22 Feb 2012

The Trail we blaze for ourselves

Today I had two training sessions at the gym, one with one of the floor instructors and the other with Ben. The first session was pretty good, with initial plan being to concentrate on medium weights and focus on the form, and with a bit of pulsing thrown in to spice things up a tad. The second was with Ben, one of the personal trainers and one of my buddies. Admittedly, it started innocent enough. However, please be assured that innocence doesn't last long with Ben, as Ben trains hard. 

But, like I said, it started innocently enough.

You see, he got me out off my chair today and had me on the mat doing stuff; such as crawling, some crunches and even a few sit ups. I know that for many of you that ain't much of a big deal, but for me it was like stepping out of a comfort zone. You see, while I'm on my wheelchair, I feel in control. Heck, I am in control. I am also more or less on the same level as everyone else. I can transfer from 'chair to bed, 'chair to couch and from the 'chair to the car and visa versa with little or no assistance, which is a good skill to have as that means no one does any lifting of me. Me getting on the floor, and onto a mat. Well, for me it was akin to impersonating a beached whale or one of them lazying sea lions and seals I see occasionally on the beach. 

At least that's how I constantly saw myself, and avoided being on the floor in public. Besides, it also meant I needed help to get back up, and you can only imagine how many excuses I came up as to why I shouldn't be on the floor.

And yet, there I was on the floor, and doing stuff on the mat.

Ben had me crawling from one end of the mat to the other, backwards and forwards, army style. Seriously, made me slow down and concentrate on form and the like. I reckon that in due time I could stealthily crawl up and sneak up on someone, and scare the heck out of them. Yeap, definitely see myself doing it! In addition to that, the crunchies and sit-ups, Ben organised two boxes. One big one, and another medium sized one. Think of steps really. The goal here was for me to make my way up onto them, and sit up. Well, I gave it my best. The hardest was trying to get my legs to cooperate, but I managed to "flop" (seriously, it was an honest good looking flop too! :-P) my left leg over the right one, and turn around while holding all my weight on my arms. I completely turned, and then started to bend my right knee and transfer some of my weight onto it while I endeavoured to straighten my arms out and support myself with my hands. I put everything, but my right knee buckled and went numb on me. I tried to move up, but nothing. My leg wasn't budging, it didn't want to hold. No amount of verbal abuse from myself or determination could make me go any further. But you know what, somewhere around there I realised that I crossed that line. I achieved something.

Yes, I may have not gotten all the way up to the bigger box, but I achieved far more physical movement in that one exercise than any other time since the doctors gave me a motorised wheelchair when I came to New Zealand when I was like seven or eight. Not only that, I did it. I ignored my "physical limitations" and focused on what I could do, and I could do far more then I thought I could do. It was the most refreshing and emotionally charged realisation that I have ever experienced, and the fact that I pushed beyond what I thought I could do only made me want more.

I want more. Really, I do.

I want to do this, my original goal of competiting in wheelchair bodybuilding.

I want to make my way up that step. Heck, even a flight of the darn things, and I want to stand for as long as I can. I want to walk, run, jump and do what everyone else around me at the gym takes for granted.

I know that it will be a hard journey, and that my body will probably cave in now and then, but it's just a matter of working at it. Just got to do it, improve on what I can and do better next time.

And I will kick some major butt along the way, mine predominantly, but it'll be kicking butt nonetheless. I will do so because I have the likes of Ben, my personal trainer Cody, my family and friends at my side and supporting me through thick and thin. 

I'll leave you with this awesome song by Sir Elton John...

13 Feb 2012

Applying Tabata Protocol to Fitness Training

With the previous week nothing more but a not so distant memory, I am looking forward to getting my butt kicked at the gym this time round.  Between the gym instructors, my personal trainer and one of my mates helping me, I will be doing a grand total of six and a half hours of fitness this week.  Considering I ended last week's cycle of training with heavy weights while doing Tabata-styled reps for my single cable flies and pull downs, I'm looking forward to seeing how far I can push my physical boundaries this week. 

