Thursday, September 26, 2013


Now, where were we? Ah yes, in the middle of a countdown. Last week was spent delving into the respective merits and demerits of two rather popular training methods for those looking for ways to become fit and fabulous. We are looking for methods that not only pump the body with feel good endorphins and sculpt it in pursuit of our own aesthetic ideals but also make us healthier and stronger…

This week we take the countdown further and start the ball, or rather in this case, the bell, rolling with the system that’s number eight on the list…

This one’s an old favourite. The sheer simplicity of this method and its effectiveness in terms of quickly sculpting the body and building strength makes it one of the most valuable training methods especially for those who are constantly on the move and haven’t the time or the opportunities of visiting a gymnasium. They call it isometrics…

It’s a forgotten jewel in the pantheon of physical culture. Once a rage, no one tries it anymore. Worse, no one seems to believe in it either. That’s rather sad if you ask me for a lot of fitness enthusiasts don’t know what they are missing.

Consisting of host of techniques which basically involve the muscles pushing against an immoveable resistance, one can work the whole body within half an hour. Research claims suggest that isometrics is also one of the quickest methods for building strength within a certain range of motion and definitely the best for sculpting the muscles in a hurry. As for the naysayers, let me remind them of a man called Alexander Zass.

Once a circus strongman, Zass fought against the Austrians in the first World War and was captured while attempting to escape while carrying his injured horse on his back. Put into jail with his arms and legs in shackles, Zass exercised his muscles everyday by pushing and pulling against his chains. This kind of training, imposed upon him by his constrained circumstances, pushed his strength levels through the stratosphere. The prisoner managed to eventually break his chains, bent the bars of his cell and escaped to freedom. Isometric training was also the reason behind the legendary Bruce Lee’s amazing strength. Both Zass and Lee were small in stature but their strength surpassed that of many much larger men.

Then why does it figure so low in the list? Well that is because isometrics only build strength through a partial range of motion, and it does not teach the body the mysteries of leverage. That is why, though phenomenally strong, and perhaps even stronger than the greatest weight lifters of his time, by his own admission Zass might not have been able to match their weight lifting feats.

More significantly for you and me and others like us who are just looking for a method to help us improve our quality of life, our levels of fitness and our generally sagging popularity ratings, isometrics do little to improve cardiovascular fitness. Blood circulation definitely benefits from a regimen of isometrics but incorrect breathing can adversely affect blood pressure.

Thus, though excellent for building strength and tone, even and especially in the elderly, isometric training figures where it does on the list because of its inherent limitations as a method for comprehensive physical development as well as for the rather serious risk associated with incorrect training methods.

Next on the list, is an ancient Indian in its modern avatar – the clubbell!

Clubbell training’s origins are a little obscure. The mace or club is perhaps the most ancient weapon known to man. Early humans would have dragged around bowling pin shaped clubs when out hunting or during tribal wars. Later the club became the weapon of choice for the biggest and strongest soldiers in ancient armies. Even today, tribal warriors from the Maasai to the Maori carry clubs to signify their warrior ranks and have been used by these cultures as weapons of war as much as in hunts.

But the credit for using the ancient club as a training tool must go to the pehelwans of ancient India and Persia. Some sources suggest that the pehelwani culture and the club was introduced by Mid eastern invaders or the Mughals. However that cannot explain India’s own wrestling heritage that flows like the Indus, from the times of the Mahabharata and beyond, and east to west. 

It is no coincidence that most of India’s mythological strong men, like Hanuman and Bheem have not only been accomplished wrestlers but also wielders of the mace or club. Of course, the fact remains that the cultures of ancient India and Persia, shared a common border in those days and a fair degree of cultural fusion and exchange must have taken place.

Wrestling is a tradition for Indians and Iranians today. Traditionally, they have always done the same exercises and practiced similar techniques and have always been regional and even global superpowers in the traditional mud/pit versions of the sport. So what has been their secret?

