For those who know me I’m constantly looking for challenges to test me physically and mentally. I like to test my fitness over various disciplines, time frames, terrains and weather. This challenge was no different.

The Fan Dance is the name given to one of the first fitness and navigation tests for UK Special Forces. It comprises of a 24km long distance march over Pen – y – Fan in Brecon Beacons. You start at the bottom of the mountain, ascend the 886m to the top, go down the other side before turning around and returning to the start. All while carrying around 20kg in a rucksack or Bergen.

During Special Forces selection, potential recruits must complete this march in less than 4 hours and 10 minutes.

So my journey as always started with some crappy travel on public transport to Wales (why can’t I do an event in my back garden?). Once in Brecon, I stayed at the Storey Arms, which sits right next to the infamous red phone box and the start point of the Fan Dance.

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I was in a 6 man room with bunk beds and after enjoying some Fan Dance ales I retired to bed only to be kept awake by people carrying out panic admin and trying to get their packs up to weight. Once the guys had settled I was finally dosing off only to be awakened by guys returning from the high moon edition of the Fan Dance at around 2am. These guys sounded destroyed and were talking about how it was the hardest thing ever. These words echoed in my head as I finally fell asleep.

5am and I was up ready for breakfast and doing my final checks before heading out to the start. The weather was really good, however there was still a lot of snow on the ground from the previous week. Gathering at the start you are immediately met with the first incline which is the exact moment I told myself I should have done some actual hill training. However I quickly reminded myself “I’m and MdS veteran, I’ve got this”. I soon ate those words as I began the first climb, slipping and sliding all over the place on the snow and ice. Sweat was immediately pouring off me as I was already thinking this is nails.

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The terrain levelled out after a while and I began to run which took the pain out of my already tight lower back (should have warmed up). Just as I was getting into a rhythm the next incline started and it was at this point I was glad of the poor visibility so I couldn’t see how high or long it was! I slowly made my way up before seeing the first tent and guys being waved to turn right. At last a break! Again it was short lived as I made the final climb to the summit. My time was just over 1 hour, which felt good. Next came the famous Jacob’s Ladder, the steep descent over the other side of the mountain. I could see guys slipping all over the place so I literally sat down and slid down the snow on my arse. As the gradient eased off I stood up and ran down using the deep snow to manage my speed. At the bottom, it was a right turn to start the long journey on the Roman Road to the turnaround point. My strategy of run the flat and downhill worked perfectly up until that point. However at the turnaround point it finally sunk in that I have to do it all again!

I couldn’t muster the motivation to run back and my back was on fire so I cracked on as best I could. After what seemed and eternity I was back to looking up towards the incline of Pen – y – Fan. I quickly learned why everyone was talking about Jacobs Ladder as it absolutely killed me! I was like a penguin waddling up the side of the mountain wishing for the end. When the end was in sight a huge wave of energy came over me, as I knew it was mostly downhill to the finish.

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I ran as much as I could, falling over quite a few times before getting to the final section and seeing the finish. I crossed the line in 4 hours and 38 minutes, which I was more than happy with. I received my patch and hog roast sandwich, which helped me forget about the pain and the cold temporarily. While I was more than happy with my efforts in the conditions and the terrain, I will return next year for the summer edition and some proper training under my belt to beat that 4 hour 10 minute pass mark!

It was a great event and well organised and I would highly recommend to those out for a tough challenge. Was it the hardest thing ever? Unfortunately MdS still sits top for me, my lack of preparation is what made it harder than it should have been for me personally. Avalanche Endurance Events also run a ‘clean fatigue’ category for those fell/ultra runners who want to attempt it as fast as possible.

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What’s next for me? The Rainhill Trials in Feb!

We’ve all been there. The day after a tough session you expect to be a cripple as you get out of bed and are surprised when you don’t feel too bad. However the next day you roll out of bed and feel that your legs have been replaced by lead weights s you tentatively try to sit down on the toilet. That my friends, is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs).

 

What is it?

DOMs is a condition associated with pain or soreness around the muscles and joints. It typically peaks around 48 hours after training and can last as long as 72 hours.

What causes it?