Hopefully soon I'll be adding pics of me training, but need to figure out the camera thingy on my latest cellphone. 

In the interim, let me talk about my latest love affair:  Tabata Training.

It's a form of interval training and one of the most effective types of high intensity interval training.  Short and sweet, lasting around for minutes per exercise, the programme gives you maximum results at the shortest time possible.  This training technique was discovered by Dr Izumi Tabata, along with a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo.  Ideal for aerobic training, the technique helps in building up muscular endurance in the same manner as a 45-minute cardio workout.  Studies indicate that people who used this technique increased their anaerobic capacity by over a quarter as well a substantial increase in their aerobic fitness.  It's versatile too, as you can use Tabata for weight loss as well most improving performance in most aerobic and anaerobic sport.

This is what Dr Tabata had to say about his technique:
During my time working with the Japanese speed skating team, the head coach, Mr. Irisawa Koichi, had me analyze the effectiveness of his training regime that involved a rotation of short burst of maximum effort followed by short periods of rest. Although Coach Irisawa pioneered the idea, somehow it became named after me (laughs). The current regime consists of repetitions of 20 seconds of intense work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This means that, excluding warming up and cooling down, the exercise can be completed in only 4 minutes if repeated 8 times, more than enough to make even a fit person exhausted. The idea has become bigger than I imagined and now if you search this on Google, you will get about 200,000 hits.

In general there were two types of exercises, low-intensity exercises for longer periods of time that improved endurance, and exercises such as sprints that improve your ability to sprint, but have no effect on aerobics or endurance. In contrast, the Tabata Protocol draws on the advantages of each.
 Sourced from Ritsumeikan University

I use it as part of my weight training and cardio work, where I push hard and practically go nuts for twenty seconds and rest for ten, only to repeat it eight times.  And yes, it all adds up to a simple four minutes.  Having said that, it's the longest four minutes. 

When you do it, it feels like time stands still.  The bestest best part about it is that you could do it anywhere, at home or in your office during morning tea or lunch break.  If you want to do it, regardless if you're on a wheelchair or flat on your back in bed or wherever, I would suggest squats, leg raises, sit-ups, crunches or push-ups.  If you have weights nearby, I would suggest going light and work up until you find your limit.  Then again, don't be surprised if you'll end up doing more then you thought possible.  The secret to making this effective is in your sprint interval. You have to go all out, give yourself no quarter, so do as many reps as you can in the 20 seconds, put it down for 10, then pick it up again and go for broke for another 20 seconds.

4 Feb 2012

The importance of having a support network

It's just on nine o'clock on Saturday morning here in Dunedin, New Zealand, and I've been awake for two hours already.  With a second coffee within reach, it has been a perfect opportunity to just let my mind wonder about some ideas that had been jumbling about the last couple of days.  One such idea was the importance of a support network around us, and how much my own support network has helped me throughout the years and my relationship with it.

Now, for those of you in the field of community social service provision and education would have come across Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Model.  You know the one, with the micro, macro, meso circles and so forth.  To explain it, I stumbled across this youtube video that explains it in two minutes flat:

You see, Bronfenbrenner essentially linked networking as an important element of human development and that each of the systems within the model influences one another either directly or not so.  Admittedly, ever since my first year at the University of Otago's social work department (with a few papers thrown in
Diagram Courtesy of http://reginaldwilliams.blogspot.com/2007_04_24_archive.html
from Education and Psychology), this model had helped me make a lot of sense of how the other theories and practice models interacted between the individual and society.  But I am distracting myself, so let me get back on course to what's been bouncing around in my head the last few days.  The illustration shows you the three main systems within the model.  I would like to ignore the Macrosystem for now, and concentrate on the Micro and Exo systems.

