from any movement fundamentals to loosen up the joints.

Greatly beneficial for all ages, Steps 1 & 7 help you maintain your mobility, flexibility and provide a general sense of wellness that is completely manageable.

Add all the other steps, by simply picking one exercise per category and changing it weekly, revisiting as part of a rotation every few weeks, or as you get more efficient with your time, combining two or more exercises per category, you will develop all-around athleticism.

The weights or difficulty of the exercises is up to you, just know that, unless you have a severely impaired ability to do something, all the categories have something in them you can do today! We’re not going after what’s three months down the line, we want you to feel great today and we want you to keep going for as long as possible.

Goals like weight loss, muscle gain or a specific performance will naturally fall into place as you follow the process.

“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius”

-Michaelangelo

 

Note: According to Georges Hébert, Swimming should be part of this process, and Walking is separate from Running. All three are actually methods of locomotion, even if one of them is aquatic. I am lumping both Walking and Running together, being of similar leg-powered nature (albeit different mechanics). And Swimming is not always the most convenient activity to get to for many, while most everything else can be achieved with little to no equipment. The goal being to deliver you something to start doing right away without logistical hurdles.

Photos courtesy of Antje Anders Photography

Strong But Not Useful: Strength Categories

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Albeit fun.

If I could ask Georges [Hébert] to lighten up, I would, and he would probably tell me “I am! That’s the whole play finality of The Natural Method, mon frère!”

The reason I’d ask him to lighten up is because it’s totally cool to have fun and specialize in one aspect of strength if that’s your bag. I ain’t knocking your strength with his/mine or someone else’s.

Much like Power is Mass X Acceleration, an 8-plates back squat below parallel or a 48″ box jump require a different level of power. Some say “you need to squat heavy to get more power for your jumps”. I can’t squat 8 plates right now, but I can jump that “cold” and I know a few friends who can squat 8 plates easy, but can’t jump that. We’re different and that’s OK!

“A remarkable specialist in only one category, but poor in others, like a weight lifter or wrestler who cannot run or climb, or a runner or boxer who cannot swim or climb, isn’t strong from a “complete” standpoint.

On another hand, one who excels at entertaining or hobby sports (as in games of all kinds: football (soccer), tennis…; or gymnastics on man-made apparatus: high bar, trapeze…), but who ignores swimming, self-defense or has fear of heights, isn’t strong from a “useful” standpoint.

In short, to be strong consists of possessing a sufficient aptitude in utilitarian indispensable (a.k.a functional) exercises for everyone at any age and not to solely excel at entertaining fun exercises or of secondary utility”

So,a little redundancy, or rather, “rote” and let’s have Georgey break down the categories:

Functional Exercises of everyone at any age:

  1. Walk
  2. Run
  3. Jump
  4. Climb
  5. Lift
  6. Throw
  7. Fight (boxing or wrestling, natural means)
  8. Swim

These 8 categories suffice to achieve the highest level of physical development and to handle any difficult situation life throws at us. Walking, Running and Climbing constitute the prime natural exercises; they are the most indispensable of all.

That’s all going to be in the long awaited and delayed book (not my fault, serious!)

Sports or exercises of secondary utility (for select individuals and not necessary for everyone or all ages):

  1. Fencing
  2. Horseback riding
  3. Rowing
  4. Shooting
  5. Weapons self-defense (stick, knife…)
  6. Any artificial means of transportation requiring the use of the legs: cycling, skating, skiing, stilts…

Sports or exercises having no functionality for everyone or all ages:

  1. Anything requiring man-made apparatus: high bar, rings, trapeze, pommel horse, parallel bars…
  2. Any acrobatics, with or without the use of equipment.
  3. All games: soccer, hockey, tennis, cricket…

Remember, we are dealing with functionality for ALL POPULATIONS at ANY AGE, not fun, entertainment value or carry-over. We could probably argue, and successfully at that, the benefits of surfing, of playing rugby which develops both speed, agility, endurance, strength, power etc. That’s not the point.

The point is to raise the average, which is dismal in most countries I have to say. We as fitness enthusiasts live in a bubble we our social media feeds tend to show us our own interests, and few of us walk around national supermarket chains observing the decline of the population. Get them walking, running first, add some minor jumping, throwing and grow from there.