Well, if you were to believe a rather loud mouthed septuagenarian Iranian living in Georgia, USA, Iranian and Indian wrestlers owe their edge to the ancient practice of club swinging. Hossein khosrow Ali Vaziri, a professional wrestling champion from the 80s who wrestled with the likes of Hulk Hogan would oft en bring his clubs to the ring and challenge fellow wrestlers and fans to try their hand at swinging the behemoths. Needless to say, few could lift and none could match Hossein’s numbers.

That was the modern west’s introduction to the old clubbell. Today, from the akhadas of India to the sambo clubs of Russia and right up to celebrity trainers in Hollywood, everyone is using the Indian club as it is called now, to strengthen and tone their bodies.

Martial artists and grapplers love swinging the club because there perhaps isn’t another exercise in the world that is better for building grip strength. Secondly, club training adds a muscular fluidity that is tough to replicate through conventional weight training. And it’s fun, which is why it is standing on the cusp of becoming the next ‘hot new workout of the season’. Women love clubbell training for it tones all the little muscles of the upper body and can be used for both cardiovascular training as well as heavy strength training.

Lastly, Mensa member Scott Sonnon, the man who ‘reintroduced’ the West to clubbells has emphasized the unique manner in which training with a club activates muscle function, strengthens tendons and ligaments and heals battered joints. With so much going for it, you would wonder why the oldest implement in the list isn’t also the most relevant…

Hmmm, I thought long and hard about this one. For all its virtues, clubbells should figure at the very top of the list. And it would have too, but for one glaring omission – the lower body.

Clubbell enthusiasts would insist that few training tools work the core like clubs do and while that may be true, the legs are undeniably not equal beneficiaries of a club swinging regimen. True you can do squats while resting the clubbells on your shoulders but in a static state, it is just dead weight and has none of the dynamic and ballistic benefits that the upper body enjoys.

Isn’t that the reason why the undefeated wrestling champion of the world, the Great Gama would routinely do squats with a heavy cement ring placed around his neck even though he was amongst the best club swingers of his time.

So there you have it… two methods that are unique and less known than most others and are yet brilliant at what they do best. A complete workout? Perhaps not. But do they have a place in most people’s lives as a supplementary training component, for example isometrics are great if you are travelling when combined with a run. Clubbells are a great anyway and perhaps the best when it comes to upper body training. If you could just add pistols and bridges to them, you might not need anything else and have more fun than most gym rats with your workouts.

The list will be back next week. Meanwhile, you tell that mirror that it lies while you keep working hard on the truth. Swing on…


Thursday, September 19, 2013


Remember what they say about teachers and doers? Those who can, do; those who can’t teach… well, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t, so I might as well keep on teaching…

It’s been a while since I lay a wager with my friends that I was going to get a six pack and uncountable extensions on the original date later, I’m still looking for them in them in the mirror, feeling for them under the tee or the shirt and a little layer that keeps swelling up like bread in an oven every time I whittle it down to near nothing.

So I guess I really can’t eh?
But all that searching for the right way, the best way, the quickest way, the surest way and so on, sure gave me a lot of plans to play with.. And while walking the walk has had its own share of hitherto insurmountable hurdles, talking the talk should be a whole lot easier…

So while I’m still running on that treadmill to nowhere ab nauseam, let me give you a quick peek into all that I found and my top tries for getting to good health, super fitness and someday that six pack package… No promises here, let me warn you…

Just my thoughts on what might work best in the long run..

So without further ado, let’s begin with the countdown to the best fitness workouts (according to admittedly an armchair pundit but one who oft en, though not oft en enough, does push-ups on the arms of the very same arm-chair) that could keep you fit and strong even as the metabolism slows down and the years run away before you seem to be able to catch ‘em…

First and therefore last but definitely not the least on this countdown is… put your hands together for the king of strength sport and a favourite with ageing gym rats with testosterone issues and aslopecia… the sport for true blue strength athletes -
At number 10 on the countdown…

I must apologize for my earlier comment about alopecia and testosterone. Who knows, I might be donning those tights and rubbing chalk on what might be by then, my massively thighs, on my way to a record deadlift . And I hope to have issues with neither at the time. A perfectly legitimate way to extreme strength, powerlifting training, the way of the big three, the bench-press, the dead-lift and the squat, is perhaps every human being’s surest path to finding and enhancing the limits of one’s strength potential.