Research is still underway as to the exact causes, but it was once thought that DOMs was caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the body. It’s now thought that DOMs is caused by micro tears in the connective tissue thus causing inflammation as part of the natural healing process and in turn soreness/pain. Training experience, age and session intensity can also have an effect on the severity of DOMs with it occurring in those new to exercise or returning from a prolonged break more frequently.

Treating DOMs

As mentioned, DOMs is a natural part of the training process to an extent. However ways to alleviate symptoms include:

  • Foam Rolling
  • Contrast Showers (bouts of cold water followed by hot water)
  • Omega 3 Supplements
  • Adequate Sleep

Unfortunately stretching hasn’t been shown to reduce or prevent DOMs so should be used for flexibility purposes as part of your normal cool down.

While you will suffer from DOMs from time to time, you shouldn’t be chasing after it. DOMs is not a precursor to a good workout or building more muscle and should start to ease off as training experience increases. The key take home message is some muscle soreness is not a bad thing, debilitating pain is. Start to learn the difference and always ask advice if unsure.

Well it’s nearly that time of year again where we put down that half eaten chocolate Santa, turn down an offer of going to the boozer and say ‘I’m going to the gym!’ That’s right, operation New Year, New You is a go. You’ve had your fill of food comas and now it’s time to get back on the wagon and sweat out all that turkey.

 

So many people start out with such high motivation whether it be body composition goals or they just want to get fitter. However most people barely last 2-3 months before the wheels of the wagon have well and truly come off. Why is that? Having realistic goals and an actual thought out plan are two of the main stumbling blocks. So here are some tips to ensure your 2016 challenge doesn’t lose momentum.

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1 – Setting Clear and Realistic Goals

Seeing some top celebrity on tv and shouting ‘I want that body!’ then signing up to the gym for a year is not a clear and realistic goal. Even as a novice you should think long and hard about what you want to achieve and how you are going to get there. Remember that you can’t get ‘shredded abs’ in 4 days like some claim, progress takes time and patience and you must factor that into your goals.

2016 also means that work comes back with a vengeance, meaning potential late finishes, tiredness and stress. Think about these when plotting out your strategy to reach your goals. Overall the more specific your plan the more chance of success!

2 – Carry Out Some Basic Measurements and Monitor/Track Progress

What’s your goal? Body transformation or performance? How will you know if you’re making progress? Most people lose motivation when they think they aren’t making progress towards their goal. However many people don’t track results in the first place or rely on things like the scales to determine success. If your goal is body composition, take some ‘before’ photos and measurements such as waist and hips and then re-test every 6-8 weeks (not every day!). Progress takes time but if you are monitoring it and tracking it you will have it there in black and white to spur you on to continue.

3 – Aim For Long-Term Change

Too many people make a big push to get to their goal and then go back to old habits once achieved. What happens then? You all know the answer. Why were you on this big change journey in the first place? Because your old ways didn’t work. So why go back to them after all that hard work and come un-done?

Think about long lasting lifestyle change whether it be exercise, nutrition or even things like sleep and hydration. It could even be cutting something out like fizzy drinks. However, slow and steady changes will be easier to sustain than just diving in head first and going cold turkey.

4 – Think About Nutrition

You can lean out and improve health from nutrition alone but that doesn’t mean starving yourself! Just following some basic guidelines will ensure you get the best out of your food and also build long-term habits.

– Eat mostly real, whole, minimally processed food.

– Eat slowly and only until satisfied.

– Eat protein with every meal.

– Eat vegetable with every meal.

– Eat healthy fats with most meals.

– Drink beverages with few calories and few ingredients most of the time.

– Drink lots of water!

I know things like work and play can throw hurdles into the mix but again if you’re fully serious about your goals then plan ahead! Make up a weekly meal plan so that when you go shopping you buy only what you need for those meals. In our house my wife has a 4 week meal plan to keep things interesting on the fridge. We know what we are eating and when, and don’t repeat meals so we don’t get bored. It also means that we have no bad temptations in house, only what we need.

Finish work late? Start making up extra portions so that you can freeze them so you don’t have to cook when you get home but still get a healthy meal instead of take-away or microwave meals from the supermarket. It just takes a little foresight and a little extra effort and you can stay on track!