WEEKLY PROGRAMMING according to the Natural Method

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Weekly programming consists of 6 daily sessions of roughly an hour, each divided into one or several takes.
The first 5 sessions are identical to the model described in the DAILY PROGRAMMING chapter.
The 6th session is more specifically reserved for long distance runs, games, sports and manual labor of all kinds.

Example of weekly programming:

Monday: hour-long complete session in 2 takes:
1st take: fundamentals.
2nd take: functional training.

Tuesday through Friday: same.

Saturday: Long distance run. Games, sports, manual labor.

Sunday: rest

Complete your session

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This is one of those philosophical statements with layers of meaning.

The obvious one can be “finish your workout”, or finish what you started, even if not in fitness.

The more subtle one has to do with The Natural Method and what Hébert calls a complete session, a session that addresses fundamental movements as well as functional exercises. Mobility, strength, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, agility, coordination, dexterity, harmonious and balanced muscular development, as well as breath work.

Even if they were included in the Functional Exercises portion of his book, and the reason I chose to release those chapters as standalone books, swimming and combative techniques (self-defense, boxing, wrestling) are complete sessions.

By issuing a call to action to “complete”  session, I invite you to explore how you can make a training session include all of the elements to, well, make it “complete” (forgive the redundancy).

A good example because I intend on expanding the work to other disciplines or activities, can be surfing.

It’s not hard to break down the activity and see that it is a complete sport, and see how obvious it is:

  1. Balance stimulation (vestibular and visual systems).
  2. Aquatic training.
  3. Environmental resilience.
  4. Fundamental arm positions.
  5. Fundamental leg positions.
  6. Strength training.
  7. Support work.
  8. Core work.
  9. Agility.
  10. Rescue ability (you are connected to a floatation device that can served to aid you or someone in distress).
  11. Cardiovascular endurance.
  12. Speed.
  13. Power.
  14. Multiplanar movement.
  15. Harmonious development of the muscles.
  16. Corrective exercise elements.
  17. (BONUS): developing the skill of reading elements like water movements (waves, tides, currents), wind patterns and how to adapt to a constantly shifting environment.

One could argue that there is nothing natural about surfing: we do not possess the appendages to glide standing up on the surface of water, and have to resort to man-made devices which also are shaped out of various materials to fulfill the ability to, well, surf the waves, and paddle into them before that. By the way, all those points above can be chapters for The Natural Method: Surfing. And it doesn’t have to stop here, obviously. I’ll go as far as I can with what I know, but I also am recruiting others to complete the collection for the aspects I don’t know.

But so is weight training: we use tools to improve what we have.

So, we use the laws of Nature, physics, our physiology and we don’t even think about how all those systems interconnect: the visual, vestibular, muscular etc. Our reflexes are constantly stimulated and repetition is what makes us better and we get to play and have fun.

Natural, in the end, to me at least, means: what comes naturally over time. Key is in the last 2 words: what may not seem natural at first will with rote. So, cross your right middle finger over your index and slap it on your left palm and go do that. Then, once you’re up on that board and riding that wave, close your fist, extend your thumb and pinky, and do a little propeller move with your wrist.

Swimming book available now!

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The standalone chapter on swimming, from Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education, is now available on Amazon in the Kindle store, paperback due out any day also on Amazon.

Click here for your copy!

Like the Self-Defense techniques presented in the Functional Exercises book and standalone book, swimming constitutes a complete session in itself: covers fundamental movements for priming the body, and useful skills (swimming obviously, rescue -including partner rescues, i.e. more than one party for one person in need of assistance, raft crossing of streams or rivers, capsized vessel safety, carrying loads in the water, diving -from land, elevation or underwater diving).

It also contains a wide variety of swimming styles that most of us may have forgotten, but are simple to explore and practice, so that anyone can feel confident in the water without being a freestyle or butterfly stroke expert!

What makes this functional is the accessibility, and what makes it natural is that it explores variations an inexperienced or poor swimmer can still apply individually to become confident in a body of water.

Many drills may appear simple or obvious, especially to most of us who already swim. However, mastery comes from the execution of the basics and until you test yourself, you may not realize how apt you are at handling yourself in a pool, river or ocean.

 

 

 

On Swimming, by Hébert (part 2)

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In the last blog, we covered what makes up a complete swim session, from a functional and benefits standpoint. Today’s entry is more about the mechanics involved. Again, simplicity is key, and it make appear obvious, it still needs to be done (we often overlook the simple).

In order to swim, you must move through a body of water. How does that work? Read on 🙂

Propulsion in the water results from a series of powerful impulses produced by an adequate movement from the upper and lower limbs.