And strength, unlike other athletic components like speed or agility, at least on the basis of anecdotal evidence, seems to be the last to fade. That is why a lot of Masters (above 40) level competitors post numbers not too far away from the big guys in the open category.

Joe Brodski, the 2009 United States record holder in the Masters 60-64 year olds category with a 315 lb lift at 220 lbs bodyweight is living proof that power lift ing has its perks.

“It (powerlifting) keeps my cholesterol and blood pressure down and I’m able to keep up with the kids at work”, says the tough graybeard who is twice as strong as most men half his age.

But while powerlifting is great for sagging muscle bellies, it is a sport that chases an extreme ideal, that of strength and more strength and nothing else and so it has its limitations in terms of enhancing all aspects of ‘fitness’.

And so at number nine, we have close cousin to the big lift sport, and everyone’s usual suspect for picking a path to the six-pack, bis-tris and bubble butt nirvana, the body-building workout at yonder gym.

In theory, workouts inspired by the body-builder’s goal of well defined muscles and a ripped look with low body fat is pretty much an ideal and balanced training plan. The focus is as much on a well rounded diet as it is on strength and cardiovascular training. If practiced in moderation, it is pretty close to what might be the perfect plan.

Seventy-one year old three time Mr. Olympia, Frank Zane, 82 year old five-time Mr Universe, Bill Pearl and 76 year old Masters bodybuilding champion and fitness author are living testimony to the power of weight training done right. For one who knows one’s body and its limitations, this method is as good as the ones at the top of this list.

But what keeps this method at nine on the list is the high degree of caution that one has to exercise because training with weights is a tight rope walk fraught with many dangers where either ego or ignorance could lead one down a path splintered with broken bones, worn out joints, torn ligaments and slipped discs. Added to that are the temptations of over-supplementation, an underground steroid culture and extreme diet plans that oft en sacrifice good health on the altar of vanity.

And so with its baggage of physiological and psychological red zones, body-building workouts, despite their innumerable benefits could climb no higher than number nine on this count down.

Next week, we will explore four more workout plans on this countdown, their virtues and their dangers and the shape of the ideals that one might reflect through bodies dedicated to these plans.

But don’t wait for me folks. Just because my dreams seem to take a while to bake is no reason for you to slacken off … so train on…

Now, where was I…? Ah yes… 1091… 1092… ..1093… phew… so see you.. 1094… at the end of this set..1095..and the week…!


Thursday, September 12, 2013


This one was mahogany red and while I was friends with all the dogs in the area, both pet and stray, this one just wouldn’t want to say hi. I would drift close to the gate and Jojo would slam into the gate on his side, growling, barking and spitting doggy expletives for all he was worth. But with his family, he was surprisingly gentle and affectionate.

Spurned thus, I gave up on him and went back to the ones I used to roam the streets with in those days. After some years, word trickled in that Jojo had turned on his master, that he’d ‘gone mad’ and so was put down.

These mad-dog stories abound amongst all who fear dogs. Some were bitten by a neighbour’s pet or a stray. Others have never been bitten but have inherited this fear of dogs from those they have heard these horror stories from – of dogs being unpredictable, of how they turn on their masters and how dog owners might assure them that a dog wouldn’t bite, and yet they snap at an unsuspecting guest.

So what is the truth? Undoubtedly, these dogs have drawn blood. So are they mad dogs? Are they rabid beasts that need to be put down at the earliest?