These are just some simple ideas to get you started. If you are really struggling then just ask! I will be more than happy to help.

If you really want to start your 2016 the right way, then sign up to our beginners programme Basic Training. We will teach you all the basic movements as well as building up the intensity of your workouts to prepare you for our group classes. We have a 50% off sale until the 4th Jan. Email info@warriorstrength.co.uk for more details.

Have a great New Year and look forward to a healthy 2016!

We all have that competitive streak inside us. Some have it more than others but its there in all of us and that not a bad thing. It can motivate us to challenge ourselves and creates camaraderie in the gym.

The problem is some of us let it get in the way of performing safe and efficient movement. We choose times or scores to get the top mark on the board or beat others. Friendly rivalry is good, but you should be more concerned with your own progress day to day.

Remember that each workout has a goal or objective. It’s designed to elicit a certain stimulus. Lets look at a couple of examples, the first being ‘Helen’ which is:

3 Rounds For Time

400m Run

21 kB Swings

12 Pull-ups

This is a conditioning workout designed to be completed in less than 15 minutes. Lets say you know you wont finish it in 15 minutes but you complete it as prescribed just to say to everyone you did it ‘RX’. It takes you well over 20 minutes because you had to do single reps on your strict pull-ups as you don’t have kipping down and you walked the last 400m. Do you think you got the chosen outcome? Instead we could have replaced the pull-ups with ring rows or even completed 2 rounds instead of 3. As we get fitter and stronger, you’ll eventually complete the workout as written in under 15 mins. You can look back on how each time you have done the workout and see YOUR progress.

Similarly lets look at a strength based workout called ‘Linda’ which is:

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1

Deadlift @ 1.5x Bodyweight

Bench Press @ Bodyweight

Clean @ ¾ Bodyweight

Again the aim would be to complete this in around 15 minutes so the easiest way to achieve this would be to scale the weight back. So scaling a workout isn’t just limited to one variable and that’s where a coach can help determine how you should perform the workout.

By focusing on your own progress, you will train within your means, improve movement efficiency and ultimately performance. This will ensure you reach your true potential at a steady rate and minimise injury risk. It’s YOU VS YOU!

However on the flip side to that we also want to ensure we are constantly challenged and not making the workouts too easy to get that top score on the board. We can increase the weight, add more reps,/rounds or use more challenging movements. It gets to a point where completing the workout faster becomes redundant, so progressing forward means adapting it to your ability.

The overall message of this article is chase progress not scores. The clock and whiteboard are just tools to achieve that, they aren’t the holy grail of results. Use it to motivate but don’t become blinded by it.

Listen to your coach, they know the goals of the workout and should know your ability quite well. Their advice will keep you progressing forward safely. You should strive to better than yesterday. Whether its 10 seconds, 1 kilo or a harder movement, that’s progress. That should be what you look at, not what the person next to you is doing.

In response to a few of you asking the best way of recording workouts, I thought I would write a quick post on it with some examples.

First of all tracking progress is one of the most important things to consistent improvement as outlined in my article ‘Were You Better Than You Were Yesterday‘. In terms of creating a training journal, it couldn’t be simpler. First up you need to get yourself a notebook, something cheap will do and I got mine from Tesco. It’s personal preference as to whether you want it lined or just plain pages, I personally prefer lined.

Next I would flip to the back pages of the book and make a PB chart. Basically somewhere to record your maxes on the main lifts, rowing/running times and even perhaps named WOD scores. Make a simple table with all the movements/WODs down the side and then rep schemes/times across the top. See below for an example. From there just input any of the data in pencil so that when you set PBs you can easily rub it out and replace so that you always have up to date numbers handily available at the back.

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Once that’s complete, you can now flip back to the front of the book and start recording your sessions. Again, this will be down to personal preference and you can be as detailed or as brief as you like however I would at least record the criteria below:

  • Date
  • Strength exercises complete with rep schemes and weights lifted
  • Some sort of note as to whether you will add more weight or more reps the following week
  • Workout complete with time/score
  • Notes on any scales for the workout
  • Notes on performance if applicable

If you want to go into even more depth you could also record:

  • All meals for the day and how you felt after each one, especially pre/post workout
  • Time of day you trained to see if performance is affected
  • How much sleep you had the night before
  • Water intake for the day

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The key with any recording is to do it in a way you understand and a way that’s easily referred to as you will have to look back on sessions to decide performance in future sessions. This means it needs to be legible and easily understood. Other than that, its really not that complex, the key thing here is that you have a platform to record data and determine how heavy you should lift or how fast you should complete a workout etc. Without this data, it’s merely guess work and could be slowing down your progress.