It must be noted that all manners of progressing in the water are based on the same principle. The propulsion effort is produced by:

–       The suddenness of the legs coming closer together, on one hand;

–       The arm movements acting like a paddle or an oar, on the other hand.

The sudden closeness of the legs, which produces the greater powering effort, is comparable to the closing of the two blades of a pair of scissors. It can be done one of two ways:

–       With the legs spread out, either laterally (e.g. ordinary breast stroke);

–       Front to back, relative to the body (sagittal plane).

The movement of the arms can also be done one of two ways:

–       Horizontally (e.g. breast stroke);

–       Vertically (e.g. side stroke).

Finally, the movement of the legs, as that of the arms, can be alternated or simultaneous.

Swimming is always be broken into the four main phases:

1)   Starting position, or preparation, of the limbs to produce effort;

2)   Effort;

3)   Pause, limbs extended in order to let the body flow and take advantage of the propulsion effort;

4)   Return of the limbs to the starting position.

Now, go find a pool and have fun! If you’re truly a noob and afraid of the water or not a good swimmer, I’ll post the super novice drills so you can become comfortable and enjoy getting in the pool. I know, for some of you, Summer is ending and the temps will soon be cooling down. You can and still should learn so you don’t miss you next Summer!

On Swimming, by Hébert (Part 1)

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Here’s a more thorough insight, paraphrased,  from the upcoming standalone “Swimming” section of Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education and his Natural Method.

Swimming is considered the most complete of all the exercises.

A complete exercise must at once be hygienic, aesthetic and functional; it must develop absolute strength, as well as sustained strength and develop skill as well as mental energy.

Swimming fulfills all these conditions:

1)   Its hygienic effect is intense: swimming activates all the major functions of the organism, particularly respiration; it also cleanses the skin and builds resilience to cold; finally, it is done outdoors. (Translator’s comment: bear in mind that historically speaking, indoor pools were not in existence at the time of Hébert’s authoring of the book).

2)   Its action is very effective on the amplification of the thorax and the increase in respiratory capacity. Indeed, in all manners of swimming, the arms are constantly brought beyond the head in the alignment of the trunk, which produces an expansion of the ribs and results in a widening of the thoracic cage. Moreover, the disturbance produced by the body of water and the vigor of the muscular effort force to breathe long and deep.

3)   It also has a very intense action on the development of the entire musculature, as it requires various muscular contractions of the arms, legs, trunk and head (neck muscles).

Generally, all these contractions, being very expanded, constitute wonderful exercises for the stretching of the joints and limbs; they are also excellent for the straightening of the spinal column.

4)   It requires, to go far and quickly, a perfect coordination of movements and an adequate rhythm.

5)   Difficult exercises of diving or water rescue develop dexterity, cold-blood (“even keel”), courage and self-confidence.

6)   Finally, all swimming exercises are of no-contest usefulness (meaning, functional, as it’s an important skill you don’t want to overlook, even if you don’t swim daily).

Evidently, to learn something, or simply to perfect one’s technique, it is necessary to work methodically, to have a goal and outline a program.

The swimming session, or “lesson”, just like any training session,must be comprised of a certain amount of varied exercises, performed in a logical order, and must be perfectly regulated when it comes to energy expenditure.

A complete swimming lesson must contain:

1)   One or several sudden submersions (of varying height), either head first, or feet first, then coming back to the surface.

2)   A regular breast stroke swim, on the stomach, slowly, to begin. This manner of swimming is the best one to realign the spine and any hunching and help acquire or maintain good posture.

3)   A swim on the back. Swimming on the back provides rest after a swim of a certain duration on the stomach; this stroke is also indispensable to be adept at during rescues.

4)   An underwater “dive”, either starting from an elevation, or at surface level. This exercise consists in staying as long as possible underwater, the body fully submerged.

5)   A period of complete rest, called “floating”. No arm or leg movement is to take place during this exercise.

6)   One or more “hauls”, using the fastest swimming methods.

7)   Finally, finish the lesson with a few slow strokes, on the stomach or the back, in order to restore enough calm in the breathing and circulation, before exiting the water.

Such is the “complete” program of a swim, both hygienic and functional. It’s not just swimming laps, which becomes a specific endeavor, for a sporting event like  Swim Meet or a Triathlon, where racing is emphasized, whereas here Hébert is talking about cultivating the skill.