From the illustration, you can see that the Microsystem encircles the individual's family, friends, religious setting and the classroom, along with what roles that individual plays (such as parent, sibling, offspring, et cetera), and how they perceive themselves (and more importantly, how the individual perceives how others around them see them as).  In turn, the Exosystem in the illustration links between the social setting in which the individual does not have an active role and the individuals immediate context.  It is there that the professionals reside, such as your employer, personal trainers, social workers, care givers, doctors, police officers, teachers and so forth.

From personal experience both systems are important, and contribute to what I like to refer as the Formal and Informal Network of Supports. The Formal Network of Support is pretty explanatory, it's the professionals that represent the organisations, agencies and community groups we involve ourselves in day to day - essentially the Exosystem as illustrated above. The Informal Network of Support being your family, friends and ordinary people that we come in contact every day.  While I will be the first to admit that I wouldn't have gotten this far without accessing the right avenues within the Formal Network of Support, I would also like to stress that I wouldn't have made it if it weren't for the Informal Network of Support:  My friends in other words, and family.

The general rule of thumb is that friends come and go, like passing ships in the night, and that family will be always there.  I definitely agree about the family part, as the love and support and encouragement I have received from my parents, older brother and aunts, uncles and cousins from every corner of the globe.  Friends, well . . . I disagree.  Acquaintances come and go, but friends stay for life.  I like to think that part of my successes are owed to my friends and family, whether they are here in Dunedin, up north in Auckland, Christchurch, in the States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, South Africa and Poland.  Whether in person or online, they have been there to cheer me on and encourage me to get back up when I fell flat on my face. 

Friends and family, my happily labeled Informal Network of Support is the key to any success.  Cherish them, and nurture your relationships with your family, loved ones and friends because with them at your side you cannot go wrong.

2 Feb 2012

Got the body for it

One of the coolest things about any fitness programme is seeing your body change.

Below are pictures of my torso, check them out:

Yeap, that's my front. I like to think that I'm just solidly built, considering the back:

Have no idea what these bumps are, both have been there since I was born. Finally, the right side:

Ok, I'll be the first to admit that I have a few extra kilograms that need to be turned into muscle.  Having said that, I have been sitting when the photos were taken.

Hopefully in a couple of months we'll see change.

31 Jan 2012

Push ups!

Today was one of those days where I woke up feeling as if I got up on the wrong side of the universe, the morning routine just was a full on blah, and not even the antics on the radio brought much enthusiasm.  Turning up to the gym I really hoped that this would change, considering my personal trainer had written up a pretty good workout programme to do throughout this week.  That and Ben, the gym instructor on duty, is a rock solid enthusiast where training hard is concerned.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm just didn't want to assert itself. I put it down on the exercises that I started of with, Leg Extensions (where the strap is wrapped around my ankle and then attached to the cable machine, and I do a "kick" of sorts with the added resistance of a few weights, like 15kg).  The exercise is an old one, first thought up when I started going to the gym just over ten years ago, and admittedly not my favourite.  The fact that I did 40 reps with 15kg adding to the resistance factor.  Neither did the second exercise brought about any happy feelings, just outright indifference.

Then Ben suggested we have a bit of a play. By playing I mean experimenting with new ways I could train, and I opted to do push ups. Okay, I can see that you're wondering what the heck I mean by doing push ups, considering that it's a horizontal exercise and here I am sitting on a motorised wheelchair?  Well, there is a way.  Placing a knee high box in front of me, and moving the chair back roughly a half meter back and sitting forward.  This then follows with me leaning forward, and supporting myself with the front part of my hands (though I just read that it's your backhand while the palm is your front).  With myself in position, I mimicked the a prone position by raising and lowering the body using the arms. 