Alternatively for those who are more into their tech, there are plenty of great apps to record your sessions as well as tracking maxes etc and are pretty comprehensive. Also with it being on your phone, you are less likely to forget it when going to the gym. However if you’re like me, I prefer the old pen and paper. You could also do a combination of the 2 and keep an electronic record of your maxes etc on a spreadsheet.

We are in the process of developing a tracking journal of our own, but if you need any help at all with making a journal please don’t hesitate to ask me in the gym. I also have a ready made spreadsheet for recording maxes and again feel free to ask for it.

 

Marathon des Sables – 250km of running over 6 days, carrying all your kit and equipment, rationed water and living in Bedouin tents. Oh and it takes place in the Sahara!

That, in a nutshell, is what I have just completed. Classed as ‘the toughest foot race in the world’, over 1300 competitors took part in its 30th edition, covering terrains from soft sand to mountain climbs and everything in between.

After a flight and 8 hour coach journey we arrived in the desert at our first camp site. There we spent two days sorting out kit and finding a tent to stay in. Once we were happy with our backpacks we had to hand over our remaining luggage to be stored away until the finish. We were then given our salt tablets, gps tracker, had our medical forms checked and given race numbers. It was a slow and tedious process and gave us a chance to experience the heat that would accompany us on our runs.

After all was done my pack weighed around 7.9kg without water which was just right for me. Some people had packs weighing 14-15kgs! Insane! I was in tent 141 sharing with 7 other people who were all great. We had some top laughs over the week and rallied together to support each other when help was needed. The only downside was we all made an agreement that the first person back each day would clear the stones from under the rug we slept on and collect rocks to hold the canopy down when it got windy. Who got back first each day? You guessed it!

So now that all the checks were done, we had our tents sorted and had one last proper meal, it was time to turn in ready for day 1 of the race.

Day 1 – 36.2km with 2 checkpoints. I was awake at 5am and didn’t sleep too well as my stomach hadn’t been right since I arrived. I was straight into military routine, started the food cooking while I washed myself, brushed my teeth and sorted my kit for the day. This became morning routine each day and was like second nature to me. I then went and collected my 3l of water for which you had a card that got punched each time you were given the allocated water. From there it was a brief bit of relaxation before heading to the start. This is where all 1300 runners converged to listen to Patrick Bauer (race organiser) give us a brief about the day, tell us who’s birthday it was that day and any other announcements. He did like to talk! I just wanted to run! However it wasn’t long before the countdown began, ACDC’s Highway to Hell started playing full blast and I was running.

The route was fairly straight forward with the majority of it rocky and flat. There were some small climbs and some soft sand but on the whole a fairly steady introduction. I was feeling great the whole way round and kept up a good pace (the pace I practiced) but it caught up with me towards the end. I finished it in 4 hours and 40 mins placing 136th but it was too fast. I felt rotten when I got back to the bivouac and having to clear stones and collect rocks was a mission itself!

Day 2 – 31.1km with 2 checkpoints. This was known as the Jebel (mountain) day. We had 3 major climbs that day – all were challenging in different ways with some longer but more gradual and some short and steep. It was tough going but my steadier pace served me well and I felt good the whole way round. I completed the day in 4 hours and 43 mins placing 216th. I also felt much better in camp!

Day 3 – 36.7km with 2 checkpoints. My stomach was still really bothering me and I just didn’t feel up for it. I think I was also very apprehensive about the long stage the following day. The route had a LOT of soft sand and dunes and the temp apparently reached 51 degrees Celsius! I struggled to gain any momentum on the sand and it just sucked the life out of me. It was at this stage that I also realised I should have added some more carb based snacks to my food supplies as I was crashing. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I struggled to eat my Clif Bars out there, something I could not have foreseen. The route finished with a horrendous climb up a soft, sandy Jebel with 2 false summits! I was in auto pilot at this point, head down and just get over the finish line. I never felt like quitting, but the last few km were mentally challenging. I completed the course in 5 hours and 41 mins and came 344th, a bit of a drop in the rankings but I was more concerned with what came next.