A few months ago, I met our bhaiya, Jojo’s master, at a wedding in the old neighbourhood and inevitably talk turned to Jackie’s madness. And here’s how the story unfolded…

It was the night of Diwali and the smoke and crackle of crackers and the leaping lights of the night had given poor Jojo a terrible fright. Leaving his customary spot in the open courtyard, the nervous dog ran into a bedroom on the first floor and hid under a table. As luck would have it, the first floor was supposed to be off limits to the dog and while the night echoed with the sizzle and screams of shooting rockets and bursting crackers, bhaiya’s father tried to coax Jojo from under the table. Since Jojo wouldn’t budge, the man tried to hold the dog by his tail and yank him out. On a night like most others Jojo might have submitted and quietly given in, but fear had driven Jojo’s mind into a zone that he didn’t know how to control. For the first time in all his seven years with the family, Jojo growled at a family member. The man thought that Jojo had growled because he had grabbed his tail and so tried to pull him out by his collar. Jojo snapped and bit the arm that had grabbed the collar. The growling and the biting convinced the family that the dog must have gone mad or rabid. He was locked and chained inside the room for a day, and though the family loved their pet, with young children in the house, a difficult decision was taken. Though the dog had regained his cheerful demeanor by morning, unwilling to risk their children, the tearful family called in an executioner who dispatched a very confused and otherwise normal dog with a few well placed blows from a big stick.

I’ve heard other tales of ‘mad dogs’ biting people I know. On each occasion, including the above mentioned incident, on asking about the nature of the wound, the ‘victim’ has revealed two tell-tale puncture wounds were the canines broke skin.

Now go to Youtube and check out videos of wolves and wild dogs on a hunt. These pack hunters literally tear their prey apart while it’s on the run. That’s what those teeth are designed for. Have you seen stray dogs fight? When they mean business, once a dog has gotten hold of their opponent, you’ll see them vigorously shake their head and neck in an attempt to tear off a clump of flesh. A dog the size of a Doberman has enough jaw strength to break a man’s forearm. So when a dog snaps and all you get are two puncture wounds, it doesn’t want to hurt you. It is just a dog’s way of saying “don’t bother me please… I’m not in the mood”. Admittedly, some dogs in the same situation will just growl, while others would walk away and some would just whine and bear it. But then, it’s the same with people. Some just handle pressure better than others.

I have been bitten thrice, and on each occasion, I was aware that I was the one who had made the mistake.

The point I’m trying to make is that most dog-bites are nothing but a dog’s way of saying ‘lay off !’

The world of dogs is full of rules and hierarchies and corrections for misdemeanors and is swift . We get bitten when we break or misunderstand these unwritten rules. Some dogs bite out of fear and others because we confuse them.

For instance, if you’ve been spoiling a dog by not giving him any rules, letting him climb on the bed, eat off the table, poop on the floor and pull you on a walk, you are effectively telling the dog that he is the boss.

Dogs are pack animals and live in a very structured family in the wild. The alpha dog has all the rights and the omega (the last in the hierarchy) has the least number of privileges. The pack takes care of all his needs but his privileges are limited and that fact is consistently reinforced. A pet dog should always be the omega in the family pack. And the dog doesn’t have ego issues about that. He does not understand equality or democracy. His primal mind craves order and structure. Without consistent rules, the dog, in order to silence the chaos in its head makes up its own rules. And since the one who makes the rules is the one in charge, the dog assumes the role of an alpha.  

Now this dog who’d trundle off the couch without a whimper whenever you felt like imposing a little discipline will suddenly refuse to budge. Subject to the dog’s breed, energy-levels and nature, attempts to physically remove a dog that has assumed alpha status would either be met by repeated attempts to climb the couch, barking, a low growl or even a warning bite. The last two are the most common methods used by dogs higher up in the hierarchy to enforce rules and boundaries for subordinates and pups.

Most dogs that snap don’t mean any harm. They know that their existence is tied to the pack’s well being. But they need calm and consistent leadership. If you don’t provide that, the dog would try and provide that, for you and the family.

