we write about the things we build and the things we consume
Emils Solmanis

going commando

I mentioned in my "year in review 2015" that I'd finally started sorting my health out. Running was all fine and good, but I always knew it was gonna be a stepping stone. I needed to get at least some semblance of cardio back, and that was the most effective way to do that.

As of three months ago, I've started doing strength training. Running is still in the picture, but mostly just as additional cardio at this point.

y tho?

Pretty much for the glory of Satan.

Well that, and

  1. it connects with my love of numbers. It's pretty obvious what you can lift.
  2. it's pretty damn fun, if you don't go strictly academic about it.
  3. because it makes you more resilient, less prone to the damage an average office job inflicts on your body, and basically, to quote Oscar completely out of context, "the best way to not injure your lower back is to have a really strong lower back".
  4. and ultimately to keep the all other well proven benefits of exercise, like increased cognitive function, better mental health, lower stress, etc.

In practice the last point means not being out of breath after climbing six flights of stairs and not feeling completely out of juice after an 8 hour day at work. Conditioning yourself to overcome physical obstacles on a regular basis does wonders for how long you last doing mental work as well, and after a full day at the office you don't just want to plop yourself on the couch any more.

With all that, it was time to find a gym.

picking a gym (no, not a pokemon one)

Given the fitness train is going full steam, London is full of gyms. I have probably around 5-8 decent ones within a 10 minute bike ride from my house, most of them chains. Now, there's nothing wrong with chains, but I'm a bit of a different animal. I usually enjoy being thrown into the deepest end of the pool and then figuring out how things work myself. I also absolutely believe in learning by osmosis. The same way that a man is known by the company he keeps, I think if you want to learn something, surround yourself with the best people you can possibly find.

All this ultimately led me to The Commando Temple. It seemed like a no-nonsense place that wouldn't have (or tolerate) bro culture, plus, it's indie, and it's always nice to support your smaller local shops 😉. On top of all that, between the coaches and community that trains there, they hold more than i-don't-even-know-any-more world and British records, and, no, it's not that big a community. It was pretty obvious I'd found what I wanted because it sounded kinda scary.

So I signed up.

the road so far

I never thought I was that useless, but it all became fairly obvious when we did my intro with Paul. I could barely get a 30-something kilo Atlas stone off the ground, but managed to somehow get it onto my shoulder. Bit embarrassing, but, hey, that's why I went there. Clearly I had things to learn.

I signed up for some classes with Rob, Mayyah, Paul and Oscar, and Fitsz. You know what happens when you go to a gym and absolutely don't know how to deadlift? You get to put the bar down and out comes the broom stick, and you practise just the movement itself with no weights. It feels really silly, but considering that injuries will, at best, put you out of training for a couple of weeks, it's well worth doing it all right.

Over the next couple of weeks I decided I'd focus on strongman and powerlifting, for no particular reason other than that I liked both, and they balance nicely in my head. The powerlifting is much more technical and structured, and the strongman stuff is just plain chaotic fun — pick some heavy stuff up, maybe carry it around, and put it down. There are things like log pressing, Atlas stones, keg carries, farmer's walks, Conan's wheel, tyre flips, circus dumbbells, loaded carries (with sandbags) and lots more I can't possibly remember right now. Many of these require learning some technique or another, but most are pretty straight forward and fun.

Because I choose to do much of it as part of group classes, I also get to meet some new people and make some friends, and I've found so far that having that community definitely helps keep you on track and coming back, and because almost everyone is more experienced than you, you might learn a thing or two along the way as well.

Three months in, I've learnt to use most of the strongman kit, learnt some powerlifting (to a degree, OK, Paul, I know I'm not even close to perfect!), grown some muscle on my stick figure runner's frame, and figured out which kit I like more and which less.

I've had various more specific bits of knowledge dropped on me and seen them work in practice, like

  • the fact that lifting stuff is fine and all, but pretty useless without mobility, so stretching becomes important. This is probably the one that surprised me the most in how effective it was. Long story short, it's pretty hard to engage your muscles if your starting position feels uncomfortable.
  • how things connect together even if they seem unrelated. As the weight goes up, you start having trouble maintaining position during deadlifts, and no amount of bracing is going to help you if your core is shit.
  • speaking of core, I've learnt that at least one of the 90s infomercial gimmicky shake-weight type of things actually works, and it's the ab roller. To quote Oscar again: "there's a reason it never got that popular — this one's actually hard".
  • that foam rollers and other similar widgets are worth their size in gold

For the record, of the kit, Atlas stones are my true love right now. Let's see if I ever truly get bored of those.

moving on

Before I set out on this journey, I obsessed over whether I really want to do this for ages, probably about 6 months, because I'm incredibly stubborn when it comes to quitting something I voluntarily started, so I wanted to be absolutely sure I want to do this so I don't make myself miserable.

I've been a Templar for 3 months now, and there have definitely been some sessions where I've thought I'd rather be back at home, in bed, with Netflix and a cup of coffee, but then there are moments that make it worthwhile and keep you going. The ones where you completely surprise yourself, beat a personal best by some stupid margin because you just haven't tried that particular thing in a while and you've just become so much stronger. I have two of those by now.

The first one is flipping the 350 kg tyre solo, when we usually do it in pairs or triples. I never thought I'd be able to, and then I tried anyway. It came off the ground, I probably had a massive "OMGWTFHAO!?" face, and it just went over, and that was it. I don't think I fully believed it until I did it a couple more times after just to make sure.

The second one was during keg carries a week or two ago. I'd worked the 50 kg before…

…but that had been a month or more prior. So we pulled out the kegs, lined them up, I knew I wouldn't be doing the 50 any more, so I tried the 65 kg, and the only thought was "what the hell? this is way too light". I put it down, double checked that it was indeed the 65, and went for the 80. That was way harder, but I did do the 5 or so full laps that we were doing with it without dropping it, so that was definitely a victory there.

I think an alternative remake of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them might just focus on this place, and the answer would really be "Deptford, Monday evenings and Thursday and Saturday mornings".

So come join us, or let us know in the comments what silly masochistic shenanigans you've been up to lately!

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