Day 4 – 91.7km with 7 checkpoints. I was nervous all through the night before and the morning leading up to this one. I had never ran this distance before and I knew there was a lot of soft sand on this stage. The route was 26 miles more than I had ever done before so basically a marathon on top of my longest run! I had sorted out a trade with one of my tent mates and got some gels and energy shots to help me along the way. I got a good routine going with the food and by CP 4 I was feeling great! Between 4 and 5 was a bit of a struggle with the soft sand and dunes but with the right food I battled on. CP 5 was amazing. There was a small jazz band playing live with deck chairs laid out. It was so surreal when you looked around and there was just desert as far as you could see! I only stopped for about 8 mins so didn’t get to fully appreciate it but it was a great boost!

From there it was getting dark and there were lots of times where all I could see were the faint glow of a light stick in the distance marking my route. I was mainly alone for the rest of the race but felt great and picked up the pace for a strong finish. I completed it in 14 hours and 46 mins placing 167th which I was so chuffed with! It was a huge weight off my shoulders. I went to sleep but a few hours later one of my tent mates arrived and then shared some McCoy’s crisps with me and it was THE best moment ever! We both sat there staring at the floor, minds blank, savouring the flavour of flame grilled steak. I say sat there, I was wrapped in my sleeping bag only my eyes showing while he posted McCoy’s into my hand through the gap.

Day 5 – 42.2km (marathon) with 3 checkpoints. I felt really good as we had had a full rest day (well some of us had) and also enjoyed a cold can of coke! The route was relatively flat and stony but with some dunes. I was determined to go hard and that’s what I did. I dominated the dunes and finally got a good rhythm going to finish the course in 4 hours and 37 mins and placed 98th! What a finish! I got my medal and I genuinely wanted to cry, I felt so emotional and it didn’t feel real at first. I had done it! I completed MdS! Not only that I felt great, my feet were good, my kit worked well and my body felt ready to do more. All that was left was an 11km walk for charity the next day but I knew I was going to take that one easy.

Overall I came 163rd with a total time course time of 34 hours and 27 mins which I couldn’t be happier about. I had a goal of top 500 which I was well within and obviously I survived.

The race was, in my opinion, all mental toughness. There were generous cut off times each day so you could walk the whole thing and complete it. So you could make it as hard as you want to which is where the mental side comes in. There was one point on the long day where I was actually shouting at the sand, cursing it for its existence as it sucked the life out of me. Those are the kinds of challenges you deal with. Living in shitty conditions for 7 days, eating freeze dried meals and carrying all your gear adds to that challenge. However it was more than worth it. I spent so many occasions just looking to my left and right, taking in the beautiful, quiet surroundings, no music, no technology, just me and the desert. It was an amazing feeling, something I will never forget and to be honest, already miss.

When I was training for it, I said never again after all the stress it caused me, but now that I know what I’m capable of there is a feeling of emptiness and wondering what to do next. It won’t be for at least a couple of years but my thirst for extreme challenges wasn’t quenched by MdS.

Today’s post is on a subject that’s so simple and straight forward, it hurts to write it. In fact, if anyone is serious about making changes in their life, tracking progress and setting baselines should be the FIRST thing you do once you have set your goals. It doesn’t matter how great the programme or how good the intentions are, if you can’t measure how far you’ve come from a week ago, a month ago or even a year ago, how will you know where you are today?

Tracking, journaling, recording or whatever else you want to call it can help you measure progress, give focus, motivate and help stay organised. This can apply to more than just an exercise log.

Your Body – The scales are the worst way to measure body progress for most people. Hopefully if you are reading this, then you know how important some form of strength training is to EVERYONE. This means that you will be building muscle and muscle occupies less space than fat and a lb of muscle will burn more calories than a 1lb of fat as it’s more metabolically demanding. This means that you will burn far more calories day to day if you utilise part of your training regimen to build muscle. However it also means that the scales could stay the same or even go up slightly in the beginning. But don’t panic! Because muscle occupies less space you will look smaller and more athletic. So the best way to track body progress is through the 3 methods below.