A dog needs physical and mental exercise that matches the animal’s energy levels. A tired dog is a happy dog. But a dog with pent up energy would express itself through destructive, neurotic and even aggressive behavior. So pick a breed your lifestyle, time constraints and physical fitness levels can afford.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t dominant aggression or territorial behavior but fear biting that draws the most blood in pet owning households. Most dogs lack the courage and the confidence to exhibit dominance oriented aggression. Instead they become biters because circumstance or nature has pushed them to the other edge of the aggression spectrum – a dog that is so insecure that it lashes out at its own shadow. A potential fear biter cowers when approached, fl ashes the white of the eye and the lips curl back in a snarl. It is important to just let the dog be until the moment or the mood has passed and the dog calms down and approaches you on its own.

Those of you who want to acquire a big macho dog to fill in for your own psychological inadequacies, be warned that you need a lot more help than what a dog can provide. If this is your reason for getting a dog, you’ll only end up with a maladjusted animal - a loose cannon that would end up hurting people and leave you with medical bills, law suits and eventually a dead dog.

Lastly, a word of advice for those who love their dogs to a premature death. Dogs are not children on four legs. They are dogs and are happiest being dogs. They don’t need pretty jackets and collars with bows. They don’t mind not sleeping in your bed and not pigging out on your table scraps as long as you can give them the rules of the house, exercise that meets the needs of the breed and a belly rub at the end of the day that’s says, so what if you are the omega, my life is still incomplete without you.

Here’s hoping that this piece goes a small way in helping you understand man’s best friend and the terms of that age old friendship a little better, and may the Iago of misapprehension never drive a wedge between you and your four-legged Cassio ever again.


Thursday, September 5, 2013


Friendly, good looking, healthy, playful and great with the kids. And yet, Sophie couldn’t keep her family happy. Within six months of being adopted, the happy go lucky Dalmatian - yeah, those oh so cute spotty dogs – was returned to the breeder by the Guptas. Now I know this family rather well. They are good neighbours and definitely are a good home for the ‘right pet’. And that’s the key word – the right pet, or in this instance, the right breed. 

Most people in most countries have a very shallow decision making process when it comes to picking up a dog. My friends who want to look macho, and don’t really have the time to build a strong body or character would usually want one of those macho breeds like the Rottweiler or bull mastiff or pit bull, while those with money in their banks and jewels in their cabinets would want a ‘good guard dog’ like a German shepherd dog or a Dobermann to protect their high walled homes. On the other hand, every home that’s ready for a pet thinks that they are good enough to home a Labrador retriever, ‘because they are so lovable and cute and everyone has them so could go wrong with ours…?’ And those who think that ‘everyone has a lab so I want something similar, but different, ummm… like a…’, usually end up with a Dalmatian or a boxer or sin of sins, a Saint Bernard.

In most such homes, if they are lucky, it is the dog that ends up distraught, unhappy, unhealthily fat and sad, and not the owners. Such owners usually end up with chewed up furniture and bedsteads while the unlucky ones might end up with a chewed up limb or two, but in most cases if not all, the fault is always YOURS!

Dogs are creatures of instinct, not reason. And so the choices we make for them are the seeds we sow in this unique relationship between man and beast, and the fruits, whether sour or sweet, are all a consequence of our own labours, or lack thereof…

Look at the Guptas and their Dalmatian. If they chose the dog aft er their daughter squealed with joy while watching 101 dalmatians or because the local vet recommended it as a smarter leaner Labrador in a spotted coat, it really isn’t Sophie’s fault that they didn’t do their homework on the breed.

Dalmatians were bred in the days of the stage coach. While the stagecoach and the horses would run between cities and towns, ferrying passengers, the Dalmatian would run alongside the coach to guard the passengers from highwaymen and the horses from stray dogs that could chase or spook the steeds. Now that would need a dog that could pretty much run all day and still have energy to spare. And the dog didn’t choose to become this extreme endurance athlete. We bred them to be this.

