Moving Beautifully Through 2021: Interesting Exercises You Might Enjoy*
Almost every ailment can be improved through movement and exercise. Movement truly is medicine. In that spirit, I work out almost every day. Not because I’m sporty, but because my life is significantly better if I do. I know some people find motivation very difficult – but for me, I feel so terrible if I don’t do some form of exercise every day, that that is motivation enough.
Having said that, I don’t like to suffer – so I try and find interesting exercises that I find fun and give me returns. In this post, I list a few of the exercises that I really enjoy – some I’ve been doing for years – others are relatively new to me. Some cost almost nothing and some are expensive.
The truth is that you don’t need to spend any money at all to be fit and healthy. Walking, the best exercise of them all, is free - as is body weight training. However, if you’re interested in reading about exercises that you might not have come across before, then read on! If you missed my first post on interesting exercises to try, you can read it here.
[Disclosure: Heroic Sport provided me with a 50% discount when purchasing their Karlakattai thick grip club. All previous purchases from Heroic Sport, I've made with my own money.]
Karlakattai is a strength training system, using various swinging movements with a large, heavy wooden club. Karlakattai training originated thousands of years ago with the Tamil people in southern India and Sri Lanka. It was used by soldiers to prepare for battle and started with the famous warrior, Buhta Gana, and his army, Karalan.
According to legend, the Karalan are said to have uprooted trees to use as training clubs. Can you imagine what an intimidating sight that would have been? Today, more prosaic tools are used – such as the hand turned club that I use - see the pic below.
I love training with clubs, there is something very primal about it. It makes you feel powerful and strong. If you’ve never felt powerful and strong, then I would really encourage you to start training with clubs.
Karlakattai is not for beginniners. Start with Indian Clubs – training regularly for at least one year, then include karlakattai training. I am quite conservative when it comes to safety – so you need to make your own decisions – but for me, there's no hurry. We aren’t preparing for an imminent war (hopefully).
I was going to make a video of my karlakattai training but I thought I'd spare you and use this one - though Adah is using two clubs.
I take karlakattai training a lot slower than even safety conscious Thierry Sanchez of Heroic Sport recommends. The club I have is hollow and I recommend it over all others – it means you can progress slowly by filling it with gravel/sand/dried beans – whenever you want to increase the weight. If you buy a solid one, you will be tempted to use it even if you're not yet strong enough for that weight.
I start slowly by learning each new movement with just my hands, then I practice the new movement using my palavandle Indian clubs – it’s only then do I SLOWLY start to use the karlakattai – empty at first. Heroic Sport have some fantastic free training videos that you can learn from. Here's the first in the series that I follow.
You are your own best personal trainer, so take it slowly and if anything hurts, don't do it. The reason I am particularly cautious is that you can injure yourself quite badly with karlakattai - so humility is a very important tool in your training kit. Here is a training video that I like to think looks the way Karlakattai training must have looked many thousands of years ago.
If you're sensible and careful, then the payoff is strength, mobility and, best of all, fun. For the geeks out there, you can pretend you are a warrior – wielding the reforged sword of Isildur!
A slack line is a length of nylon webbing, around 5 cm wide, that has been anchored between two points. People walk across the slack line - either using their own balance or using ski poles to help with balance. It takes a little practice, but eventually, you can do away with the poles and walk across the line using just your arms for balance. There are many spectacular videos showing people slacklining across various spectacular canyons, etc. Here is a beautiful video showing slacklining in the Hawaiian jungle.
Slacklining by mere mortals looks more like this!
Slacklining is fantastic for your balance - but it also engages the core muscles in a way that you don’t even notice. Beginnings will feel their core muscles ache the next day even after only 10 minutes of slack lining. Many people of my age, don't like slack lining because the word "slack" triggers all sorts of outraged reactions - those people probably have weak core muscles ;-)
I train using a slack line most days and it's by far the best fun way I've found to exercise my core muscles.
Scapular Pull Ups
Most people on the planet will never do a pull-up. Successfully completing a real pull up – from a still, fully extended arm hang – is something that requires a much greater degree of fitness, health, mobility and conditioning than is generally realised.
Even just hanging from a bar can be a challenge and shouldn’t be attempted without a proper warm up. There is, however, one exercise that gives many of the benefits of the pull-up, including the sense of achievement, that is achievable by most people – and that is the scapular pull up.
A scapular pull-up is simple. Fully hang from a bar, then, while hanging and keeping your arms straight, raise yourself up with your back muscles – essentially, it feels like correcting your posture – straightening your shoulders- while hanging. Here is good example by Megan Callaway.
A few years ago, we had a bar installed in our back garden (for the cost of a few months of gym membership), so scapular pull ups are a regular feature of my training.
A few scapular pull ups throughout the day will make you stronger and takes almost no time at all. Scapular pull ups are a brilliant antidote to the hunched posture that we’ve all adopted in our home offices over the past year!
Core strength is important – the older we get, the more important it becomes. The loss of core strength is quite devastating and in extreme cases, can result in your being unable to sit up for any period of time.
The best core strength exercise is the plank. I hate the plank. So I spend some time investigating core exercises that are fun to do. That’s how I came across the Feet- Up trainer. The Feet-Up trainer is a tool for yoga enthusiasts to quickly and safely teach people to do inverted poses – headstands, that sort of thing.
I know that some yoga teachers have criticised the Feet-Up trainer as a lazy way to do the poses – the best and safest way being to learn them from scratch.
As I’m not doing the Feet-Up trainer for yoga purposes, I can ignore this worry. Here is the Feet-Up video.
Once you’re upside down – you can really feel all the micro muscle movements that are happening to keep you in balance - working your core in a really fun way.
Here is my high tech, expensive option – yet still cheaper than a year's gym membership. We know that strength training is vital, especially as we get older. Strength training doesn’t have to be weights at the gym – in fact – I would argue that the weight machines at the gym do more harm than good – creating unnatural imbalance in your musculature. One of the best exercises for leg strength is the plain old body weight squat.
Only, it's so boring! If only there was a way to do squats that is super fun! Enter the new Occulus Quest 2 Virtual Reality Headset paired with the game Beat Saber. Rather than describe it - here’s a short video.
If you make a conscious effort to have a good squat stance and then squat properly whenever necessary – you will have done a hugely effective squatting workout after only 10 minutes. You won't even notice you've done it! Learn to squat safely and then do a form check after each Beat Saber song to make sure you body stays in the correct alignment!
I care about your safety! If you are thinking about doing any of the exercises I recommend, please read the safety warnings below.
*This article is for entertainment and education purposes only. Before starting any new exercises or exercise programme, you should consult your doctor. You should not rely on this article as a substitute for professional personal training advice and this article does not replace a personal trainer. If you want to try any of the exercises and/or equipment I list above, you need to contact a personal trainer qualified in that exercise in addition to checking with your doctor that you are physically safe to do so.
**Slack lining creates extreme loads and requires extremely strong anchor points. Before trying slack lining you will need to do your own research to understand anchor points and general safety. Failure of an anchor point can lead to serious injury.
***The Feet-Up trainer should not be used by anybody who is at risk of ,or suffers from, glaucoma, stroke or who should avoid build up of pressure in the head.
****Beat Saber. A very small percentage of individuals may experience photosensitivity, epileptic seizures or blackouts when exposed to the light patterns and flashing lights in Beat Saber. Beat Saber may trigger previously undetected epileptic symptoms or seizures in persons who have no history of prior seizures or epilepsy. If you, or anyone in your family has an epileptic condition or has had seizures of any kind, consult your doctor before playing.