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–          Take Photos: In shorts or something like a bikini for ladies. Take one from the front, side and back using a mirror or friend/family member. You don’t have to show anyone, just take them and keep them safe. Every 2-4 weeks, take the same photos in the same place with the same light and roughly at the same time. Your body can be affected by many factors, so replicating the same scenario will give you the best comparable results.

–          Measurements: Remember we said the scales could stay the same or go up but you could get smaller? Measuring certain areas on the body can give you black and white evidence of this progress taking place. Measure every 2-4 weeks at the same spot on the body and note it all down. You can measure neck, shoulders, chest, biceps, waist, hips and thighs. This also works for those trying to gain mass too.

–          Body Fat %: A little bit more of a challenge to measure but again a great way to how progress. If you are building muscle, you will burn more calories at rest and thus lose body fat. You will look good in the mirror and body fat % will decrease. Get a professional to do it for you using callipers or better yet, ultrasound. Do not use those funky machines you get in shopping centres as they are not accurate.

Food – Pretty much all studies on calorie intake show that we always underestimate or under report how many calories we eat day to day. Add to that the fundamental principle we need to adhere to is calories in vs calories out, you can see why some people’s weight loss goals can become a struggle. First thing to do is figure out how many calories per day your body needs at rest, also known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This tells you how many calories your body burns each day just to function. From there you can use the Harris-Benedict formula to find out how many calories your body needs when activity level is taken into account, so by the end you will have a number that tells you how many calories your body needs to MAINTAIN current weight.

From there you can then hit this number each day if you’re already happy with where you are or add/subtract depending on goals. Start conservatively at first, adding or subtracting 200-300 calories from your original number. Adjust as required with the aim of losing/gaining 1-2lb per week. Any more and I would say you’ve added/subtracted too much.

This is where tracking comes in. Record everything you eat AND drink each day for 5-7 days. How do the calories match up? If they aren’t where they need to be then your weight loss/gain goals won’t be where they need to be, it’s that simple. Yes food quality is important, but if you first haven’t addressed calories in vs calories out it won’t matter!

Once you have developed a routine you can keep tracking if you feel it helps or just stick to the routine so you know exactly what you are eating day to day. It doesn’t need to be a chore and apps like My Fitness Pal are great for doing all of the above for you and having it on your phone means there’s no excuse for not recording. You don’t need to starve yourself, cut out carbs or top eating the nice foods. Just adhere to calories in vs calories out and get 80% of your food from good whole sources and you’re set!

Workouts – It’s frustrating how many people I know who don’t track their workouts. There are two simple principles we must adhere to if we want to progress in exercise. They are progressive overload and use of volume. For the body to adapt it needs to be challenged to force adaptation. That means more weight on the bar, less rest, more reps, move further or work out longer. However this should be done in a progressive manner such as adding a couple of kg on the bar each week or running an extra 5mins each week allowing the body to adapt at a rate where recovery is maximised and injury risk reduced. How will you know what you need to do today if you don’t know what you did yesterday or even last week?
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If you squatted 100kg for 3 sets of 5 reps last week then you should be aiming for 102.5 or 105kg this week. If that’s not possible you could do 100kg for 3 sets of 6 reps or 4 sets of 3 reps, all are a step forward from the week before. Once simply adding weight to the bar or running further becomes too difficult or you hit a plateau, you then need to look at volume of training. However if you’re not logging your sessions how will you know when you hit such a plateau? Volume basically means you will need to do more within a given session to keep forcing adaptation. This could be more reps and sets, or it could even be doing 2 runs spread over the day. Tracking workouts means progress, but it also gives you focus and direction each session. You know exactly what you have to do and it will save you time in the gym. Again there are plenty of apps and programs for this or you could use my favourite, the trusty notebook and pen.

Recording and tracking progress cannot be underestimated and is vital for all health and fitness goals. It doesn’t need to be complicated or complex, it just needs to show you and drive you to be better than you were yesterday.

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