Now imagine bringing Mo Farah home and then telling him he can only walk with you till the park and back. What is he going to do with all those extra buttons in his system that you never touch or acknowledge? Well, if its mighty Mo, he’ll find some walls to climb and someone else to touch his buttons for him while your back is turned. And what would a Dalmatian do if a 20 minute walk till the poop point and back is all he got? He ain’t no Mo, so he will literally try and climb your walls and chew through your furniture while you’re not looking, for he is like a soul possessed by his own unfulfilled instinctive urges. We know some people like that too, don’t we? After a few such episodes, the dog, if lucky, would be rehomed, and if not, will spend the rest of its 14 odd years at the end of a short chain outside the house, barking and whining its way to an unhappy end.

And look at the ubiquitous Labrador. Nine out of 10 of these admittedly wonderful dogs are overweight. They look more like pigs than the sturdy and athletic hunting dogs that they were bred to be. Labrador ‘retreivers’ were bred to retrieve downed game birds from lakes and rivers. Their highly intelligent canine brains need a job that stimulates both mind and body. A long game of fetch, tracking, doing water rescues, searches or at the very least, a long hike more than a few kilometers long is what these dogs need to be happy and the wonderful companions they are meant to be. If all they get are two short walks morning and evening and a little bit of play time in the house, their wonderful temperaments will usually stop them from being a pest in the house once they’ve learnt the rules but their unused energy will come out in some form of neurotic behavior or the other. And their general unhappiness might also result in weak immune systems, weight issues, resulting bone problems, premature ageing and death.

The truth is most of us are just too busy, and too ignorant to really provide a good home for any of these sporting or working breeds. (For the uninitiated, all breeds of dog have been categorized by the breed founders for our convenience – hounds (hunters that hunt by sight like the greyhound or those that hunt by chasing a scent, like the coonhounds), sporting dogs (also assist on the hunt, but instead of taking down the quarry, they usually if not always set – like the Irish setter, point – like the German short-haired pointer, flush – like the cocker spaniel, or retriever – like the lab, in partnership with a human hunter with a gun), herders (like the collie, German shepherd and the bouvier des flandres have been bred to herd sheep and cattle on farms and take commands and directions from a shepherd – a heritage which makes them ideal breeds for working in close partnership with man in the areas of police-work and with the armed forces), general working breeds (a collection of mostly guardian breeds bred to protect livestock, property and person from both four and two legged intruders like the Anatolian shepherd and the Dobermann), terriers (feisty vermin hunters), the spitz breeds and finally the non-sporting group, which with the exception of the Dalmatian, mostly comprises of the dogs that most of us should take home – the companion breeds, bred specifically to serve as accommodating pals who are just as happy going for a short walk as they are sharing your couch. Pugs, Chihuahuas and the Pekingese and the modern English bulldog are all dogs that have had the whole wolf bred right out of them and only the wagging tail remains. Nor do these breeds have any strong working instincts or high energy drives that need to be worked off so they would happily laze and snooze while you’re busy and then be ready for their little walk soon as you are…

So if you like one of the working breeds like the German or heaven forbid, a Belgian shepherd, or even the seemingly easy to manage labs or golden retrievers, please do research the breeds and the commitments you would need to make to train, yes train, these powerful animals and the amount of exercise thy need to stay happy and healthy. If you don’t have the time to work, train or exercise your dog and only want something to love, pick one of the companion breeds instead.

But if all you want is a big beast to tie to the gate to keep intruders and just impress the neighbors and don’t really have the time to give attention or affection to the animal, may I suggest a snapping turtle, an alligator or a python… that’s because these guys, unlike dogs who are rather forgiving, would have the good sense to bite the hand that feeds it because honestly, you really don’t deserve to keep a pet… well maybe goldfish, but really, that’s about all.

Now that brings us to an important discussion – why do some dogs become apparently dangerous and why do they bite – some even their owners and why do some dogs become killers? And what can we do to prevent such incidents… Saving that for next week. Until then, keep it wagging!