Got to love wikipedia for a quick reference to what is what, and where.  Where was this fine online creation when I was in high school?  But anyway, I degress.  I did three sets of eight reps, and in the process had even come off my chair and stood (and I wasn't even aware that I was doing it!).  The end result was that my indifferent meh was replaced with a feeling of accomplishment, as this was the first time I ever did proper push ups.  
Primary muscles used:
Secondary muscles (synergists or stabilizers) used:

Introduction: Life is not meant to be traveled backwards

The other day I came across the following quote “Don’t waste your time looking back on what you’ve lost. Move on, for life is not meant to be traveled backwards” on the social network site Facebook. It struck a cord with me, as the last few months I've been doubting myself, and second guessing everything; from my attempt in writing fiction, to where I’m going with my life. For the briefest of moments I was tempted to throw in the towel, pack my toys and become that “poor little cripple” that society expected of someone like me.

After all, I have felt like I’ve hit a brick wall after a decade of tertiary study, where the next step of being gainfully employed seemed to have eluded me since even before graduating with a Masters in Social and Community Work. It just stalled. Regardless how many job applications I sent out locally, nationally and even far afield as Australia and the United Kingdom, and how many avenues# I approached to gain employment, it just never eventuated.

For a while I started wondering if it was me that’s unemployable. Maybe I had a sucky personality?

Or maybe, just maybe, I looked funny or had bad body odour?

Okay, I understand that we’re experiencing a bit of a economic topsy-tervy, and that jobs are scarce. But I had a social work degree, and a Masters to boot, for crying out loud. Not only that, people were telling me that I’ll be snatched up like nobody’s business by every social service provider. Figuring that this would be the case, I endeavoured to network with fellow graduates and veteran practitioners alike. Then I graduated in May of 2010 and things just -- well -- they just came to a grinding halt.

The truth is, it wasn’t just me in this situation. I knew of another disabled person who had graduated with a teaching degree, and she too found things come to a grinding halt.

Oddly enough, she went through the same questioning cycle of self doubt. The truth however is different. It wasn’t because of me that I couldn’t find a job, and still can’t by yesterday’s letter all the way from Auckland telling me that despite being thoroughly impressed with my resume they’ll be hiring someone else. It is just the luck of the draw. Some of us get the job, and others don’t. Add to it all that other stuff, like the Recession and peoples kneejerk reactions to seeing a person with a disability, and you’ve got yourself a nice recipe for remaining unemployed.

Admittedly, that can suck big time, as being gainfully employed meant being a contributing member of society and the like. In turn, being the opposite meant you were a useless twat with a lazy bone the length of the Mississippi River. That is how I felt society view the two. Besides, it’s not as if  I was unwilling to work. I was. Am still, honest. Really I am. Okay, it may require a little bit of creative thinking on how to have me answer the phone, but technology has advanced so much that a solution to the “how” would be easily found.

Then I started thinking that I ought to retrain, as I wasn’t obviously cut out for social work, regardless to what I have been told. Maybe I should’ve been an electrical engineer like my parents, or an accountant turned business mogul like my brother. Clown college unfortunately has no campus in Dunedin, but I did see several in America after googling it one day. For a while, I even contemplated becoming a counselor. Still might down the line, but it won’t be via a university qualification. Then again, one shouldn’t really say they won’t do something, as it tends to be a self fulfilling prophesy. So let me amend: becoming a counselor via means of a university qualification is one possible path to take.

For a while I wanted to go elsewhere. Anywhere was good, as long as there will be an opportunity of employment and the hurdles present would be not so much. Australia seemed like a good place to go to, and I had friends there too to boot who would help me out. Family too. Then there was the idea of going to England, as have friends and family there. Ditto for South Africa.

But then I came to accept that running off to all those places wouldn’t solve anything. Oh, for sure there would be the whole novelty of moving to another place going on, and there’ll be the welcome distraction of getting to know my new surroundings, get to know people and all that jazz. Thing is, the idea of moving would be akin to applying a band aide of sorts to my problem, a temporary fix at best. Who is to say I would have ended up in a worse off situation. No, there was no point in running away. It was time to face things.

Correction, it is time to face it.

Dragoon Liberator and other projects in development stages

As I started out on my writing journey, many, many eons ago, I focused on shorter works. Gradually, I moved to longer pieces and had come ...